V Smoothe over at ABetterOakland loves the idea of BRT.
I don’t mind taking the bus despite the bumpy ride of the new Van Hool bussess. They do not have a smooth ride compared to walking, biking, BART or driving. On the other hand, it’s good to zoom out and bit and remember the auto industry spends more on advertising than the entire transit system budgets of the US combined*. While I think it is definitely worth our energy and money to give BRT a try, it’s worth looking at bad experiences as well as the known good ones, such as Columbia’s.
Here’s a letter from a woman who tried out a brand-new BRT route in Cleveland, Ohio, republished from the SF Bike Blog:
I do not agree with your glowing praise of the RTA HealthLine bus [corridor] (PD 11-09-08.) The bus shelters are too confusing. They have fare boxes that don’t work, or accept bus passes. So, riders don’t know where to stand on the platform, or which door to enter to get on the bus. And there is a large gap between the bus and platform, which is dangerous and could cause severe injury if a passenger slips and their leg is caught in this 24 inch deep opening.
The new shelters only have 3 seats — metal seats that freeze in the winter, and are colder than traditional wood or plastic benches. So riders have to stand while waiting for the bus. Why? Every shelter along Euclid Avenue has only 2-3 seats for the many people who ride this route. Especially at rush hour, when 10-20 people board the bus, going home from work. Is this good customer service?
The HealthLine cost $200 million and runs every ten minutes, yet it is frequently standing room only. The first time I rode this bus, I expected to see a large roomy bus with many seats. But upon closer inspection, when I examined the bus and counted the seats, I discovered that the super size extra long HealthLine bus only has about 40 seats — less than half the seats of a traditional bus. And half of the seats are situated along the side of bus are on raised platforms, making it difficult for seniors and disabled to step onto the platform.
This platform also juts into the aisle making it a one aisle lane. To get off the bus, passengers have to squeeze past the standing passengers. Hey, this is just like the old No. 6 bus line, only even more crowded. Wow! What an improvement!
If you personally ever ride this bus, (and from your praise, it is evident that you have not had this thrilling experience yet), please take a tape measure with you and discover for yourself that each seat measures only 18″ across.
Does this seem like a comfortable size seat for anyone over the age of five? And since the seats are side by side, passengers have to sit thigh to thigh. Why is that? Imagine how exciting this will be in the summer time when the weather is 98 degrees and everyone is wearing shorts!
This first time I rode this bus, I did not know which shelter went eastbound and which went westbound. There were no signs. So I watched as the bus passed me by, and I had to walk two blocks to the next stop.
I have ridden the Healthline only 3 times, because I had appointments that were past the Trolley route. I dread taking the HealthLine bus, and try to take the Trolley whenever possible.
I give you permission to publish this letter.
AC Transit’s 72R
I’ve taken the 72R before between downtown, Temescal and Berkeley and it’s semi-fast. The two-segment busses aren’t timed and frequently bunch up or pass each other, picking up and dropping off passengers. They still have to fight with cars.
So, it will be interesting to see how the new 72R bus works out as true BRT when bus-only lanes, loading platforms and pre-payment vending machines are finally set up. I still think it will make the bus experience more pleasant, and eventually with funding we can build a local streetcar system.
That may be wishful thinking though. Our national economy might lumber along and even upward into 2011 based on Obama’s Aura of 2009 stimulus spending bill, but never back up to the unsustainable highs it had.
* Auto companies’ ad budgets compared to US public transit agency budgets.
The NYTimes writes that a new “car czar” for bailed out US auto companies would control a “$7.3 Billion ad budget” — and that’s just for GM and Chrysler, not Ford, Toyota, Honda, VW, etc. Up until Obama’s ARRA stimulus bill passed, public transit agencies in the US had $8.4 Billion fewer dollars to work with.
New York MTA’s budget for 2009 (pdf) lists expenses of $13.2B and revenues of $5.9B. After subsidies and debt payments the agency’s cash balance is -$1.1B this year, growing to nearly -$3B in 2012.
SFChron pegs BART’s operating budget for 2008 at $674.8 million. (This compares with $12.4B for NYMTA’s total operating budget last year.)