December 2, 2015

Time: 8:00 – 10:00 AM
Location: Union Memorial Finney Classroom (201 E. University Parkway)

Questions and Comments from Transit Choices Ad-hoc Committee Meeting on BaltimoreLink

Contributions made by Klaus Philipsen (ArchPlan), Brian O’Malley (Central Maryland Transportation Alliance) and other meeting participants.

December 2, 2015

Attendees: Fran Allen, Davon Barbour, Henry Bogdan, Robin Budish, Art Cohen, Candace Croston, Terry Cummings, Ryan Dorsey, Peter Duvall, George Frazier, Marco Greenberg, Paulo Gregory Harris, Jeffrey Grigg, Betty Hickey, Phil LaCombe, Jim Leanos, Joe Nathanson, Brian O’Malley, Charles Penny, Cari Peri, Klaus Philipsen, Michael Romeo, Jimmy Rouse, Jill Sorensen, Sandy Sparks, Marc Stein, Yolanda Takesian, Raven Thompson, Michael Walk, Trey Winstead

Community Engagement Process
There was broad agreement that the 12/31/15 Community Input Deadline needs to be postponed 1 or 2 months. This will indicate to community leaders that the MTA is listening. Additional time should be used to meet with community groups and leaders. Listen to their concerns and sell what the changes will accomplish.

Specifically, Greenmount Avenue, Harford Road, and Eastern Avenue through Highlandtown have been repeatedly mentioned as problem areas. It is difficult for Transit Choices to respond to these complaints given the available information about alternative routes, frequency of service, schedules, etc. What is important to us, is that the MTA engage directly with community leaders and respond to these concerns. We need to win community leaders as allies to as large an extent as possible.

Elements of Service & Operational Details

Transit Signal Prioritization
It was suggested that TSP be tried on one corridor to measure its impact.
1) Who at Baltimore City is working on Transitways and TSP with MTA?
2) What will it take to ensure that TSP will be more effective in reducing transit travel times than it has been on the Howard Street corridor?

1) What is the Transit Hub concept and what are the main elements?
2) What does the $19M for transit hubs pay for?
3) What else is needed to make the transit hubs successful?
4) How many transit hubs does the MTA need to make Baltimore LINK work as designed?
5) What are the locations?
6) What does the MTA need from Baltimore City to implement the Transit Hubs?
7) Do the Transit Hubs require an Environmental Impact Statement?
8) Who is responsible for public involvement?
9) What will be the noise and air quality impacts of the transit hubs?
10) Is there anything comparable to the Transit Hubs in existence now?  If so, where?

1) How will Transitways work?
2) Which streets will be designated as transit ways and be closed off to vehicular traffic?
3) How will this impact business and residents?
4) If closed to local traffic, why not surface rail? Streetcar? The Self Powered Transit option presented at the September Transit Choices meeting?
5) Would a designated lane work or does it require that the entire street be converted to bus-only?
6) Does the MTA have a plan for outreach and making the case to the public for the Transitways?

QuickBus 40
The current system has the beginning of a rapid system (Quickbus Lines) that run in addition to slower local service in the same high volume corridors. The new system appears to eliminate that type service except for the QB 40. We have the following questions:
– What is the rationale of eliminating “rapid” lines?
– What is the rationale for keeping the QB 40 designation?
– To what extent is the QB 40 a pilot for the new service and in what way is it monitored?
– What exactly happened since the change on QB 40 was announced/implemented

CityLink, Express BusLink, LocalLink
Fundamentally, the concept of spreading the current highly downtown concentrated and redundant bus system out into a larger high frequency service grid appears to be valid and productive if this move results in:
– Shorter overall trip times along high volume routes
– Improves access to high demand destinations and jobs
– Makes use of transit easier and more convenient
– Maintains coverage
– At this point it is isn’t clear that the above criteria can be or will be met

To answer if it does, the following questions about operations need to be answered:
– What are the operating metrics and outcomes that define the high frequency grid and can be used to assess progress and achievement of the goals?
– What are the operating metrics of local buses and how do they compare?
– What are the metrics under which current service would be eliminated?

Ultimately, the new system will only find acceptance if the majority of riders will have a faster and more convenient trip. The assurance can be provided through pilots and/or through simulations. We have the following questions:
– What pilots will be run to test and demonstrate the performance of the anticipated service?
– What models are employed to simulate the trips between all currently known major origins and destinations?

Signage, Maps & Apps
Transit Choices continues to advocate that MTA take the lead in developing maps at all stops, and on all light rail & metro cars that show the routes of the metro, light rail, circulator, & harbor connector and how the systems interlink. We also advocate that at each stop connections to nearby BaltimoreLink buses be shown.

In addition, we advocate that real time data be made available for all MTA vehicles, so that an app can be produced that will show at any location in the city what transit options are available and what next time arrivals will be.

Transfers and Smart Cards
Transit Choices advocates that free transfers be possible between all MTA systems and that fare collections be moved away from cash to a readily available smart card system.

The administration states the $135 m dollars would be available to implement the new service. We have no way of knowing if this amount of money is based on need and if it is sufficient. In this context, we have the following questions (indicate how the money is currently allocated):
– What are the currently unmet / future needs for the vehicle fleet to run a reliable service with some reserve for emergencies and failures? Capital and operations
– What are the currently unmet / future needs for operators? Initial and ongoing?
– What are the needs for better wayfinding, communication, branding etc. Capital and operations
– What are the capital needs for “wayside” improvements such as stop amenities, lanes, TSP?
– What analysis is there to identify how the above needs prioritize?
– What is the source of funds for the $135M?
– What will the net difference be between funding for MTA projects in the FY15-20 CTP and the FY16-21 CTP?
– What will the net difference be between the MTA’s operating budget in FY15 versus FY16

1) Does the entire BaltimoreLink proposal require an Environmental Impact Statement?
2) Does is require a disparate impact analysis?
3) If federal funding is used what is the role of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board?

The idea is to use improvements to run certain lines as pilots that mimic the intended operation (as a QuickBus or as a CityLink bus) and use those pilots to gain insights into the performance, build trust in the public by demonstrating  that these lines, indeed, perform better and by initially just adding something better without taking something away.

A subset to this question is the definition of the operation model. To us, the definition of the “CityLink” as a high frequency service is insufficiently clear and not differentiated enough from the “LocalLink”. We suggest that “CityLink” be more a rapid bus overlay than a core network more like it is in DC and LA than in Houston and that additional metrics should define those priority lines including: Bus branding, TSP, bus lanes (all already included in CityLink), off board payment, multi-door boarding, special shelters, less frequent stop spacing, option to transfer to a local bus at key points to reach final destinations (not included as defining factors).

We suggest that public meetings and comments should be measured against the metrics the MTA set out to fulfill and that the public should be invited to comment on the metrics themselves as well (to ensure the right metrics are picked). Those metrics fall into various categories:
a) One set comes from models and deals with the overall network performance: examples;
i. How many jobs within the service area can be accessed via transit within a 90 minute trip? The metric would be defined as an improvement over the current value. The Brookings Institute (Brookings) determined this value currently to be about 30% in Baltimore. That is the average for many cities. How much better can we do?
ii. Share of households within ¼ mile and ½ mile of a transit stop
iii. Median wait time (system-wide, by mode and by corridor)
iv. Median speed of transit vehicles
v. Mode split
vi. Equity (hard to measure, Seema Iyer has some good stuff on that)
vii. Service hours
viii. Ridership and passenger miles

b) Another set would be specific to a service or line:
i. Trip speed
ii. Ridership
iii. Wait time
iv. Customer satisfaction

MTA is well aware of these metrics. The point is more that the existing and the desired metrics need to be used in the public meetings to find a base for agreement and to gauge suggestions to modify the proposed system. LA for example had clear metrics when and under what circumstances a bus stop would be placed. Similarly the metrics when and where a local or CityLink bus service is established should be explicit and transparent and start with current ridership and boarding levels (up to a certain cut-off a service is warranted).

If the objectives and the metrics have consensus it is much easier to discuss options and suggestions. If they meet the metrics they are good, if not, no. In theory that allows a more rational discourse.

Another topic is analysis. It is easy to say what the current issues are but for addressing problems exact data are needed to pinpoint where the problems come from. For example if trip times are excessive, it can have a number of causes including even transfers. LA did a good before after comparison on their first pilot Rapid lines as illustrated below:

Length: 14 miles selected study area
Base running time: 76 minutes No priority local buses
Bus stop delay: 19 minutes 25% of base running time
Traffic signal delay: 15 minutes 20% of base running time
Actual travel time: 42 minutes 20 mph running speed

Savings: Due to project
Rapid bus: 16 minutes 21% of base running time
Signal priority: 5 minutes 7% of base running time
Total savings: 21 minutes 28% of base running time

New running time: 55 minutes Priority buses
New bus stop delay: 3 minutes 4% of base running time
New traffic signal delay: 10 minutes 13% of base running time
Bus stop delay reduction: 16 minutes 84% of base bus stop delay
Signal delay reduction: 5 minutes 33% of base signal delay

In the interest of using the $135 million wisely it is important to assign them where one gets the biggest performance improvement and not where it is politically expedient. The above example shows that bus stop time reduction could be way more effective than TSP not only by eliminating stops but also by reducing dwell time and placing bus stops on the far side of signals.