Town Center in Winter

Town Center in Winter

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Unreliable, Infrequent Transit Will Undercut Its Use

A January 16, 2013, article in Governing entitled, Top Reasons People Stop Using Public Transit, highlights research results presented at the ongoing Transportation Research Board (TRB) conference in Washington, DC, showing the importance of reliability and service frequency in keeping transit users on public transit.  As the article highlights:
Frequent, consistent service -- and in particular, reliable transfers between stops -- are what's most important to riders, according to the study. Riders care most about getting picked up from their stop in 10 minutes or less (emphasis added), and they especially value being able to make their scheduled connections. They're not so interested in whether their rides are crowded or whether they can find a seat.
And why shouldn't they, especially in suburban areas that are transitioning to a more urban core--like Tysons and Reston--where residents have easy access to cars and roads that are offer instant access, even if roads are congested or require tolls?  They won't be standing in bad weather waiting for a bus or a train or worse, transferring from one to another; they will be sitting in their comfortable car, probably alone, driving in traffic to their destination. 

Yet, Fairfax County transit officials appear to ignore or minimize the importance of frequency and access.   For example:
  • Chapter 8 of the County's 1-year Transit Development Plan (TDP) analyzes bus service in Tysons, but discusses frequency (headway) primarily as a branding scheme.  It's "Tysons Link" service would offer 10-minute headways only during peak periods.  Other bus service to and within Tysons would be less frequent.  That's inadequate if the County is trying to be serious about moving people out of their cars and on to transit.
  • Chapter 7 of the County's December 2009 TDP notes that, in Reston, "Although some restructuring to the bus routes in this area is recommended below, largely due to the opening of the Silver Line, there would be no overall reduction in transit service, so there is no cause for concern about either at‐risk riders or others losing any transit accessibility. (pp. 65-66)"  In fact, the TDP proposes eliminating three bus routes (Rts. 505, 551, and 556) and adding one with the opening of the Silver Line at Wiehle.  Just how this planned reduction in service will lead to greater bus use is not explained.
  • Chapter 7 (p. 70) also shows that no buses in Reston will run at less than 15-minute headways--ever.  

  • The recently posted County preliminary bus transit plan to accommodate the opening of Wiehle Station reinforces the infrequency of Reston bus service.  A review of all the Reston routes therein indicates the following peak service:  "Weekdays: Every 15 minutes during rush hour."  And we're not even sure whether they really mean a single "hour" or throughout morning and evening peak periods.   Those Reston buses that operate throughout the day will provide service only once per hour, not even the 30-minute headways proposed in the 2009 TDP.  Are you ready to wait an hour for a bus?
The result of Fairfax County's bus transit plans to serve Reston and even Tysons is that few, if any people, will feel leaving their cars for buses serves any useful purpose.  Traffic on local roads will continue to grow and the number of people served by bus transit will not.  

The inadequate plans reflect the County leadership's seemingly broader position that the county can reap the economic benefits of urbanization--primarily more tax revenues for itself--without investing in the infrastructure required to make it succeed.   Indeed, until forced to do so, such as at Tysons after they approved a plan to double density there in two decades, the County leadership has generally ignored issues of needed concurrent infrastructure and amenity development with the arrival of the Silver Line in the absence of immense pressure from the community.  They continue to try to grow the county on the cheap, a truly outrageous strategy for one of the country's wealthiest counties. 

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