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Cap Metro board approves 2020 service improvement plan

Tuesday, February 23, 2010 by Josh Rosenblatt

The Capital Metro Board of Directors gazed into the future yesterday and voted to approve a comprehensive service improvement plan to increase bus ridership, meet regional mobility needs, manage traffic congestion, and increase cost-effectiveness over the next decade.


The implementation plan, called Service Plan 2020, will be phased in over the next 10 years. Todd Hemingson, Cap Metro vice president of strategic planning and development, told the board the plan had been developed over the past year to balance what he called the “triple bottom line”: economic factors, social factors, and environmental factors.


Phase one of the plan involves several elements, all of which will be available for scrutiny and discussion at several public outreach meetings in early March and a public hearing later in March. Hemingson said staff will then present the final detailed plan to the board in April, with an eye toward implementation in August.


This first phase centers on route restructuring. Hemingson said that the plan would affect 20 existing routes. Four would be eliminated, 16 would be adjusted, and one new route would be added. This phase of the plan, he said, would be cost neutral.


According to the plan, 14 routes currently under probation for underperforming would be changed, improved, or eliminated within the first two years of implementation. Seven other routes would be put on what is called a “clock-face headway,” meaning that buses would arrive at stops at the same minute of each hour. Thirty five minute waits would be gone, in other words, replaced by 30 minute waits, thereby guaranteeing consistency, efficiency, and ease of use.


Cap Metro would also institute timed transfers, a system Hemingson said is common across the industry but that Cap Metro hasn’t used much. Under the timed transfer system, buses come together at transfer centers, arriving and departing at about the same time, making connections between routes easier and more convenient.


Other route and service improvements made under Service Plan 2020 would be in low-income and poorly served areas. “This way we’re making sure we’re sensitive to lifeline services: routes and route segments that serve transit-dependent populations,” Hemingson told the board.


Those populations include areas where few people have vehicles, such as the Rundberg Lane, East St. John’s Avenue, East 12th Street, and East Riverside Drive areas, and low-income areas ($22,000 per household or less), such as the East St. John’s Avenue, East 12th Street, and East Riverside Drive areas.


“We will also be reducing service in areas with larger-than-average elderly populations,” Hemingson said, “such as Tarrytown, Barton Hills and Travis Heights. These are areas with low ridership where there are nearby route alternatives,” so reducing service there would be cost-effective.


One issue of concern for the board and for several citizens who spoke at the meeting had to do with the elimination of route segments in the Wells Branch area, at the northern end of Cap Metro’s service area. According to Hemingson, the elimination of those segments would also mean the elimination of paratransit service and Metro Access service for seven riders with disabilities in the region.


According to the Americans with Disabilities Act, anyone living within three-quarters of a mile of a fixed route is considered part of a transit agency’s service area and is therefore potentially eligible for paratransit service. So if those routes are eliminated, the paratransit service is eliminated as well.


Hemingson told In Fact Daily that elimination of those Wells Brach routes was a result of low ridership in the area and a necessary means toward cost-efficiency.


Over all, Hemingson told the board, “we’re anticipating with these (Phase One) changes for the fall that we can increase ridership by at least 6 percent. We will also increase productivity by 10 percent because we’re not increasing the total hours of service we’re offering.”


Phase Two of the 2020 plan, set to begin in 2012-2013, will involve the implementation of MetroRapid, a new Bus Rapid Transit service with limited-stops that will operate on city streets and connect with other bus and rail services. The buses will be equipped with signal priority technology that will allow them to move through intersections faster, reducing travel time up to 20 percent.


Asked by several board members why, if the details of the plan were still up for public debate and discussion, the board needed to vote to approve the plan now, Hemingson told them, “Formal action to approve specific changes will occur within each phase. But I hope the board will agree that by adopting the plan, you all are saying that this is the framework Capital Metro intends to use over the next five to 10 years to implement bus service changes.”


When Board Member John Langmore asked him what the purpose of the next round of public involvement in March was, Hemingson said, “As we implement each phase, we, by our requirements and the requirements of the Federal Transit Administration, have a public process for each phase. With each phase we’ll give details about changes and when they will be taking place.”


“If we vote to approve this plan today, can we still make modifications based on public input,” Langmore asked.


“We’re not perfect,” Hemingson answered. “And if we hear a suggestion that makes sense, we’ll certainly consider it. The plan is subject to evolution and change.”


The board then voted unanimously, 8-0, to approve the plan.

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