Thursday, September 14, 2017

City Link - Babylonian Confusion?

Talking about transit can sometimes feel like Babylon. Operators, agencies, riders, the union and activists all taking a different perspective and speaking their own language. Link at to this the ongoing challenge of all new route names. To illustrate the point one can take public comments from former MTA Administrator Paul Comfort and an assessment from the current Administrator Kevin Quinn and compare those with what riders say on the Facebook page "Where is my bus, Baltimore?". Comfort, was the greatest promoter of the Baltimore bus "reboot" dubbed Baltimore Link and still touts his bus baby with full throttled enthusiasm, now as Vice President of Development for the transit software firm Trapeze and self described "Executive Leadership Consultant, Chief Transit Evangelist and Keynote Speaker." In a recent Linked-In post about how Philadelphia's SEPTA also considering a reform a la Houston,  he summarizes what Baltimore's bus overhaul was all about this way:
Talk of the town: Not seen as a success
Three primary principles are being picked up by many cities now: increasing high frequency transit, reducing redundant routes and removing some bus routes from the city central business district , where they get jammed up in traffic. A fourth one is to make sure service is going to where the jobs are today and eliminating bus stops where there are more than one on a city block. We followed these principles in Baltimore as we designed the reboot and rebranding called Baltimore Link .(Paul Comfort on LinkedIn)
Those goals sound totally reasonable. But is it possible that all those goals could be met without riders really giving what they need?  From his new perch Comfort's unbridled enthusiasm doesn't have to weather the almost equally vibrant dislike of his project by many bus users. What would he have said in Baltimore's War Memorial Hall where the transit Union ATU convened the loudest anti voices? Instead, Comfort travels around the country and sells transit software, peddles transit safety and links Link to Trapeze's services such as in this article posted on the Trapez Group's website. A few of Comfort's statements may illustrate the Babylonian confusion:
In transit, like in an orchestra, you need to know your audience. If their needs and tastes change and you keep offering the same product, they may stop coming, give you bad reviews or even walk out of a performance. All bad. (Paul Comfort).
Paul Comfort selfie in front of his new employer offices
This sounds like a fine insight except Baltimore's "audience" isn't impressed and that the assumption they can vote with their feet is a bit idealistic.
Whatever rider fluctuations Comfort describes, much is the results of external factors such as the financial crisis, high gas prices in their wake and the onset of the demographic wave of Millennials. So transit ridership went up all over America without any bus "reboots". Surprisingly now the nation sees a long period of record low gas prices.  With that transit usage is down across the board.  Even Houston saw eventually decline after some very modest increase immediately after its bus reform and added light rail. (Now with a million cars destroyed by hurricane Harvey, Houston may see an uptick again).

At any rate, MTA's reboot, will not bring transit users in droves even if one concedes that the ATU protest "town hall" meetings were not representative and that satisfied riders will never make as much noise as those who are unhappy. To see why Comfort's goals and rider's expectations don't align, let's look at another statement in Comfort's article:
You see, the bus routes had not been comprehensively updated in over fifty years. The routes followed the patterns of the old city trolley cars and two thirds of the routes went downtown, to the most congested part of the city. (Comfort)
True, many of the old bus lines followed the historic streetcar routes on the main arterial roads which define Baltimore. Baltimore saw its biggest expansion and population growth while streetcars were in operation and growth followed the transit lines. Today we call this transit oriented development. True, lots of sprawl occurred since and most car drivers today don't use the old arteries any longer but drive on the JFX, I-95 or the Beltway instead. But neither the old nor the new bus system relocated buses onto these freeways for the simple reason that, once on an expressway, a bus could move fast but not pick up any riders anymore and only perform A to B type operations. It was at times suggested that MTA have more service of that type either as "bus rapid transit" or as commuter or express service, but the MTA didn't introduce this as a significant systemic option.
While there were 145,000 jobs in the CBD, there were another 600,000 jobs in the surrounding region. Additionally, light rail, metro subway, and MARC commuter train services had been added since then but the bus routes never were tweaked to allow for real connections between these modes. (Comfort)
These numbers may be correct and there is certainly job sprawl but it remains a question to what extent MTA can chase all those outlying jobs, which are spread all over the place whereas they are nicely concentrated in downtown. Whatever suburban job concentrations there are, such as in Hunt Valley, BWI and Owings Mills, MTA serves them well, even with rail transit. Social Security and CMS in Woodlawn, of course, are the exception, they were supposed to have been served by the Red Line.
The statement that rail service and buses "never allowed real connections" is simply wrong. Each important metro and light rail station had built in transfer points between rail and bus, whether it was Cromwell Station, Odenton, Patapsco, Camden, Baltimore Street, North Avenue, or Timonium on the LRT line or Lexington Market, Penn North, Mondawmin, Reisterstown or Owings Mills on the Metro. Penn Station and West Baltimore also had already bus transfers for MARC riders before Link.

So when it comes to using terms and metrics that all side can agree on, there must be a better way of assessing how well or how badly the new bus system is performing than listening to the war stories of riders, however valid they may be, or taking MTA's reasoning on face value. It is surprising to see, though, how little agreement there is how to "prove" that Baltimore Link really works.

It isn't so because many data are not fully in yet or at least not fully analyzed, given that school just started and the initial fare free two weeks led to some distortions. It is more so, because there isn't a publicly vetted and agreed upon set of metrics and benchmarks against which both the old and the new system could be compared, a baseline that should have been established long before the new bus system went into effect. There was a lot of talk about it among activists and at one point the MTA presented over 40 metrics for that purpose. But there was never an agreed small set of indicators that everybody would find most meaningful and which could readily be measured, not only after Link was introduced, but which were also available for the period immediately before.
Job center access: Date from the transit model

This week the new MTA Administrator Kevin Quinn, who as MTA's planning director was charged with the Link implementation, came out with a message to transit users, in which he declares Link a success using metrics that compare before and after. Not surprisingly, he uses mostly the same rationale as Comfort in his article. Most riders won't be easily convinced by the indicators which are abstract in nature and the result of model comparisons not actual rider experience. Quinn writes:
We’ve met our first goal – to improve service quality and reliability – by establishing the CityLink frequent transit network (FTN). For the first time ever, Baltimore-area residents can count on high-frequency bus service that arrives about every 15 minutes between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. weekdays, much like Light RailLink and Metro SubwayLink.
CityLink also has helped us reach our second goal – to maximize access to a frequent transit network (FTN). Over 130,000 more people now have access to high-frequency transit within a quarter-mile of where they live. That’s a 32 percent increase over the previous system’s access to an FTN.
...The average number of jobs accessible within 30 minutes on transit has increased by 11 percent. ... an estimated 37,500 jobs are now within a quarter-mile of a frequent transit network. That’s 14 percent more than with the previous system. Service to the Amazon Fulfillment Center is up by 14 percent; to Canton Crossing by 40 percent; to JHU/Bayview hospital by 18 percent; and to Woodlawn/Social Security by 11 percent.  
While no transit plan is perfect or could be, we work every day to make sure that BaltimoreLink works for as many riders as possible. Those are the facts.
Run time improvement on dedicated lanes (MTA)
Quinn made the same point with some additional details at a presentation to the advocacy group Transit Choices. Some of the presentation images are included here.

Riders meanwhile share their daily experiences on Facebook Groups such as Where is My Bus, Baltimore? with messages such as this:
160 EB to Fox Ridge should have left JHH at 4:21 was a no show today.
Waiting on the bunched up NVs still. Have been at the stop since 5:05pm.,10-15 Headways not working. #11084 arrived now at 5:26pm. I will be late for a 6pm meeting at the SE Anchor Branch Library.
Ughhhh..... Got to bus stop 15 minutes early bus 54 Carney was suppose to come at 10:06am Well I'm still waiting and next bus come at 10:36am. I checked Google maps and it said on time but I'm still waiting. This is ridiculous 😠😠 I can't keep being late for work
Many riders feel left behind by MTA
Three PURPLEs back-to-back. One going to Catonsville. Two going to Paradise Loop. | Observed at Howard Street (Across from the McDonalds)
Another day of getting to the bus stop and waiting 20 minutes and deciding to take the UM shuttle instead because 2 NVs are still 4 minutes away. I remember the days when the buses followed a schedule in the morning....not happening anymore. These 10-15 minute Headways are a myth with the constant bunching. MTA management, please do what you promised.
It is obvious that the MTA and the riders talk about the same system but in a different language and that in this manner there will never be agreement whether the system works or not. In fact, the statements of the MTA Administrator and the ones stated on the Facebook group can easily coexist and both be true. Riders want the bus to be on time, reliable and get them where they want to go in a reasonable time. It is as simple and as complicated as that. The MTA knows that in this regard a lot of problems still exist. 
TSP installed: check (two corridors)

As a result, MTA is still making improvements as the adjustments in the current fall schedule prove. Depending on perspective, the long list of changes listed in full below, indicates that Link as initially implemented didn't work. Or it proves Kevin Quinn's last point, that the MTA works "every day to make sure that BaltimoreLink works for as many riders as possible".

In spite of its length the list can't be the answer to the Babylonian confusion that still prevails when it comes to perspective, goals and metrics. As long as buses don't reliably show up on time, riders won't be happy, no matter the system set-up.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Washington Post about Baltimore buses 

Fall 2017 Service Adjustments

The following is the list of changes for the Fall 2017 service change, which will start on Sunday, September 3. A total of 25 adjustments are included in the service change, including shifting of trips, adding in trips/increasing frequencies, increasing service spans, and alignment changes. These adjustments are based on internal and external feedback, including comments from operators, the public, and other MTA departments. These adjustments are in addition to the supplemental service/school trippers added in the Fall pick to manage increased demands on the system as a result of students returning to school and using MTA service.

Service Modifications

CityLink Blue - Weekday
  • Three eastbound trips that originally started at North Bend Loop, now will be extended to start at CMS. Two westbound trips that terminate at North Bend will be extended to CMS.
  • Added early morning trips (eastbound 413 AM, 439 AM, 500 AM; westbound 417 AM)
  • Adjusted runtimes.
  • PDF Schedule  l Map
CityLink Gold - Weekday
  • Added westbound trip at 242 AM.
    Dedicated lanes implementation schedule (MTA)
  • PDF Schedule l Map
CityLink Navy – Weekday
  • Added a southbound trip leaving Mondawmin at 1010 PM.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
CityLink Orange - Weekday
  • Added three westbound and eastbound trips at approximately 330 AM, 432 AM, 530 AM. Frequency increased to every 30 minutes early morning, then every 15 starting at 600 AM.
  • Adjusted runtimes.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
CityLink Red – Weekday
  • Extended northbound 430 AM trip from Towson to Lutherville.
  • Added northbound trip leaving University of Maryland Transit Center at 506 PM.
  • PDF Schedule Map
CityLink Yellow – Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Extended all trips currently originating and terminating at Riverview to Patapsco Light Rail Station, including late night trips short turning at Commerce Drive.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
CityLink Pink - Weekday
  • Added two morning trips (315AM, 415AM) both eastbound and westbound.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
CityLink Brown – Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Modify alignment to bypass White Marsh Mall past 930 PM (directive from mall management on private property).
  • PDF Schedule l Map
CityLink Lime – Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Change northwest segment from "Not in Service" to revenue service on Brenbrook Drive and Old Court Road and proposed two new bus stops (at Home Depot/layover and Northwest Hospital).
  • PDF Schedule Map
LocalLink 31 – Saturday, Sunday
LocalLink 34 – Weekday
  • Extended two trips in both the morning and evening peak to Greenspring Station.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
LocalLink 52 – Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
LocalLink 62 – Weekday
  • Swap northbound and southbound trip start times to restore previous service schedule.
  •  PDF Schedule l Map
LocalLink 65 – Saturday, Sunday
LocalLink 67 – Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
LocalLink 69 - Weekday 
  • Rebuilt service to provide a more evenly spaced frequency on the trunk (Patapsco LR to Cromwell LR) and branches to Jumpers Hole and Annapolis in both directions.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
LocalLink 70 - Weekday
  • Rebuilt service to provide a more evenly spaced frequency on the trunk (Patapsco LR to Cromwell LR) and branches to Jumpers Hole and Annapolis in both directions.
  • PDF Schedule Map
LocalLink 75 – Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Added trips to fill in overnight service gaps when Light Rail is not in service.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
LocalLink 76 - Weekday, Saturday, Sunday
  • Modified northbound alignment of route due to difficult turning movements based on operator feedback. Former alignment was eastbound Pratt, left on Calvert, right on Lexington. New alignment is eastbound Pratt and left on Gay.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
LocalLink 80 - Weekday
New stop signs (Sweeney)

LocalLink 83 – Weekday
  • Restore service to 20 minute peak and 30 minute mid-day frequency, mirroring the previous schedule on the former 53 line.
  • PDF Schedule Map
LocalLink 87 – Weekday
  • Shifted trips to provide better transfer access; trip departing Owings Mills Metro Station at 359 AM now departing Glyndon 425 AM, arriving Owings Mills Metro Station at 450 AM to connect to first Metro trip.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
LocalLink 89 – Weekday
  • Shifted trip to deliver a 543 AM arrival at Redland Court.
  • PDF Schedule l Map
Express BusLink 104 – Weekday
Express BusLink 120 - Weekday

Bus Stop Adjustments

For the Fall service change, there are a total of 85 proposed bus stop adjustments, which include 14 proposed new stops, 32 reactivated stops, 24 stop relocations, and 15 stop removals.

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