Friday, September 2, 2011

Demand for Transit and Long-Distance Options

I am struck by the confluence of information floating across my screen about the more and more mainstream notion of transportation options in different settings, local, rural, urban, and regional.

National Association of Development Organizations
Exploring the Role of Regional Transportation Projects as Rural Economy Drivers is a NADO research report that looks at three positive experiences with transportation-led economic development projects. Funding sources are also discussed.

(1) Vermont: Construction in Brattleboro of a passenger intermodal transportation hub. The transportation hub, just blocks away from the Amtrak station, added to the downtown 300 parking spaces, bicycle racks, a parking enforcement office, street-level commercial space, and a connection to existing local and regional bus service. The results are fewer empty storefronts downtown, a new theater, and plans for renovating the Amtrak station and building a nearby mixed-use retail and multi- family residential project.

(2) Alabama: Creation of Baylinc, the first multi-county public transportation system in Southern Alabama. The report details the funding hurdles, importance of potential commuter service demand and effective partnerships with local leaders and transit systems. The result is the planning of other regional services, including ferry service and a guaranteed ride home component of commuter service. The lesson emphasized is not to give up on a good idea.

(3) Oregon: Recent projects of the Central Oregon Intergovernmental Council (COIC), with the support of regional partners, in opening a ride brokerage call center, preparing a coordinated regional public transportation plan, designing a bus system, building an intermodal transit hub, and starting local and regional bus service. That service is now serving 200,000 riders per year, with a shift from "a transit- dependent population (low-income, older adult and disabled customers) to a population that chooses public transit over other available transportation options ... helping boost the local economy." Although serving the wider public was not part of the plan, early-adopter human service agencies and transportation-challenged individuals convinced small communities and agencies to support public transit. There are now plans to partner with the business community and add pedestrian and bicycle connections. The advice of one participant is to "[c]reate a story of the problem and have data available to demonstrate a need for the proposed service. "

NADO also issued new reports about air quality projects (with one transit example), emergency planning and economic recovery after disasters.

Long-Distance Connectivity

American Bus Association

The ABA is promoting the $8.8 million that the Federal Transit Administration is offering for wheelchair lifts as part of its Over-the-Road Bus (OTRB) Accessibility Program. The ABA has a special grant information webpage with details and contacts for assisting with grant applications. The deadline is Sept. 12, 2011.

ABA mentions Who Rides Curbside Buses? A Passengers Survey of Discount Curbside Bus Services in Six Eastern and Midwestern Cities, a survey of passengers of intercity curbside bus service about what modes they are taking their business from and also examines the differences between travelers on these buses and on conventional carriers. "Curbside bus companies have attracted publicity for their steeply discounted fares, free wireless internet, and express services on routes that had seen little new service in decades." The 14-page report was prepared by the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development at DePaul University.

The buses are generating trips in the two areas studied, East Coast and Midwest cities. Their fares undercut Amtrak's, are competitive with car travel, and offer free wifi. On the East Coast, where Amtrak's Northeast Corridor service is a popular option with frequent trains, the curbside buses are stealing business, though Amtrak is still showing ridership increases. In the Midwest, bus passengers are forgoing automobile travel add airplane trips.

Young Demographic

The age 18-25 age group represents a large segment of the curbside bus market and though I have seen many people outside this age group board those buses, including me, there is no question that it is mostly an under-30 crowd. Perhaps due to the nature of their travel and not being as concerned with time (or more concerned with free wifi at low cost), personal rather than business trips predominate. A huge difference with the conventional bus market is the over 90 percent use of portable electronic devices. The only greater percentage use is on the Acela, which costs a whole lot more, is the quickest option (rivaling the plane) and generally has much more expensively dressed travelers.

The ABA also reports that Megabus in the United Kingdom is experimenting with sleeper service, including one's "very own bed," on overnight service between Glasgow and London.

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