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Marin Transit Proposes Phased Changes for Novato

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By Chris G

The first week of December, Marin Transit (MT) held community workshops for the purpose of providing a forum for community members to come and talk about the proposed changes to existing bus service locally within Novato. The session was very informative, and as expected, MT was there and very helpful, however there was very low turnout, which, interestingly, may be an indication of actual public demand.

Based on the information that was presented in the Needs Assessment and information provided by MT at the community forum, it appears that the data (as currently presented) points to a moderate amount of change, change that, while providing some marginal benefits, will end up opening up some new challenges. Essentially we will be trading one system for another with benefits not commensurate to the multi-hundreds of thousands of dollars both to be spent initially and on an ongoing basis. Furthermore, once implemented, if the program is not sustainable, the process to back any of this out could take certainly months, if not more than a year, all the while spending tax dollars inefficiently. 

Changes:

Marin Transit_Circulator_Bus

  • Elimination of 3 underperforming Routes 49,51, and 52 in favor of new Circulator Routes (see maps below).
  • Creation of 3 New Circulator Routes using approx. 30' mini buses -- at right
  • Improve Reliability via new rules and some technology enhancements
  • Increasing stop frequency during peak times
  • Bicycle and Pedestrian Infrastructure Improvements for enhancing access to and safety for bikes around bus stops
  • Bus Stop Infrastructure Improvements aimed for increasing operational efficiency and safety
  • Increased Marketing of services to attract new ridership  

Benefits:

  • Presumed better utilization (and thus cost-effectivity) through increased ridership opportunity
  • Increased frequency of buses
  • New ridership possibilities

Costs/Issues:

  • Phase 1 - $231,303 ($98K one-time, 133K annually)
  • Phase 2 - $5,449,812 ($5.2M one-time, $251K annually)
  • Bus Route Physical Considerations
    • Size of buses:  Apparently there was a mis-conception that these would be the large buses running today. MT anticipates these to be 32’ mini-buses like the picture at right. These are still fairly large, and with at least one line running down a narrow street (Vineyard Ave.), residents would certainly have to deal with increased noise.
    • Lack of sidewalk or landing pads (required by the Americans with Disabilities Act for any bus stop) would mean that  there would be no stops for much of Vineyard. This would reduce the benefits of that line.
    • Placing new stops along existing residential streets:  This would further limit parking spaces in those neighborhoods since street parking is not a private right-of-way, so certain households would lose all of the on-street parking in front of their houses.
    • Process for the determination of stop locations:  What is it?  Will homeowners' property values decrease when stops are located in front of their houses?
    • Uneven demand:  It’s not clear how MT will deal with the uneven demand along these routes. Given that several are near schools, and their stated intent is to serve those riders, what is the plan when a single bus is filled and there are lots of kids who cannot get on?
    • What is the amount of transfers these new routes would trigger?
    • Case analysis:  It doesn’t appear that any case analysis was performed on what typical trips might be like once this goes into effect. Consider the" going to the store" example that someone in North Novato would have to transfer twice carrying packages, a trip that could be elongated by 30-60 minutes.
ExistingTransit CirculatorMap
 Current  Proposed

More importantly however, these types of investments (specifically Phase 2) all move us closer towards a linkage of Transit, Housing and Land-Use. This linkage is understood by those who have been following NCA, i.e., that when bus stops are establish MTC counts these as transit nodes in rating the nearby properties for transit-oriented development or any densification.  There doesn’t appear to be sufficient demand/value to warrant any investments beyond Phase 1. Any major investment in tax dollars would go primarily to benefit the poorest segment of the community plus school kids and seniors unless a major reversal in transportation habits occurs.  WE CALL ON MARIN TRANSIT TO BASE THEIR ANALYSIS ON THE EXISTING POPUPLATION RATHER THAN ON PROJECTIONS CALLING FOR MASSIVE GROWTH FROM IN-MIGRATION, and to increase their bus service only if demand warrants it.

MT has identified an opportunity to expand its service model, trying to capture ‘choice riders’. It appears that they are using these potential riders as a means to further add evidence of potential transit demand. This expansion has advanced despite an analysis which needs to answer the question; 'at what point do people switch to transit from their available alternatives?'. A fascinating quote, "The implication of this finding is Marin Transit can expect low numbers of 'choice riders' unless there are significant changes in travel demand from external factors like gas prices, parking policies and land use patterns or service changes are made to attract such riders” signals potentially what will actually happen with all this – build it, and if the riders don’t come, ABAG/MTC can alter other conditions to make more people come. We see this as a very slippery slope, because we believe that once these routes have been placed around our community, ABAG now can look to put more low income-high density housing in established neighborhoods, creating a demand, because each stop is considered a transit node.

Following a "build it and they will come" approach never works, and simply puts things into place that are costly with little community utility.  Implementing transit is a slippery back-door into providing an angle for future land-use decisions surrounding those stops. The watchword should be cautious skepticism. If there was an iron-clad way to insure that these things would not happen, then those mitigations would be seized.

 

NCA Offered Alternatives

  • These changes to the existing plan would better benefit the community:
    • MT should consider simply keeping the existing routes, but replacing the buses with the smaller, more efficient buses (in energy usage as well as % utilization),  since Route 51 appears to be the combination of Circulator Route A & B.
    • Eliminate Route 52 as it seems redundant to 51, except in the Northern Redwood area, where its redundant with 71.
    • Presuming a justifiably high demand for service over in Hamilton, keep Route C and link with the modified 51 at Ignacio.
    • Keep Change Items 3-7 from above as is, except explore reducing the costs of the bus stop improvements which seem unreasonably high. 
  • Implementation of the suggestions above could be more cost effective than the current proposal.
 
Click here for the complete Novato Transit Needs Assessment.
 

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