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Budget


Our bus fares aren't that cheap (if you transfer)

WMATA is considering raising bus fares, with the justification that they're lower than in other cities. But somehow every time this topic comes up, people forget that there's a big difference between our bus fares and other cities': riders transferring between bus and rail pay a lot more.


Photo by Payton Chung on Flickr.

The agency recently put out a survey which, among other things, asked riders what they thought about various options for a fare increase. For Metrobus, the survey asked about raising the bus fare from the current $1.60 to $1.75 or $1.85:

METROBUS
Passenger fares cover about 30 cents out of every dollar of the cost of providing Metrobus service. The current Metrobus fare is $1.60 for SmarTrip® and $1.80 for cash. Metrobus fares are relatively low compared to other major metropolitan areas around the country:
STANDARD BUS FARES:
San Francisco & Chicago$2.00
Philadelphia$2.25
New York City & Atlanta$2.50
That makes it look like our bus fares are relatively cheap, right? Maybe compared to those cities if you're just riding the bus. But a lot of people don't just ride the bus. They take a bus from home to a Metrorail station and then ride the train, and back again in the evening. Or a bus to a train to another bus.

Many buses, in fact, don't go downtown at all. They end at a Metrorail station. When Metro opened, the agency cut back many of the buses so they just fed the rail system. The same is going to happen around Tysons when the Silver Line opens (or even before).

Therefore, to really compare fares, we have to look at the fares for a rail and bus trip. Since our rail system has variable fares, it's more complex to compute the bus-to-rail fare, so for simplicity let's look at the rail-to-bus fare, assuming you've already paid for a rail trip from some other location.

City &
Agency
Bus fare (w/card)1Bus fare after railBus fare after other railRail+bus pass?Inter-agency rail+bus pass?
Washington (WMATA)$1.60$1.10Full fare from MARC/VRENoYes
Philadelphia (SEPTA)$2.25$1.00$1.65 from PATCO2YesNo
Los Angeles
(LACMTA)
$1.5035¢/$1.503No other railYesNo
Chicago
(CTA)
$2.0025¢Full fare from MetraYesYes
New York (NYCT)$2.504FREEFull fareYesNo
Atlanta (MARTA)$2.50FREENo other railYesN/A
San Francisco (MUNI)$2.00FREE$1.75 from BARTYesYes
Boston
(MBTA)
$1.50FREEFull fare from commuter railYesNo Yes5

1 All fare calculations assume you have the electronic fare media for that city. Most agencies offer better fares for people with the card (SmartTrip in Washington, MetroCard in NYC, Clipper in SF, Breeze in Atlanta, etc.)

2 Riders transferring from PATCO to select city train and bus lines can buy a round-trip ticket for $3.10, for an effective per-direction fare of $1.65.

3 Los Angeles offers no transfer discount even between multiple LA Metro rapid bus lines, but a rider on a Metro rail or bus line can transfer to a local municipal bus operated by one of the county's cities for 35¢.

4 Riders using the pay-per-ride MetroCard also get a 5% fare bonus when putting more than $5 on the card, making the effective fare for riders who don't have passes closer to $2.38.

5 The MBTA runs both commuter rail and Boston subway, so there aren't enough agencies to have an inter-agency pass as in other cities on this table. However, the commuter rail passes do offer free "T" subway and bus rides, so Boston does have a pass analogous to those that give a "Yes" for the other cities.

If you look at the 2nd column here, among these cities listed in the WMATA survey, taking the bus after a rail trip costs more here than in any of those cities. Three, New York, San Francisco, and Atlanta all have a flat fare for a trip throughout the city, no matter whether it's on one train, one bus, or a combination (though in San Francisco, that's just MUNI light rail, not BART).

We're not necessarily the worst. If you ignore SF Muni's light rail for a moment, the San Francisco Bay Area has a regional rapid transit system (BART) that's very similar to the Metro, and both its base bus fare and transfers between BART and buses are more expensive. Los Angeles has no transfer discount at all between LA Metro bus lines, but its base bus fare (and rail fare, for its limited rail system) is much lower, so many riders are paying less there.

Don't forget passes

In addition, all of the listed cities have combined passes that offer rail and bus trips for a discount. Large numbers of commuters in these cities don't pay every time they ride the bus or train; instead, they subscribe to a weekly or monthly pass and get their transit free. WMATA has a bus pass that a lot of people use, but nothing for rail and bus users. WMATA has, in fact, has been very stingy about passes overall.

Many cities have inter-agency passes, such as Chicago, where you can get a pass for Metra commuter rail and also the L or bus in the city. MARC and VRE also offer passes for their tickets as well as Metro rail or bus; in fact, you pay less to add unlimited Metrorail and Metrobus to a monthly MARC or VRE ticket ($108) than to get an unlimited Metrorail "short trip" pass for 28 days ($140) which offers free rides up to $3.50 but no bus rides.

WMATA could certainly move to a system like other cities' where most people subscribe to transit rather than paying each time. It has a lot of advantages, like blunting the fare loss when there's a big storm, a federal government shutdown, or just the holidays. But every time the issue comes up, finance staff say they're nervous about the relatively unknowable financial impact of the change. (They also say that they need to wait for the next generation of fare systems).

That's in large part because discussions about changing fares only arise around a fare hike. If costs have risen a certain amount, then the agency needs to raise a certain amount more money, not revamp the fare system. But we never have the discussion during the off years, either.

Should bus fares go up?

Maybe bus fares need to change (or maybe not), but this survey is pushing the idea through remarkably misleading statistics. If the proposal is to raise the bus fare but at the same time make transfers cheaper, that is certainly an option. To compare the base WMATA bus fare to the one in other cities without any mention of the transfers or passes, however, does not give riders a fair picture.

Bicycling


Here are America's largest bikesharing systems in 2013

American bikesharing boomed in 2013 like never before. Led by huge new systems in New York and Chicago, the total number of bikesharing stations in the US more than doubled, from 835 at the end of 2012 to 1,925 in 2013.

After three straight years at the top of the chart, Washington's Capital Bikeshare slipped to second place. CaBi's 305 stations barely edge out Chicago's 300, but are behind New York's 330. Those three cities make up a clear first tier nationwide, with no other systems cracking 200 stations.

Overall, 13 new bikesharing systems opened nationwide, bringing the total to 40. In addition to New York and Chicago, other noteworthy additions include San Francisco, Fort Worth, and Columbus.

At this point, it's fair to say we're no longer in the pioneering period. Any city that still doesn't have bikesharing is beginning to fall behind.

It's not just the big coastal cities where bikesharing is becoming popular. There are some unexpected hotspots, where groups of nearby cities have independently launched small systems. Four Texas cities have bikesharing, plus two more in Oklahoma. Small systems are also popular in the Southeast, with 6 systems in close proximity in the Carolinas, Georgia, and Tennessee.

Oddly, the only area of the country that seems particularly underrepresented is the West Coast. San Francisco's Bay Area Bikeshare finally became the first large West Coast system this year, but it's still the only one. Portland, Seattle, and Los Angeles continue to lag.

Here's the complete list. New systems in 2013 are in bold. Previous years are available for comparison.

RankCity2012 Stations2013 Stations
1New York0330
2Washington (regional)191305
3Chicago0300
4Minneapolis (regional)145170
5Boston (regional)105132
6Miami Beach8497
7Denver5381
8San Francisco (regional)067
9San Antonio3051
10Fort Worth034
11Chattanooga3033
12Madison2432
13Columbus030
14Houston329
15Ft Lauderdale (regional)2525
16(t)Boulder2222
16(t)Nashville2022
18Charlotte2021
19Long Beach, NY1213
20(t)Kansas City1212
20(t)Aspen012
20(t)Salt Lake City012
23Austin011
24(t)Washington State Univ (Pullman, WA)99
24(t)Georgia Tech Univ (Atlanta, Ga)99
26Omaha58
27(t)Oklahoma City77
27(t)George Mason Univ (Fairfax, VA)47
29(t)Greenville, SC66
29(t)Des Moines46
31(t)California Univ - Irvine (Irvine, CA)44
31(t)Tulsa44
31(t)Spartanburg, SC24
31(t)Univ of Buffalo (Buffalo, NY)04
31(t)Lansing04
36(t)Louisville33
36(t)Stony Brook Univ (Stony Brook, NY)03
38(t)Kailua, HI22
38(t)Roseburg VA Hospital (Roseburg, OR)02
?Hailey, ID02
(approx.)

Notes: Systems covering multiple jurisdictions are counted either together or separately depending on how they choose to represent themselves. Thus Bay Area Bikeshare is counted as a single system, while Denver B-Cycle and Boulder B-Cycle are counted separately.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Parking


With the streetcar, H Street will need clear signs

For streetcars to move through traffic, rail tracks have to be free of parked cars. To keep them that way, the rules of the road must be crystal clear for drivers.


Streetcar parking zone sign, Seattle. Photo by BeyondDC.

Last week DDOT used a truck for a test-run of the H Street streetcar route, and because of illegally parked cars, the going was slow. But other cities with similar streetcar layouts, like Seattle and Portland, have had a lot of success keeping their lanes clear. How do they do it?

With constant and clear communication to drivers, like the sign pictured here, and with strong enforcement.

Any time you take pavement away from cars, there's a learning curve. Drivers accustomed to doing as they please have to change behavior. That's to be expected, and it doesn't happen on the first day you run your first test truck. But most drivers do fall in line, once they understand what's changed. That's how streetcars have worked in other cities.

And if all else fails, ticketing cameras mounted on streetcars, like in San Francisco, would solve any remaining problem in a hurry.

Cross-posted at BeyondDC.

Transit


Could Metro allow bicycles during rush hour?

Yesterday, San Francisco's BART system lifted its long-standing ban on allowing bicycles on rush-hour trains. Given bicycling's popularity in the DC area, and the Metro system's packed park and ride lots, perhaps a similar reform would work here.


Photo by San Francisco Bicycle... on Flickr.

After a lengthy trial process, BART will allow bikes on all its trains at all times, finally giving people an easy way to cross the San Francisco Bay with a bike. Like Metro, BART is overloaded through the urban core of San Francisco, and there were concerns that bikes would just make things worse.

The three trial periods were progressively more intense. BART allowed bikes on Fridays for a month, then for one full week, then for five full months. The agency wanted to measure how much disruption bicycles would cause and to gauge public support. As it turned out, the concerns were unfounded, and public support was quite high. Crowding did not get worse, and 79 percent of riders wanted to see the ban lifted entirely.

Like BART, Metro doesn't allow bikes during rush hour due to fears of crowding. But if passengers could bring bicycles on the train without inconveniencing others, there's no reason it would be a problem here.

Perhaps WMATA ought to consider a series of trials, too, to gauge how it affects our commutes. Metro is not BART, after all, and so may not be as good a fit. We won't know unless we try.

Parking


PARKING APOCALYPSE?

This parody flyer recently appeared on a San Francisco street, but could almost apply verbatim to most DC-area debates over road spaceGlover Park's median, the M Street cycletrack, and many more.

    
PARKING APOCALYPSE?

    SAVE MASONIC!!! Don't let the UN make San Francisco a ONE WORLD GOVERNMENT EXPERIMENT! THEY WANT TO TAKE YOUR CAR AWAY! Did you know that besides countless meetings, mailers and community outreach the SFMTA is trying to SNEAK IN a redesign of Masonic Ave to MAKE IT SAFE FOR ALL USERS?? This is an OUTRAGE! Sure we skipped all the meetings and didn't read the mailers but AUTOMOBILE PRIORITY UBER ALLES!!!

    Despite a number of crashes, deaths and accidents, this street is TOTALLY AND COMPLETELY SAFE! Shout down and talk over anyone who disagrees with you and your made up FACTS!

    Don't let the BIG LIE* that over 700 people have been hit by cars in the past year in San Francisco fool you! MASONIC is as safe as a kittens belly fur!
    90% of the people who agree with us and the FACTS THAT WE JUST MADE UP SUPPORT OUR CONCLUSIONS!! RAGE CAPS!!!

    A FLOOD of frustrated drivers whose trip now takes 5 minutes and 15 seconds instead of just 5 minutes will go on a KILLING SPREE!!! YOU MAY BE THEIR NEXT VICTIM!!! LIKE SUDDEN IMPACT! YOU WILL BE IMPACTED! ALL DAY EVERY DAY! Analogous to what happens when a speeding automobile strikes you when you are crossing the road.

    Write letters as though you have a fifth grade education! Grammar be DAMNED! WE KNOW the County Stoopid-visors are doing this TO YOU because GREED! Their evil intent, their INSIDIOUSNESS and MEAN-SPIRITEDNESS is matched only by that of... THE CYCLISTS!!

    DEMAND ANSWERS! STORM THEIR OFFICES! FLOOD THEIR SWITCHBOARDS!!! ORDER THEM PIZZAS THEY DON'T WANT!!!

    Keep the dream of the 1950's alive! EVERY ROAD IS A HIGHWAY! TEA PARTY FOR LIFE!!! Are you a lawyer? Do you know one that wants to work for free? Perhaps for a bunch of shrill, hysterical crybabies over forty? Why should cyclists and pedestrians ever feel "comfortable" near cars? What gives them that right?? ENTITLEMENT!!! ARRORGANCE!!!

    YOU DESERVE UNLIMITED FREE PARKING! IT'S NOT FAIR!!! MORE RAGE CAPS!!! THROW yourself on the floor! Spin around! Pitch a TANTRUM! People in cars should never have to compromise or share! It's the AMERICAN WAY! You're not a Communist, are you???

    Do you have your own anecdote about a cyclist being rude? Present it as DATA! Did a pedestrian hold you up for five seconds? Were you MAD that YOU had to WAIT? Tell the area representatives! Raise your voice! Shout at them! Get screechy! So the SFMTA has "engineers" who hold "Masters Degrees" and "Professional Certificates"<wbr>—<wbr>do not be fooled! YOUR IDEAS ABOUT TRAFFIC ENGINEERING ARE JUST AS GOOD AS THEIRS!

    *source SFPD

The San Francisco MTA is trying to modify Masonic Avenue to add bike lanes and trees and calm traffic, a plan that the local neighborhood association supports, Uppercasing reports (via Streetsblog).

But angry residents have posted flyers objecting to losing parking spaces and other complaints, which the parody flyer mocks:

Do you have your own anecdote about a cyclist being rude? Present it as DATA! Did a pedestrian hold you up for five seconds? Were you MAD that YOU had to WAIT? Tell the area representatives! Raise your voice!

Transit


"Bus pads" turn freeways into busways

Buses running on city streets can get stuck in traffic, move slow as molasses, and bunch up. New, dedicated infrastructure is hard to fund and build. But could we use freeways to provide express bus service?


A "bus pad" in action in San Rafael, California. Photo from Google Street View.

Our freeways provide ready-made, grade-separated, fast infrastructure that could be redeemed for express buses and regular bus service, too. There are three ways to approach the freeway bus system. One is the bus pad, which places the stops along slip lanes at each interchange. Golden Gate Transit (GGT), in the San Francisco Bay Area, uses this system extensively in Marin County.

Another is the bus expressway, which mixes buses with other high-occupancy traffic and places stops either at overpasses or in the median. King County Transit in the Seattle area uses this system. A third way is the center-running bus rapid transit system, which dedicates lanes exclusively to buses.

We'll look at each of these types, but today, let's start with the bus pad. Even though they force buses to take the slow lane, using bus pads results in a service that flies compared to buses on city streets.


Map of bus service along Highway 101 by the author. Click for a larger version.

GGT's system is something of a historical accident. When Highway 101 was being built, someone realized this would lock out those who used to take buses along the old Redwood Highway, which 101 would replace. So engineers added bus-only slip lanes and a bus stop at each exit, giving Marin County the closest thing to bus rapid transit in the Bay Area.

Despite running on a freeway, the buses can be slow. The average speed, excluding time spent on surface streets, rarely peaks above 30 miles per hour. Local buses average 19 miles per hour between Novato and the Spencer Avenue bus pad, a distance of 20 miles.

Skip-stop express buses do the same run at 30 miles per hour, though they top out at 48 miles per hour when traffic is particularly clear. Both locals and express buses spend 7 minutes laying over at transit centers along the route, which cuts a few miles per hour from their average.


A "bus pad" in Corte Madera, California. Photo from Google Street View.

This may not seem too rapid at first, but in the world of public transit this is actually quite speedy. Metro averages 33 miles per hour, and New York's subway only averages 18.6. Compared to the often-miserable speeds of buses on city streets, which rarely top 10 miles per hour, this is rapid transit.

But unlike rapid transit, most of the infrastructure is already built. All one needs is a safe way for a bus to service a bus pad at a preexisting interchange or exit, and a safe way for riders to get to the pad. Diamond interchanges are easiest to service, as a bus just needs to exit the freeway, pick up passengers at the pad, then continue forward to reenter. Others, like cloverleaf interchanges, require a bit more but typically there is enough space to accommodate the bus pad's slip lane and stop.


Bus pads in a diamond interchange. Photo from Google Maps edited by the author.

Though cheap and fast, the bus pad has a number of downsides. Foremost, the passenger has to wait at the edge of a freeway. It's hot, polluted, loud, windy, dry, and terrifically unpleasant. The walk to the bus pad might not be so attractive, either, as freeways are notorious for turning their neighborhoods into moonscapes.

Transfers can be a pain, too. One bus pad in Marin requires a quarter-mile walk through that moonscape and across an overpass to transfer from the freeway to surface streets.

Freeways are not conducive to transit-oriented development, either, which would otherwise be a natural outgrowth of a high-speed rapid bus line running through the city. Though this is a problem bus pads share with other busway designs, the unpleasant and difficult transfers further limit the scope and attractiveness of transit-oriented design.


Bus pads in a cloverleaf interchange. Photo from Google Maps edited by the author.

Finally, buses serving bus pads don't make use of HOV lanes, as they need to stay in the far-right lanes. That means they can still get stuck in traffic and delayed. Shoulder bus-only lanes can help, but it still exposes them to traffic at exits. At commute time, this can be especially frustrating for riders.

One way to limit these problems is to eliminate the slip lane and place the bus stop at the top of the off-ramp. Buses would exit the freeway, service the stop, then jump back on. While this exposes the bus to stoplights, if a bus-only shoulder continues along the exit, the bus could still bypass congestion and serve much more comfortable and accessible stops.

Under this structure, transfers to surface routes could be as close as the adjacent corner. If coupled with a bus-only shoulder that extends along the ramps, buses could bypass the traffic entirely.

Unfortunately, many of DC's freeway interchanges are tortured things, squeezed into odd geometries and designed to allow the most options for exiting vehicles. They may not have space for a slip lane and bus stop, or may not have an easy way for an exiting bus to immediately return to the freeway. For areas with the most potential, such as the Southwest Freeway and I-66, interchanges would need to be completely re-engineered.

Moving the stops to the middle of the freeway while keeping buses mixed with traffic offers a way around that problem. It also allows them to take advantage of high-occupancy lanes, improving reliability and speed. We'll talk about this design, the bus expressway, next time.

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