Our regional bus system serves as a vital link to communities and workplaces that our fixed rail systems do not reach. Those residents, many of them lower income or underserved populations, rely heavily on the bus network for their daily commutes and general sustainability. However, in recent years, WMATA and other bus network providers have seen a steady decline in ridership. What are the reasons for this decline? There are many factors involved, but business leaders in the region are starting to take note and have developed a briefing paper with recommendations on how the region can improve its bus service.
In September, the Greater Washington Partnership published a briefing paper titled Rethinking the Bus, a thoughtful examination of the
problems and possible solutions to improving bus service in the greater Washington Metro area. The Greater Washington Partnership is comprised of business leaders throughout the metro region. Therefore, they are keenly aware of the economic importance of having a reliable and efficient bus network. Their recommendations for improving this network are outlined below.
1. Optimize routes to improve service and better match demand
In the Capital Region, as in many parts of the country, one can still find bus routes that are not well-matched
with riders’ needs. Some stop short of major employment centers. Others, designed to serve 9-to-5 commuters, are ineffective for those who work less traditional schedules. Land use policies that encourage development in far-flung suburbs have forced transit agencies to stretch some routes past the point of being cost-effective. Years of one-off tweaks and adjustments have led to routes that serve stops off the main road, slowing travel for everyone aboard.
While transit agencies regularly tweak bus routes, several regions (including both Baltimore and Richmond) have taken a more comprehensive approach: a complete overhaul of their bus networks. This process starts with a simple premise: ask the community what they value in bus service, and develop routes and schedules that serve these goals. In some cases, existing routes may already effectively serve those needs, while in others, new or modified routes must be created. There will always be trade-offs involved: buses that arrive frequently mean people spend less time waiting, but they cost more to operate. Providing service to the neighborhood on the outskirts of town increases access for those residents, but could mean less service in denser areas where more people would ride. The following tools are some of the ways that routes can be optimized to help communities serve more riders within existing resources.
Tools: Connect Major Destinations; Match Frequencies with Ridership Demand; Redesign Indirect Routes; Break Up Long Routes; Optimize the Distance Between Bus Stops; and, Utilize Non-Traditional Buses and Routes.
2. Make space for the bus on the region’s roads
Buses use the same roads as many other vehicles: cars, trucks, bicycles, and motorcycles. In some places, there is enough space on the roads to easily accommodate everyone. In others, road space is in high demand, leading to traffic congestion and slower travel. For buses, these capacity constraints not only reduce speed, but also reduce reliability and increase operating costs.
Improving bus service in these conditions requires local and state governments to make sure buses have the space they need to move quickly on the region’s roads. There are a number of ways to give
priority to buses in order to move the greatest number of people as quickly as possible through an area with limited capacity.
By increasing the speed of bus travel, total trip times are reduced. Research has shown that when travel times decline by 10 percent, bus ridership tends to increase 4-6 percent. The tools to help buses move faster on shared roads are generally low-cost and flexible, in that they can be targeted to specific locations and removed if conditions change. Jurisdictions that implement these changes must be committed to enforcing them if they are to have the desired effect.
Tools: Dedicate Lanes to Buses; Install Bus Bulbs and Boarding Islands; Optimize Traffic Signals for Buses; Use Queue-Jumps; and, Allow Bus-on Shoulder lanes.
3. Make boarding faster
Those who regularly ride the bus would not be surprised to learn that from one-fifth to one-third of buses’ travel time is spent waiting for people to board and pay. On most bus routes, people must line up at the front door, walk up several steps, and then either show a pass to the driver, tap a card on a reader, or feed dollars and change into
a farebox. A person paying with cash will take about three times as long to pay as someone paying with a mobile phone, so the more cash consumers a bus has, the more time will be spent on boarding. Transit agencies are beginning to address this issue with both physical and technological changes to the boarding process.
Tools: Use Off-Board or Tap-And-Go Fare Payment; and, Allow All-
4. Make buses easy to use
The harder it is for consumers to get information about a particular transportation option, the less likely it is that they will choose that option. Buses are susceptible to a host of challenges in this area, including, among other things, hard-to-read maps and confusing fare policies. Buses also face physical issues that can make them difficult to use, such as bus stops that are hard to get to due to lack of sidewalks or crosswalks. Addressing these issues, particularly when coupled with service improvements to increase speed and reliability, can improve the experience of existing riders and attract new ones.
Tools: Provide Real-Time Information; Simplify Schedules; Improve Wayfinding; Establish Bus-Friendly Fare Policies; Connect Buses With An Integrated Mobility Platform; Improve Physical Access to Bus Stops; and, Provide a Safe and Comfortable Trip.
5. Measure and report on bus performance
Publicly reporting performance data serves two goals. When performance is strong, data can help to counter misperceptions about the bus system. When performance is lacking, data can help to identify particular issues
or bottlenecks, the first step in correcting them. Performance reporting should focus on how well the region’s
bus systems are contributing to the four mobility priorities: connecting the super-region (e.g., percent of jobs accessible by transit within 45 minutes), improving the customer experience (e.g., how often buses and trains arrive on-time), ensuring equitable access (e.g., percent of jobs and services accessible to low-income residents by transit within 45 minutes), and integrating innovation (e.g., percent of riders paying with mobile phones).
Tools: Publish Regular Performance Reports; and, Institute Open-Data Policy.
The entire report adds context to these recommendations by providing data and examples from other regions that have optimized their bus services.
You can download the entire report from the Greater Washington Partnerships website at greaterwashingtonpartnership.com.
DATA welcomed Commonwealth of Virginia Secretary of Transportation, Hon. Shannon Valentine (inset photo ©David Galen), as keynote speaker at DATA’s 32nd Anniversary Celebration and Awards Ceremony on Thursday, May 24th at the Hilton Washington Dulles Airport Hotel in Herndon. The annual dinner event is one of only two fundraisers DATA holds each year to help support its mobility management efforts.
DATA President John Martin served as emcee for the evening, introducing the elected officials in attendance and delivering opening remarks. Helen Cuervo, District Engineer, Northern Virginia District of the Virginia Department of Transportation, introduced Secretary Valentine. The Secretary shared the new administration’s vision for transportation in the Commonwealth, particularly as it relates to the challenges faced by businesses and citizens in the Dulles area.
As always, a highlight of the evening was the presentation of DATA’s Awards. This year’s honorees included:
J. Hamilton Lambert, recipient of the 16th Annual Dr. Sidney Steele Founder’s Award. Mr. Lambert is a former Fairfax County Executive and the current Executive Director ofthe Claude Moore Charitable Foundation.
James N. Larsen, recipient of the President’s Award. Jim is the former Executive Director and CEO of DATA and currently heads up the Commuter Services Bureau of Arlington County’s Department of Transportation.
Bob Evans and Kelley Westenhoff, recipients of the “DATAs.” Bob and Kelley provided key support to DATA’s Live More Commute Less: FOCUS! grant, aimed at establishing a bike-oriented community in Reston and at encouraging commuters to bike or walk the “last mile” from the Wiehle-Reston East Metro station to their home or office.
Fairfax County employers who have received “Best Workplaces for Commuters” designation were recognized with a banner in the ballroom.
The program concluded with DATA Executive Director Doug Pickford thanking the event’s sponsors and providing brief remarks on the successes and future challenges for DATA.
For more information on DATA, or to become a DATA member, please contact Director of Sales and Marketing Kelly Woodward at email@example.com.
For more than 25 years, Washington Dulles International Airport has invited the community to a free, one-day open house to experience aviation up close and raise money for a good cause. This year, the Dulles Day Festival and Plane Pull 2018, benefitting Special Olympics Virginia, is on Saturday, September 15.
“We are extremely proud of the event that we’ve built over more than two decades as a partner to this community and in support of a great cause,” said Mike Stewart, Airport Manager for Dulles International Airport. “Special Olympics Virginia opens doors for athletes with intellectual disabilities to have their dreams fulfilled of competing in the sports they love. The support of the community and the donations raised through Dulles Day is vital to the ongoing success of Special Olympics.”
For newcomers to the event, you can start the day early with the first activity: a 5K and 10K Race on the Runway. Runners will trot over huge skid marks where aircraft wheels touch down each day on an airport runway, and take in unique views that are normally seen for just a few moments by airline passengers. There are only 2,500 runner slots available, so register early at www.potomacenmotive.com.
Following the race at 10:30 a.m., the gates open to the airfield where a huge, free festival awaits all visitors. The signature event of the day is the Plane Pull, a friendly competition featuring teams of 25 people trying to pull a full-size jet aircraft – weighing 82 tons – the longest distance in the shortest time. Proceeds from this fund-raising activity benefit Special Olympics Virginia.
But guests don’t have to race or pull planes to enjoy the Dulles Day Festival and Plane Pull—there’s something fun for everyone. Children can flex their muscles in the Kids’ Truck Pull competition, and surrender to fun at kids’ play area with bounce houses and a dunk-a-cop tank. For aviation enthusiasts, there will be current and vintage aircraft on display, and a classic car show. Not to be left out, the Airports Authority Police, Fire and Rescue and Maintenance teams will also display the massive equipment that keeps the airport running smoothly.
For those guests curious about the airport, there will be airfield tours aboard the famous Dulles Mobile Lounges and rides on Airports Authority Fire Trucks. And for the dog lover community, the Airports Authority Police Department K-9 team will give hourly demonstrations. And for the foodies, several food and beverage vendors and food trucks will be on site offering a wide variety of options for all tastes.
The day-long, family-friendly event has free admission and free parking, and is accessible through the Silver Line Express.
For more information about Dulles Day Festival and Plane Pull, visit planepull.com.
By Elizabeth Darak
Last month I attended the Association for Commuter Transportation (ACT) International Conference in Anaheim, CA and I was inspired by the opening presentation given by Jason Roberts.
The ACT International Conference is the annual gathering of Transportation Demand Management (TDM) professionals attracting attendees from the United States, Canada, Europe, and Australia. Attendees include representatives from major employers, departments of transportation, municipalities, transportation management associations, metropolitan planning organizations, consultants, transit agencies, vendors, and other shared use mobility providers.
As I mentioned previously, Jason Roberts was the keynote speaker at the grand conference opening. He is an artist, civic activist, and urban designer whose life’s work has been dedicated to the creation of healthy, vibrant, and sustainable neighborhoods. In 2006, Jason formed the nonprofit organization, Oak Cliff Transit Authority, to revive the Dallas streetcar system, and later spearheaded the city’s effort in garnering a $23 million grant from the federal government to help reintroduce a modern streetcar system to Dallas.
In 2010, Jason organized a series of Better Block projects, taking blighted blocks with vacant properties in Dallas and converting them into temporary, walkable districts with pop-up businesses, bike lanes, cafe seating, and landscaping.
The Better Block project started when a group of community organizers, neighbors, and property owners gathered together to revitalize a single commercial block in an underused neighborhood corridor. The group brought together all the resources from the community and converted the block into a walkable, bikeable neighborhood destination for people of all ages complete with bike lanes, cafe seating, trees, plants, pop-up businesses, and lighting. The project was developed to show the city how the block could be revived to improve area safety, health, and economics, if ordinances that restricted small business and multi-modal infrastructure were removed.
Since then, The Better Block approach has been used in over two hundred cities around the world to illustrate rapid street changes and community revitalization. These cities have reported greater understanding and urgency by elected officials, leaders, and citizens for permanent change. Team Better Block’s work was featured in the 2012 Venice Biennale and has been spotlighted in The New York Times, The Washington Post, and Dwell Magazine.
Here are some example of Better Block projects.
East Grand Better Block – DES MOINES, IOWA
The goal of East Grand Better Block was to envision a shared use trail that accommodated cyclists, skaters, joggers, people in wheelchairs, and other forms of non-motorized transportation. The community wanted to see East Grand as a place to come and stay, not just a place to get through.
Linwood Better Block – FORT WORTH, TX
Linwood Better Block demonstrated and implemented several, simple traffic calming and place-making elements in an area in transition, addressing safety and connectivity concerns from new and old residents asking for more attention.
Akron Better Block – AKRON, OH
Akron Better Block took place in the North Hill neighborhood on N. Main Street, a wide, intimidating four-lane thoroughfare that was created to quickly move cars from downtown to the suburbs. Better Block worked to reduce the scale of the street to allow for human activity and encouraged local entrepreneurs to test out their business ideas in the vacant storefronts for the weekend. The Akron Better Block team filled the gaps made by parking lots and demolished buildings by creating pedestrian plazas and fields for sports, yoga, and ping pong. For one weekend at least, N. Main Street realized its potential as a thriving, economically viable block.
To see these Better Block projects, visit teambetterblock.com.
It’s mobile. It’s multi-purpose. And we’re hoping it can motivate you to change your commute!
DATA’s Great Travelling Van Show, a Dodge Caravan wrapped in colorful graphics, hit the road in June bringing information on vanpooling to commuters right at their home or office. And with generous subsidies provided by DATA through a Vanpool!VA grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation – the first two months are totally free and there’s even a gas card included – there’s no better time to see if vanpooling is your “better way to work.”
The idea for the GTVS came from DATA’s years-long effort to encourage Westfields International Corporate Center employees to form vanpools to help reduce congestion on roads leading to and from the 1,100 acre Class A Fairfax County business park. And with the addition of residential and retail – including a 120,000 square-foot Wegmans – the need to reduce single occupant vehicle traffic has never been more pressing. Over the next months, this information kiosk-on-wheels will be visiting locations within Westfields as well as offices and residential communities throughout Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William Counties.
The van’s first stop was at The Aerospace Corporation where DATA’s Program Managers Liz Darak, Karla Nativi, and Sarah McGowan joined Enterprise representative Dayna Paszkiet in explaining the advantages of vanpooling. Employees learned that when 4-15 co-workers share a ride, they can each save on gas, reduce out-of-pocket maintenance expenses, lower car insurance, and shorten their commute by taking toll-free advantage of HOV and Express Lanes.
Vanpoolers typically share driving responsibilities, reducing the individual stress of fighting traffic day-in, day-out. Vans can be equipped with wi-fi, so riders can jump-start their workday…or, better yet, stream their favorite Netflix series!
Depending on the length of your commute, vanpooling can save you hundreds of dollars each month, cutting commuting costs as much as 80%!
In the next few weeks, you’ll see The Great Travelling Van Show at businesses like Northwest Federal Credit Union in Herndon and Oracle’s Reston location. Attending an outdoor fair or festival? Look for the GTVS (pictured) and ask how vanpooling might improve your commute.
If you think your employees or co-workers might benefit from learning more about vanpooling and the grant subsidies available right now, call DATA at 703.817.1307 and one of our Program Managers can help you schedule a visit from The Great Travelling Van Show.
There’s never been a better time to get moving.