Monday, October 31, 2005

Time To Split Up the UTA?

Is the UTA trying to juggle to many eggs?

It seems like recent actions by the organization clearly shows that there needs to be organizational change at the UTA. One of the problems with the organization is that it is just too big and is having a hard time answering to the needs of three counties.

Its is time to look at breaking up the UTA into three or four different organizations. The first couple would run bus service is the North Davis/Weber County areas. The second would be in charge of bus service in Utah County. The third organization would be in charge of bus service and TRAX in Salt Lake and South Davis Counties. This would allow boards to oversee their counties and the organization would be more responsible to the customers it serves.

The big question mark would be what to do with the commuter rail and bus service. One possibility would be to create a fourth organization that would run these services since many of the customers who ride these buses and will ride the commuter rail system will not ride the local bus system except for a short ride in say Downtown Salt Lake which should be in the free fare zone once commuter rail starts.

One of the biggest arguments that comes out of these proposals is that its balkanizing the system and making it harder for people to commute. These issues can be easily solved by creating a uniform fare structure and creating agreements before the split that requires joint fares.

The benefits of splitting up the system is that people in thier respective counties would have better representation and have a bigger voice on how the transit system is run.

It is clear that there needs to be changes with the UTA. This is one change that gives local customers better service and better representation.
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Saturday, October 29, 2005

No Surcharge Until June

A Salt Lake City city bus with ski racks, in U...Image via WikipediaWell it looks like the riders of the UTA are getting a reprieve from the fuel surcharge that the UTA proposed putting into effect on December 1. It turns out that the agreements for some of the special passes that UTA has would not allow them to put on a fuel charge.

But rest assured the UTA does plane to put the fuel charge in effect in June when the existing agreements end and new agreements can be worked out.

At the UTA board meeting on Wednesday 10 advocates for the poor protested the surcharge but that had little bearing on the decision by the UTA.

It was interesting that one of the board members pointed out that the surcharge will not be charged on paratransit service. This is despite the fact that paratransit service is the mostly costly of all bus services and truly is not a transit service but instead a taxi service.

Also some have complained that the surcharge will also be on TRAX despite the fact that TRAX does not use electricity.

It looks like 2006 still will not be a good year for the riders of the UTA. January 1st brings in the already approved fare increase (wasn't the fare increase to offset higher fuel prices?), then in April they will cut bus routes which they haven't announced what will be cut, then in June the fuel surcharge takes effect.

Its just enough to make choice customers make a choice back to their cars.
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Tuesday, October 25, 2005

UTA Changes in April

A TRAX train passing the Frank E.Image via WikipediaIt sure would be nice to know what the UTA has in mind for riders when they cut bus service in April. While I cannot say exactly what is going to happen here is some of the things I believe will be on the table:

-Route 7: Discontinued-it runs along the same route as the 11 for much of the way. Of course one of the problems with this pair is that as I have mentioned before, the buses run a few minutes away from each other instead of providing coordinated service. So if the 7 goes, it can be laid directly on the incompetence of the UTA planners.

-Routes 5 and 13: One of these routes might end up on the chopping block due to duplication on parts of their routes. The truth is the whole eastside bus service needs to be reorganized by it most likely will be reorganized in a customer unfriendly way since the consultants usually just look at numbers and don't look at reasons behind the numbers.

-Routes 35 and 36: Truth be told these routes need some reorganization. They meander throughout the West Valley are but only run ever hour which is not enough service to build a customer base. The only problem is that there needs to be some new service out there primarily more north-south routes travel on streets such as 4000 West, 4800 West, 5600 West and so on.
-Routes 24, 33, and 222: These routes may see some cuts too although the 33 is already hourly and none of them run on Saturdays anymore so there is not a lot left to cut.

One of the big problems with the system is that there should have been major revamping when TRAX was started and when the University Line opened. However what was done instead was to cut the routes at the nearest TRAX station instead of a comprehensive revamp of the system. A perfect example of the poor cuts was the 33. The bus is so far away from TRAX at 1300 East and 6600 South when he starts heading there, people on the bus at that time would be in downtown if they bus headed directly there by the time they catch a TRAX train.

It is too bad that what cuts are proposed will go back to the fact that the planners have failed in their job. Why should UTA's customers be hurt because of poor planning?
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Monday, October 24, 2005

UTA Bus Service Changes

utah transit authorityImage by pbo31 via FlickrNot only is UTA going to give you two fare increases in the next couple of months, it also plans to give you another present in April: Bus Cuts.

While not planning to implement its mysterious bus changes yet because of issues downtown, it does plan to cut some routes in the spring shake up.

So far UTA has not said what routes it plans to cut, only that notices will be posted on the buses system and TRAX. Most of the time they never publish any of the proposed changes on the website or where the meetings to talk about the cuts will be. Last year when they discontinued the 12 line, there never was any notice published in the news section of their website.

To top off it all off, not only are they raising fares and cutting service, the fuel surcharge that every one will pay will not go in effect on Paratransit Service despite the fact that it is the most costly UTA service that is more taxi service than transit service.

Once again this clearly shows that UTA doesn't have a clue and doesn't truly care about attracting choice customers to the transit system.
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Sunday, October 23, 2005

Fuel Surcharge A Bad Idea

Rail pictogram: see Rail Icons for more inform...Image via Wikipedia Well it looks like UTA is going to implement a fuel surcharge to cover the cost of fuel that is escalating and despite prices for gasoline going down recently, the price of diesel is actually going up.

However, while the UTA is incurring additional the cost, the fuel surcharge is the wrong way to about collecting revenue. What UTA plans to do is charge an additional quarter to all riders. That means that even pass holders will have to fork out a quarter every time they ride even after they go to the trouble of buying a pass.

The UTA needs to be making the system easy to ride in order to encourage the choice customers to switch from driving to taking the bus or TRAX. If the choice customers find it too hard to use the system they will go back to driving their cars. The fuel charge will drive many of this choice customers back to their cars.

To make it a double whammy, not only are they going to start charging this fuel surcharge in December, then the following month they are going to increase regular fares by 10 cents. How what a Christmas and New Years presents the riders of the UTA are going to get this year.

Once again, the people in charge of the UTA are not thinking out of the box. They are doing nothing to encourage increase bus ridership to offset the increase fuel prices. UTA needs to start thinking out of the box and stop this dumb programs that only hurt ridership not increase it.
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Thursday, October 20, 2005

All That Glitters....

City of Las VegasImage via Wikipedia On my recent trip to Las Vegas, in addition to riding the Monorail I also had the opportunity to try out the other great transit experiment, MAX which runs from Downtown to North Las Vegas. This is a Bus Rapid Transit service that has been highly touted and used as an example of a light rail "like" system but of course for less money.

The line uses dedicated traffic lanes for part of its journey along with million dollar buses that use Hybrid technology. The system also has Proof of Payment fare collection, and makes limited stops.

I will not discuss ridership numbers on my trip since it occurred on a Saturday, but in Las Vegas that should not play a role in the numbers. The first thing you notice is that the buses are slightly quieter than a normal bus but in no way is comparable to electrified operation of light rail. In addition you still get the road noise and other problems associated with rubber tire technology.

The buses are equipped with an optical sensor system so that when the bus approaches a stop the system takes over the steering and steers the bus to a perfect stop. Great concept that just doesn't work in reality. Because of the drifting sands of the area the optical sensor system has never worked and would not work in area that gets snow (ie: Utah) either.

Unlike the monorail this system is run the CAT the local bus system and does use normal cat fares, transfers, and bus buses. They have been touting the great ridership increase but in reality less than a thousand new riders are on board on a regular basis.

When it comes down to it, MAX is nothing but a glorified bus and many local residents I talked to see it as nothing but a glorified bus. It is not attracting the choice riders that Light Rail does but does serve a purpose of getting people along the corridor faster. However, the Limited bus that used to serve the area did the same thing at less cost.

Much like the monorail, the MAX system is all glitter and no gold.
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Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Good Idea from Vegas....

Las Vegas BoulevardImage via Wikipedia While I do not see a good transit ideas coming out of Vegas, there is one project they are doing that UTA should look at and implement.

The service is called Silver Star service. The concept behind Silver Star is that it runs from Senior Citizen housing and other senior citizen buildings to major shopping destinations in the area. The routes only run a couple of times per week, they run primarily from 9:00am or so to about 4:00pm so they are not out at rush hour, and they use small cutaway vans since they go into the parking lots of major stores and small apartment complexes.

While these services primarily target senior citizens, anyone can ride the buses and they are equipped with wheelchair lifts.

The service has been successful and has grown from one route to 11 in only a few years.

This service is an excellent idea and should be tried here in Utah. There are many seniors in housing that are fearful of riding regular transit especially with walking to it. Both Las Vegas and Utah have many bad drivers and being a pedestrian in either area is dangerous. This will allow seniors to ride the bus and not have to worry about crossing dangerous streets.

Like in Vegas, the buses could run a couple of days per week on each route, and serve and many locations as possible within an hour time frame before being back at the origination point. Most of Salt Lake city could be covered in a couple of routes then find the best places to put a couple of routes in the suburbs.

UTA needs to be looking at innovative transit ideas like Silver Star. It serves the population that needs transit the most and is very useful for others. It serves a market that is waiting for good transit service.
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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Impressions of the Las Vegas Monorail

The Las Vegas Monorail over Paradise RdImage via Wikipedia If you lived in Salt Lake City before the first TRAX line opened in '99 you may remember that there was a big campaign by the monorail folks to saying that a monorail should be built instead of light rail. What was interesting about the campaign is that it was run by some group that had offices in Seattle, Salt Lake City, and one other city and called the Wilmore Group. What was interesting about the whole thing was there was no website for the company and if you wanted to contact their Salt Lake office you could only get a recording or send a fax. Well Salt Lake went for Light Rail and it has been successful.

However the monorail folks did have two successes although one of them is in financial trouble now before turning a lick of dirt. Las Vegas now has a monorail operating and Seattle approved funding for theirs but there is many issues now.

The Las Vegas Monorail opened last year only to be closed for some time because of a drive train falling from one of the trains (that can hurt!) and reopened right before the first of the year.

The Seattle folks used the Las Vegas monorail as a example of a transit system that could be built and run without support from the taxpayers and used this example in getting voter approval for the Seattle proposal. Of course this does not take into account that Las Vegas is unique and that the casinos payed for portions of the line and that the financing package just wouldn't work in most cases, but has been used to bash light rail lines.

This past Thursday I had my first ride on the Las Vegas Monorail. I drove down to the Sahara Resort and board the train at the end of the line. The fare is $3.00 or you can buy and all day pass for just $10.00 (twice the cost of a all day pass for CAT that allows you to ride their entire system!)

There was a train sitting in the station but it was not taking passengers. In a few minutes a train showed up. I boarded the train and a few minutes later we where on our way. Here are a few observations of the trip:

1. Most of the ridership rides from the MGM stop to the Harrah's stop which is the last one on the strip. Few people rode beyond to the Hilton and the Sahara but that changes when there is a convention in town.

2. The monorail does not have smooth ride. While there has been some criticism of Light Rail because it bounces some, it is much smother than the ride on the monorail. It sways back and forth severely and will give some people motion sickness.

3. Wynn has a shuttle from the Convention Center station to The Wynn Resort and it is actually buses. So people who can afford the Wynn will ride buses!! However the bus station is across the street from the escalator to the monorail.

4. There is very little coordination from CAT to the monorail but since this is a separate system and has nothing to do with CAT there is obvious reasons why. However if it does get extended to Downtown there will need to be better coordination between CAT and the monorail.

5. One of the reasons monorailist use to justify a monorail line is speed, but don't look for it in the Vegas monorail. It automated message brags when it hits 50mph! (TRAX can go up to 55mph and some other systems can go 65mph).

6. It doesn't take much of a load before it is SRO. There is not much seating available on the monorail, plus it has fixed consists which means it can add cars easily like light rail, so even small loads overwhelm the cars.

While monorail may have a purpose, it is designed mainly to be a feeder in dense urban areas. If you look at many Pacific Rim countries they have monorails that feed into other transit systems that handle the main commuting.

What monorail is not the greatest thing since sliced bread that many make it out to be.
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Wednesday, October 12, 2005

UTA to Cut Service and Increase Fares???

Today the UTA board is meeting to discuss the possibilities of raising fares and decreasing service due to the increase in fuel prices and increased ridership.


OK, they are getting more riders, which should be increasing revenues, and since they are not increasing service by that much, why is it that they have to increase fares?

Instead fares will be raised and bus service cut for the people who could least afford to have the cuts made. Meanwhile Rep. John Dougall says that it is great because people should pay more of the cost and taxpayers less which is the same stuff that comes out of many right wingers but ignores that taxes going to roads especially local roads.

If UTA is going to raise fares it should do so on the most expensive routes to run the commuter runs. Routes from Utah and Weber counties that run to Salt Lake in the morning and back in the evening are some of the most expensive the UTA has. This is because there is a big capital expense in the luxury commuter buses on those routes that spend 75% of their day sitting and not earning money. Because these routes use special buses and are all expresses, rates should be raised on them so that it balances out for the distance traveled and the express service.

Here is a radical concept of the UTA which comes from the business world. On the local routes how but lowering fares? That's right do something that might bring even more people to the buses and increase revenues that way. Or even do what some other cities have done and charge more for traveling during peak periods and give a discounted fare for traveling during off peak periods when more people are needed on transit.

These are some pretty radical ideas that will probably not make it. The way the philosophy works at transit agencies (unfortunately UTA is no different from most) is that they can't lower fares because they will loose money. What they are saying basically is that no one new will be attracted to riding the buses so they will loose money. So in other words, people prefer to ride rail not the buses which is common knowledge.

Of course one the problems making this situation truer on UTA is the fact that bus service is not good outside the immediate downtown area. Some buses make there last trips at 5pm (11 Inbound) while nightride starts too early at 7:00PM. If UTA is going to improve bus ridership it needs to look at some of these situations.

Next year UTA is going to ask for a tax increase to speed up construction of TRAX lines. While I support this because TRAX does attract choice riders, it makes it hard for UTA to justify increase taxes when it is cutting bus service and increasing fares. Part of the last increase was supposed to increase bus service but the only real increases has been limited Sunday service.

If UTA is going to cut service and raise fares, UTA needs to make changes from within. There needs to be more focus on customers at UTA to increase ridership and revenue.
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Monday, October 10, 2005

When Will Changes Come to Bus Lines?

Last year UTA did a study of all the bus routes in Salt Lake County and they where planning to do massive changes in the bus system over this year. However, UTA has put off many of those changes but still plans to do most of the changes in the next year.

However, few people know exactly what these changes will be. UTA has not released the details of the plan or what kind of changes will take place.

The problem with most of these plans is that they are made up by consultants that never rode the bus system and don't have a clue about the who what where and why people ride the bus. Orange County, California reorganized their bus system a few years ago on the advice from a consultant yet after only six months they started returning to the old system because of the negative effects it had on thier system.

I am not putting down all consultants (after all I am breaking into the business myself), but when the consultants only go by the "numbers" and do not find out the information on riding habits, the changes will not help out the UTA's customers: the riders on the buses and TRAX.

I am not saying that there is not the need for changes in the bus system, on the contrary there does need to be changes. Currently the bus system is in the immediate Salt Lake area is largely based on old streetcar lines that buses replaced 70 years ago! The times have changed and its time for the bus system to change. However, the system needs to change in order to make riding the system easier for the customers of the UTA.

UTA needs to work with its customers to make a better transit system that will not only work for existing riders, but also be more attractive to choice riders.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Will Utah County Ever Gets it Act Together???

Well there is always news on the transit front coming out of Utah County but usually its it pretty nutty or just plane dark ages thinking. I actually thought there might be some hope when Utah County decided to pull out of the Mountainland Association of Goverments which had a very rural planning attitude and decided to start its own association, however the more things change in Utah County the more they stay the same.

Utah County is working on a vote to increase the sales tax to support transit just like Salt Lake, Davis and Weber counties did a few years ago. Part of the measure will fund the construction of the commuter rail line from the Utah County border to Provo and Payson. However, some politicians don't want the transit agency to get the funds until it is ready to build the system so it wants to put the money into freeways.

However there is still some politicians down there that still have the no body rides transit attitude and wants no money at all invested in commuter rail. This attitude is so backward because even before the rapid rise in gasoline prices ridership on Utah County bus routes especially the commuter routes have been going through the roof. This despite the system is not that good and still could use a lot of improvement.

Of course the main newspaper the Deseret News which is now has a board headed by a developer by the name of Ivory is not helping matters only producing negative articles. There have been several anti-commuter rail editorials in the paper one being written by and Economics instructor at BYU. Unfortunately I don't see any changes at the Deseret News until Ivory is gone from their board. Of course the best course of action is to hit the newspaper with as many well written letters to the editor as possible telling the truth about rail.

Hopefully some changes will come in Utah County as gas prices continue to be high and I-15 becomes more of a bottleneck. Transit will work in Utah County as it has proven with the rise in ridership.
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