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A Response by Bill Sell
MCTS Plan 2009 Bypasses Significant Public Comment in Devising Plan 2009
The Public Hearing. The public commented on the MCTS 2007 transit plan in early 2007. Late that same year the County Government cut Transit severely through the winter and spring of 2008. Plan 2009 does not mention the suggestions to the County Board’s public hearing on October 30, 2007. Hundreds showed up, most citizens objecting to one or the other aspects of the proposed budget, including transit. Granted some routes were saved, but some were cut in spite of reasoned protests. Those comments in October 2007 are no less relevant than the handful who responded to the request for comments in February and March, 2007.
Slow Slide Downward. One reference to 2000 levels claims that 2013 goals (Alt 1) would be only a percent short of 2000 levels. This simple numeric calculation is a statistical dodge; it does not include the growth of need in that 13 year period, which could be 5 to 10 percent. The difference between 2000 levels and 2013 goals would, then, be still 6 to 11 percent short of the 2000 levels. The report suggests that the goal in the Plan is only to slow down the continued failure of our transit.
Alternative 1 should be aggressive and bold. Plan 2009 should have the input of development economics, not simply the numbers at hand in Transit offices. Building a weak system is building for failure. If we want commerce to support buses, Transit must use these plans to bolster confidence in Transit.
Plan 2009 should also have specifics on recruiting riders of choice.
A weakened transit system is doomed. If Alternative 1 improvements do not work in the minds of the taxpayers, Transit will suffer political failure, which Milwaukee’s economy cannot afford.
Milwaukee can aim for a strong transit system, one that will carry substantially higher loads of passengers. Without that as a goal, Transit will continue to leak passengers.
Specifics. Now, given there is in the Plan 2009 no public comment about the 2007–2008 cuts, I mention some specifics that I believe must be restored for the health of Milwaukee County:
Extension of services. While extension of service in (and to) the far reaches of the County is long overdue, it appears to this reader that these extensions may have a liability - failure alert! The extensions will have the challenge of building a ridership - how long will tax payers accept what they see as “empty buses”? Where is the marketing plan to pull in new riders? Success is predicated on filling buses as soon as they are seen on those new streets. Hand out free tickets, passes, coffee, newspapers; provide WiFi on these new buses. These are inexpensive investments that Transit needs to make.
The Long Walk to the Bus
More frequent headways is the most desirable aspect of Plan 2009.
Express service is welcome but why remove local stops? The passengers Transit loses over this mistake may never return. (See “Local Bus Stop Cancellations” below).
At the hearing I heard officials say that new bus stop separations would be 1/4 mile; then I heard another official say 1/3 mile to 1/2 mile. This spreading of individual bus stops from each other to longer distances, on top of the long-forgotten MCTS benchmark of 1/4 mile from the rider’s home to the bus route, erodes the hope of garnering passengers. And the growing senior population should not be left out of these Plans; there will be more of us.
Consider that the heaviest wear and tear on these buses are those frequent starts and stops they must make per mile. Give each bus a “turn” at being an Express bus, doing more miles with fewer starts and stops, thereby increasing their long term value. I’m no mechanical engineer, but depreciation of our assets - I’m told by folks who know - figures in a major way into the County financial straightjacket.
Express Buses Now. In fact, while new buses would be welcome, we can have express buses now. New (bright red?) signage will make it clear to the rider which bus stop is only for express, and which bus stop is for both buses. Economize, the tradition of our efficient Milwaukee County Transit, until we have the dedicated funding and a restored fleet. Using leapfrogging express buses as the paradigm, Transit could introduce express service widely with minimal effort or cost. Besides the Routes mentioned on page 3 of Plan 2009, other routes could be enhanced rotating present equipment. Routes (using 28 mph for an estimated express rate):
Local Bus Stop Cancellations
In building express service, there is no need to challenge your clientele by taking away local service.
Express service can be mixed, on the same Route, with local service. (See above The Long Walk to the Bus) Express will leapfrog the slower service. Someone walking to the bus will be able to board at a local stop, ride a bit, and transfer at an express stop.
Let me call attention to a claim in the MCTS 2009 BRT discussion:
The upgrading of express bus routes to BRT could also entail some route realignment and wider stop spacing, along with re-introduction of local bus service. —page 4.
Folly. Once you lose those local passengers by dropping bus stops you will have to rebuild that ridership. Because of their jobs, age, and health, riders will have made accommodation to the loss of local service while the BRT whizzes past. In fact, they might not even be available for express service a year or two later, under your plan for reintroduction.
The Curious Route of our First Express Service
The BRT first project (MidTown to State Fair) is an odd choice. I know that Transit counts or estimates ridership, but I also understand that you do not have a statistical base to tell you both where riders board and where they alight. Granted Route 23 and 18 are fairly busy (by no means the busiest routes of the system), there are routes that carry more volume.
The measure of success is significant. This measure - especially on our First Express Bus - would give the County taxpayer some reassurance about the long-term goals of local transit - namely, that it may succeed. The hybrid BRT route does not seem to serve current high RBH routes.
I observe that there is a more direct route from Midtown to the State Fair, viz., Route 76 (which has a lower RBH than other routes being considered for BRT). If people are actually traveling from MidTown to State Fair now, they would be on Route 76 (25 minutes) Route 76. But the RBH is not compelling enough to call for the first BRT, which should NOT be allowed to fail.
How will a partially used Express service bolster confidence in the taxpayer for more development?
Was there any economic development analysis to bolster this choice? Did Transit engage the opinion of developers in sketching out this route?
Economists and rail consultants point to consistent and dense development that comes from the implementation of rail. This kind of development will not grow around a BRT service, particularly a route that is not obviously a development magnet, or a route that appears to be a political whim. What politicians give they can take away - as the 2007–2008 cuts have shown. Embedded rail, while costly initially, will convince developers to plant their investments nearby because the entire County (not a few politicians) will have made a commitment to that route. Density in strategic parts of the city brings the cost of living in a city down, while increasing the livability of the city. http://www.cnt.org shows how transportation costs affect home affordability. The closer you live to public transit, the less likely you will need a car. This is what a city has the power to do, if it has the will.
MCTS self promotion is tepid. The Transit officials I have met are decent caring people who love their jobs but there seems to be something blocking them when a citizen steps forward with ideas to recruit more riders.
Take for example that web page. It is dead. Same old same old. Don’t be afraid of blogs, Facebook, and the like. Your riders are there.
Consider the inept promotions of MCTS Plan 2009. Well, I happened to see MCTS Plan 2009 promoted on Transit TV - that quaint tiny video on some buses. And I am not asking for a repeat performance. Here is what we saw: The TTV promos were 28 seconds, compared to 240 seconds in that same small space to show off the Transit TV or County Transit logo. The Plan promos were in the smallest print on the bottom of the screen and were covered during bus stop announcements. The shills and scams on TTV always used to get 80% of screen real estate. One gets the impression Transit is too shy to promote itself.
Please add to the Plan
I would like you to add to the MCTS Plan 2009 the following items. I see these steps as essential to a successfully managed transportation service:
It is time to move. Your specialty is to move people. Move us. Convince us to Move with you.