Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT) has proposed service changes, primarily elimination of routes, most of which would go into effect January 2017, with a few before that and more after than. The proposal is available (summary chart after the jump), and a more detailed analysis is in the Board of Directors agenda (Item 13) for the May 23 meeting. At the May 23 board meeting, the service changes will be an informational item, not a decision. Five open houses on the service changes were scheduled, two of which have occurred, with three yet to go. I attended the open house at SacRT headquarters on May 17.
I was asked for my thoughts on the service changes. Below is a bullet summary, followed by the nerdy details.
- SacRT should make the boardings dot map available to the public. It is the best information I’ve seen to indicate which routes are productive, and which not, more understandable to the public than the tables of numbers in the proposal. Additionally, all maps showing routes, including of course the system map, should have an indication of the service frequency, either by color or weight. The “all routes looking the same” maps that SacRT currently uses do not communicate this critical piece of information.
- A portion of savings from elimination or combination of routes should be reinvested in other routes which could be moved from acceptable productivity to higher productivity with frequency, service hours, or routing improvements.
- Reductions in frequency are counter-productive, usually making a route with challenges into a failing route, which will then be identified in a future round of service changes for elimination.
- Routes serving low density residential and semi-rural areas should be cut before routes serving moderate to high density residential areas.
- Combining routes for more efficient coverage, particularly where routes overlap or are very closely parallel, is a good idea.
- Saturday service should be retained on all routes. Transit-dependent riders who work the usual weekday work week must have service on at last one weekend day so that they can grocery shop, visit friends and family with less mobility, and seek medical care.
- Routes should not be eliminated for at least two years after creation or significant revision. Time is needed to see ridership trends once people in a community adjust to the service. Specifically, this means: do not eliminate Route 65 Franklin South.
- The concept that routes should focus on light rail connections rather than radial routes to downtown, or point-to-point routes, should be considered in all route decisions.
- SacRT should do a complete system re-visioning within the next four years. A series of cuts, and even transit renewal, has left a system that is inefficient and probably unjust. It should be redesigned from scratch.
- A portion of the saving from elimination or combination of routes should be reinvested in other routes to increase their frequency or hours of service. SacRT does have some productive routes that could become highly productive if more were invested in them. Our initial position might be a 50% reinvestment. Of course reinvesting means that either less money will be saved, or more routes will be added to the cut. In part, this principle is intended to help SacRT “sell” the cuts to the public. If only service cuts are proposed, it is likely that there will be so much public opposition generated, and very likely Title VI lawsuits, that no cuts will be made at all, leaving SacRT in an even more precarious financial situation. An intelligent reinvestment could generate public support for the cuts that make the most sense from a productively standpoint as well as retaining a viable overall transit network.
- Reducing the frequency of a route is unlikely to save money nor result in the long term viability of a route. Reduction of frequency will likely result in a route becoming significantly less productive because on the new schedule many people will not be able to rely on the route for day-to-day needs. Therefore, the reduced frequency route will likely be a candidate for elimination in the next round of cuts. In general, it would be better to eliminate a route rather than reduce frequency, since the route will eventually be cut anyway. People who used the eliminated route will, over time, adjust by working or living different places, or changing their daily routine.Route 51 Broadway – Stockton: A reduction from 12 minute to 15 minute headway is reasonable, given that no other route has better than 15 minute headway. (Note: Though this was talked about at the open house, it doesn’t show up on the Master List or Scenario A; not sure why)
Route 25 Marconi: A reduction from 30 minutes to 60 minutes for the central part of the route will cause it to fail. The route could be eliminated, or it could be modified so that it only serves the high productivity middle section and does not serve the lower productivity ends.
Green Line / Gold Line: Scenario A proposes combining the Green Line with the Gold Line by splitting service to Richard/Township 9 with service to Sacramento Valley Station, which would reduce service at Sacramento Valley Station from 15 minutes to 30 minutes at peak times, and 30 minutes to one hour at other times. This will likely cause the tail end of the Gold Line, from downtown to the station, to fail, and ultimately result in cutting of that service. It would be better to cut the Green Line entirely until such time as development in the Township 9 area can support service. The major transportation center that Sacramento Valley Station is needs 15 minute service, and in fact needs longer hours to correspond to the Amtrak Capitol Corridor train service hours.
- Routes serving moderate to high density areas should be preserved, while routes serving low density and semi-rural areas should be eliminated when necessary. A part of the reason SacRT struggles with providing an effective transit network is that the sprawling nature of the Sacramento region makes it difficult or impossible to operate a rational network. When we expend scarce resources on service to low productivity areas, we harm the entire system.Route 19 Rio Linda: Scenario A proposes eliminating Sunday service but leaving other days unchanged. However, the majority of this route would be a good candidate for complete elimination because it serves low to very low density areas, essentially rural in nature. The people who have chosen to live in this northern area of the county cannot reasonably expect bus service to be provided at the expense of the rest of the system. Therefore, eliminate route 19 completely and develop service for the denser areas through which the route passes in its southern area.
Route 24 Madison – Greenback: Scenario A proposes eliminating this route, and this is appropriate. It is a low-frequency, one-way route that is rather impractical for use. Though there are small clusters of densification along this route, primarily shopping centers, the route as a whole serves low density suburbs and semi-rural areas which cannot justify service. If the area densifies sufficiently in the future with not only commercial but residential development, service might be restored.
- Combination and realignment of routes is worthwhile considering. The network currently has some routes that serve areas just a few blocks from other routes or which actually overlap for portions of their routes. These routes should be considered for combination or realignment in order to achieve an overall more efficient system. Unfortunately the lack of a grid street system in much of Sacramento County makes design of routes on a regular spatial grid difficult. When routes overlap, it makes it more difficult for riders to determine whether the next bus serves their destination. They can’t just “catch the next bus.” When eventually SacRT has digital displays and focused route maps at major stops, riders will have the information they need, but for now, route overlaps do not create efficient use.
- Elimination of weekend service days is proposed for several routes. It is reasonable to eliminate Sunday service on routes, since it is almost always the lowest ridership day. However, Saturday service should not be eliminated. Transit-dependent riders who work regular weekday jobs must also have transit service on at least one weekend day in order for them to complete critical errands such as grocery shopping and visits with family members who may have less mobility. Though many medical offices are not open on Saturday, some critical ones which also serve transit-dependent riders are, so Saturday service allows these riders to have their medical needs addressed without missing work.Specifically, elimination of Route 19 Rio Linda service on Sunday is acceptable, though complete elimination of the route is suggested above. Elimination of Route 38 P/Q Streets / Broadway on both Saturday and Sunday is not acceptable, only Sunday should be eliminated. Elimination of Route 54 Center Parkway on Saturday is not acceptable.
- Routes should not be eliminated for at least two years after establishment or significant change. Routes need to be given time to work, to develop ridership in the community, and to allow people to adjust their daily routine to the availability of a route.Therefore, Route 65 Franklin South should not be eliminated at this time. The community served by this route rallied around re-establishment of this route, and it would be a betrayal of that community as well as all riders in the county to eliminate the route before it is given a chance to develop ridership and succeed.
- The transit system should focus on service to light rail connections rather than on service to ultimate destinations. The existing system is a combination of radial service focused on downtown, which is understandable given the concentration of employment in downtown, and to a smaller degree on service to light rail connections. However, overall system efficiency would be enhanced by more focus on light rail connections. This is true both of fixed route and on-demand services. Many routes could be shorter, and perhaps have higher frequencies, if they went to light rail rather than their ultimate destination. There are challenges with this, of course, since light rail is not evenly distributed throughout the service area, for example, not serving the northeast county. A focus on light rail connections would also increase ridership for light rail, and possibly allow an increase in frequency of light rail service along part of routes or at certain times of day.
- Changes to routes made at this time (January 2017) only increase the need for a system redesign which should occur within the next four years. Several rounds of cuts, and even transit renewal additions which solved particular issues, have resulting in an overall system which does not meet modern service and efficiency goals. The system must be redesigned, and SacRT must find the funds and resources (staff and/or consultants) to achieve that.Bus rapid transit (BRT) should be considered in system redesign. There are large areas of the county not well served by the light rail system, and the extensions so far proposed by SacRT do not solve that issue. Bus rapid transit could fill some of those gaps. Implementing at least one true BRT route in the county would allow citizens to see the benefits of BRT and for SacRT to gain experience in both designing and evaluating BRT. This is not an argument for or against light rail, but an argument for a diverse system that uses the best solution available for each situation.