Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Hampton Roads Mass Transit is a Mass Failure

In the context of Hampton Roads (Virginia): If you draw up a map of where people live and where they work, or go to school or shop, the result looks like a Jackson Pollock painting on a bad day.  For those of you unfamiliar with what "Hampton Roads" is, it's actually a pseudonym given to the metropolitan region that includes cities in the southeastern corner of Virginia.  This includes Norfolk, Virginia Beach, Chesapeake, Portsmouth, Hampton, Newport News, York County, Williamsburg (sort of), Suffolk, Smithfield (sort of) and outlying areas.

If you fall in a narrow percentile, you can make it on the fledgling "system" that exists today.  If you don't, you're screwed.  If you happen to live within walking distance of a regular stop, you can make it.  If not, you're screwed again.  If you're looking to just ride across town, you're probably in good shape.  If you need to ride from one town to another, especially across any bridges or tunnels, you're on shaky ground.

Case in point:  You Live in Virginia Beach, but work in Hampton

You can take a few buses to get to a transfer point (you can verify this using Google Maps or by going to GoHRT.com yourself) and then transfer again in downtown Norfolk, and then you arrive in Hampton no less than 2 hours from when you left.  It's worth noting that on a typical day (no breakdowns or bad weather foul-ups) you can get from central Virginia Beach to Mercury Blvd in Hampton in about 20-25 minutes, and that's keeping your speed in the legal range.  This is just stupid.

Case in point: You Live in Virginia Beach, but work in Newport News

For the sake of argument, let's just assume you work at the largest employer in the entire region: Northrop Grumman Newport News (shipyard).  You have a few options, but they all filter down to getting on the 967 Max line at Indian River Rd / Reon Drive, and taking that to the Transit Center in downtown Newport News.  That's a 50 minute ride on a good/average day.  If you live anywhere outside of walking distance from Reon, you will need a ride (car, bike, mo-ped, etc.), so this is also a significant failure.

Case in point: You live in Chesapeake and want to get to Hampton

Pack breakfast, lunch and dinner.  You're going to be riding buses all day and waiting at stops often.  You might want to bring a shaver or toothbrush as well.


If HRT is going to market themselves as providing a real "mass transit" solution, they need to consider running a cyclical or sequential service that follows the main arteries of traffic.  That means forming a simple "circle" around the area, following I-64 in most cases, and running buses in both directions on a regular sequence.  You should be able to hop on a bus in the morning or afternoon and go in either direction (clockwise or counterclockwise) with feeder lines branching out from key points around the core "ring".  Other cities do this, why not here?

Also, what's up with the anti-"green" paper fare cards?  Why not offer a re-usable plastic fare card that we can reload at stations (cash, credit, debit, etc.) or online (credit, debit)?  Even highway toll passes are reusable.  This makes no sense at all.  Here's an idea for you marketing boneheads:  How about offering a discount for customers to reload their cards via your own web site and lace that site with advertising.  Hmm, I believe they call that a "captive audience"?  It markets itself in both ways (to consumers and to advertisers).  I've seen it done many times and it works pretty well.
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