Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Fresno's new night bus service comes with some big asterisks

Fresno's bus system (FAX) recently launched "night" service on May 1st. When I wrote about this news, details were quite sparse. Indeed, the FAX website didn't update with the new schedules until the first day of the extended service. Unfortunately, some of those details have been disappointing.

Here are the issues which really only became clear AFTER service launched.

  • Only Monday to Friday
  • 1 hour wait between buses after 6pm 
  • Only 5 routes offering "night" service 
  • ....and only on select portions of those 5 routes

What is night service? 

The reason I am putting quotation marks around "night" is because in most cities, the announcement of night service tends to mean buses running at 2am, 3am or 4am. In Fresno, "night" means new service between 9pm and midnight. Critically important, yes, but a reflection of how poor service used to be. 

Only Monday to Friday 

I had guessed the first point, based off the newsletter announcement, so it wasn't as much of a surprise. However, it is still ridiculous that bus service on Saturdays, across all of Fresno, ends at around 7pm. To be fair, service was not reduced on weekends, so there has not been a decline in service. That being said, the new "night" service highlights how poor weekend service is. That is something that should be addressed.

Long headways 

Another concern is that nothing pre-launch talked about frequencies at all. Earlier this year, FAX launched "FAX-15," or buses running every 15 minutes (vs every 20 or 30) on select lines. However, that service level ends early, before 7pm.

On route 38 for example, one of the busiest lines in the system, buses arrive every 15 minutes from start of service (6:15am) until 7pm. Then there is a 35 minute wait, followed by a 57 minute wait, and the last 4 runs are an hour apart.

Line 30, the busiest route, and the future fake BRT line, is actually less impressive.
6am - 5:30pm - every 15 minutes
Then 20 minutes, then 35 for 3 runs, then 45 minutes, and finally once an hour from 9pm to midnight.

It's also important to note that FAX STILL lacks a bus tracker. So an uneven schedule is even worse for riders, since you can't memorize the times.

Limited routes 

The biggest asterisk came with the reveal of the new map. Mind you, it's a nice looking map. 

FAX night map

That's missing huge chunks of Fresno West Fresno isn't even invited to the map. Riverpark, apparently, is the northern border of the city. East-west travel is not advised.

On the other hand, the routes they chose are decent. With the exception of route 32 (which I would guess was political), the highest ridership lines received new service. However, does a downtown transfer hub make sense at 11pm? That's not where the jobs are. That's not where the residents are. And frankly, that's not where people want to be standing around waiting for their connections. Downtown obviously needs service, but running both 30 and 28 so close together south of Shields seems unnecessary. A Shields crosstown bus would probably impact more people. 

Limited sections

Aside from only covering 5 routes, the chosen routes will not run their entire length during the "night" service. The reason seems to be to keep the entire night operation running with a grand total of 9 buses. 

Route 32, for example, usually runs all the way up to Riverpark, as does 38, which actually terminates downtown via south Fresno. Route 28 usually ends at Fresno State.

I'm not saying the 5 chosen routes shouldn't be shortened - making modifications absolutely makes sense. I'm just saying it's a surprise. 

Well, except in the case of Route 32.

Here is the normal run.

FaxRoute32-1_Page_1

The problem, is that the (extremely) shortened route is scheduled as follows:

32 sched

That's 24 minutes of run time, and 36 minutes of sitting around and doing nothing at all.

I looked at the other lines and this does not appear to be the case where the bus continues on another line. It appears that the bus will just sit and idle for a longer period of time than it would take to run the route again.

That's a ridiculous waste.

An easy solution would be to extend the line along Tulare to make the connection at Cedar. During the day, this is done by Route 22. Doing so provides extra east-west service, and is practically free, since you're already paying for a bus and driver to be working. 

32ext

According to Google maps, this takes 5-8 minutes. That's a round trip of 15 minutes. 

Doing this would allow the bus to run for 40 minutes and sit for 20 minutes (allowing an operator break). 

Which bring me to my last point

Run times are not really adjusted for night


According to the schedule, Route 30 takes 40 minutes to go from Blackstone and Nees at Riverpark to Cesar Chavez downtown during the first run, at 6am.

At 8am, during morning rush, it is scheduled for the same amount of time.

At 5pm? You guessed it, 40 minutes

Starting at 7:45pm and until the end of service, that is lowered to 36 minutes. 

That doesn't reflect the reality of Blackstone. During rush hour, it is a slog, and you're guaranteed to hit light after light. Google Maps places an estimate of 22-50 minutes by car. So a 40 minute scheduled bus run time is probably too short. 

But after 9pm, Blackstone south of Shaw is dead. You could have the new USL team play in the southbound lanes. There are tumbleweeds. Google maps says the trip will take 22 minutes.

Adjusting the travel time by 4 minutes from rush hour to midnight doesn't make sense. The result will be a bus sitting around waiting at every single time point. 

On the other hand Route 9 does seem to have travel times better aligned by the time of day. 

Overall, it is still fantastic that Fresno finally has bus service past 7pm. Even limited routes is ok, because people can link modes, such as using the bus to shorten a bicycle trip, or save money when using a taxi. One can ride the bus as far as it goes and continue from there.

However, that doesn't stop these limitations from being disappointing.Even worse is the way this service was announced and advertised.

Not releasing the new maps and schedules until; after the start of service? Inexcusable.

I can only hope this new service helps people get to where they need to be, and that is reflected on the ridership. I believe the federal funding allows for 3 years, so we will certainly be able to look at the data. 



BTW: While FAX did completely screw up the website side of things, they did commission a very nice video about the new service improvements, which they uploaded on Facebook. Not the best way to get the news out, but the video is really nice. Check it out.

https://www.facebook.com/780055882148724/videos/853085751512403/ 


2 comments:

  1. "future fake BRT line"

    Correct. Worst than a waste, and apparently designed to convince all Fresnans that public transportation cannot work.

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  2. It was pretty stupid not to have the service run on Saturday nights as well. On Saturday, there is often lots of stuff going on downtown, but few ways to get home if you don't have a car or plan to drink other than Lyft. I took the service a couple Fridays ago, and the area where the buses leave from is also not the most welcoming late at night...very dark and no security. I could see some people not wanting to walk from the stadium/breweries/convention center late at night and then wait there. I'm not sure who came up with these plans, but they obviously didn't consult the general public. Like in Jack London Square, there should be some sort of security/police standing by after dark at the main bus stops downtown (especially when someone might have to wait an hour for a bus if they just miss one), as well as 1-2 stationed on the walk from the stadium and convention center (I would put one at Van Ness and Fresno and one at Van Ness and Tulare, as well as one at Van Ness and Inyo if there was enough funding for a third). I would be curious as to how many people are boarding after midnight, but I would consider making 11:30 or 12:00 the last bus, and then take that money and operate the busses on Saturday until midnight as well.

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