Thursday, June 10, 2010

The New Flex Routes

Monday I had an opportunity to ride one of the 3 new Flex routes that started back on May 3rd. The routes are funded by a Federal Grant administered through UDOT.

Many routes across the nation have been started on these Federal Grants. The thought is that once these routes are running the agency will find the funding to keep them operating. However, many of the routes that are started under these programs are ones that are not economically justifiable in the first place under current funding and often times die a quick death once the federal funding runs out especially in our current period of extremely tight budgets.

Here are my concerns with these three federal routes and especially the 626 that I rode:

1. Currently the 626 is using a bus out of Ogden's paratransit pool which does not have a headsign. What is annoying about this is that how does the average person figure out if this a paratransit van or a Flex route van. I would think they would at least put a hand written sign in the window so someone at the Clearfield or Roy stations would know that this is a Flex Route bus and not a paratransit bus.

When I rode the bus out of Roy there was two other Paratransit vans sitting at the station at the time so I had to ask the driver which one was the 626. I have noticed that many of the new paratransit vans are now equipped with headsigns to alliviate this problem with the new flex routes, can't one of these be transferred to Ogden?

Not only does a headsign help passengers figure out which van is the one they need, but it also a source of free advertising. People along the route see that they now have transit service and while they may not ride it themselves will let other possible passengers know about it.

2. Another problem with the 626 is the lack of bus stops signs. While Gordon ave had a few bus stops signs, most of the route only has signs where they are needed to tell the driver to make a turn. While I am not sure about Clearfield, there was not even a bus stop sign at the Roy Station.

Bus stops signs make riding the bus more comfortable for new riders because they know where they have to go out and catch the bus. For regular riders this may seem like a non-issue but for non-regular riders the signs show them that there is a route and where is goes.

3. As I mentioned in my trip report, unless something dramatic happens, I do not see this 626 lasting when the federal funding runs out. There was only one other passenger who rode the bus besides myself but hopefully over time that will increase once people know that the route exists.

4. If you look under schedules on the UTA website you will find the 626 under Salt Lake County (crazy, I had no idea Clearfield or Roy where in Salt Lake County), yet if you go into Weber and Davis County schedules the 626 is no where to be found.

Many consider the UTA website on the horrible side already, this is just another example of how the website is to use for non-regular riders. If you where looking on the website for this schedule and did not see it under Weber or Davis Counties, would you go looking for it under Salt Lake County?

5. Another issue with the route is that it serves nothing except rural and suburban residential areas. There is plans to build an auto-centric development at the corner of 4000 South and 3500 West but right now that is nothing but a sign. Otherwise you could not even get to a grocery store on this route without taking another bus however, the schedule is designed only for commuters so few would take it anyway.

On the other had the Herriman Flex does serve major shopping areas however, if you need to travel far, you may need to transfer up to 3 times to get anywhere since the only connection the Herriman Route makes is with the Riverton FLEX Route.

The new Alpine/American Fork Flex route is the best route since it not only serves major shopping destination but you can also make connections with major inter-county routes at the American Fork Park N Ride Lot.

6. I did notice while riding the 626 there was a large number of recreational trails located along the route. While the paratransit van did not have bicycle racks, there is plenty of room inside the bus for bicycles, this would be an excellent opportunity to promote the route as a way to reach the trails and parks along the way. Once the again the schedule is not conducive right now to that but it is a way to think "outside the box" and promote transit use.

I proposed a route similar to this a couple of years ago, the route makes since especially as a flex route since it serves such a semi-rural suburban area that does not justify full bus service but UTA has some work to do to make the service successful and worth keeping beyond the federal grant period.

In addition UTA needs to also work with the communities and organizations along the route and they need to step up to the table to help make this service a success.
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