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Detroit Bus Driver Contract Offers Bonuses When Ridership Rises

A new labor contract between the Detroit Department of Transportation and ATU Local 26 explicitly ties bus driver bonuses to ridership increases.

If farebox revenue goes up, 30 percent of the increase will belong to drivers, up to a certain point, DDOT announced earlier this week. Individual drivers’ bonuses are capped at $350 per year the first year and can rise to $750 in the fourth year of the contract.

The bus drivers union ratified the agreement on Friday. “With fare box sharing, if DDOT succeeds, our drivers will share financially in that success,” Fred Westbrook, president of ATU Local 26, said in the press release.

Megan Owens of Detroit’s Transportation Riders United said she’s generally supportive of the revenue-sharing provision.

“If they have a little extra reason to help out a new rider to have a good experience or be a little more patient with a frustrating rider … that appears to be a worthwhile investment,” she said.

Steven Higashide of TransitCenter said revenue-sharing is a “really innovative and fascinating provision” that he hasn’t seen elsewhere.

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More Transit Agencies Adding WiFi on Buses



Escambia County, Florida announced WiFi on its buses last week. So did Charleston, South Carolina. Kansas City had it months before. And Atlanta‘s working on it too.

It’s a trend that’s gaining speed quickly among transit agencies intent on luring young people to their service, according to Chad Chitwood, a spokesperson for the American Public Transit Association.

For several years, the shares of American buses outfitted with WiFi has been growing rapidly, increasing from 0.5 percent in 2008 to 5.1 percent in 2014, he says. On commuter rail fleets, the rate of adoption is faster, increasing from 0.5 percent to 10.7 percent over the same period, APTA reports.

In announcing WiFi on its buses, Kansas City Metro said it is trying to entice more young, tech-savvy riders. (The buses in that pilot serve the University of Missouri-Kansas City and Rockhurst University campuses.)

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Fewer People Are Riding the Bus Because There Are Fewer Buses to Ride

Source: The Century Foundation

In most big American cities, bus service shrank between 2006 and 2012. No wonder bus ridership is dropping too. Graphic: The Century Foundation

Remember when the Great Recession decimated transit agency budgets, but the White House and Congress refused to step in and fund bus service while spending billions of dollars to subsidize car purchases? Well, the hangover continues to this day, leaving bus riders in the lurch.

Last year, bus ridership in America shrank 1 percent. While rail ridership grew 4 percent, enough to lift total ridership slightly, buses are still the workhorse of U.S. transit systems, accounting for most trips. If bus ridership is shrinking, something is wrong.

Jacob Anbinder at the Century Foundation has been poring over the data. He notes that in most of the nation’s biggest cities, bus ridership was on the upswing until the recession. Since then there’s been a noticeable falling off. His chart below shows bus ridership in America’s ten largest urban regions:

New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Philadelphia, Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, Washington DC, Atlanta, Boston

It’s not surprising that bus ridership fell when a lot of people were out of work, Anbinder says. What’s disturbing is that bus ridership is still slumping even as the economy has picked back up.

But the explanation is simple enough. As Anbinder shows in the chart at the top of this post, a lot of transit agencies cut bus service during the recession, and for the most part it’s still not back to pre-recession levels.


It’s Time to Vote for the Sorriest Bus Stop in America

We asked you to point us to the nation’s worst bus stops and you answered. After receiving dozens of nominees from our readers, Streetsblog editors narrowed the pool down to eight very sorry bus stops.

These bus stops are ugly. Ugly! In a transportation system where public agencies never seem to lack the money for $800 million interchanges or $2 billion highway tunnels, bus stops become an afterthought. Many of these contenders are situated in the midst of car-oriented development without so much as a sidewalk or bench nearby, let alone a shelter. To make transit dignified and comfortable, we need to do better.

Help us crown America’s sorriest bus stop by voting below. Here are the contestants:

Pennsylvania Avenue in Forestville, Maryland

This entry comes to us from author and transit advocate Ben Ross. This is the same Pennsylvania Avenue that runs past the White House:


Google Street View via Ben Ross

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Turning a Suburban Retail Bus Stop Into a Place People Want to Go

Pittsburgh's new super-stop on opening day. Photo courtesy of Lynn Manion, ACTA

Pittsburgh’s new “super-stop” on opening day. Photo courtesy of Lynn Manion, ACTA

This post is part of a series featuring stories and research that will be presented at the Pro-Walk/Pro-Bike/Pro-Place conference September 8-11 in Pittsburgh.

Last week, Pittsburgh got its first suburban bus stop makeover. And the results were beautiful.

The new IKEA “super-stop” lies in a shopping center along an interstate highway, surrounded by surface parking, between a TGI Fridays and an Office Max. It has a Walk Score of 37: “car-dependent.”

This is what the IKEA bus stop used to look like:

The "before" picture. Photo: ACTA

The “before” picture. Photo: ACTA

But then the Airport Corridor Transportation Association set out to rethink the stop. “We wanted to make the stop inviting enough that people who weren’t riding a bus would still want to come and use the bus stop,” said Lynn Manion of ACTA. They wanted tables and benches, shelter from the elements, and a big enough setback from the curb to make people feel that they weren’t right in the middle of the roadway.

ACTA and its partner, the architecture firm Maynes Associates, realized that in order to encourage ridership, they’d have to change perceptions about the bus stop. They needed to focus on placemaking in order to make that bus stop more appealing — and to make riders feel less isolated.

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Talking Headways Podcast: Houston, Transit Paradise?

Welcome to a super-long extra-bonus episode of Talking Headways! We only took on two topics this week, but we got so enthralled by both of them we just couldn’t shut up.

First, we talked to Christof Spieler, a member of Houston Metro, about the “blank-sheet” bus overhaul he helped design. Instead of trying to tweak the current system around its edges, Metro decided to start again from scratch, planning routes and service that make sense for the way the city is now. Metro thought the upside would outweigh the downside, but the agency wasn’t prepared for this: There was almost no downside. By eliminating redundant and inefficient service, Metro could optimize routes without eliminating low-ridership routes that people depend on. And to hear Christof tell it, what they’re accomplishing is pretty amazing:

What we’re really doing is focusing on frequent service. We’re basically doubling the number of routes that offer frequent service, and we’re extending that frequent service to seven days a week. So: every 15 minutes, seven days a week, network of about 20 routes.

That puts a million people within walking distance of those routes; it puts a million jobs within walking distance of those routes. It is going to be one of the largest coverage areas of high frequency transit in the United States. And that is a huge deal for our existing riders, because currently only about 25 percent of our boardings are at stops that have all-week frequent service. This will take that up to 73 percent.

Once we tear ourselves away from Christof and his beautiful vision of the future of transit, we do a debrief on what’s going on with the transportation bill in Congress. The Senate bill isn’t all it could be, but in Congress nothing is ever all it could be, and this one at least stands a chance of passage — or it would if there were an actual, realistic funding stream attached to it. No such luck. Tune in for all the gory details.

Side note: Big thanks to all who have donated during Streetsblog’s spring pledge drive, especially those of you who specifically mentioned the podcast as why you’re giving. We appreciate you! There’s still time to get in on the fun: Please donate today!

As always, Talking Headways is available on iTunes or Stitcher or by signing up for our RSS feed, and this right here is where you leave your snappy comments. We welcome your backtalk and your sassy mouth.


11 Simple Ways to Speed Up Your City’s Buses

Turning at busy intersections costs buses time.

Turning at busy intersections slows down buses, so many transit agencies are simplifying routes to speed up service. Photo: Steven Vance

All across America, city buses are waiting. Waiting at stoplights, waiting behind long lines of cars, waiting to pull back into traffic, waiting at stops for growing crowds of passengers. And no, it’s not just your imagination: Buses are doing more waiting, and less moving, than they used to. A recent survey of 11 urban transit systems conducted by Daniel Boyle for the Transportation Research Board found that increased traffic congestion is steadily eroding travel speeds: The average city bus route gets 0.45 percent slower every single year. That’s especially discouraging given how slowly buses already move, with a typical bus averaging only 13.5 mph.

Transit agencies are taking action against the waits. A recent report on “Commonsense Approaches for Improving Transit Bus Speeds” surveyed not just the scale of the problem, but also solutions. In it, 59 transit agencies across America shared how they have responded to the scheduling problems presented by ever-slower bus routes. The agencies report on the most successful actions they’ve taken to improve bus speeds and reliability. Here they are, listed in descending order of popularity.

  1. Consolidate stops: More than half of agencies have thinned bus stops, some by focusing on pilot corridors, and others by gradually phasing in policy changes. Many agencies moved stops to far side of intersections at stoplights, and 13 agencies adopted physical changes like longer bus stops or bulb-outs, which help passengers board faster and more conveniently.
  2. Streamline routes: Straightening out routes, trimming deviations, eliminating duplication, and shortening routes didn’t just simplify service, it also sped up service for two-thirds of the agencies that tried this approach.
  3. Transit signal priority: The 22 agencies with signal priority can change stoplights for approaching buses. They mostly report a minor to moderate increase in bus speeds as a result. In fact, agencies singled out traffic engineering approaches like TSP as the closest to a “silver bullet,” one-step solution.
  4. Fare policy: Several agencies changed fare structures or payment methods. The one agency that collects fares before passengers board, and lets them board at both bus doors, decreased bus running times by 9 percent.
  5. Bus Rapid Transit: Ten agencies combined multiple approaches on specific routes and launched BRT service. Of those that measured the impact, almost all reported a significant increase in speed, typically around 10 to 15 percent.
  6. Vehicle changes: More than half of agencies have moved to low-floor buses, which reduce loading times by one second per passenger. Smaller buses might be more maneuverable in traffic, and ramps can speed loading for wheelchairs and bicycles.
  7. Limited stop service: Although new limited-stop services offered only minor to moderately faster speeds, it’s a simple step and 18 agencies reported launching new limited routes.
  8. Bus lanes: Dedicated lanes are used by 13 agencies, and one reported that “most routes are on a bus lane somewhere.” When implemented on wide arterial streets, this moderately improves speeds.
  9. Adjust schedules: Almost all of the surveyed agencies have adjusted running time, recovery times (the time spent turning the bus), or moved to more flexible “headway schedules.” All of these actions improve on-time performance reliability for customers, and reduce the need for buses to sit if they’re running early.
  10. Signal timing: Synchronized stoplights along transit routes can make sure that buses face more green lights than red, but only have a mild impact on operating speeds.
  11. Express service on freeways: This strategy had the largest impact on speeding up buses for the three agencies that tried it.

Read more…


Talking Headways Podcast: Get Off My Lawn

Jeff Wood and I talk about the news of the week that most tickled us or burned us — the BBC’s exposé of anti-social urban design features intended to repel people, San Francisco’s social tensions over the Google bus, and the decision by Cincinnati’s new mayor and City Council to “pause” construction of the streetcar. (Update: The streetcar might be salvaged!)

Meanwhile, I wax nostalgic for public space in Havana and Jeff laments slow progress on San Francisco’s Geary Boulevard BRT.

You can subscribe to the podcast at iTunes. And participate in the conversation by commenting here.

This will be our last podcast of 2013. Have a Happy New Year and we’ll see you in January!


Talking Headways Podcast, Episode 4: Car Brain

In this week’s podcast, Jeff and I discuss the impressive turnout — and possible pitfalls — of London’s “die-in” demonstration for bike safety. We try to contain our envy (but not our amazement) at Paul Salopek’s seven-year walk tracing the path of Homo sapiens from the Rift Valley to Tierra del Fuego. And we discuss why even passionate transit advocates know what it means to be embarrassed about taking the bus.

Thanks to pressure from our loyal readers (and some extra hand-holding from Tim Halbur) we are now (almost) available on iTunes! Which is to say, iTunes has approved the podcast but it seems it’ll still be a day or two before it’s searchable. If you’ve been following us on Soundcloud, you might want to switch over. You can follow our new RSS feed here.

So please join us for our fourth episode — the Car Brain edition. As always, please join the conversation in the comments.


Now No Republican Will Ever Ride a Bus Again

Florida RNC delegates got stuck on their bus for hours. Let's just hope this doesn't turn them against buses forever. Photo: Paul Flemming/Democrat

You’ve got to hand it to the Republicans. Even the party of transit haters had to admit that the only logical way to move delegates around in the congested streets around the GOP convention was by bus. And they would have been right, except they had a little snafu that will undoubtedly convince everyone involved that transit is, indeed, an utter failure.

As an aside, remember when Mitt Romney offended half the planet by saying he wasn’t sure London was logistically ready to host the Olympics? And then everything went totally smoothly? Maybe he should have been more concerned about Tampa.

Florida’s own delegates bore the brunt of poor planning in their own state. The Sunshine State’s convention delegates got picked up half an hour late from their hotel but still got downtown with time to spare — except the bus drove around and around, navigating security checkpoints and officers who wouldn’t let the bus stop. The delegates ended up spending two hours on the bus, missing the opening speeches. Even during their ordeal, the RNC emailed out a statement that all buses had arrived and that their operations would only get more efficient in the coming days.

Floridians weren’t the only ones who had a bad experience with convention transit this week. California and Virginia delegates also encountered some glitches. Some even speculated that the bus fiascos targeted delegates that were planning to speak out against a controversial rule change.

Now, these are charter buses we’re talking about, not city buses, but the uninitiated might lump them all together. I just want to encourage all those Republicans to give transit another chance. I think it’s a real shame that this happened. I mean, when people who think transit is a waste of money and buses are for cockroaches actually board a bus, I’d like to think they’d have a positive experience and recognize the benefits of mass transit. I doubt this experience did that for them.

I don’t know who’s to blame for the problems in Tampa. It’s more likely the fault of convention security than the drivers. I just hope they’ll try transit again.