Those who know me know that I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with the Rochester-Genesee Regional Transportation Authority (RGRTA). On one hand I'm a strong advocate for mass public transportation who has no desire to ever own a car again, and thinks everyone should do the same. Then on the other hand there's the frustrated working-class bus rider with only so much time in the day and a system that doesn't fully meet their transit needs.
Recently, I had a very pleasant experience navigating the system, which is unfortunately not so frequent. And it is this incident that RGRTA should be aiming to have every rider trumpet to all their friends. I needed to pick up some campaign literature after work so that I could go out canvassing. Typically, this would entail me getting off of the Eastview (92) downtown, possibly catching the Monroe (7), and then almost definitely walking home from Boldo's Armory. However, this time I was able to make almost immediate bus transfers from the 92 to the 7, get off, get back on the 7 bus ten minutes later, and transfer to Plymouth (19) to take me home. Really, this is unheard of, but is exactly how a public transportation system should be working.
So what is it going to take to maximize RTS usage and increase annual ridership from 18 million to 164 million? A lot of hardwork and dedication from all community stakeholders. While as a City Councilmember I wouldn't have direct control over how the transit system is run, here are a few things I'd like to suggest as options for RGRTA to explore.
Bus Rapid Transit/Express Routes
We, unfortunately, have very uneven service across the City of Rochester. While I might complain about the lack of bus frequency down South Plymouth Ave, at the same time we have bus routes like the 10 (Dewey/Portland) that are near capacity. In these cases it is time for RGRTA to start exploring ways to upgrade service. While ultimately I would love to see our subway/light rail system restored, an intermediary system that we could be using is something called Bus Rapid Transit. A BRT system puts buses on dedicated roadways, which along with a few other features speeds up the bus route, making the bus more frequent and thus more convenient. While not all streetscapes in the City are wide enough to accommodate dividing the roadway up like this, there are some key routes that I think this could work well for. And where there is not sufficient space for fully dedicated lanes, express routes like the existing 440 (Hudson) can get us partially there. While obviously more research needs to be done, a few key routes to start looking at would be the State/Lake corridor currently serviced by routes 1 and 10, and Mt. Hope out to Henrietta serviced by route 24.
Have ever noticed while you're in a vehicle just how much time you likely sit at traffic lights waiting for them to turn green? I was curious about how much time the buses sit at traffic lights and so I decided to start timing this. While I'm sure RGRTA has better numbers, I found that it was not infrequent to wait at traffic lights for around 5 minutes every trip. That might not sound like a lot, but it really is. Let's say it currently takes 45 minutes for a bus to complete its route. From 6:00am to 1:00am you'll be able to complete the route around 25 times. Cut those 5 minutes off, and you'll run it nearly 29. You're probably asking yourself how this could be done. The answer is a little bit of technology that our emergency vehicles currently use. Vehicles such as fire trucks and ambulances are often able to change the traffic light to green when they approach an intersection. While buses obviously shouldn't have priority over a fire truck, it is my opinion that they should have priority over individualized transportation. Outfit every bus with this simple piece of equipment and there you go. This is probably the easiest way to improve speed & frequency because you don't have to buy any more buses and you don't have to create new routes. You just have the opportunity to send the bus around the loop a few more times every day, making everything more convenient and more likely to get used.
I am pleased that on this front, we are making progress. Starting September 2nd, RGRTA is introducing Route 52 which will run from the East Ave Wegmans, down Park, South Goodman, & Elmwood, to Strong Hospital. If you map that out, you'll notice that the route doesn't run through downtown. While it may make sense to have a hub network based on our road patterns, and it may make sense that if I'm going to Beechwood that I'll go downtown. However, it doesn't make sense that currently if you want take this trip from Park Ave to Strong, you'd have to use both routes 1 and 19 (48 minutes), as opposed to the 20-25 minutes that this more direct route takes. Similarly, if I wish to go to the Thurston Road post office it's often quicker for me to walk from Plymouth Ave, than it is to take the bus. Route 52 will connect the various neighborhoods (Park/Monroe/South Wedge) of the southeast quadrant. And we should be working to develop similar routes in the other three quadrants, as well.
What other ideas do folks have to increase ridership and make Rochester a car-free city? Share here, and make sure to Vote Row F this November to help us make these are reality.