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PRACTICES IN THE DEVELOPMENT AND DEPLOYMENT OF DOWNTOWN CIRCULATORS SUMMARY The concept of a special bus route circulating through downtown, especially one that utilizes a trolley-style or other striking vehicle, appeals to downtown business interests and elected offi- cials as a means to encourage and support downtown revitalization. Many cities have developed and deployed downtown circulators, but there has not been significant literature documenting important aspects of these programs: planning and development, barriers to implementation, funding, performance, and strategies for making downtown circulators work. The limited infor- mation that exists is spread across the public, nonprofit, and private sectors. In addition, down- town shuttles are often owned and/or operated by other than traditional transit operators; therefore, there is limited industry and institutional history and knowledge of shuttle operations. The purpose of this synthesis is to document the state of the practice in terms of the devel- opment, deployment, and sustainability of downtown circulator systems. Results of a web- based survey of a cross section of transit agencies in North America are used to document such important issues as: Why, how, and when the circulator began Major stakeholders Target market--employees, shoppers, tourists, convention-goers, and residents How the circulator is structured (administratively and operationally)--who operates, service span and frequency, and type of vehicle Barriers to success Funding Performance (ridership, productivity) Reasons for success or failure Lessons learned. The survey of transit agencies was important in developing a "snapshot" of the current state of the art with regard to downtown circulators. The survey sampling plan involved a "core" sample of transit agencies that operate downtown circulators. In certain cases, the sample included the transit agency and another public- or private-sector entity that oversees the opera- tion of the circulator. The core sample included 42 transit agencies and other entities. To guard against missing any agencies that have implemented downtown circulators and to ensure a broader sample an identical e-mail message was sent to APTA transit agency members inviting their participation in the survey. Thirty-seven completed surveys were received from the 42 agencies in the core sample, a response rate of 88%. An additional 41 agencies heard about the survey and also participated, for a final sample total of 78 agencies. Of the 78 respondents, 74 are transit agencies, 3 are city departments of transportation (DOTs) responsible for the operation and oversight of the down- town circulator, and 1 is a transportation management association affiliated with a downtown business improvement district. Survey results included transit agency assessments of the success of the downtown circulator, benefits and drawbacks, desired changes, and lessons learned. Agencies that have discontinued or never implemented downtown circulators were also sur- veyed to gain an understanding of the reasoning behind their decisions.

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2 The most important findings of this synthesis are listed here, followed by a summary of the experiences of the seven transit agencies that served as case studies. Major findings included: Funding is critical to success. A stable, reliable funding source is ideal. Funding, espe- cially operating funding, was the only factor cited as a major constraint by a majority of survey respondents, and is also a dominant factor among agencies that discontinued or never implemented a downtown circulator. Branding of the service, vehicles, and stops is imperative to establish the circulator's identity, particularly if the target market is tourists/visitors and/or nontransit riders. Simple linear routes with frequent and reliable service, no fares, and clockface head- ways are most attractive to riders. Frequent service and simplicity in route design and fare payment are emphasized in the survey results and the case studies. The most common target markets for downtown circulators are employees and tourists/ visitors. Most survey respondents indicated that their downtown circulators serve more than one market, although there is often a primary market. Interestingly, downtown circu- lators oriented toward the visitor/tourist market had the highest median ridership and pro- ductivity. Partnerships are vital in building a successful downtown circulator. Many agencies nat- urally think of partnerships in financial terms, but these are the exception and not the rule. Partnerships are very important in providing political support for the circulator and are a means to change the perception of transit in the business community. Size does matter. Only 2 of 13 agencies with a service area population under 500,000 (a proxy for size of downtown) reported a daily ridership as high as 1,000 on their down- town circulators; both are oriented toward the tourist market, and one only operates dur- ing the winter in a ski resort area. Small cities can anticipate limited ridership for a downtown circulator. An "If you build it, they will come" approach is not realistic. A new circulator will not bring new customers to a struggling downtown. Flexibility is important, especially given the changing role of downtown in many cities. Most respondents have changed their circulator routes in response to various changes in downtown. Maintenance issues are sometimes overlooked in deciding what type of vehicles to use. Higher maintenance costs may be acceptable if an environmentally friendly electric or hybrid vehicle is used; however, it is important that the agency be aware of these costs when making the decision. For all circulators in the sample, the median ridership was 600 on weekdays, 1,100 on Sat- urday, and 1,500 on Sunday. Median productivity (measured as riders per revenue hour) was 23 on weekdays and 26 on both Saturday and Sunday. These results are misleading, because circulators with high ridership are more likely to operate on Saturday and Sunday. After con- trolling for the number of days per week of operation, median ridership and productivity are highest on weekdays. Median ridership and productivity is generally proportional to service area population; downtown circulators in larger cities have higher ridership and are more pro- ductive. Downtown circulators oriented toward tourists and visitors had the highest median ridership and productivity. The following seven case studies provide additional details on innovative and successful practices as well as on issues related to downtown circulators. Baltimore, Maryland--Baltimore City Department of Transportation Hartford, Connecticut--CTTRANSIT Los Angeles, California--Los Angeles Department of Transportation Louisville, Kentucky--Transit Authority of River City Philadelphia, Pennsylvania--Center City District Washington, D.C.--District Department of Transportation Austin, Texas--Capital Metro.

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3 The case study agencies offered the following lessons learned: A stable, reliable funding source is important. A circulator based on voluntary contri- butions will not work, as shown by previous efforts. Branding of the service and the buses to stand out from the regular transit fleet is impor- tant, especially if the target market is nontransit users. Some case study cities chose to use trolleys and noted that people like these vehicles, whether they ride them or not. Others use unique, distinctive, high-quality buses painted to stand out visually. Iconic, comfortable vehicles help build a strong brand. Frequent service is necessary to attract riders. The consensus among the case studies is that service frequency be every 10 to 15 min. Reduce the span of service or route length before making service less frequent. It is desirable to connect as many "dots" as possible that would serve as destinations for the customers, but in a short route that allows for good frequency. This may not please everyone all of the time. One agency noted that the routes chosen did not please all stakeholders, but the agency stood by its goal to "keep it simple." Free fare is desirable to attract ridership. If a fare is charged, it needs to be nominal and easy to understand and pay. One case study found a higher fare acceptable because of the focus on the tourist market. It is important to define the target market. Most circulators serve multiple markets, but focus on a single market (tourists/visitors, employees) overall or at certain times of the day or week. Supportive partners who are willing to lobby for the service can be extremely valuable. The downtown circulator can build support for transit among key stakeholders by provid- ing positive images congruent with the vision of civic leaders for their city and especially their downtown. Special event trolleys associate the transit agency with the vibrancy of the community and thus change how transit is viewed. Buy-in from the transit union is important to allow for a special selection of drivers that can be trained as community ambassadors/visitor guides. This is especially true for the tourist and visitor market. Coordination with other agencies and municipalities is important to clarify the role of the downtown circulator system. To understand their needs, feedback from large employers, visitors' bureaus, convention centers, and hotels will help to plan effectively for service span, route alignment, and regional connections, and to avoid duplication and ideally coordinate with private shut- tle operators. A regular cycle of reviewing downtown circulator service may ensure that you capture changes to the downtown landscape. Changes in travel patterns and migration of employ- ment centers can gradually affect location of demand and running times, but can be iden- tified through periodic reviews. It is important to adapt to traffic patterns and flow. An understanding of typical walking distances and attitudes toward walking is needed to gauge whether a downtown circulator will work. If residents and downtown employ- ees are averse to walking, so much the better, as long as circulator frequency is good. Findings from this synthesis suggest four major areas of future study: Effective strategies for a downtown circulator in downtowns of various sizes and com- positions. The case studies present examples of downtown circulators oriented toward different markets and in different downtown environments. How does a city or transit agency make a decision as to which market to serve? Do tourist and visitor downtown circulators require a certain size of downtown or special attractions? Is the combination of a convention center and nearby hotels sufficient to justify a circulator? Is there a min- imum employment density that warrants an employee-based circulator? Who should operate the downtown circulator? In four of the seven case studies the regional transit agency was not the operator of the downtown circulator. This frequently

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4 reflects a regional focus on the part of the transit agency and a willingness to have municipal partners or the private sector operate local shuttles, in downtown or else- where. How do factors such as expertise, flexibility, politics, stakeholders, and access to funding sources (to name only a few) affect this decision? Several of the downtown circulators operated by a city DOT or private-sector agency are relatively new. As their circulators mature, it would be interesting to see if these are different in significant ways from circulators operated by transit agencies. Measures of success. The case studies cited both quantitative and qualitative measures of success. Who decides whether a downtown circulator is successful? How do intangi- ble measures of success fare over time, particularly in times of tight budgets? Are intan- gible measures more prominent if there is a dedicated funding source? Does the measure of success change over time? The case study agencies all discussed and defined success, but further research in this area could be illuminating. Applicability of lessons from downtown circulators to other areas. Can experiences with downtown circulators be applied elsewhere? Are there lessons for neighborhood circu- lators or for circulators serving rail stations outside of downtown areas? How do these lessons apply?