Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Cherriots West Salem Connector and the Elephant: One Year In

On a day when Portland's launching their newest transit initiative, the BIKETOWN bikeshare system, let's look at Salem's own transit pilot program.

Last month Cherriots published the first year's report on the flexible transit "West Salem Connector" service. Detailed transit analysis isn't the thing here, so maybe you will have more to say. But there are several interesting bits in it - including the SRC elephant.

A Year in Review
(slides throughout from it)
Cherriots has not always seemed very self-aware or self-critical, and so it was great to see some frank statements about failure in the report. Here, for example, is the conclusion that the attempt to be thrifty by reusing old, retired paratransit vehicles was actually more costly.

Without drilling too deeply into it, on the surface it seemed like a credible self-assessment. That was nice to see.

The biggest complaint about it is that Cherriots continues to ignore the way service levels fit into the context of cross-river mobility. Cherriots is not analytically self-aware here, alas. The Salem River Crossing continues to be a giant lacuna, the proverbial "elephant in the room." It's not a factor in the analysis at all. In this Cherriots limits themselves to a tactical discussion about West Salem service, and avoids questions about larger strategy and priorities. This may be practical, sure, but it is also a huge evasion and renunciation, and ensures that much of West Salem will continue to be difficult to serve. It perpetuates, instead of ameliorates, conditions that we already know are problematic.

Target for the service is 45 passenger trips per day. Are we served, though, by such a low floor for expectations?

It seems that a question we should also be asking is, What level of service eliminates the need for a $1,000 million bridge and highway?

The answer to that will not be measured in tens of boardings per day.

And even if you say, "well look at all the autoist challenges: no one is served by running empty buses in the hills" we should have a better analysis of the trade-offs.

One swag suggested that for $15 million annually, instead of the $45 million low-ball annual estimate for a bridge and highway, we could have a ridiculous level of service in West Salem. Would saving $30 million a year be a reasonable trade-off? Seriously, why aren't we having that debate? Maybe more to the point, why isn't Cherriots leading that debate?

(At the same time, critics of the bridge should consider more deeply that improving service to West Salem effectively - that is, in a way that creates a substantial increase in river crossings by transit and equivalent decrease by drive-alone car - is not obvious or easy, and that simple slogans for "more transit" are mostly powerless.)

6 lines @ 7 day service = $15 million /year
via TransitMix beta (not from Cherriots)
There's just too much of a deep background assumption for the bridge and highway here. In this project, we look at transit as filling in mobility gaps rather than fundamentally constitutive of mobility. It's a "table scraps" approach. Sure it's thrifty, and current conditions do call for Cherriots to try to do "more with less." But it's also a West Salem cul-de-sac, a dead-end for mobility.

Cherriots is extending the pilot project in West Salem. This seems like a mixed message - a clear admission that use and adoption of it is not proceeding as quickly as folks would like, but also a sign that on its own limited terms it's at least a partial success. Cherriots is then also working towards evaluating extensions of it for South Salem and Keizer. Because those areas are not constrained by the river and it bridges, the tactical focus in analysis seems likely to work better, and it may be that service in those areas can be more thoroughly knit into the system and to be consistent with longer-range strategy.

But as long as we situate analyses of transit in West Salem without also an explicit discussion of the Salem River Crossing, we are not having an honest discussion about mobility.


Walker said...

"What level of service eliminates the need for a $1,000 million bridge and highway?"

There is no level of transit service that can ever eliminate a phony "need" that is not actually based on need at all. The Bridgeasaurus Boondogglus is based on greed, not need.

Shorter: "You can't reason people out of positions that they didn't reason themselves into."

Susann Kaltwasser said...

Today in the mail came a large flier from Salem-Keizer Transit to all West Salem residents about the shuttle system. It contained a free pass too. I wonder if part of the problem is that most people don't know about the service. Maybe this might help with that.

I won't be using my pass. Part of the reason is that the bus system does not go where I need to go in a timely fashion. Could that also be a big part of the problem?

Even if I were desperate for a ride, my guess is that before I took the bus, I would ask a friend to give me a ride. And so it goes....

Anonymous said...

Kansas City has a similar experiment going, and apparently demand is slack:


"It’s nearly a year to the day since the Kansas City Area Transit Authority launched an on-demand transit service pilot project with Bridj. Hailed as the ‘future of low density transit’,” the app-based program provides peak hour on-demand van rides from the University of Kansas Medical Center and 18th and Vine Jazz District to Downtown Kansas City. But available data on the program indicates that usage is practically nonexistent."