Jarrett Walker: Transit is a continuum between ridership and coverage that involves tradeoffs
On Thursday, Jarrett Walker, renowned transit consultant and author of the book “Human Transit“, presented to the Palm Tran Service Board and the public on the broad theme of how transit works and why it is important.
One of the first slides was a graphic of the amount of space taken up by different modes: Car, bus, and bicycle. At its most elemental, transit is a better way to use space to transport people. Said another way, single occupancy vehicles are a terribly inefficient way to move people and cities inevitably choke from growth if single occupancy vehicles are the only way to get around.
Those lines with the most frequent service tend to have the highest ridership. In fact, the additional cost from the operations is more than offset from the additional riders/fares collected.
Ridership goals and coverage goals involve tradeoffs on a spectrum. Mr. Walker demonstrated how a shift toward a ridership goal has led to success in other cities. By shifting the ridership goal from, say, 50% priority to 80% priority, cities have seen their systems become more useful and ridership increase. By focusing more on ridership goals, I believe Palm Tran can see impressive gains in ridership and have a system that is much more effective for its users.
Palm Tran buses are nice, clean, and comfortable, in my experience. However, the perception of Palm Tran is harmed by the ambulance chaser advertisements that wrap Palm Tran buses. It sends a message that the only people who ride buses are those in a lower socioeconomic strata and that buses aren’t for everyone. Mr. Walker rightfully criticizes this choice and says it should be reconsidered. At the very least, the bus windows need to be more transparent so that people can see into the buses before getting on board; as it stands, the windows are opaque from the outside due to the personal injury attorney wraps. No one likes to enter an unfamiliar space without having any idea what is behind the entryway, and it’s the same for buses.
I’d like to commend the Palm Tran Service Board, the Palm Tran management team including Executive Director Clinton Forbes and Assistant Director Charles Frazier, and the public officials who attended, including Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie, County Commissioner Stephen Abrams, and County Commissioner Paulette Burdick. This was a courageous first step taken to move Palm Tran in a more productive direction.
I believe Palm Tran can become an integral part of our transportation mix in the county. Indeed, with the inevitable growth coming, it must, if we are to continue to grow while avoiding the fate of Broward County. Land use policy must also be looked at together with our transportation planning, but that’s a topic for another time.