Friday, October 30, 2009

What’s Wrong with Hampton Roads Transit (HRT)

camTrafficJam_wideweb__470x314,0 Having been a regular bus rider for quite some time, I have intimate experience with what works and what does not, when it comes to our “mass transit” bus services. 

The list of what’s wrong far outweighs the positive aspects at this point, but I’m hopeful that over time it will improve.  The positive aspects are that it’s (a) relatively cheap to use and (b) not usually crowded.

This is with regards to the “Max” service, which is intended to provide express service between major population zones and across city boundaries.  I seriously doubt it will improve in the next five (5) years, but maybe Elvis is still alive and will help them out.

  1. Routes are incomplete and inefficient
    You cannot take a bus between many of the most densely populated areas to other densely populated areas without driving in a car to get to at least one of the endpoints.  If you want to take a bus from middle Virginia Beach to Newport News get ready for 2-1/2 to 3 hours of riding and multiple stops and at least one route change (a wait at a stop for another bus).  Some major stations have no direct links or even shuttles to connect them (e.g. Silverleaf and Indian River).
  2. Routes are Not Tiered
    This might seem like a repeat of the above, but actually it’s synergistic (don’t you love that word!?).  The route structure should be based on a rigorous, reliable skeleton or “core” route service that runs independent of feeder routes.  The timing of the feeder routes should be carefully coordinated so that it jibes with the core system without making riders wait more than 15 minutes at most.  In other words, you should be able to hop on a feeder bus in Pungo or Poquoson, get off at a stop and catch a core system bus to get across the water to another city, hop on another feeder bus and at no point in the middle wait more than 10-15 minutes for the next bus.  You cannot do that right now.  Other cities have been doing this for years.
  3. Stop Locations are poorly planned
    Most of the Max stops, other than “transit centers” are in shopping center parking lots or on main streets, located in such a way as to require the drivers to maneuver tricky and tight turns to loop around and park appropriately to allow riders to load and unload.  Stops should be positioned to avoid positioning maneuvers and U-turns as a top priority.  If the bus has to make an awkward turn-around at a stop to continue on the route, the stop should be moved.
  4. Paper Fare Cards.  No Reuse
    It’s 2009.  Someone didn’t get the memo about being “green” and “eco-friendly”.  Daily-use, throw-away paper fare cards are a slap in the face of this entire mindset.  Not very smart of their marketing department (if they even have a marketing department).  How about a plastic, re-usable fare card?  Maybe one that can be reloaded everywhere you currently purchase the paper cards.  Maybe even a reason to go to their crappy web site and reload (might actually increase traffic and give reason to sell advertising space on the site!  Imagine that!)
  5. Poorly Maintained Equipment
    While standing around at the “transit centers” I often see the drivers get out, walk around, and crawl under their bus looking for whatever is making a strange noise.  At least once per week, when stopping mid-route, the engine will die and the driver will have to restart it.  Not very reassuring.  Often the marquee is wrong and the driver can do nothing to correct it (wrong route number usually).
  6. Merged Traffic
    Technically, this is technically not HRT’s fault.  It’s the fault of city traffic planners and VDOT.  Putting buses in the same horrific mess as all the moronic car “drivers” (using the term loosely here) does nothing to make the bus more efficient.  It simply offers riders the chance to take a nap and save on gas money (depending upon the price of gas and their vehicle MPG rating).  At least on the main arteries like I-64, I-264, I-664, etc. they should add a dedicated bus lane.
  7. Wasted Marketing Potential
    No “specials” or incentive discounts are offered beyond the same-old tired senior citizen and military/student discounts.  How about special deals where they partner with shopping centers to cross promote?  This is not new.  Been around for decades and it works VERY well.  I believe the phrase used for this is “a win-win”.  If I have to explain this, forget it.
  8. Single Purpose Stops are Dumb
    Partner with fast food and quick-shop businesses to surround your stops with something for people to do (buy) while they wait.  Maybe these could be the same businesses you cross market with (see number 7) for cross-incentive marketing.  “Shop here, get $1 off your next ride.  Buy a 10 pack of tickets, get $5 off your next purchase at __”.  Duh?
  9. Diversify
    Forget waiting on the cities to pull their thumbs out of their asses.  By the time they make a decision about true “mass transit” solutions, they will have spent all their budgets consultants and studies and nothing will ever be constructed.  Municipalities are bound by federal, state and local restrictions that private businesses often can circumvent.  Not always, but more than otherwise.  Just buy up property, build the stupid light-rail/mono-rail/whatever-rail between all the key points in the region (not just within a single city) and enlist the participation of retail and food merchants to make the system profitable.  It can be done.  It’s called “vision”.  Stop asking everyone for consensus.  If they asked everyone how to build the Interstate system, it wouldn’t exist today.
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