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Thursday, June 22, 2017

SLC Transit Master Plan: Appendix D Commentary: Open Letter

Guys,

This is bleak: 

"Coverage rather than speed is the goal for the local network. Stop spacing as close as 600 feet can be acceptable in some cases".

It is also nonsense. I have zero issue with buses making special 'courtesy stops' for the elderly or disabled, but providing bus stops every 600' diffuses riders, meaning buses have to stop more often, which means buses are slower, which means fewer people ride them. (The #2 bus through downtown is already my personal bete noir.)

Jarrett Walker does an excellent job of explaining why spacing stops so closely is bad. To quote:

"transit planners generally observe that the walking distance that most people seem to tolerate — the one beyond which ridership falls off drastically — is about 400m (around 1/4 mi) for a local-stop service, and about 1000m (around 3/5 mi) for a very fast, frequent, and reliable rapid transit service"

A quarter mile is 1,320. I understand the impetus for the small stop spacing: Coverage is a valid goal. But there are trade-offs associated with it, namely duplicate coverage (when an area has coverage from two areas).

 Again, to quote Mr. Walker:

  1. Which is worse, creating duplicate coverage area or leaving a coverage gap?  It depends on what you’re trying to do.  In fact, this is arguably connected to the tension between designing for ridership and designing for coverage, generally to meet social service needs.  If you care mostly about the latter, you want to minimize the coverage gap so that everyone has access, and you don’t care that much of the resulting line is slower and therefore less attractive to other riders.  On the other hand, if you want to maximize ridership, you’ll worry more about the duplicate coverage gap, because in addition to representing wasted coverage, closer stop spacing means slower operations.  Both more expensive to operate and less attractive riders; so you’ll tend to want to push stops further apart.
UTA is 'stingy' with service for just these reasons. There is not point in have empty buses, even if they stop every block. Those buses could be better used elsewhere. UTA does have legal 'coverage' requirements from the FTA, saying that it can't cut routes to low-income/minority communities. 

UTA also strives to maintain 'equity' in their service provision, so that service miles provides in a city is proportional to the subsidy provided by that city. It has to--as a public authority, it  is beholden to its member cities. If SLC wants more transit, it's going to have to pony up more money. 

Thank you for your time and attention.

Respectfully,