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73 Conclusions 5.1 Motivation for and Objectives of Transit Network Redesigns For many decades, the bus networks in many cities were tweaked around the edges while cities focused on building fixed guideway transit or simply did not concentrate on transit. However, in recent years and actively continuing, many transit agencies and operators have planned, and in many cases implemented, complete redesigns of their bus networks. In about half of the cases the planning approach has been classified by the agencies as a design âfrom a blank slate,â while others evaluated their systems holistically but describe their approach as comprehensive modi- fications to the existing system. The research conducted for this synthesis yielded a number of key objectives that the transit operators set out to meet by conducting these redesigns, including: â¢ To reevaluate the big picture structure of the system and better match the transit network to both current and forecasted travel patterns and development. â¢ To improve transit service for both current and potential riders and improve the image of the transit agency. â¢ To support urban sustainability and address congested corridors. â¢ To increase operational efficiency and effectiveness and match operating costs to available resources. â¢ To counteract ridership losses and/or increase ridership. â¢ To adapt to other public transit investments and new technologies. 5.2 Key Findings To meet the objectives of the redesigns, agencies followed certain processes for planning, outreach, and implementation of comprehensive bus network redesigns. Some of the common elements and other informative key findings are as follows: â¢ Vision, Goals, and Objectives â All agencies set out the goals and objectives for their redesigns at the outset in order to frame the approach and recommendations. This was key to ensuring that the strategies and recommendations are focused on achieving those goals. â Redesigns focused both on improving operations and system performance. â Redesigns carefully consider and incorporate the needs of riders and potential riders, often for the first time in many years to look at this from a network perspective. â Agency boards and other elected officials are a key part of the redesign visioning and decision-making process. Many agencies experienced political challenges, but with engage- ment at strategic points and the acknowledgment that these redesigns are important, com- promise was generally reached and the plan could move forward. C H A P T E R 5
74 Synthesis on Comprehensive Bus Network Redesigns â¢ Planning Process â Because the bus network redesigns are often the first holistic look at changing the bus net- work in many years, several agenices go beyond the existing service evaluation and conduct detailed market assessments, travel flow data, and origin-destination studies to help sup- port the general structure of the recommendations. â With agencies having so much access to data, they utilize a wealth of ridership and travel time data from AVL and APC systems, as well as other sources. â Agencies all incorporated equity considerations in the decision-making process, extending beyond the requirements of Title VI (which requires an assessment closer to implementa- tion). Some agencies used the results of this âpre-analysisâ to make some changes to the final plans as a result. â¢ Service Design Elements â Many agencies centered their redesigned network structures on grid networks and new crosstown services to provide better connections without forcing riders to ride into the core of the system and back out. â Many agencies centered their redesign on a network of high-frequency, priority bus routes to provide a higher quality level of service. â Many agencies focused on making the system easier to use, from straightening out route deviations to standardizing frequency and span across service types. â Many agencies incorporated longer spans of service during the weekdays â later in the eve- nings and higher frequencies in the midday â as well as added additional weekend service as part of the redesigns. â Many agencies incorporated revised run times, layover time, and capital investments in bus priority to improve on-time performance and reliability. â Impacts on the ADA paratransit service area need to be considered; letting existing users know if they will be grandfathered in can help assuage concerns about changes to the fixed- route network and thus the paratransit service area. â¢ Internal Agency Impacts â Redesigns often have ancillary and unintended benefits for transit agencies outside the initial scope of the redesign. â Reorganization of departments. â Better internal and cross departmental communication. â¢ Outreach and Education â It is important to think strategically about public and stakeholder outreach from the very beginning of the redesign planning process in order to gain support and achieve under- standing of what the agency is setting out to do. â Outreach to bus operators and front-line employees is critical to success, from gaining valuable input about how the service currently operates to achieving support for when the plan is launched. â Developing the outreach strategy often involved the input of senior leadership, commu- nications strategists, and representatives from stakeholder groups and community-based organizations to help make sure that input is sought and received from a diverse audience. â Tying the outreach strategy to decision points in the process provides the public with opportunities for meaningful engagement and input. â Agencies used a range of types of public engagement, including traditional public work- shops and meetings, websites, social media, online surveys, field outreach (i.e., pop-ups), and stakeholder meetings. â Agencies use the input received from the public engagement to frame service recommen- dations and make adjustments to proposed changes. â Performance measures are often used to communicate the benefits of the new networks to the public. In many cases this is very effective, but agencies must be careful about the messages and how they may be perceived by different communities; in one case two
Conclusions 75 communities of differing demographics were receiving better levels of access with the new system, but one group recognized that while the other perceived the changes to be negative. Perception is reality, and agencies must be careful to frame their messaging in a way that is easy for all to understand. â Public education is critical once the redesign plans have been finalized to inform people of the changes. Education ranged in length by agencies from one year to a few months. â¢ Implementation and Phasing â There is a mix of agencies both implementing their redesigns all at one time or in phases â some over many years. Agencies that have a long-term implementation have indicated that they will revisit the plan over the course of time as needs will continue to evolve. â In some cases agencies developed plans for a redesign and then moved the process forward when the time was right from a political and funding perspective. What Makes a Redesign Different than Traditional Service Planning Agencies regularly evaluate service at the corridor, route, and trip level to ensure that they are meeting performance targets and remain within the agencyâs service standards. A redesign incorporates this type of detailed analysis but goes beyond it to incorporate a detailed market and travel flow assessment to determine demand and service gaps. Redesigns also are character- ized by setting network-level planning and design objectives are often defined at the outset. For example, the transit agency may want to move from a radial system to a grid network or may want to maximize network coverage, increase system ridership, or connect more people to more jobs and opportunity. Extensive board and high-level executive involvement is also a feature of redesigns â because of the far-reaching impacts not only in the community but within the agency, redesigns require support and leadership beyond the service or short-range planning department of an agency. They also require greater collaboration with the impacted department of transportation, par- ticularly when the redesign includes roadway and signal bus priority improvements. Much more in-depth and broad-reaching public, stakeholder, and bus operator engagement is also a key element of redesigns. All agencies who responded to the survey said they consulted or will be consulting the public during the redesign process, and many do so at several intervals throughout the planning process, from visioning, to draft service plans, to implementation. While nearly all agencies continue to use public meetings, the outreach strategies for redesigns go well beyond that, with the majority of agencies using social media, stakeholder meetings, and pop-up events. Common Elements for Conducting Redesigns Goal Setting and Tradeoff Analysis The first element of almost every redesign reviewed through the literature, survey, and case studies was developing a strategic framework around which to structure the plan. This included developing goals and objectives that the agency and the constituents were trying to achieve through the network design process. By establishing goals up front â such as maximizing service efficiency â and answering tough tradeoff questions â such as focusing on coverage or frequency, or less frequent direct service versus more frequent service that requires transfers â the service planning process could be tailored to addressing the agreed upon goals and preferences. Service Planning The steps taken during a comprehensive bus network redesign are quite similar to and are grounded in traditional bus service planning processes; however, the analysis, planning, and public engagement is multiplied over the entire network of routes. In addition to detailed
76 Synthesis on Comprehensive Bus Network Redesigns corridor, route, and trip level analysis, a redesign typically incorporates a detailed market and travel flow assessment to determine demand and service gaps. For example, MDOT MTA used travel demand model flows and DART used a purchased cell phone dataset to gain insight into where people were going in the service area â not just by transit, which is typically ascertained by origin-destination studies â but by all modes, an indicator of need. Existing conditions data analysis is often more extensive, because the goal is not only to improve route performance but also to improve the connectivity and performance of the entire bus network. Data collection and analysis might include detailed examination of origin-destina- tion data, passenger transfers, land-use and demographic information, and even network-wide ridership and travel demand modeling. Most agencies reported that consultants performed either âall or nearly all of the workâ or âmost of the workâ involved in the planning for redesigns. While agency staff was certainly involved in providing data and feedback, the bulk of the technical analysis is conducted by outside parties. Capital Improvements Because so many of the redesigns centered on a high frequency network, capital improvements were a larger component of redesigns than in typical service plans; 66% of the surveyed agen- cies have capital costs associated with their redesigns. The most common capital costs included rolling stock, passenger facilities (e.g., bus stops and amenities), and bus stop signage, followed by bus priority treatments (e.g., bus only lanes, transit signal priority). Capital improvements are one area where the planning office and engineering and capital planning offices must work hand-in-hand as part of a successful redesign. Communications and Decision-Making Communication with the public and key stakeholders was a key element of all redesigns, and all agencies indicated that outreach was a large part of the system redesign process. In addition to the extensive outreach that agencies made in developing their plans, communications prior to implementation were crucial to implementation. The case studies revealed significant amounts of communication around the launch of the redesigns. At least two agencies, MDOT MTA and COTA, developed side-by-side online trip planners using GTFS feeds to allow riders to compare their current trip to their future trip. One aspect that was common across many agencies that have conducted or are planning a redesign is the use of metrics to communicate the benefits and impacts and to evaluate their plans during the process to evaluate how well the plan was aligning with their stated goals and objectives. Smaller scale changes do not require as widespread buy-in, whereas redesigns require that the agency provide quantitative measurements to gain support. Some of the most com- monly considered metrics are changes in service area and coverage, impact on equity, potential ridership, impact on costs, access to key destinations, and softer measurements such as simplic- ity of system design and consistency in span and level of service. Agencies varied in who was responsible for decision-making, in some cases based on whether the agency was an independent agency or an arm of the local or state government. Overall, boards played a key role in both supporting redesign and serving as champions as well as being opposed to the redesign. In some cases, board members were not supportive of the overall goals of the redesign not in theory or concepts but because of concern about a particular route. Implementation â All at Once or Phased Some agencies, like DART and King County, are implementing their redesign in phases over time, while others have implemented all at once. A majority of agencies stated that they had or
Conclusions 77 would implement all at once or mostly all at once with minor additional phases. For the agen- cies using phasing, the span of time for the phasing ranges anywhere from less than two years to 10 years or more. Certainly, for plans with lengthy spans of phasing the agency is likely to do additional planning to update the original plans prior to implementation. 5.3 Evolving and Continued Issues and Challenges Bus network redesigns continue to evolve as new and better data becomes available and more lessons learned are easily gleaned for agencies to leverage. Many agencies currently conduct- ing or thinking about conducting a redesign are simultaneously dealing with the challenge of decreasing ridership and growth in the use of privately provided services like TNCs. The uncer- tain future of automated vehicles â both for passenger cars and for transit vehicles â is another challenge that agencies must consider as they proceed with bus network redesigns. Transit agencies moving toward a âmobility-as-a-serviceâ model, where their offerings will continue to change over time, throws another wrinkle and challenge in as more agencies proceed with the redesign process (MaaS Alliance. n.d., Kelly 2018). Communication continues to remain a chal- lenge, though certainly a surmountable one â riders, stakeholders, board members, and elected officials all live in a world of readily accessible information and opportunities to engage â and they expect and deserve to have those legitimately meaningful opportunities with regard to bus network redesigns. 5.4 Future Research Because most redesign implementations are relatively new, future research should seek to evaluate the success and pitfalls of redesigns and their costs and benefits, along with a com- parison of the anticipated outcomes during the planning phase and the actual outcomes after implementation. These evaluations will have to rationalize against other factors that may have also been at play after the redesign launched â from the economy, to congestion, to the perfor- mance of the agency. Some of the agencies that have already implemented bus network redesigns are implementing robust performance measurement programs to track their progress. Future research on the results of these evaluations â cross-referenced with how they were planned and implemented â will be useful for agencies that are still earlier in the process. This research did not attempt to investigate differences in redesign approaches or designs between cities that are in major growth mode in terms of development and population and those that are more stagnant. Understanding those differences could better tailor the understanding of which approaches apply to another place considering a redesign. Another potential consideration is how redesigns have impacted the location of affordable housing; in other words, did any redesigns have an impact on development and gentrification. While the impact of rail investments is well documented, bus system changes at this broad level have not yet been considered in any substantive way. Finally, many redesigns focus on achieving efficiency of service and favor high frequency service over traditional routes that may be infrequent but provide some access to nearly every corner of the service areas. While over time some of these changes may be addressed through agenciesâ adoption of flexible services and other aspects of providing mobility, the initial impact on seniors and disabled populations â who now may have to walk farther to reach service (or turn to a greater reliance on paratransit) â should be explored.