Friday, October 20, 2017

Time to reset the Circulator bus

If You Stand Still, You Are Actually Going Backwards (business consultant slogan)
Six years after the system was inaugurated is it time to hit the reset button for the Charm City Circulator and come to terms wit the unresolved issues  Mayor Pugh inherited from her predecessor. It isn't clear where the Mayor stands her stand on the popular City run bus system and the various recommendations of her transition team to bring cost and resources into better alignment. Time to provide a concise answer how the system will be run in the future and an opportunity for the new Director of transportation to set a signal.
Faster on the new bus lanes

The system shows some signs of wear. It not only loses money but has also lost a lot of its initial appeal and glamour. Some stops look worn, some of the buses begin to wear, too; headways are borderline acceptable for a headway-based system that operates without a schedule. The online information looks dated and unnecessarily complicated. Some lines, especially the green line are completely unintuitive which bears out in low ridership. The Banner route is still limping along although the funding grant along with the 1812 anniversary have long gone.
This green route is worse than any MTA route ever was
The first part of the ride was great, waited 5 minutes,  the bus came and off we went.  Now stranded in little Italy, been waiting 30 minutes at a stop with the orange and green line and not one bus has come by.  Thinking of calling uber.  Finally, at 40 minutes....(Liz, Dearborn, MI)
The color coded route designations have become a cause of confusion after the MTA decided to use colors for their Link buses as well. Time for a fresh look how to make the Circulator once again the model for transit and the "entry drug to transit" that Downtown Partnership CEO Kirby Fowler once saw in it.

All major transit stops used by visitors and tourists should show real time arrival. Buses should not display only their route name but also their destination and major intermittent stops. The Orange line should be extended to serve as the the waterfront east-west connection from Broadway to Hollins Market with all major tourist destinations in between. The Green Route should be the second east-west connector with a much simplified route from Hopkins to Mount Vernon. The Banner Route should serve the south-side of the Harbor including Locust Point and Federal Hill running along Fort Avenue and meet the Purple Route at the visitors center or thereabouts shortening the Purple Route and making it more reliable. All routes should be renamed for where they mainly run or for some memorable destination such as Pratt Street Route (Hollins-Broadway), Fort Street Route (Fort McHenry-Inner Harbor), Charles Street Route (Inner Harbor-Hopkins) and Madison Route (Hopkins-Mt Vernon). Circulator Hubs with intermodal connections are at Hopkins, Broadway, Inner Harbor, Penn Station and Pratt Street.
One real complaint thought, I wish they'd fix the electronic update boards at the stops. Only a few of the stops have it, and it's really useful, but many (at least on the Purple route) seem to not be working.(Lauron, Baltimore)
The system should explore how demand data can be introduced into the dispatch systems so that the collective wait times are minimized. The buses and stop areas should offer wifi. As a step a bit further out, DOT should begin to think about testing small autonomous vehicle buses and what that technology would mean to the service.
The bus stop signs are better than MTA's but not
consistent throughout

The service needs to be developed around the available resources from parking (parking taxes should increase) and sponsors. All major commercial and institutional entities that directly benefit from the Circulator should pay a small assessment in support of the service. Where the Circulator service overlaps with College Town buses, the latter should be abandoned in favor of supporting the Circulator.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

related previous articles on this blog

What to do with the Circulator?
The future of Baltimore's Circulator
Why the Circulator should not use the City's general funds
Free Downtown Bus Transit - Community Asset or Yuppie Shuttle?

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