Recently, Ramsey County and Saint Paul joined forces to delay the opening of the B-Line, to coordinate transit studies, ranging from the Riverview study to a streetcar study and this arterial-“BRT” (a.k.a. faux Bus Rapid Transit) study. This was a good move for the city and transit users. Due to changes to the 54 since the line was initially planned, and the low return on investment the B-line will provide, Saint Paul and Ramsey County are being smart delaying the process at this time.
This type of “BRT” is meant to be used in corridors without the space, demand, and development opportunities for other modes to be worth the investment, or even be plausible improvements for the corridor. West 7th, along which the B-Line would run, is already a heavily used transit corridor, and had been a candidate for light rail or full BRT until 2002, when the legislature used the funding for the corridor to balance the state budget, and expansions of the corridor near downtown Saint Paul seemed to have little support from neighboring businesses. The line ran entirely along West 7th during this stage of planning.
aBRT was selected for this corridor, seemingly as a consolation prize for Saint Paul. While a direct connection between downtown and the airport/ Megadale would be feasible for a higher capacity transit service (transfers downtown from the east side especially), the difficulty in getting one built caused Metro Transit to decide to do something, anything, for this corridor in the meantime. The aBRT would have provided more frequent service, and (slightly) faster running times, when it was planned.
Why not aBRT?
The first reason for aBRT not being a good investment is the travel-time savings that the service provides are negligible. Currently, during evening rush hour, the 54 runs every twelve minutes, and has a 36 minute trip time, for its entire length. With aBRT the service can be improved to ten minute headways, and travel time can be reduced by two minutes. Let me say that again, travel times can be reduced by two minutes. If I were to arrive at one end of the route, immediately after a bus pulled away, my total time savings to ride to the other end of the route would be a total of four minutes, less than ten percent of the total time. For comparison, the A-line has a total time savings of 18 minutes, and no other planned route for aBRT has as little improvement as the B-Line in travel time savings.
The reason for such little travel time improvement is largely due to the fact that the 54 is already a limited stop route. Even where the stops are closer together and the 54 currently provides local service, no stops are being eliminated for aBRT. Maintaining the current route, along the current alignment, with no change in stop location. That does not sound like a transit improvement, it sounds like new paint on a current bus.
The improved stops that aBRT can offer also do not contribute much to this route. Along West 7th there are already heated, lighted shelters at bus stops with large numbers of boardings. Instead of rebuilding these structures, what if a ticket machine was added to facilitate boardings, eliminating the need to pay in cash and instead using a transfer that was already bought?
Several other routes evaluated rated much higher for aBRT implementation. Of the weighted scores used to evaluate and schedule the system’s implementation, the West 7th line placed tenth out of the twelve routes studied. Above only Robert Street and East 7th, West 7th ranks below improving American Boulevard’s service. The main reason these other routes were passed over was that they were already being studied for other transit improvements at the time, Hennepin Avenue had a bus study underway, American Boulevard was being delayed to wait for more ridership from the 542 bus to warrant improvements, and the rest of the corridors? They were being studied by Minneapolis for streetcars. The routes were not taken further, not studied, because Minneapolis might try to make the lines into streetcars. When Saint Paul announced its plan to study streetcar routes shortly thereafter, instead of trying to make a cohesive study and evaluate the options, Metro Transit went ahead with the A and B-lines. While the A-Line’s route has been eliminated from Saint Paul’s streetcar studies, the B-Line overlaps heavily with the city’s streetcar starter corridor, and Ramsey County’s Regional Railroad Authority (RCRRA) has restarted studies on the Riverview Corridor for rapid transit. While Minneapolis’ study did come out first, Metro Transit’s second, and Saint Paul’s third, everyone should stop and think for a moment, “Is this really needed? Can we combine parts of these studies? Maybe we should all cooperate instead of just calling dibs on lines and acting as if that is the be all end all of the discussion.”
But if not aBRT what about right now?
I don’t see why only aBRT can improve the headways by two minutes, why not do this now? Why not add an express bus from downtown to the airport via Shepard Road? We can build ridership and measure possible demand for aBRT and Rapid Transit while spending minimal capital costs. Could we ever get light rail to the airport? Maybe, eventually, and it’d have to be an express service, (along a rail line, anyone?). But we cannot let our desire for any transit improvement allow us to spend money where it isn’t needed and won’t help.
aBRT has better corridors to be implemented on.
Developments after the release of Metro Transit’s report have changed the criteria that the report was based on.
Due to the limited stop nature of the 54, aBRT does not eliminate any stops along all of the current 54 route, which means that time savings are minimal.
Saint Paul and Ramsey County are doing studies on the corridor for other modes already, maybe these studies/planning can be combined, or at least recognize each other exist.
Do we really want a new fancy million dollar paintjob on some buses instead of just adding one bus per hour? (12 minute headways = 5 buses per hour, 10 minute headways = 6 buses per hour)