Saturday, August 09, 2008

3 Years Old...

Salt Lake City from space.Image via WikipediaToday, this blog turns 3 years old. Now that may not sound like much, but in the blog world I guess that is doing pretty good. Looking through most of the transit rated blogs I read regularly only a couple of them have last longer than this blog.

Just a couple of days ago I look at some of this blogs early posts and it turns out that one of the early ones was talking about how difficult UTA's Trip planner is to use, I guess some things just never change.

When I first started this blog, I primarily focused on UTA and its service. But over time and after learning from some of my fellow bloggers, I started talking about other things that effect transit service including development patterns. I also started doing a lot of reading and research including reading the book Big-Box Swindle: The True Cost of Mega-Retailers and the Fight for America's Independent Businesses which shows why some development happens and how much in subsidies companies such as Wal-Mart, IKEA, and Corabella's get in subsidies that in turn harm small business owners.

The big changes occurred when the bus changes happened last year. There is two things that I disagree with UTA about and they work together and that is the concept of duplication and using marketing matrixes to increase ridership potential. UTA falls into the same trap most other transit services fall into and that is considering duplication a bad thing. Here is a perfect example of duplication: State street before TRAX started. Routes 12, 22, 24, and 25 would all travel down State Street then branch off south of 6200 South. This allows riders to pick up passengers at outlining points then combine to provide frequent service in the main corridor.

When I was going over my proposals for bus service some time ago had a branch of the current 220 (then line 8) branching at Fort Union Blvd and traveling to the Fort Union TRAX station and providing every 30-minute service along Fort Union Blvd. This in connection with an every 30-minute service route 72 would provide alternating every 30-minute service along Fort Union Blvd. Current Transit Mentality thinking is that this is a bad thing because it is duplication. However, it is creating a matrix of additional single trip destinations and actually promote additional ridership.

However, lets look at the more positive things that have happened in the last three years. We had tax votes in Utah County to put on a tax for Front Runner and Salt Lake County to build four new TRAX lines by 2015. In addition, we have seen the first Front Runner started and the extension of TRAX to the Central Station.

However, a lot changed after the bus changes back in August. First of all I did not like all the changes that took place. After all, the bus my wife could ride to work , the 32 was discontinued with no replacement service (the 307 doesn't count because it travels in the wrong direction for her). To make some people happy some service was restored including a bus along 100 South from the U to downtown which is ridiculous since there is already service on South Temple and 200 South which was also restored.

However, some people unhappy with the changes got together and formed the Bus Riders Union basing it on the damaging BRU in Los Angeles but changed the name Transit Riders Union as though they were out to support all transit riders. While I know there is people who really care and want to see good transit service, there is very dangerous elements with the transit riders union including a group of people who actually would nothing more than all transit service be eliminated and the funding transfered to highways.

In addition the BRU in Los Angeles has been disaster. METRO caved into the BRU demands instead of fighting the lawsuit. BRU wanted no standees on the buses. That meant that METRO had to add lots of new buses that greatly increased cost (it is ironic that Curitiba that BRT promoters show off as nirvana only works because buses run at 300% capacity). In the long run buses outside the BRU's "special areas" loss service and they are looking to loose even more service over the next few years because of how much money METRO bled over the addition bus service that it could not afford.

The only person that truly benefited from the BRU was their leader Eric Mann who drives around in his brand new BMW (shouldn't the head of the BRU ride the bus?).

While UTA is not perfect, UTA actually provided better service than any system serving a similar sized city. What UTA faces that many other transit systems its size do not is covering the amount of miles it covers. It has to service all the way from Brigham City to Payson, Grantsville to the ski areas to the east, in areas with very low density.

The final issue with the UTA service is the unfunded federal mandate called paratransit. It is considered taboo even to bring this subject up but I will continue to do it. I am not saying the service is not needed but we must face facts. We actually have one of the lower cost paratransit system's in the nation but it still cost between $25 and $35 per rider. Since this was implemented it has taken 25% of the transit funding away from the buses. We need long term solutions to help provide this service.

So where do we go from here?

By 2015 we should have three new TRAX lines plus the extension of the current North-South line down to Draper done.

On the Federal side, while I am not hopefully that anything will ever pass, we need more fairness in the tax right offs for developers. Currently everything is skewed toward new developments and against rebuilding. In addition everything is skewed toward the big businesses against smaller independent businesses. We also need to put an end to the 70 years of pro-highway social engineering that has taken place since FDR.

On the local side, hopefully the rise in gas prices is making people wake up that good transit service is needed and that all the sprawl will eventually catch up with us. Instead of trying to destroy transit service in Salt Lake by having UDOT take it over and put the funding in highways, we need to focus on building livable communities that encourage transit service which will increase bus ridership and make help make the service less costly.

We have seen a lot of progress in 3 years, but there is much to be done. The problems that face us will not be solved by getting rid of one person or a group of people at UTA. What is going to solve the problems is people working together to make our communities better and more livable. It will not happen overnight, but think about what we can accomplish in a generation.

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