[tabi] Nova 2010 article from Sunday's Democrat

  • From: "Chip Orange" <Corange@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <tabi@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Tue, 14 Jun 2011 15:42:34 -0400

Major changes coming to Tallahassee bus service
By TaMaryn Waters
Democrat staff writer

 
 
The countdown has started.
Bus service in Tallahassee will undergo the biggest change in city
history when StarMetro
implements Nova 2010 - a system that will reduce routes from the current
26 downtown
routes to 12 cross-town routes and eliminate the need to transfer at the
C.K. Steele
Plaza downtown.
The changes take effect July 11.
The decentralized system will allow riders to transfer at roughly 40
selected bus
stops throughout the city, depending on where they're going, which is
supposed to
reduce wait and travel time.
Still, some residents, including those with disabilities, are nervous.
Ola Smith, a 73-year-old retiree and vice president of the Sherwood Park
subdivision
off North Ridge Road, said many residents in her neighborhood are older
and walk
with canes. She has chronic back pain, and walking is often a challenge.
Smith said the closest bus stop will be two blocks away from her at
North Ridge Road
and Sunnyside Drive. Under the current system, her bus stop is less than
half a block
away.
"When something is not broken, why are you trying to fix it?" Smith
asked in frustration.
"It's terrible. It is absolutely terrible."
Other loyal and longtime bus riders like Kevin Davis, 48, say the
current system
is broken and change is long overdue.
"For too many years, we have had a system that takes you an hour to get
anywhere,"
said Davis, a computer programmer for the Florida Department of Highway
Safety and
Motor Vehicles and chairman of StarMetro's Transportation Advisory
Committee. "While
this may not be a perfect solution, it's a step in the right direction."
How it will work
First, fares will not change, including the one-trip fare that is $1.25
now.
The 12 routes, with names such as Azalea, Big Bend, Dogwood and Tall
Timbers, generally
operate during weekdays from 5:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., said Heather Teter,
marketing
specialist for StarMetro.
Five night routes, identified on buses and route schedules by the letter
"N" and
a number, generally operate from 7 to 10:30 p.m., depending on the
route. Night routes
run Monday through Saturday. No night routes run on Sunday, Teter said.
Sunday routes
will operate from 11:30 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Most routes have peak times during morning and afternoon commutes, along
with off-peak
times. Buses will arrive at a stop more frequently during peak times.
For example,
the Canopy route traveling along West Tennessee Street between
Tallahassee Community
College and Magnolia Drive will have buses running every 20 minutes at
peak times
and every 30 minutes at off-peak times.
Ron Garrison, executive director of StarMetro, said this is a big change
from buses
arriving every hour. He added the new system will save StarMetro about
$36,000 a
year; the transit system's annual budget is nearly $17 million.
"If you look at a lot of communities around the country that are
downsizing their
budgets, the exciting part is that we can save a little money and
provide infinitely
better bus service for our community," Garrison said.
With this massive change, Garrison is expecting some hiccups. He said
buses on popular
routes may get crowded and that may cause a need for more buses in the
system, which
currently uses 70.
The number of bus stops also will be reduced from 1,052 to 766, Teter
said. Most
of the system's stops are up, but some are labeled inactive, meaning
riders won't
be able to use them until after the launch.
About a week before July 11, Teter said eliminated stops will be taken
down.
The system comes with upgrades
The list of new features doesn't stop with routes.
For the first time, Garrison said residents can purchase fares online
for monthly
passes.
New buses will have flat-screen televisions, and residents who are
visually impaired
can identify stops based on new Braille identification on stop poles,
which will
have an octagonal shape to differentiate them from other poles.
Bus stops also will have ID numbers. This will allow riders to find out
when a bus
is scheduled to arrive at a specific stop by texting the ID to a
specified number.
About a month after launch, Garrison said riders will be able to get
real-time information
on bus arrivals.
One of the most innovative features is the ability to plan trips online.
A rider can type in an address or a landmark, such as Governor's Square
or Tallahassee
Mall, and find out which bus to get on from his or her address. Riders
can find out
options, including the fastest route or the route with the fewest amount
of transfers.
These changes were Garrison's vision for Tallahassee, even before he got
the job
as StarMetro's top boss six years ago.
He previously managed bus systems serving the Washington D.C., area and
Fairfax,
Va. Garrison said Tallahassee's population has grown over the years,
along with growth
beyond the downtown area.
"I saw that Tallahassee needed this," he said.
Change was inevitable
In 1930, the city's population was 10,700, while 12,776 people, lived in
unincorporated
Leon County, according to the Tallahassee-Leon County Planning
Department. There's
been a steady climb since.
The city's population grew by 30,752 residents between 2000 and 2010,
while the county's
unincorporated population grew by 5,283 residents. During that decade,
85 percent
of the population growth for Leon County occurred within city limits,
compared to
the 55 percent growth in the city between 1990 and 2000.
Tallahassee grew outward, bringing retail stores, businesses and
recreation out of
downtown. Garrison said the current bus system was a "good plan" and
made efficient
use of its money for years.
"As the city got bigger and bigger and bigger, it made sense to make a
change," he
said.
Harry Reed, executive director of the Capital Region Transportation
Planning Agency,
said StarMetro's move is intimately tied to a regional mobility plan
designed to
create better connections with surrounding counties.
The new system is laying the framework for potential bus service to
Jefferson and
Wakulla counties. Currently, StarMetro helps coordinate and facilitate
an express
shuttle bus provided through Big Bend Transit from Quincy that stops in
Midway and
TCC and then comes to the C.K. Steele Plaza five times daily.
Reed said the express bus is 80 to 90 percent full most of the time.
Concerns still linger with some riders
StarMetro hosted more than 100 listening sessions with the hopes of
learning concerns
and informing residents of the changes. Jim Totter, who rides a bus at
least five
times weekly, attended several sessions.
He said he didn't have a problem with the original Nova 2010 proposal,
which included
12 routes running at night and on Sundays. The 54-year-old retiree feels
restricted
under the new system with only five routes running nights and Sundays.
"I won't be able to go to church on Sundays," said Totter, who attends
Blessed Sacrament
Catholic Church on Miccosukee Road.
He can't walk more than 350 feet because he suffers from peripheral
artery disease
(PAD), which causes poor circulation in his limbs.
For Totter, the new system will put the closest stop for night and
Sunday service
in front of Tallahassee Memorial Hospital, which is about a mile from
his home in
Cherrywood Apartments on Miccosukee Road.
Other riders are looking forward to the bus system.
Marcus Little, 55, moved back to Tallahassee in July after living in Los
Angeles,
where he rode the bus often. Little, a retired pressman for The Orange
County Register,
said the new system is a lot like the one he's used to.
"I won't have to wait as long anymore," Little said about bus arrivals
and transfers.
In the last year, riders also expressed frustration regarding the need
to cross intersections
to reach some of the 766 stops that will be in the system.
Randy Lombardo, who doesn't ride the bus currently, said he's not sold
on public
promises of efficiency with the new system. And he's especially miffed
about StarMetro
charging for ride guides.
However, Garrison said a $1 charge for the guides is not going into
effect yet.
"We are probably going to sell them for a $1 fee, but we haven't decided
when," he
said. "Right now, they are going to be free. We really think that's the
right thing
to do since this is a whole new system."
Others have taken this approach
StarMetro currently has a "hub and spoke" structure for bus service,
meaning there's
one primary place for riders to transfer buses. However, nationally,
other cities
are considering changes, too, said Jeff Hiot, senior program manager at
the American
Public Transportation Association.
"It's not efficient if it's only one central hub. The ones that are
changing are
the smaller systems," Hiot said, noting some cities have more than one
hub.
In Wisconsin, the city of Madison's Metro Transit implemented a service
change in
1998 similar to the one coming to Tallahassee.
Madison went from having one transfer place to four in an effort to
serve the outlying
neighborhoods better, said Drew Beck, planning manager for Madison's
transit system.
Madison fares went from $1.25 in 1997 to $2, and students at the
University of Wisconsin
have unlimited rides with the new system (which is something students at
Florida
A&M University, Florida State University and TCC get already).
Beck's advice for StarMetro is to keep pumping information about how to
use the system
out to the community. "You can't do too much of that," he said.
Beck said there was some backlash from residents in the first year after
the launch.
"Overall, after time, it sort of died down as people found out they
could do new
things on the new system they couldn't with the old system," he said.
Madison's ridership swelled under the new system, Beck said. In 1997, a
year before
the launch, ridership was 10.4 million a year. It dipped slightly to
10.1 million
during the launch year. An increase began in 2001 and the city had an
annual ridership
of 13.6 million by 2010.
More ridership expected with Nova 2010
Residents will be flooded with information during the weeks before the
launch by
way of newspaper, television and radio ads; outreach to the
universities; Facebook
and Twitter; and brochures in utility bills.
Nevertheless, Garrison is expecting an initial drop in ridership.
Currently, StarMetro's
ridership is 4.7 million, with 58 to 61 percent coming from college
students, he
said.
He's predicting double-digit increases in ridership after the initial
drop. In three
years from the launch, Garrison said the lowest projected ridership is
about an 18-percent
increase, and the highest projection is a 30-percent increase.
During the final stretch leading to the launch, Garrison has to make
sure StarMetro's
hotline has ample employees to man the phones.
Nearly 200 people have signed up to be volunteer "ambassadors" on most
buses and
at C.K. Steele Plaza a week before July 11. They will help riders learn
the system.
For the moment, though, StarMetro staffers are juggling an array of
needs before
July 11.
"It's freaking huge," Garrison said, breaking his serious countenance
with a smile
for a moment. "You wouldn't believe the stuff that we had to do to get
this thing
going. It's really big."

 
 
- Contact Reporter TaMaryn Waters at (850) 599-2162; e-mail
tlwaters@xxxxxxxxxxxxxxx
; or
www.twitter.com/TaMarynWaters


Additional Facts
If you go
Upcoming learning sessions
d June 21 - 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m., Walker-Ford Community
Center, 2301 Pasco
St.
d June 28 - noon to 2 p.m. and 5 to 7 p.m. at Northeast Branch Public
Library, 5513
Thomasville Road.
d June 29 - 5 to 7 p.m. Main Branch Public Library, 200 W. Park Ave.

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  • » [tabi] Nova 2010 article from Sunday's Democrat - Chip Orange