Thursday, January 15, 2015

A Stupid Level of West Salem Transit could Cost 1/3 of a Bridge Yearly

One of the incredibly disappointing things about the system reboot at Cherriots is the way concurrently it has embraced the Salem River Crossing.

It is convenient, but not very truthful, to treat the system reboot
and the Third Bridge as wholly separate matters
Its new service levels will exacerbate pressure for a bridge.

Folks defend Cherriots and say that it doesn't make sense to run empty buses around the hills, and purely from an operations perspective that's right. But what's lacking is the structural vision for mobility in West Salem. If we are thinking about a giant bridge and highway, are there things we can do that are more cost-effective? Cherriots has ducked this one.

At the Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting in DC this week, folks from TransitMix used a Salem data set in their demo.

Transitmix Pro from Sam on Vimeo.

That's the 21 Rees Hill route in South Salem.

The pro version is enriched with demographic information that shows the number of riders within walking distance from a stop, as well as other bells and whistles. But the beta version publicly available does give some rudimentary costing information.

6 lines @ 7 day service = $15 million / year
via TransitMix beta
It turns out that you can fashion strong coverage - even stupid coverage - for about $15 million a year.

This has two crossing, north-south routes and four routes into downtown. Frequent service is every 10 minutes at morning and evening rush hours, and they are all 15 minute evening and weekend service. Don't think the north-south routes are useful? Change 'em to routes running just downtown. We're just looking for a swag, here no more precise than the planning level estimate of $430 million (or whatever) for the bridge and highway.

Either way that's full transit for one-third of the $45+ million in annual taxes, fees, and tolls for a new bridge.

(As a proportion of Cherriots total operations that's a big chunk, of course, but the question here is only whether this is a plausible way of achieving the mobility goals for at a lower cost.)

So then an interesting question is, does that service meet the "purpose and need" conceived for the bridge?

2006 Purpose and Need Statement
And is it consistent with our Comprehensive Plan, our highest-level policy document, which suggests expanded transit, fewer drive-alone trips, and less off-street parking are all goals for Salem.

This summer the Department of Land Conservation and Development sent a letter to the City of Salem outlining the procedure for exceptions to the Urban Growth Boundary or for enlarging the Urban Growth Boundary. The City has indicated they will proceed by the latter path. About this the DLCD says, "the findings will have to show that the alternatives that involve widening the existing bridges only" won't work, that "the need cannot reasonably be accommodated...inside the existing Salem-Keizer UGB."

Isn't a vast expansion of bus service something that shows the mobility need can be reasonably accommodated for a lot less cost inside the existing UGB?

This is just a cocktail napkin sketch, but it's another way of looking at mobility across the river that shows just how thin and one-dimensional is the imagination of those pushing for the Third Bridge.


Well, whadya know, there's an N3B piece on costs in the paper today also!

Op-Ed, January 15th

1 comment:

Walker said...

Ah, but the dirty secret of transit - the unsayable thing - is that all over the US we are starving transit systems because we yoked the provision of paratransit (handicapped) service to the NUMBER OF SERVICE HOURS of the fixed route transit system.

Which is why we got zero service on weekends instead of some other change. The bottom line is that, for Cherriots, killing service hours is the only sensible strategy, because they're required to offer paratransit hour-for-hour with fixed route service.

The solution is that eventually someone in the disability rights community is going to figure out that the proper thing to measure accessibility for the handicapped against is not bus service hours but ROAD SYSTEM service hours . . . which are, of course, 24/7.

In other words, rather than making bus riders and paratransit users fight over the tiny scraps of funding that fall on the floor to go into transit, what we need is to notice that there are huge juicy steaks, giant slabs of funding, reserved for use by those who are both physically well-off enough to drive and financially well-off enough to be able to do so. And that's the funding that builds roads and bridges and other auto amenities all over the US. And it's all for the benefit of the healthy and wealthy, while folks who are neither are forced into second class citizen status (bus riders) or third-class citizen status (paratransit riders). So long as the two classes on the bottom are yoked together into a zero sum game, we'll get the inexorable decline of our transit system such as we've seen in Salem.

But if we can get transit riders and paratransit riders to work together, they could bring suit against ODOT and the State of Oregon and demand that funding for paratransit be made from the roadway funds, not from transit funding, based on the ADA obligation to provide equivalent service to what we provide to healthy/wealthy folks (car users). We don't have to give every handicapped person a van, but we could say that "If you're going to build a road system that has cost trillions and keep spending billions on it annually, then you need to spend a tiny slice of those billions on making sure that handicapped folks can access it on as close to the same terms as other folks do."

Thus, instead of cannibalizing Cherriots (and creating perverse incentives for Cherriots to cut service hours as the only way to actually cut costs), we can fund Cherriots out of property taxes while funding roads and supporting paratransit services using gas taxes, tolls, and vehicle registration fees.