For the last year those of us who live in the South Metro and use the Cedar Ave/77 corridor have endured seemingly endless construction as the Cedar Ave/77 corridor has been torn apart and re-built, they’ve added a new lane in each direction to accommodate the new Cedar Ave BRT. The exciting payoff will be a speedy new Bus Rapid Transit service whipping me downtown in dedicated lanes. “it’s like a train only with more affordable busses”. What they’re really saying is “It’s like a train only we don’t have to pay for a new ½ mile rail bridge across the Minnesota River.
Just so you know I’m a busser. I board the loser-cruiser almost every morning at my corner and take a taxpayer subsidized ride downtown to my office, works slick and keeps me off the road and I actually really enjoy the experience. There are weeks when I don’t even get in the car, the fact that my 2005 car has only 51000 miles on it, testament to my ridership.
But now I’ll have the option of the Bus Rapid Transit? I would ride, I like the idea of streamlined service. I’d even give up my local route if it were faster. I’d say more efficient but the current old service that lacks jazz appeal is already pretty efficient. In 20 years I’ve only been delayed by snow and suicide attempt on a bridge over the freeway. Oh, and the last week when the stupid MVTA has made their busses take a 25 minute detour around construction on Cedar to avoid a 5 minute delay. Can you say lame?
In all the euphoria of the prospect of rapid bus transit I missed the 800 pound gorilla in this grandiose plan. I made a bad assumption. I assumed that this new bus service would provide service to and from downtown Minneapolis, by far the number one destination of mass transit riders in the South Metro. It does not. It only goes to the Mall of America.
Worth repeating; It ONLY goes to the Mall of America.
Some of the literature from the Met Council on this service:
The Cedar Avenue Corridor is also one of the most congested in the region: 100,000 vehicles drive the corridor daily. For many, nearly half of that distance is “stop-and-go.” The Council forecasts 90,000 more residents in Lakeville, Farmington and Apple Valley by 2030. This growth will add 60,000 new vehicles to traffic in the corridor during the period.
Yes Cedar is congested, and I agree that during rush hour that corridor can be stop and go. There are 35ish busses taking commuters to downtown Minneapolis. And the current service is fast and efficient. I can get from the Palomino Park and Ride to downtown, 20 miles, in about 25 minutes, a bit more to come home. Off peak the ride is much longer mind you, there are a couple locals that run from the MOA to the Apple Valley Transit Station and back about every ½ hour or so, and the ride takes about 30 minutes to go half the distance.
I can also report, from years of personal experience, that the express busses during the rush hour to and from downtown can be quite crowded. More than once I’ve had to stand on a packed bus on the way home. During the day however, the local route from MOA to Apple Valley, the busses are empty. I don’t think I’ve ever seen more than 10 riders on any of those buses.
This where my head explodes.
That local route is the route we’re enhancing to the tune of $135M is a financial boondoggle in the making. We’re paying for an upgrade to infrastructure in order to build a state of the art busway for a route that’s little used today. Talk about your sledgehammer to kill a gnat.
There is almost no congestion on Cedar during non-peak hours. The planners in this thing must believe that we commuters are going ride the BRT to the Mall, transfer to the Hiawatha Light Rail and take that into downtown. This ride at best will be about twice as long as the current express busses. Um, no.
Looking at the long range plan for this service, nowhere in the literature is there a mention of a plan to build an express BRT to downtown along the Cedar corridor. There is reference to such a plan for the 35 corridor, maybe that’s the answer Of course by the time they buy right of way through some of Minneapolis’s most expensive neighborhoods the $135M will look like a rounding error, but that discussion is for another day. For Cedar the plans specifically call out the new BRT project will be in addition to existing express bus service. Good news for me, my personal taxpayer funded coach should continue with no disruptions, bad news for my pocket book as we’re dropping $135M on a project that by my estimation, will get very limited use.
The Star Tribune reported this week that the project is running almost a year behind, the current hold up is the construction of the stations along the route. Apparently, our city council and the Met Council are very concerned about the esthetics of the stations along the route;
“Apple Valley’s view is that to attract riders, the busway must be an attractive, safe and pleasant experience — and from the beginning if possible, City Administrator Tom Lawell said”
And now I believe I’ve found the root of the problem. Our elected officials are enamored with the majesty of the project and not the practical application of it. With all due respect, the key to attracting riders is providing them with reliable and fast service to destinations that make sense. Back in the day when the Apple Valley Transit Station was nothing more than a Plexiglas shelter in an abandoned parking lot, it was always packed. Packed because the primary transit users in town, commuters, were looking for a fast convenient way to get downtown, and the bus provides this service. No one takes the bus simply because the station is neat.
More from the Star Tribune:
Riders are to be able to catch a bus every 15 minutes to go to jobs, stores and restaurants along the busway or ride all the way to the Mall of America station, where they could connect with the Hiawatha light-rail line and other buses for other destinations
Now I’m even more confused. There are no jobs between the Apple Valley Transit Station and the Mall of America, certainly not enough to merit a dedicated busway. And frankly the idea of suburban commuters hopping transit because of some loyalty to public transportation is absurd.
And now some hard facts using simple math.
Just for giggles, lets look at the local route this service will replace. Lets’ assume that there are 16 productive hours in the local bus route day. Assume that busses run every 15 minutes as stated, that’s 64 busses a day. Let’s stretch ridership up to 25 a ride, that’s 1600 rides a day, 83K a year. For the $135M spent on the BRT, the subsidy PER RIDE for this project will be $1623. Even it we spread it over 5 years, it’s still a whopping $325 a ride. It would be cheaper to rent every person who needs one a limo service to whisk them to where they want to go.
Jaw dropped. This makes no sense.
But Sank include the express busses for the commuters.
OK, let me round up busses to 40 per day, that’s 80 total up and back. My estimate is 75 riders per bus if they’re packed. That’s 6000 riders per day and 1.5M riders a year. OK now it makes sense right? Good news we’re waay down to $82 a ride or $16.00 over 5 years. Cheaper by far, but still an expensive ride, and we’re not going to include these folks because the express busses will still exist, and no one will switch from a 25 minute ride to a 60+ minute ride just to enjoy the train.
Sad thing is for all those busses and people there are still only a couple thousand people on the bus from Apple Valley. Out of 100,000 commuters 2,000 are on the bus. 2%. Now I understand the strike paradigm. Every time the drivers go on strike and bus service is halted the news reports prepare the masses for traffic Armageddon when those busses aren’t available for the masses and masses of commuters. And every time, we hardly notice. The news usually chalk this up to people finding other ways to get work, working from home, blah blah.. reality, there aren’t enough bus riders to make a difference.
Thinking about it this way means that the plan to get commuters off the roadway and relieve traffic with the BRT is also suspect. We’d have to increase bus ridership by 10 fold to make a noticeable impact on commute. Realistically, do you think the busses can move 20K people between 6:30 and 8:30 every morning? By my estimates they’d need 260+ busses to run during that time. That’s one every 30 seconds.
Shocking. Actually I am a little surprised when I ran my numbers. I assumed that there were way more of us riders and that were making a difference. Does anyone who actually approves the taxpayers money to pay for this stuff actually run numbers? Am I totally off base here?
$135M for a special bus rapid transit line which I don’t think many folks are going to use. Whats worse, we are fixing a problem which basically doesn’t exist. I would suggest we add more busses to the existing services to take some pressure of the already crowded routes and let the demand and usage dictate if more are needed.
A great example of too many politicians asking “could we” and not enough asking “should we”.