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Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Transit Plan Update

The Comprehensive Operational Analysis (COA) of Huntsville's Shuttle public transit system is moving along, and a draft map of the proposed changes to the system is now available. The final plan will be presented to the City Council in January. Some highlights of the plan include:

  • Timed transfers between routes. The consultants performing the COA found that 44% of riders using the system transfer between routes, but the timing of the routes terminating at the Downtown Transit Center made for inconvenient and long transfer wait times of up to an hour. The new routes will meet downtown on the hour to allow for efficient transfers. 
  • Increasing frequency on some routes, while decreasing frequency on others. Two routes, University Drive and Southwest Huntsville, will get thirty-minute headways, while the center city Red and Blue Core loops will be pushed back to hourly service.
  • Elimination of routes. The Research Park and Tourist routes will be eliminated and absorbed into other existing routes. The Airport Road and Southeast Huntsville routes will be combined into one large loop, allowing for a one-seat ride from the south side to downtown, eliminating the current required transfer at Parkway Place.
  • Extension of operation hours. Five routes will have their hours of operation extended up to one hour from the current 6am-6pm run time. 
For those like myself looking for a more gutsy overhaul of the transit system, remember that this COA assumed a revenue-neutral option-- the 2012 transit budget is $4.1 million. It would have been great however to see what the transit system could look like if the annual budget were increased by $1 million, or even $5 million; if fares were increased, or if Madison and Redstone Arsenal contributed to the system in exchange for routes in their areas.

James' COA

Here's some ideas that are completely feasible in the near-term and would increase ridership among "choice riders," who have other means of transportation but choose to take the bus. 

  • Restore and enhance Research Park service. Completely eliminating service to Research Park would ignore the 50,000+ workers that are currently employed there. Start small with a frequent Lunch Shuttle between offices and the restaurants on University and Bridge Street, with service running every 15 minutes between 10am and 3pm. When funding is available, construct a Research Park transit hub and encourage companies to use shuttle vans (similar to the airport shuttles hotels use) to ferry their commuting workers between the hub and their workplace. 
  • Introduce routes to the Airport, Madison, and the Arsenal. The taxi and rental car companies won't like it, but it's time for a bus route to the Airport. I would propose an express bus between Downtown and the Airport with a long-term parking lot at Research Park. With 63% of Madison's workers commuting to Huntsville* and infrastructure that can't handle a lot more traffic, Madison could use a few bus routes to the Research Park transit hub. And with the help of Redstone Arsenal, two peak-hour express routes-- one from Research Park, another from South Huntsville-- could give commuters an alternative to sitting in traffic at the gates**. When on the Arsenal, passengers could transfer to intra-base circulators or (even better) building-specific shuttle vans. 
  • Make Courthouse Square the new Downtown transit hub. I challenge you to walk from the Transit Center on Church Street into the downtown core-- it is difficult, if not impossible. Maybe this will change when Church Street is widened in a few years and sidewalks are added, but even then, the city's transit hub is far from most significant attractions that would be useful for Shuttle riders, such as City Hall and the Courthouse, requiring a transfer for most. The infrastructure is already there-- eliminate some of the "free" parallel parking that causes confusion and delay around the Square and use that space for bus pull-offs, and shelters already exist nearby.
  • New Transit Website. I cannot stress this enough-- much like a business, without a visible web presence, no one will know you exist. Currently, the website, http://huntsvilleal.gov/PublicTran/public_trans.php, is three pages deep from the city's home page, and finding most information is another two pages deeper. Start with a new domain name, like hsvshuttle.com. Make bus schedules and system maps easily accessible. And make real-time news and information available to the media and the public by creating Twitter and Facebook pages, and make sure they are constantly updated. 
  • Small stuff. Wi-Fi on city buses, especially express routes. LED bus route displays on buses. Visible bus stop signs. More aesthetically-pleasing bus shelters.  
*Source: US Census Bureau
**I know someone is going to cite "security" as the reason why Redstone Arsenal does not currently have bus service, but most military bases near urban areas have transit service. Some examples: Camp Pendleton (Oceanside, CA), Fort Benning (Columbus, GA), and Fort Belvoir (DC metro).