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Compelling Public Transit

How can we make public transit a great experience for everyone, not just city dwellers and those on the bus line?

Photo of DaiLynn Dietz

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I'm a huge fan of public transit! I often take the bus to work in the winter when the roads are bad and I dont want to drive, or when my car is in the shop. I dig it so much, that I make sure that any house I rent is walking distance from the bus line that stops near my work. Some of my co-workers envy my access to the bus line, saying that they wish they could bus in bad weather, but with the transfers and wait times, it'd take them over an hour to get to work, where it only takes them 20 minutes to drive. How can we make public transit not just something we associate with the underprivileged, the students, and the hip city dwellers? How can we make it just as easy for a friend living in Grandville to take a bus to Eastown as it is for the friend down town? Perhaps we could draw inspiration from cities where public transit is the norm, like DC, or Munich.

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Photo of Curt Parrott

DaiLynn, good question. The logistics necessary for transit to reach everyone is challenging. Time is convenience and convenience is King to consumers. Other distribution systems, like FedEx for instance, use infrastructure that can handle multiple distribution strategies simultaneously to accommodate a variety of consumer needs. But our road systems are designed for individual users which explains Ubers success while ideas like Ford's Chariot service have have struggled. The idea that I push for is a limited stop, non stop, multi-strategy Bus Rapid Transit system on highway or old rail corridors. Like FedEx packages, you would be rushed to transfer points nearest your destination to keep your stop and go service short. Simply providing side lanes at stops allowing limited stop service to merge in and out of a non stop corridor, much like a highway, provides infrastructure that can run multiple distribution strategies (limited stop, non stop to busy transfer hubs and direct to location service) simultaneously. As we know, the free market is teeming with companies trying to provide commuter services. Infrastructure designed for mass transit only can offer companies like Chariot, that provide direct to location services, the opportunity to purchase access rights to logistics that make their business model work. That not only gives the free market the opportunity to provide an array of services, it also can reduce the public investment necessary to make it work and provide public transit with another revenue source. Free market providers would be required to share data to help public transit focus on areas where service is subpar. While it's possible for public transit to improve commute times by simply running an overlapping distribution strategy of non stop shuttle services between transfer hubs spread across a region to compliment their stop and go route service, it's unlikely to compete with other mobility options, even during rush hours, without it's own infrastructure. I do have a website promoting this idea if you would like more information. It's generally directed towards my hometown market, but should have applications elsewhere. Try visiting www.cincypublicprivatebrt.com

Photo of Idrees Mutahr

Hello Curt, thanks for the comment, I am one of the facilitators here. For the explore phase of the project we are interested in hearing people's experiences and insights around travel in Grand Rapids, can you explain what the current issues you face are that would be solved by this idea?

Photo of Curt Parrott

Idrees, my apologies if I skipped a step in the process. I wasn't trying to offer an idea to the competition as I focus my comments towards changing the way public transit serves commuters to improve service and how it relates to DaiLynn perspective. My website and blog focus on transit strategies, infrastructure, generating revenue for public transit to solve funding issues and developing free markets that focus on mass transit instead of individual service.
Although I don't use my local transit often, I can offer an instance where it has worked for me. Every labor day we have a festival called Riverfest on the Ohio River in Cincinnati which ends with a fireworks show. It attracts about a half a million people and it is easy to get stuck in traffic leaving the event for about an hour. My son and I took a Transit shuttle to the event and after the fireworks ended we had a 5 minute walk to the bus and shuttled back to Northern Kentucky University about 10 miles away and were back in our car 20 minutes after the fireworks ended. It was amazing how well transit works when they can provide a distribution strategy that works for you.
Please feel free to delete my response to DaiLynn if it helps to focus the process and move things along. Best of luck to Ford and their Chariot service. Hopefully, one day, this idea will be embraced and offer services like Chariot the logistics and infrastructure needed to make it's business model work.

Photo of Idrees Mutahr

Hello Curt, no worries, I just wanted to redirect the conversation to the travel experiences getting around the city. Thanks for sharing your own experience with the shuttle in Cincinnati!

Photo of Tom Bulten

Curt Parrott : I appreciated your comments and analysis here on the forum. I urge you to refine your thoughts into an idea for the "Propose" phase of this Challenge. (The Challenge is seeking proposals through September 30 and is providing $100,000 to a winning proposal.) I'm the online facilitator for the Grand Rapids Challenge. So, let me know if I can help you refine an idea. You can submit a proposal here: https://challenges.cityoftomorrow.com/challenge/grand-rapids/propose/contribute.

Photo of Curt Parrott

Tom Bulten, I'm assuming the competition requires ideas that don't require government participation, as that would leave the idea beholden to political consensus. My idea for using public right of ways, such as highway or rail corridors, to create separate grade Bus Rapid Transit corridors( with both limited stop and non stop capabilities) allowing multiple distribution strategies to run simultaneously, would certainly require political consensus. In my hometown of Cincinnati, this plan modifies an existing light rail proposal to a BRT proposal. It allows buses to quickly cross the region non stop without being caught in traffic. The ultimate goal is to create a market of public and private services to provide an abundance of services that would make mass transit convenient, affordable and practical for many more commuters. Private services would purchase access rights to this BRT infrastructure and create a new revenue stream for supporting public transit.
This idea might not work as well in cities with existing light rail service as those corridors could not be used for BRT. That would reduce the systems logistical value to private providers.
Thanks for reaching out. If this does fall into the parameters of the competition, let me know.

Photo of Tom Bulten

Curt Parrott : The City of Grand Rapids is a partner with Ford, Dell and others in the City of Tomorrow Challenge. So, a project that includes public/private partnership could be considered. However, a large infrastructure project would fall outside the scope of the $100,000 that will be available for the pilot. But, maybe there are ways that we could increase the efficiency (and ridership) of our existing Bus Rapid Transit line--The Silver Line. A second BRT routes is in the planning stages here in Grand Rapids.

I'm curious about your ideas for BRT. Separate grade corridors for the buses would improve speed and efficiency. But, don't you lose the main advantage of BRT over light rail--the cost saving of using existing infrastructure and corridors?

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