Monday, April 30, 2007

Transit Related Article

Y. student project gives UTA Wi-Fi insight

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

UTA Headquarters

As anyone who reads this blog often knows, I throw a lot of criticism toward the UTA and its operations. However, you will also know that if I find something right with UTA I will also point it out.

One area that UTA is being smart is with their headquarters. For those of you that don't know, UTA maintains a modest headquarters building as part of the Meadowbrook garage. In fact driving by the facility you would be hard press to figure out that a major transit system is headquartered there.

The UTA should continue to maintain this modest facility and not be like some of their brethren who have built palaces that only cost the riders in the long run.

A perfect example of this is the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transit Authority (METRO) in Los Angeles. METRO was created by the merging of the former transit system the SCRTD and the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission. This made METRO responsible not only for transit but all transportation (similar to the stupidity proposed by one of our state legislators earlier in the year).

The RTD was headquartered in the skid row section of Los Angeles and this was just not good enough for METRO. So they decided to build a headquarters behind Union Station but still in downtown Los Angeles. Now as you come westbound on the Hollywood Freeway you see it just before passing Union Station.

This facility is often referred to as the Taj Mahal by transit advocates and opponents alike. The 27 story building and transit center ended up costing an astronomical $500 million dollars. That's right, half a billion dollars (in other words the cost of TWO of the TRAX extensions.

Now thanks to a consent degree that took all the reserves, METRO is faced with a budget meltdown. How much better would METRO be if they had not built the Taj Mahal? Probably a lot better off than they are now.

If UTA every gets the bright idea to build a glorious new facility, it needs to be stopped before Salt Lake City ends up with its own Taj Mahal.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Hold Planners Accountable

For most of us, if we do not perform in our occupations, we are either fired or we go out of business if we are self employed. But what happens if your a transit planner...nothing, transit planners are not held accountable.

Lets take a look at a couple of changes the UTA made over the last few years and see how the changes performed.

Example One: Routes 16, 17, and 81. At first the 16 and 17 where loops where one route ran clockwise and the other counter-clockwise while the 81 served 900 West. All three routes where switched around where the 16 served part of the old loop, the 17 served another, and the 81 went up Emery for a portion of its trip. A year later the 16 and 17 are merged back into one route and a portion of the 81 is replaced. So in other words the weird routing of the 16, 17, and 81 where a failure. OK, changes took place because of financial issues, but if the routing's would have been a success in the first place would the redone 16 look almost like the old loop except serving Ballpark TRAX instead of an actually loop?

Example Two: Route 25. Route 25 travels from the Midvale Center TRAX station to service Monroe Street and the Sandy Industrial area including NOVUS services. First stupidity was trying to cancel the line. So then over the last year it has been reroute at every schedule change until it looks pretty much like it did before the planners started screwing with it. In other words it should have been left alone. So in other words the planners getting it wrong.

So what should be done?

Simple, the planners need to be held accountable the same way someone in the private sector would be. The question is, what criteria should be used in order to hold the planner accountable?

There is a wide range of ways to hold the planner accountable depending on why the changes where made and what affect it had on system performance.

Here are some examples:

What was the effect on ridership? If ridership did not go up the planner should be held accountable.

What effect did the changes had on finances? If it cost more after the changes and ridership did not go up then the planner should be held accountable.

What did the changes affect other lines? The way the numbers are gathered and the way the planners look at things, they for the most part don't take a systematic systems approach. In other words Route A is changed causing a drop in ridership on Route B etc.

Now lets look at the big bus reorganization. What happens if it does not work? What if we have a situation like Orange County, California where the revamped their whole bus system only to start putting the routes back the way they where because it didn't work. But guess what, where the planners who made the decisions held accountable? Of course not, the riders got screwed but the planners went along their merry way getting their big paychecks without any accountability.

IF UTA's changes don't work, who will be held accountable? The planners should be. Just like they should be for all their decisions just like a planner would in the private sector. Otherwise what is their motivation to do the best job possible? There needs to be accountability.

Transit Related Article

Comment sought on 24 road projects

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

UTA Planners....

When I think of transit planners my mind goes back to an incident that happened in 2000 when I was living in Spokane. Because the a revamp of the vehicle tax by Initiative I-195 in 1999, the Spokane Transit Authority and all other Washington State transit systems where threats of severe cuts because a major source of income was cut out.

During one of the public meetings proposing to cut the system, a citizen asked a show of hands from the Board of Directors and the STA employees of how many actual ride the bus. There was several minutes of silence until one of the County Commissioners started rattling off a list of excuses on why they can't ride the system.

Well that may be well and good but what about the planners? Since they are making decisions about the system shouldn't they be riding it on a regular basis in order to get a better idea on why, when, where, and how people are riding the bus?

Interesting enough when the head planner left that meeting in Spokane he jumped in his expensive BMW and drove away. Now, how is this guy supposed to truly understand what makes the system tick?

They would argue that they have the ridership date from the black boxes carried on many buses these days. The problem is, the boxes don't tell the planners why the person rode the bus, doesn't tell the planner if the person transferred from another route, doesn't tell the planner what the customers destination is, and so on.

Here is something else that troubles me with the planners. When they post requirements for the job when their is an opening the insist on a degree, while a business degree is listed their prefer a urban planning degree and planning experience. I have never seen a transit system higher a planner with extensive business experience only planning.

So why the business? Once again it boils down to the fact that planners do not have the business experience to look at things from a marketing and financial point of view. They do not see having buses sit 8 months a year as being wasteful. How long do you think someone would last at Southwest if they had a plane sit 16 hours a day? The answer is not long.

The reason is that when that vehicle is sitting it is not earning revenue. The government (planner) mindset is that if the bus is sitting its not costing anything (they don't understand the concept of wasting capital resources). This is the same "transit-mentality" that is killing Amtrak.
All transit agencies should require a business background for a planner. In addition, the planners should be required to ride the system a certain number of hours per week in order to better understand why the system works the way it does. Maybe then we would see some changes for the better in the planning of our transit schedules and not see the stupid statements being made like "bus service is not being cut".

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Transit Related Article

Higher fares, fewer routes

Favorite Quote:
"UTA, however, says the redesign is not a "bus cut." Buses will run the same number of hours and miles, said Jerry Bensen, UTA chief performance officer."

So Mr. Benson does not see this as a cut? How much you are you willing to bet that Mr. Bensen does not regularly ride any of the routes that are about to be cut or rides the bus at all?

There is going to be a severe cut in service. It is ironic that according to their bus stop chart of how many people board per day, that the intersection of Fort Union Blvd and Highland Drive show good boardings but will have no service on Fort Union Blvd anymore and only capital wasting peak hour service on Highland Drive.

While trying to get more commuters on the bus is nice, lets face it, much like the ski bus service, the Fast Buses are another waste of capital resources. You have a three hundred thousand dollar bus making only a round trip or two per day or less. That means it is spending 80% or more of its time sitting and not earning any revenue.

Yes Mr. Bensen bus service is being cut and thats why people are angry.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007