Earlier this month, I began a discussion online about ServicePlan2020. This coming Monday, Feb. 22, our board will be considering adopting this comprehensive plan that will guide our service changes over the next several years.
ServicePlan2020 attempts to strike a balance between a lot of key factors. At Capital Metro, we believe (and ServicePlan2020 supports the idea) that this community would benefit from an enhanced public transportation system with more coverage, frequency, route directness and hours of service. Yet we don’t have the means to deliver all of that within the available budget.
For example, the Bus Rider’s Union provided some very thoughtful input into the process early on, proposing a grid-like system of routes blanketing Central Austin with 24-hour service, and better yet with all routes operating once every 15 minutes! Cool idea that makes a lot of sense. However, when we ran the network through a preliminary cost analysis, we found that it would cost about 2.5 times more to operate than our current system. Capital Metro simply could not run such a system under our current funding structure.
The reality, then, is that some fundamental tradeoffs have to occur to balance things out, just as is the case at transit agencies across the country. Consider the following perspective, which is elaborated much more fully by transit planner Jarrett Walker on the Human Transit Blog: transit is expected to fulfill not one, but two primary objectives.
First, transit is expected to provide mobility for people that do not have access to a car and to provide access to and from as many locations as possible. To accomplish this objective, service should be spread out like peanut butter on a piece of bread, trying to ensure maximum coverage. This has several implications: service will probably not be very direct as it will tend to wind into and out of neighborhoods; it will not run very often, since it will have to cover such a large area; the passenger amenities will be sparse, because there will be so many stops yet very few with substantial numbers of riders; and it likely will not attract significant new ridership because the service lacks convenience. However, such service will offer basic mobility to the greatest number of people.
Second, transit is expected to benefit society by helping fight traffic congestion on busy corridors, improve air quality by converting single-occupant vehicle trips to more environmentally-friendly shared trips, and to operate as cost-effectively as possible. To accomplish this objective, service should be concentrated, with service focused on major corridors in higher density areas, and it should operate at a high level so that it attracts riders away from the automobile.
The ServicePlan2020 team kept these two sometimes competing interests in mind when they developed recommendations for Capital Metro’s system. Take a look at the resulting plan on our Web site.