Thursday, March 31, 2011

redesigning Port Authority's bus service (Feb. 25, 2007)

While Port Authority of Allegheny County plans to eliminate over half of its bus routes in a cost-cutting move, I am aware of an independent plan that will actually provide better service with the cut-back service hours than is currently provided with full service.

The key to all this is in changing several key assumptions about how service is implemented. What we have now resembles a bicycle wheel -- one hub (Downtown) with many spokes, i.e., bus routes, going out to the farther reaches of the county. Some routes have lots of service; many have sparse service; plenty of them have less or no service on Saturday, and plenty of those have less still or no service on Sunday.

The independent plan would not simply cut routes, it would reimplement ALL service. There would still be several routes going Downtown, each with very heavy service, but the majority of routes would not go Downtown. Instead, they would provide at least one bus an hour, seven days a week, to every significant corner of the city and county, transporting them to hubs outside the city, usually a shopping mall, where one can transfer to a Downtown-bound bus.

Areas that already have heavy demand, the three dozen routes that form roughly half of all service hours today, would see no significant reduction, and may in fact see a service increase, but only on their heaviest used segments. On the outer reaches, hourly shuttles do the work. Weekday express routes continue to exist, though not as many as at present.

Transfer fares would be simplified, employing the one-fare/two-hours principle being put forth as one of the fare proposals. You pay to ride the system for two hours, whether you ride one bus or six. In my opinion, Port Authority should have made that change many years ago.

The only downside I can see to it is that it would be a major change, and everyone would be confused. That can already be said, however, about the current cutback plan. Indeed, the current operation has too much complexity, with very few routes adhering to one routing pattern and running with clockwork regularity. More than a couple of routes employ 10 or more routing patterns; a couple use more than 20. Not so in the independent plan -- one route, one pattern, once an hour (at least), every route, seven days a week, and many of them well into the evening.

Clockwork scheduling. Simplicity in routing. Service to just about every neighborhood, with a five-minute walk or less for a healthy adult, maybe 10 in the farther-flung areas. And all this with fewer buses than we have now.

It's definitely worth considering. Stay tuned for more.


bus15237 said...

March 2011 comment: The proposal I outline here was indeed made formal and submitted to Port Authority of Allegheny County in early March 2007 as part of the public input on the proposed fare and service changes that were to be implemented in June 2007. The author was Michael Sypolt (Twitter, blog), whose recent maps site has been very helpful in understanding the last couple of major changes.

While I cannot prove it, I believe Mike's March 2007 input was instrumental in getting Port Authority to consider major changes to its way of doing business. As most of the input PAT got was a comment that said "Don't cut my bus!", Mike's was a 48-inch plot of the proposed bus routes, an Access database capable of printing driver instructions, and 90 public timetables in PDF format.

bus15237 said...

March 2007 comment:
Pittsburgh Storm
You've managed to spark my interests. Keep us informed.