February 6, 2010 Sue Ellen Smith: One rider would put brakes on StarMetro's Nova2010 Sue Ellen Smith My View StarMetro's bus system is broken and must be fixed, according to Tallahassee's transit planning staff. They say the 32-route, downtown-centric bus system is slow and doesn't go where people want to go. More importantly, the city wants the bus system to pay more of its own way by bringing in more revenue from riders. But I disagree that the city's bus system doesn't work well now. Furthermore, the Nova2010 plan being proposed by StarMetro threatens to make the bus system much worse for many existing riders while discouraging new ridership that the city needs to prevent traffic gridlock as it grows in the future. Nova2010 will cut the number of bus routes by more than half and pick up and drop off riders along arterial roads rather than in residential areas and downtown at the C.K. Steele bus plaza. This decentralized system, we are told, will attract new riders by getting them to their destinations more quickly and efficiently than the current system. Even better, all of this change will come at no additional cost to the city. However, this budget-stingy request to attract new riders and revenue comes at a cost to current riders and may chill any enthusiasm new riders have for the plan. Most residential area bus stops will disappear, meaning longer walks and travel times for patrons to stops along major roads such as Monroe Street, Capital Circle Northeast and Orange Avenue. Walking distances to their destinations from dropoff stops will increase. For example, riders traveling to Governors Square mall will get only as close as Governors Square Boulevard or Blair Stone Road and will likely have to cross those roads and the mall's huge parking area on foot and in traffic to reach a door. Better rethink buying that new comforter from Macy's - it's a haul back to the bus stop. As for the newfound "convenience" for riders who no longer will have to go downtown to change buses at Steele plaza, be careful what you ask for. Most "transfer points" for these new routes are simply road shoulders or sidewalks at major intersections such as Orange Avenue and South Monroe Streets, Mahan Drive and Capital Circle Northeast, and Apalachee Parkway and Capital Circle Southeast, and will require riders to cross multi-lane intersections to reach them. Prepare for standing in the rain, because new shelters for these streetside transfer points are not in the "budget-neutral" plan. Your wait could be as long as 40 minutes if you just missed your transfer bus. Decentralizing the bus system means that the buses won't be in the same place at the same time, so your chances of missing a connection are quite good. As for the Nova2010 plan resulting in shorter commutes overall, it's likely most riders will find their total commute takes more time when multiple bus transfers, missed connections and longer walks from residential areas to stops along highways are factored in. All of this is not to say that Tallahassee's bus system should be left as it is. Rather it is more critical to ensure that plans to improve the system are set up for success. A troubled plan that allows only minor tweaking because of unrealistic budget constraints is one destined for conflict and ultimate failure. Current bus riders with the financial means will go back to driving cars, new riders will not materialize, and the city will be faced with an even greater budget issue. The continued existence of the bus system itself will be at stake. StarMetro staff will be asking the Tallahassee City Commission to approve Nova2010 on March 10. It is in the city's best interest to reconsider its "budget-neutral" stance for Nova2010 and send the plan back to StarMetro with a realistic and positive budget so that staff can effectively address and plan for legitimate issues of convenience, safety and future expansion. In turn, StarMetro should lose its defensive stance against Nova2010 detractors and realize that what they most want is for StarMetro and Tallahassee to succeed by creating a mass transit system that becomes a model for the Southeast. The current Nova2010 plan isn't there yet, but with more effort and funding it can be. Additional Facts ABOUT THE AUTHOR d Sue Ellen Smith lives in Tallahassee and takes the bus to work and other locations. She participated in the Nova2010 working group, which made recommendations to the Transit Advisory Committee about the plan and presented comments and concerns at Nova2010 "listening sessions." Contact her at sue_ellensmith@xxxxxxxxxx Check out the TABI resource web page at http://acorange.home.comcast.net/TABI and please make suggestions for new material. if you'd like to unsubscribe you can do so through the freelists.org web interface, or by sending an email to the address tabi-request@xxxxxxxxxxxxx with the word "unsubscribe" in the subject.