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THE BUS BLOG – THE TRANSIT FAIR

01 Nov

Its been a very busy weekend again, between getting ready for the Mud Run (which I will post an entry about soon) and the Mayor’s Challenge Learning Fair. I was thrilled that I was asked to help and had been frantically putting information together all weekend in prepration for Sunday.. Thanks to everyone who stopped by! It was a lot of fun to talk about my experinece of leaving the car at home for a month in Little Rock. I think the biggest success of the event though was the bike racks on the CAT bus. I had a lot of people tell me how easy they found the racks to be and that they would like to try riding CAT with their bikes now that they know how it works.

My Booth

I was in charge of a booth talking about the stigma people have against riding the bus or biking to work. I completely understand the uneasy feelings people have about riding the bus. I’m extremely Pro-Transit, but even I have had my uncomfortable moments waiting on a bus, (See Oct 13th‘s entry) so it was difficult to think about how I was going to approach this. I was a little surprised that some people feel the same uneasiness about riding a bike to work. I guess I have just ridden mine for so long, first in college at Fayetteville and now in downtown Little Rock, that I didn’t see it as a problem. But apparently some people have the impression that:

Biking on a Saturday or weekday evening in the park in full “biking attire” = Cool

Biking around town in regular clothes with a backpack or something = Bum

I don’t think everyone see’s it this way. I actually prefer to bike around in regular clothes because It feels less awkward to me than if I was dressed in all the gear. But apparently some people see this as weird unless you’re in a college town or in city like Portland where its common. Oh well

The Mayor issues his challenge to Little Rock

 So I tried to address the problem by showing that not driving a car is nothing new to Little Rock. It’s actually within just the past few decades that it has become unusual not to have a car, Little Rock, like all American cities has a long history of busses, trolleys and walking. The image below, is one many of you have seen before. It’s popular in a lot of downtown businesses and restaurants. Many people look at it and think it’s of Washington D.C. because of the Capitol in the background. But it’s actually taken at Main and Capitol Ave in 1956. The picture worked great because there were four busses and everyone was walking. If you look at the traffic signal in the foreground you can see they actually had a fourth light called a “Denver Light” that stopped traffic in all directions to allow pedestrians to cross the intersection diagonally. It’s interesting that it is such a popularly placed photo downtown. People like to show it in disbelief that this was actually what downtown Little Rock was like a few decades ago! And I believe there is a longing for this type of downtown as well.

I took these photos the day of the fair just to illustrate how we have gone from the picture above to this:

Some other interesting things I found at the Butler Center were Little Rocks first bus and an article from 1936 about how Little Rock was moving into the future by replacing its street car lines with busses which was the trend everywhere in America at that time. It’s funny to see how we are reversing that trend today.

I also provided some typical reasons that people have for not riding the bus along with responses to each. These are just responses I came up with myself based on my limited experience and research but if anyone sees anything they would like to add, please do!

THE BUS IS NEVER ON TIME

Road supervisors check on-time performance on a daily basis for each fixed route. A bus is not considered late until 3 minutes past its timepoint. This number is reported at each monthly board meeting. On-Time performance is usually between 90-95% on time, and very rarely goes below 90%. So, the bus is considered, for the most part, on time at least 90% of the time.

THE BUS DOESN’T RUN LATE ENOUGH

This is a difficult complaint because how late a CAT bus can run is dependent on budget and ridership. Bus routes and times are tied to budgets and budgets are tied to ridership. However if more people ride the bus in the evenings and the need is realized for a later route, it would be possible. It all depends on how many people ride the bus. but it’s a sort of Catch 22.

IT TAKES TOO LONG TO RIDE

A typical car has an average speed of 17- 22, meaning that the total distance covered averages out to 17 to 22 miles per hour. CAT attempts to have a standard average speed of about 8-15 mph on the route. Due to bicycles, wheelchairs, and the time it takes individuals to board and disembark from the bus, it takes time, sometimes longer, sometimes shorter, than average but the time difference for an average commuter is small.4 miles in a car may take from 10 – 14 minutes. 4 miles in a bus may take 16 – 30 minutes.

I DON’T KNOW WHERE OR WHEN THE BUS RUNS

Beginning November 1st,(Tuesday!) Google Maps will begin providing CAT transit as an option on their maps. So if you need to go somewhere and would like to use CAT, You can type in your location and destination and Google Maps will show you what bus you need to take, the nearest bus stop, when it comes by, how long it will take and where the bus will let you off. Ask me to see a demonstration of Google Maps Transit in similar cities

THE BUS IS NOT SAFE

CAT has installed up to 6 security cameras on each bus and also provide an off duty officer and security cameras at the Transit Center Downtown. All busses are linked by radio to the central dispatch, and a Transit Etiquette Policy has been enacted and is enforced on all CAT busses.

THE BUS DOESN’T GO WHERE I NEED TO GO

The bus system covers a wide part of Little Rock, but it cannot go everywhere. However, in 2007, CAT installed bike racks on the front of all their busses that allow for two bikes to be loaded onto the front. Having a bike can expand the area a bus stop can serve.

I DON’T WANT TO HAVE TO PAY

Though lots of studies out there show you can save hundreds of dollars a month by riding the bus, many of these studies are including insurance and car payments as well as gas and monthly maintenance fees. However, just on gas alone, a rider still can save money every month by riding the bus instead of driving a car depending on car type and trip length. Ask me
to show you how much you can save a month!

IT’S JUST EASIER TO DRIVE

Between fighting traffic and finding parking, who wouldn’t want someone to chauffeur them around everywhere? But the biggest reason driving seems so much easier than riding a bus is because driving is a familiar routine and riding a bus is foreign to most of us. Take a week to learn your local bus routine and you may actually find it to be easier than driving a car

I aslo decided to research other cities transportation networks to show how common public bus transit was around the worldand found a pretty interesting example in Curitiba Brazil

Many people have an aversion to busses but are more open to rail transit because it is more reliable and feels more secure than a bus on the street

This is a typical transit stop in downtown Curitiba.

Curitiba, Brazil

But wait. Thats not Light Rail. Its a bus stop!

They basically made their bus stops feel more like light rail to help overcome people’s mental aversion to the bus. This helped to show the majority of people’s dislike for the bus is mostly a mental image they have of what the bus is. And once we recognize that this is just our preception rather than an actual dislike of the bus, it becomes easier to allow ourselves to ride. Or so my theory is.

Talking Transit

Finally, I just showed my miles chart and talked about my experience getting around town without a car. I had some great discussions with folks who were either interested in riding the bus, had done it before but were not pleased with the experience, and a couple that rode the bus pretty regularly. Hopefully next year we can get the word out more to downtown commuters. It may even be interesting to try to do it during the lunch hour in the middle of the week. I think the people we were trying to reach were the same people that don’t travel to downtown on the weekends or least on a Sunday.  But It was a great afternoon and it was fun to discuss local transit with people (I’m just a big nerd that way though!)

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6 Comments

Posted by on November 1, 2011 in Bus Blog

 

6 responses to “THE BUS BLOG – THE TRANSIT FAIR

  1. Katie Kummer

    November 1, 2011 at 9:13 am

    Sorry we didn’t make it down to the Transit Fair Sunday, but I’m curious since it’s November now and your month is up: do you plan to continue not using your car?

     
    • masonellis

      November 1, 2011 at 11:22 am

      One of the biggest benefits I have found of doing this experiment for a month is I feel a lot more familiar and comfortable riding the bus now. I think I will continue to use the bus some, but really, because I live downtown, most everything I need except for some shopping is easily in walking or biking distance. But there are still some things I would like to explore that I never got to this month like riding Greyhound, using the trolley, interviewing Metroplan and riding some other bus routes. So I’m not going to continue to go carless but I am going to continue my blog talking about Little Rock’ public transit still. But even though I can drive now, after going a whole month without a car, It doesn’t seem nearly as necessary to drive as much as I did before.

      So the short answer is, I can drive again but I probably won’t be doing a lot of it.

       
  2. John Bruhl

    November 1, 2011 at 10:57 am

    I really like those bus transit stations from Brazil! I know it costs money but even if we had covered benches surrounded by glass like all the other cities rather than a big T-post with a small yellow Cat sing bolted to the top! Or just make the sign posts more visually demanding/interesting and also list things like what routes stop at that specific sign and a time table or something.

     
  3. Katie Kummer

    November 1, 2011 at 1:15 pm

    I think routes and timetables at the bus stops would be a great benefit. Although they’re making progress on having the routes available online and through the GoogleMaps option, not everyone has a smartphone and can look up this information while at the bus stop. The system seems to completely shut out people who are visiting the city who don’t have smartphones and don’t know to look up bus schedules ahead of time.

     
  4. Bryan

    November 1, 2011 at 5:42 pm

    Congrats, Mason, on finishing your month! Thanks again for your help with the Car-Free Learning Fair on Sunday. I agree with you, the CAT demo bus seemed like a big hit… I tell people the hardest thing about riding the bus is the first ride since everything is foreign to most people in this area and they’ve never had to wait for a bus, put a bike on a bus, pay their fare, signal when they want to exit the bus, etc.

     
  5. Anncha

    November 3, 2011 at 12:26 pm

    Mason,
    your blog has been a big hit! Hope you continue writing. So glad you came to the Learning Fair and set up such a great booth.

     

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