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22 CHAPTER FOUR AGENCY ASSESSMENT OF DOWNTOWN CIRCULATORS INTRODUCTION enced the design and operation of the downtown circulator. Most respondents reported either no effect or no significant This is the second of two chapters presenting the results of a impact. Several agencies modified the circulator to serve survey of transit agencies regarding downtown circulators. nonresidential trip generators such as hospitals, employ- The previous chapter addressed survey results related to the ment centers, historic sites, retail, schools and universities, incentive for beginning a downtown circulator, target markets, and entertainment districts. New residential areas were cited operation, administration, and marketing. This chapter's focus by 13% of respondents. Some of these destinations required is on agencies' evaluations of the programs. Specific topics changed or expanded times of service. include agency satisfaction with the downtown circulator, ben- efits and drawbacks, potential improvements, and lessons Respondents were asked, "If you could change ONE aspect learned. in the process of designing and implementing the downtown circulator, what would you change?" Table 43 summarizes the results. RATINGS OF DOWNTOWN CIRCULATORS Table 39 shows transit agencies' ratings of their downtown cir- Improvements related to more and more certain funding culators. Most respondents (72%) rated the circulator as either from a variety of sources were most frequently mentioned. A very successful or somewhat successful. Approximately 10% variety of other responses were also received, some of which of respondents gave the circulator a somewhat successful or conflicted with each other; for example, more public input ver- very unsuccessful rating. sus limited outreach efforts or implement versus discontinue a fare-free zone. This question elicited the greatest variety of Table 40 presents the primary benefits of the downtown cir- comments and the least convergence on a clear set of desired culator. These are responses to an open-ended question. The improvements. most frequently cited benefits include downtown mobility and circulation, greater downtown access for transit riders, a way LESSONS LEARNED for tourists to get around, a means for employees to get around downtown, and positive impacts on transit, including increased Survey respondents shared lessons learned from the plan- ridership and revenue, very frequent downtown service, ning, implementation, and operation of their downtown improved image, and an opportunity to streamline other routes. circulators. The lessons learned were grouped into ten broad categories, as shown in Table 44. Lessons regarding partner- Table 41 summarizes the drawbacks of downtown circula- ships led the list of topic areas, followed by service design tors, based on responses to an open-ended question. The most and branding. frequently cited problems involve the tension between provid- ing very frequent and direct service versus serving all locations Responses are presented by category here. All comments that want to be served, low speeds resulting from downtown are reported verbatim as expressed by agency respondents. congestion and thus difficulty in maintaining schedules, and negative transit impacts (takes riders from other routes, main- tenance expense, and confusion for regular system riders). Partnerships Low ridership, expense, irregular demand, and inadequate funding are also concerns. Other issues mentioned by fewer Partnerships are both easy and essential to success. than 10% of respondents are grouped in the "Other" category Implement circulators as part of an overall downtown in the table, including use by transients, marketing the service, development, parking, and circulation plan. and vehicle issues. Eleven percent of all respondents reported We actually set up a separate nonprofit corporation no drawbacks. with the business improvement districts and convention/ tourism bureau to brand the service and use the market- Table 42 provides responses to a question about whether ing expertise of these established groups. downtown's changing role (e.g., from a traditional CBD to an Work closely with downtown business associations and activity center with a mix of jobs, retail, and housing) influ- stakeholders to make sure that downtown interests have

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23 TABLE 39 strong ownership in circulator service and fare zone, so AGENCY RATING OF DOWNTOWN CIRCULATOR changes have been carefully and fully discussed before No. of Agencies % Agencies implementation. Rating Responding Responding Get local support from businesses and attractions to help Very Successful 17 36.2 fund service. Somewhat Successful 17 36.2 Meet with your business community supporters quarterly Neutral 8 17.0 to discuss the operations and changes to the routing. Somewhat Unsuccessful 4 8.5 Bring the various stakeholders together when service Very Unsuccessful 1 2.1 changes are made to review the reasons behind them Total Responding Agencies 47 100 and build consensus. TABLE 40 PRIMARY BENEFITS OF THE DOWNTOWN CIRCULATOR No. of Agencies % Agencies Benefit Responding Responding Downtown mobility/circulation 17 37.0 Greater downtown access for transit riders 15 32.6 Helps tourists get around 13 28.3 Downtown workers can get around more easily 11 23.9 Positive transit impacts 10 21.7 Free/inexpensive fares 8 17.4 Positive image attracts nontransit riders 8 17.4 Supports conventions/other partnerships 8 17.4 Better access for downtown businesses 7 15.2 Supports revitalization/economic development 7 15.2 Reduced downtown parking demand 6 13.0 Other 2 4.3 Total Responding Agencies 47 100 Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. TABLE 41 DRAWBACKS OF DOWNTOWN CIRCULATORS No. of Agencies % Agencies Drawback Responding Responding Frequency/directness vs. coverage 8 18.2 Slow due to congestion downtown; difficult to 7 15.9 maintain schedules Negative transit impacts 7 15.9 Low ridership 6 13.6 High cost 6 13.6 Irregular demand; over-capacity at peaks 6 13.6 None 5 11.4 Insufficient funding overall/from partners 4 9.1 Other 22 50.0 Total Responding Agencies 44 100 Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. TABLE 42 IMPACT OF DOWNTOWN'S CHANGING ROLE ON CIRCULATOR No. of Agencies % Agencies Effect of Downtowns Chan ging Role Responding Responding None/no significant effect 26 56.5 Modified to serve nonresidential development 8 17.4 Modified to serve new residential areas in 6 13.0 downtown Changed/expanded times of service 4 8.7 Other 7 15.2 Total Responding Agencies 46 100 Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%.

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24 TABLE 43 A positive lesson learned in our case is that having the ONE IMPROVEMENT TO DESIGNING AND IMPLEMENTING sidewalks cleaned and maintained by the business THE DOWNTOWN CIRCULATOR improvement district, along with a special police patrol No. of Agencies % Agencies provided by the business improvement districts, has Improvement Responding Responding More funding; support and buy-in from 7 17.5 contributed to the success of the downtown circulator. downtown interests Take sufficient time to coordinate with other agencies/ No change/not sure 5 12.5 municipalities to be clear on the role of the circulator Dedicated right-of-way/other traffic 3 7.5 system. engineering measures in support Get feedback from large employers, visitors bureau, con- Expanded service area/more frequent 3 7.5 service vention centers, hotels, etc., to see what their needs are Clear performance targets 2 5.0 (to avoid duplication if possible with other shuttle opera- Acknowledge need for flexibility 2 5.0 tors) to allow you to plan effectively for span of service, Brand buses and stops 2 5.0 route alignment, connections to regional service, etc. Better forecasts 2 5.0 Involving the local government in the planning process Better/different vehicles 2 5.0 has been invaluable. The city's land development code Other 12 30.0 and land use regulations are supportive of transit and Total Responding Agencies 40 100 mobility, which has allowed the CBD to grow and thrive along with the success of our circulator. Business associations have high expectations, low bud- gets, and short attention spans. Obtain strong community support. This type of imple- Public participation, public participation, public partici- mentation could be jointly developed and supported by pation. The city, downtown stakeholders, and general the City Planning Staff, resident community, and busi- public need to own a stake in the downtown circulator. ness stakeholders, in addition to a transit agency. Communication of the public process to all cannot please The downtown circulator is a vital mobility/land use inter- all, but it provides the information to clarify how the face element in the overall downtown development plan. decisions were made. To maximize service area and delivery, coordinate with all downtown employers, business associations, cham- Service Design bers, downtown residents, and so on to ensure the cir- culator service is all-encompassing. Trips could operate frequently enough and consistently The most important lesson my agency learned was to so customers do not have to refer to a schedule. enlist a diverse group of "stakeholders" in the design of The circulator will not be used unless the service is fre- the service. Government, business, retail, students, etc., quent and convenient. were involved, which resulted in better routing and pro- Frequent service is needed during lunch hours to appeal duced a sense of ownership or "buy in" of the circulator. to workers going to lunch. It helps to have supportive partners that are willing Competition with other modes can limit ridership. Our to lobby for the service; possibly a downtown busi- city is a 20-min town; that is, most of the suburbs are ness association, convention bureau, or some level of within a 20-min ride and most of the downtown CBD government. is within a 20-min walk. If the bus route is too circuitous and the headway lengthy (say greater than 15 min), peo- ple will walk and ridership won't develop, no matter TABLE 44 what the fare is. The fare for our circulator was 10 cents LESSONS LEARNED and ridership was still dismal. No. of Agencies % Agencies The loops must not be too big--no more than 20 to Lessons Learned Category Responding Responding 25 min. Keep it as simple as possible--avoid a lot of Partnerships 16 43.2 side street deviations. Service Design 14 37.8 Try to intersect with other through routes at easy to Branding/Image 10 27.0 transfer locations. Fares 7 18.9 Try to connect as many "dots" as possible that would Funding Source 6 16.2 serve as destinations for the customers, but in a short Demand/Criteria 5 13.5 route would allow for good frequency. Flexibility 4 10.8 It is important that service frequency be somewhere Focus on Particular Market 4 10.8 between every 10 to 15 min, 20 min at the most. Vehicles 4 10.8 Frequent headways are important for a successful Operation 3 8.1 circulator. Total Responding Agencies 37 100 Do not compromise on your headway performance and Note: Multiple responses allowed; percentages do not add to 100%. offer consistent headways for the entire span of service--

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25 variations in headway only confuse people and result in The downtown circulator will be nonriders' exposure to the lose of choice riders. Protect this at all costs and cut transit. your span or route length before considering any length- Think a lot about the numbering or naming. ening of headway. The 10-min headway is a sweet spot Set aside a good amount of resources for marketing. It is and draws in choice riders who would otherwise not important that the service be highly differentiated from choose transit. Try to meet this criterion even though it other transit. is expensive. Provide good route descriptions, route maps, and sim- Make it simple. ple fare information. Connectivity to the entire public transit system is important. Fares Using some portions of the fixed guideway for regular fixed-route service has increased our revenue-miles on Free fare was a good choice. High ridership is the suc- the fixed guideway segment as well as removed bus traf- cess measure for a downtown circulator. fic from the general use lanes within some parts of the Make it free. Your ridership will be greater and the lit- CBD. This was not something originally thought of tle revenue associated with a modest fare isn't worth the when first developing the downtown circulator route and cost to manage the fareboxes. would be something to consider in planning new routes. Make the shuttle free, and do not change the route. Popularity of the circulator led to reductions on other Resist outside pressure to charge a fare. routes first and loss of revenue/ridership, whereas the cir- Because the circulator is free the service is very popular culator (which essentially replaced walking trips) was within the CBD. unchanged. No fare is nice, or some small amount such as 25 or While maintaining regular contact with business com- 50 cents per ride. munity supporters, maintain your role as the expert in the The existence of a Ride Free Area (RFA) in our major design of efficient transit service. downtown has encouraged other local cities to ask the We resisted outside pressure to change the route in ways transit agency to establish RFAs in their downtown that from a planning perspective did not make sense. areas, and several studies have been done to look at set- Do not duplicate existing fixed-route bus service. It is ting up one or more additional RFAs. However, the important that circulators only be implemented to fill in advent of a fiscal crisis has led to new questions about the "gaps" in the transit system. effectiveness of an RFA and the amount of fare revenue lost. At a time when multiple urban centers have devel- oped outside the traditional downtown, the existence of Branding and Attracting New Riders an RFA seems very downtown-centric. However, the RFA remains politically popular in some quarters, as it The downtown circulator is the "face" of your transit sys- has been part of the local transit landscape for such a long tem to citizens and visitors. Friendly drivers, attractive time, and it remains to be seen whether concerns about vehicles (such as trolleys), open air sides (weather per- increasing system revenues to close the transit budget mitting), and frequent headways are all important for a deficit will result in reconsideration of the RFA. successful circulator. Take time to think about the fare. Build a strong brand identity with support from the busi- ness community. Service definitely needs to be branded to stand out from Funding Source the rest of the transit service. This is extremely important if the potential users are tourists or visitors to a city who A subsidy is required to operate; circulators don't make would not be familiar with transit. money. Branding of the service and the buses to stand out from Funding for the operations is provided by the city and the regular transit fleet is a must, especially if the target paid for through parking revenues and tax increment market is nontransit users. funds from the downtown community redevelopment A buy-in from the transit union to allow for a special agency. selection of drivers that are trained as community Identify a stable, reliable funding source (in our case, the ambassadors/visitor guides is important if going for parking tax provides 75% of the operating cost). You the convention and tourist market rather than normal can't make this work based on voluntary contributions. transit users. A free or low fare requires some dedicated funding to Design a unique and interesting paint and graphics support the service. scheme. Carefully define infrastructure responsibilities and require Although our buses were branded in a whimsical, fun, that some percentage of the operating costs and/or infra- eye-catching way, many critics believed the service structure costs be reimbursed from either the municipal- would be even more popular with the tourists if we used ity or a business improvement district. Not all of the issues trolley-themed vehicles. were anticipated in our case.