Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Who Does RTA Serve?

RTA is in dire straights. It is caught in a spiral of declining tax subsidy forcing higher fairs and reduced service, making the system less and less appealing to riders. But people do use it.

The Dayton Daily News posted a 2007 table that provides some analyses of daily rides. This is an invaluable bit of information if one wants to study the demand or usage of the system.

Here's a graph of RTA routes ranked by number of weekday riders. This isn't the only way toLink measure use (the table also uses riders-per-hour), but we'll use this as the breaks in numbers are more obvious. The routes are grouped by breaks in the numbers, with an arbitrary cut-off of 1,000 riders per day to establish this as RTA's primary market or service area. Interestingly, this group of routes handles 2/3rds of RTA's daily riders.


The top of the chart has different line weights for different riders/day, as a way to show volume. Mapping this out on a grayed-out RTA routemap one can see that RTA runs a lot of lines that don't have high volumes, and that most of these are crosstown routes or serve the south suburbs.


Stripping out the RTA map the pattern becomes quite obvious. RTA's highest volume routes are on Salem, Main, and two routes that snake through West Dayton. For the remaing routes the service areas generating the highest volumes are in West Dayton and the Northwest Side.

For the east side the route to Ohmer Park and Belmont seems to also be heavily traveled, but there is somewhat lighter use on the parallel 5th (to the Linden hub) & 3rd (to WSU) routes. Heavy use on these might not extend to the end of the respective lines.


(click on this and the other charts to enlarge for the text)

Again the lack of high volume lines to the south suburbs are apparent (and this includes the Far Hills corridor; which has some the lightest local service traffic). The only suburban lines to exceed 1,000 riders/day head north to Englewood, Huber Heights, and Vandalia/Northridge. Vandalia/Northridge has the highest volume. The only high-volume line south is to northern Kettering, ending at the Woodman/Dorothy Lane shopping area.


RTA= Regional Transit for Africans? Blacks and RTA.


There is an unstated assumption that RTA is primarily a transit system for blacks, hence some of the coded racism in the comments relating to RTA issues at the DDN, or local racist jokes about what RTA stands for (yer humble hose has also heard RTA= return to Africa).

Using the admittedly outdated 2000 census numbers and maping out minority (i.e. non-white) census tracts it does seem that RTA's most heavily traveled routes are in or very near minority neighborhoods, so one can safely infer that the black community is indeed RTA's best customer, or they at lease use the routes in their neighborhoods.

Route numbers and riders per day are labled and provided in a table.

Carlessness and RTA.


Another measure is to use the 2000 census numbers for housing units without access to a vehicle, which is another way of saying carless households. There is an extensive post here at Dayonology discussing carlessness in Dayton, which might be worth reading in conjuction with this post.

Mapping out the census tracts with the highest carlessness, one can see an overlap with the minority areas, but also extending beyond them into East Dayton and certain suburban areas (Drexel and Northridge). So carlessness is probably the obvious reason people take the bus. It just so happens that a lot of the carless are apparently black, too.

Adding this dimension might explain the heavier traffic on the Northridge/Vandalia and West Third line. It might seem that some part of carless East Dayton are not served that well; in the case of Twin Towers, the Xenia Avenue route just misses getting counted as it is just below 1,000 riders/day, so there's the correlation.


The map notes that W 3rd is a high-volume transit corridor, if one adds up the volume of riders on the various routes that are on 3rd for all or part of the time.

Policy Implications


One can see why the RTA board doesn't want to raise taxes to increase the subsidy of the system since there are racial and socioecomic issues involved. The question would be "why am I paying for this and who rides the bus anyway? " The answer would be that 2/3rds of the riders are on lines serving black and carless areas, which are also areas of the poor (not mapped but there is an overlap).

The usage implys where worst-case cuts could occur. The lowest ridership routes are the ones that serve the three outlying villages: Brookville, Germantown, and Farmersville. These probably could be cut and not even missed. The next lowest routes are the suburban and crosstown routes, particularly the ones serving the Dayton Mall area. These could be cut too.

The lines shown here are the ones that really are the core of RTA and should be protected and enhanced at the expense of suburban service to points south. Given the volume on some of these runs the possibility of suburban or outer-neighborhood retrofit making things more transit-oriented are a real possibility. Good test areas for this would be Drexel, Northridge, North Main, and Salem.

So, maybe a smaller, but more relevant RTA with better service for the areas it does serve? And a planning strategy to retrofit suburbia along routes that could already be generating a higher volume of suburban riders.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

Great post! This kind of analysis can really make a difference. Keep it up.

Anonymous said...

I disagree... Having lived in cities with better mass transit (Columbus), really pretty good mass transit (Pittsburgh), and having visited a city with great mass transit (Amsterdam), the more successful systems are larger not smaller. The way to make the mass transit system more financially viable is to extend it and make it useful to more people. Spread out the cost more, increase ridership among those people that can afford to pay more and then reduce rates for those that can't.

How? Make it MORE widely available, not less. The system should unify Montgomery, Greene and Clark counties with routes added to places like the Greene, the defense-related businesses in Fairborn/Beavercreek, Fairfield Commons, the businesses south of the Dayton Mall, Xenia, Springfield, and surrounding areas.

Additionally, if you really want people who also have cars available to use it, you have to make it useful to them. That means having regular, predictable, schedules on those routes. These people (including myself) have to know that they will have to wait no more than 15 minutes to catch the bus during normal hours that people would want to go to the places served by all routes.

Doing this would increase ridership among people that can afford to pay, especially when gas prices go up, and would make the system more viable in the long term. Reducing to just those routes that serve the poor, while it sounds nice, actually is counter-productive. It means that the poor can only get to places served - i.e. poor places, reducing their chances of getting jobs outside of that region and being able to improve their lives. It also means that the service is only provided to those that generally can't pay which will lead to a continued decline in revenue and continued financial issues.

BTW - I speak not just from idealogical principals. I live in Yellow Springs and work south of the Dayton Mall. I would love to take the bus to work, even if I had to pick it up in Fairborn, Beavercreek, or Xenia. I took it every day when I lived in Columbus, not because I had to (I had a car too), but because I liked having that time to read and not having to worry about parking or traffic.

I enjoy you blog quite a lot. Keep up the good work.

Jefferey said...

^
I frequently rode the CTA in Chicago as my family had only one car and my grandparents were carless, so have a good understanding of what a useable transit system was. The short headway is key to making the system user-friendly. 10 to 15 minutes max.

I also used public transit a lot when I was in Germany. Over there they had rural transit, either run by the private sector or by the post office (sort of motorized post coaches) for more remote villages.

These were, for me, the best-case for public transit.

Matt said...

Were there streetcar lines running up Salem and Main? Perhaps the continued use of public transit is in those neighborhoods' DNA - a kind of early TOD mentality that's lingered?

"TheDonald" said...

Referring to "Anonymous (I disagree...)" -

I completely agree with this analysis, and it's not idealistic or ideological - it's a statement of fact. When people can't depend on a resource, they learn *not* to and they structure their lives accordingly. IE: in countries where the electric supply is intermittent, people cook on camp stoves and they only use electric lights for special occasions.

The reverse is also true. Completely reliable facilities encourage usage.

The problem that Dayton has with mass transit is that the metro area is relatively small in population and sprawling - it's not dense. It's based on autos. The population base in spots that should be connected just isn't large enough to pay for the service. This isn't Amsterdam, Chicago or even Columbus.

Suppose you ran frequent and reliable daily bus service from one end of the Miami Valley (Yellow Springs) to the other (Dayton Mall): you would see that route used continually. BUT the ridership would not be enough, I am guessing, to support the service, and the number of people served would not be sufficient to justify the public funds. You'd see buses plying the roads with one or two riders at a time. Or empty buses.

And people are not stupid. If they keep reading that bus service is going to be suspended, they will discount bus service from their life plans. Publicizing the financial issues of mass transit results in lowered use.

Also, the class and race issue reduces the viability of mass transit. The general public thinks of bus service as an "underclass subsidy".

I simply don't think that a city with the physical structure of Dayton, as well as lots of other medium sized cities, have enough critical mass in terms of density to support healthy public transportation systems.

I also bet that action on Jefferey's proposal to create a "smaller, more relevant RTA" would result in a certain death spiral. There would be no justification to middle class taxpayers that they would personally benefit from the possible use of RTA. It would be perceived as a handout to "those people in the inner city".

I don't see a way out. Sad. And cities without public transit suck and are inhuman places to live.

"TheDonald" said...

PS: I am making the assumption that virtually all mass transit systems must be supported by taxes or redistributed spending and are seldom self-supporting.

Anonymous said...

This is "I disagree ..." again.

I agree that public transit systems are generally not self-supporting. (I don't know of one that is. Certainly not Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Columbus, or Amsterdam.)

The thing about that is, if it's widely enough available and reliable, the people that can pay to support it will be more likely to do so because they themselves use it, or they know people that use it, work with people that use it, etc.... They see the relevance and importance of the system.

I disagree about the density issue in Dayton. If you pull in Greene and Clark counties (especially Greene) I think you get the density that you need to make it viable. I can't prove that numerically in any way, it just seems to me that when you pull in these areas, Dayton is not that different (except in overall size) from other US cities that have better public transit. While overall population is smaller than, say, Cleveland or Columbus, the structure of the region isn't and the sprawl of the region isn't. I think European-style public transit would be too much to ask for here, but we can do better.

Also, it's not necessary in the suburbs like Fairborn, Beavercreek, Centerville, and so on, to provide routes to people's houses. Provide central loading points with parking lots (similar to what Philadelphia does - I also lived there for a while). People that work relatively far can then drive a short distance, leave their car, and take the transit the rest of the way. It could even help with making downtown Dayton a more desirable place to locate an office.

Brian said...

I haven't heard about the idea of parking somewhere and then taking the bus which sounds kind of interesting to me and I think you're right, might encourage some people to move operations down there. I have opted to park in a friend's lot on the fringe of downtown and ride my bike the rest of the way to the building I work at, and that will save me 100 dollars a month! That's a heck of a lot of money for me. Hopefully I can do that till it gets really cold, and save 600 dollars this year.

Jefferey said...

Were there streetcar lines running up Salem and Main? Perhaps the continued use of public transit is in those neighborhoods' DNA - a kind of early TOD mentality that's lingered?----Main Street had a line that continued to get extended to the north. Salem didn't have a direct line.

Im thinking the run out to Belmont via Ohmer park might be a good example. That was an old streetcar run.

For the suburban runs mapped, the ones out to Drexel and north on Keowee and Dixie Drive to Vandalia follow old interurban routes...the Drexel route is a direct descendent. The suburban plats off these routes were the TODs of the 1910s & 20s.

Jefferey said...

I haven't heard about the idea of parking somewhere and then taking the bus which sounds kind of interesting to me and I think you're right, might encourage some people to move operations down there.---There is a big park & ride lot on Lyons just south of the Dayton Mall. I think all the hubs have park-&-ride capability.

@@@@

I also bet that action on Jefferey's proposal to create a "smaller, more relevant RTA" would result in a certain death spiral. There would be no justification to middle class taxpayers that they would personally benefit from the possible use of RTA. It would be perceived as a handout to "those people in the inner city".-----RTA is already on a death spiral. The time has come to get serious about RTA, whether the voters want to pay for expanded service or even keep the status quoe. So putting a levy for service improvements to the vote would give political cover to cutting back services to places that neither support nor use public transit.

I don't see a way out. Sad. And cities without public transit suck and are inhuman places to live.----
I don't either.

I agree with Anonymous' comments about making the system more frequent and widely available, but the politics don't support this.

Especially expansion into Greene County. Yet there probably is a transit customer base in Fairborn and Xenia, based on % of carless household. Fairborn and Xenia were connected to Dayton by bus as late as the 1960s.

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