Monday, March 29, 2010

What do you think?

The three articles below are reposted from the series I did last year on AccessWinnipeg. Some of the details of my plan have changed: the latest version, with maps and timing schedules, is at

If you have any comments, for or against, you're welcome to put them up here.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

This is the third in a three-part series. In the first instalment I talked about what I hate about the bus system. The second article explained why the bus system is messed up. Today I will show how easy it would be to fix the system. My plan involves a little more walking and a lot less waiting.

Winnipeg Transit presently runs an average of 4000 bus-hours per day. This is the equivalent of 200 busses running from 6:00am to 2:00am seven days a week. Many of those busses meander up and down dinky little regional routes virtually empty of passengers. I’m going to show how to allocate those busses where it will make a difference.

The key to my plan is NO DUPLICATION. If you’re standing on Main Street waiting for a bus, the next bus that comes will be YOUR bus because it will be the ONLY bus running on that street.

Winnipeg Transit presently runs between sixty and seventy different routes. My plan has less than half the number of routes: twenty-seven to be exact, consisting of six different classes: Inner Loop, Radial Spur (9 routes), Outer Loop, Filler Route (12 routes), Downtown Shuttle (3 routes), and the University Shuttle. I cover 90% of the city at a frequency of every five minutes, and 99% at ten minutes or better with a maximum fifteen minute (1.2 km) walk. Here’s how it works:

1. The Inner Loop.This is the centerpiece of my plan. The loop circumnavigates the downtown via Main Street – Broadway- Sherbrooke – William. It takes twenty minutes and runs in the clockwise direction only, so there are no left turns. There are twenty busses on the loop spaced one minute apart, so there is virtually no waiting.

2. The Outer Loop. This basically follows the beltway: Bishop Grandin – Kenaston – King Edward – Leila/Springfield Road. Here and there it cuts through residential territory
like the Maples via Mandalay/Adsum, McLeod/Grassie, and Autumwood/Lakewood.
Twenty busses in each direction run six minutes apart, stopping every 3/4 mile.

3. Radial Spurs. There are nine key radial spurs which, together with the Inner and Outer Loops, cover 90% of the city: Portage, Notre Dame, McPhillips, Main Street, Henderson, Nairn, Marion, Ste. Annes, Pembina and Grant. These routes terminate AT THE INNER LOOP, so they don’t waste 25% of their time meandering through downtown. That means they spend more time delivering people to where they need to go.I get another 25% increase in efficiency by running them as express busses, stopping only every 3/4 mile. The best part: you won’t mind missing the bus if it passes you on the street because the next one will be only FIVE MINUTES away. I need one hundred busses to cover the radial spurs.

4. Filler Routes. My radial spurs leave about 10% of the residential population more than one kilometer from a bus line. For example, 80% of the traditional North End is covered by my Main Street, McPhillips, and Outer Loop routes. City Transit presently fills in the remainder with no less than five additional routes: Arlington, McGregor, Salter, Mountain, and Selkirk. Some of these busses only come every half hour. In my system, I complete the North End with exactly one additional filler, the Arlington/McGregor Loop which crosses the Salter Bridge and terminates at the Health Sciences. I run a total of forty-two busses on twelve different Filler Routes at a frequency of one bus every ten minutes.

5. Downtown Shuttles. No, not the free milk runs presently operated by the city. At present, the typical bus route spends 25% of its time plowing through downtown. All of my radial spurs terminate at the Inner Loop, leaving the downtown wide open. I cover the entire downtown with twelve busses running three shuttle routes: Portage from Main to Sherbrook, Osborne/Isabel from William to Broadway, and Donald/Princess/Notre Dame from (get this): Confusion Corner to the Health Science Center. Twelve busses give you complete coverage EVERY TWO MINUTES to within one block of any point within the inner loop. To put this in perspective, understand that at present, there are probably over FORTY BUSSES within the downtown region at any given moment. And take a look sometime: three-quarters of them are virtually empty.

6. The University Shuttle picks up passengers from three different routes (Pembina, Outer Loop, and Markham/Dalhousie) and shuttles them into the campus. I need four busses to provide pick-ups every two minutes.

And that’s the plan. I count two hundred and sixteen busses, as compared to two hundred at present. But that’s based on maximum coverage twenty hours per day. In actual practise, you would naturally cut back some routes after six PM. Taking into account a reasonable utilization factor during off-hours, I’m probably able to reduce the city’s total bus-hours by ten or twenty percent. On an annual budget of a hundred million dollars, that’s a bit of a saving. But the real point isn’t to save money, it’s to get people where they need to go. And that’s what my system actually does.

My last article was about what’s wrong with the bus system. I promised that this article would be about how to fix it. But I changed my mind. Yes I’m going to explain how to fix it but today I’m going to tell you WHY the bus system is a mess.

Winnipeg’s bus system is designed so that a little old lady can take the elevator down to her apartment lobby, step outside and get on a bus that will take her straight to the mall with no transfers. If that’s what you want, it’s a great system. As for busy people that need to get from point A to point B in a hurry…well, then it’s problematical. What people need to understand is the bus system works the way it does because it’s designed to certain specifications, driven by politics and bureaucracy.

How do I know this? Because a few years ago I tried to get involved in the “process”. You know, citizen’s input, “we want to hear from you” etc. I put together a plan for a bus system that works and tried to get someone to listen to me. I started with Mayor Sam Katz who spoke to me personally and referred me to Coun. Russ Wyatt (Transcona). “He’s working on Rapid Transit”. I phoned his office and said I had some ideas for the bus system. “Is this about Rapid Transit?” I said I wasn’t sure; I had some ideas for improving the system and I wanted someone to hear them. The woman was persistent: “Are your ideas about Rapid Transit?” I allowed as to how maybe they weren’t exactly. “Well we’re only accepting submissions on Rapid Transit at this time. You can call Winnipeg Transit regarding any other concerns”. Click. Well, I don’t want to whine about it but to make a long story short, after a year of writing letters and making phone calls, I got to sit down across the desk from a bureaucrat and say my piece. He obviously couldn’t wait to get rid of me. But before he did I got him to admit that even if my plan made perfect sense, there was no way to put it in practise. Why not? Various reasons; for instance: “We did a survey of bus riders and they don’t like transfers.” So one of the system specifications is that wherever possible, any two points in the city should be linked by a route with at most one connection. That kind of thing.

What do you expect if you design your system according to survey responses? You get a hodge podge of this and that which tries to satisfy everybody and in the end simply doesn’t work. You get the system we have in Winnipeg.

What’s the alternative? I for one would rather walk a mile to get to a bus stop if I know that a bus is going to be there in five minutes or less and that I’ll get where I’m going in half an hour. This is not a hypothetical preference. It’s based on my experience with the New York subway system. I’ve been to New York and it’s amazing. From any point in the city you can walk a mile or less to a subway station that will in turn whisk you to within a mile of wherever you want to go, usually in less than an hour. (And remember, New York is a GIGANTIC city.) They have a weekly pass that gives you unlimited travel for TWENTY DOLLARS. Like, if you’re in the Upper West Side and you don’t like the price of chopped herring, you can step on a subway and ten minutes later you’re in Spanish Harlem, where the chopped herring is seventy-five cents cheaper. Just imagine the aggravation of trying to do something like that in Winnipeg!

My plan for Winnipeg, then, is to make the buses on the surface do exactly what the trains are doing in New York’s underground. It will mean a little more walking and a lot less waiting. I’m not saying my plan will bring down the price of bagels on Selkirk Avenue, but it will definitely get people where they want to go. As for the details…stay posted for my next instalment.

I hate standing on a corner waiting 20 minutes for a bus. I used to work in Transcona and get off at 3:00 pm. The 42 downtown would come at 3:23. I didn’t like that. I live in Wolseley and used to get home around five.

I hate standing on Sherbrook street and watching bus after bus rolling past (mostly empty) because the aren’t going my way. The 17, the 20, even the 10….you can wait half an hour for the 29 if you’re trying to get to the Health Science Center. It’s much worse if you want to get to Red River college. You can take the downtown option and then spend countless hours meandering up and down Graham, Fort, Kennedy and whatever before you get back on track. Or you can hold out for the 29 and take your chances. Either way the midday transfer can take up to 20 minutes for the 19 Notre Dame.

I hate visiting my son on Alfred and Powers and taking the bus home. My options are walking one block to Salter and waiting 22 minutes between buses or walking two blocks to McGregor and waiting 24. Actual best bet: walk three blocks to Main Street for a chance at a 12-minute wait.

I hate those stupid alternating loops…now clockwise, now counterclockwise. I come out of the Giant Tiger on Logan and McPhillips with my package of pecan tarts and want to go downtown. Do I stand like an idiot at the corner waiting up to 27 minutes for the 19 or do I make a run for Notre Dame to catch the same bus on its “alternate” loop…possibly missing both in the process? Yes there’s also a 26 Logan Berry downtown which theoretically improves my odds for staying put…but its on a thirty minute cycle, which is impossible to coordinate with the 27-minute cycle of the 19. There are times when you can wait the full 27 minutes for either one, and then have them both show up at the same time. And chances are they’re both empty. Who’s being served by all this???

One time I was in East Kildonan near the Superstore on Raleigh and I wanted to meet my wife at Polo Park. Hey look, 77 Crosstown North…that looks like a good idea. Just cut across the Chief Peguis Trail and circle around Winnipegs “inner loopway”, right? Wrong. The 77 is an unbearable milk run that winds interminably up and down, up and down the Maples. With the obligatory thirty-minute wait the total trip time was one hundred and five minutes.

(And while were at it I despise the bastards who decided that my ass is more comfortable sitting on hard-shell molded plastic than in a vinyl-upholstered bench seat like they always used to have. Thanks a lot, jackass.)

But there is another side to the coin. I’ve actually had one really good bus experience in recent memory. I needed to get to work in Fort Richmond at 8:00 am one day and thought I’d catch the 62 Express. Forget about going downtown and transferring…I’ll just walk to the bus stop. It’s half an hour on foot from my house to Confusion Corner, but it was worth it. The 62’s come ten minutes apart in the rush hour, and it was only another fifteen before I was getting off the bus at Pembina and Markham. That’s the way to travel.

The irony of this 62 experience is that the people who are going to “improve” our system with their so-called rapid transit are spending all that money to fix the only route that actually works! Double up the 62 express so it’s every five minutes, or triple it up if necessary, and you’ve solved the problem of getting to the U of M. You don’t need to spend $200 million dollars.

Could we fix this system so it works? You’re darn right we could and that’s the subject of my next article. The problem is that the game is rigged so that the necessary changes to make things right will never get through the politicians and the bureaucracy. I know, I’ve tried. But more on that when we continue.