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As you are probably aware, RGRTA is exploring changes to the RTS fixed-route transit system in an effort to “better meet the evolving needs of the region.” The project, called Reimagine RTS, aims to improve transit service in Monroe County, including the City of Rochester. Over 11,000 individuals have participated in the process by sharing ideas with RTS via an online survey and many public meetings and the first draft was released last month.

[ Read the Draft Recommendations here. ]

After reviewing the draft and hearing input from many of you, Reconnect Rochester would like to formally share our assessment – including the parts we like, and a few things we’d like to see improved upon…

As a refresher, we previously laid out our top 5 priorities and suggestions to improve transit service which were:

  1. Make service more frequent and consistent.
  2. Make routes more direct.
  3. Right Size the Service
  4. Make transit accessible and easy to use.
  5. Stay competitive through innovation.

With that in mind, here’s what WE LIKE about the plan:

😀 Higher frequency!

Frequent service is the centerpiece of a truly useful public transit system. The higher the frequency, the less time you’ll spend waiting for a bus at the start of your trip and at transfers, effectively reducing your total time in transit. We believe RTS’s focus on 15- and 30-minute bus service will be a game-changer for transit users. If you are near a transit line you know that a bus will always be coming along soon.

Here’s a look at the new network map:

😀 Direct service

If you look at an RTS map today, you’ll see bus routes all over the county. Many of our current bus routes meander all around to pick up very few people. This gives the illusion that our region is well served by transit, when actuality those routes may only see a bus a few times a day, if at all on weekends. The new routes are much more direct and stick to major streets without meandering off of the main corridor.

What’s more, these routes stay consistent throughout the week and on weekends. This consistency together with higher frequency will free most transit riders from having to plan their lives around the bus schedule. That’s a big improvement.

😀 Focus on density

Dense development is essential to a successful mass transit system. When places are in closer proximity, people do not need to travel as far. Buses in turn can run shorter routes more frequently. Density also increases the customer base of the transit system, which in turn increases the amount of money collected at the fare box. This money can be reinvested into the transit network, improving service.

This plan puts 174,000 people and 109,000 jobs within half a mile of 15-minute service. Monroe County has nothing close to this today. And the plan manages to achieve this new level of service while maintaining service for more than 95% of current riders.

Population Density Map, Rochester NY (2018)

Above: Monroe County’s population density with overlay of the proposed bus network.

Employment Density Map, Rochester NY (2018)

Above: Monroe County’s employment density with overlay of the proposed bus network.

🙂 Crosstown routes

Two new crosstown routes serve more people and offer many more connections/transfer points than the one crosstown route being replaced. The new Culver Road Crosstown, in particular closes a long time gap in the system from Swillburg to East Main Arts & Market District.

We were a bit surprised not to see a few more crosstown routes proposed. For example, Lexington to Clifford or Lyell to Upper Falls Blvd. would greatly improve east-west movement across the north side of the city. But the two new routes would amount to an improvement nonetheless.

🙂 Community Mobility Zones

Certain areas simply do not have the density or development patterns necessary to support frequent transit service. This plan recommends a suite of other services to take the place of traditional bus service in these areas including Lexington Avenue (west of Dewey), Brockport and parts of Irondequoit, Greece, Henrietta and Webster. Some people see this as a loss, but we see an opportunity for these communities to work with RGRTA (and others) to establish new systems that are more cost-effective and tailored to local needs.

These “Community Mobility Zones” could include ride-share services, destination shuttles, vanpools, bike share stations and other options which could actually serve these areas much better than they are served by RTS today. Imagine having a local shuttle that connects your village/town center with nearby neighborhoods and commercial districts… Imagine a bike share station at your local Wegmans or school… etc.

Obviously many details would need to be worked out, but RTS plans to begin a “Mobility Management Program Study” later this year to explore the possibilities. So, for the time being we’re putting this in the “We Like” column.

Things we have concerns about:

🤔 Community Mobility Zones

This isn’t a typo. Community Mobility Zones are both an idea that we like, and also have concerns about. For areas where traditional bus service is not cost effective, other mobility options may better serve local needs (as stated above). However the draft plan only gives guidelines as to what these zones should include.

We would like to see these zones set up and ready on day one in 2020 when the Reimagine plan is rolled out.

🤨 Downtown

The Transit Center has been a great resource for riders whose trip origin and destination are outside downtown. However, when a rider begins or ends their trip near downtown, having to switch buses for the last half mile of the trip is an inefficient use of passenger time.

Many major employers are downtown, but more than a quarter mile from the transit center. Requiring these riders to take the time to transfer at the transit center when their bus could quickly complete the last mile of their trip makes the transit system seem slow and inefficient – the exact problem this study is trying to address.

We’d ask that an analysis of downtown origins and destinations be undertaken and some routes be adjusted to bypass the transit center accordingly.

🤔Airport & Train Station

These are two places where having a car is considered a liability and people will be looking for alternate transportation options. Therefore we would like to see the airport and the area around the train station considered as future mobility hubs.

🤔 RTS Access (paratransit)

The American with Disabilities Act requires all transit programs that receive Federal funding to provide a paratransit service for people who are not functionally able to use a fixed route bus. At a minimum, this service must be provided to people whose trip both starts and ends within ¾ of a mile of a fixed route bus. Nothing in the ADA prohibits a transit system from operating service above and beyond the minimum ADA requirements.

If RTS Access service remains limited to ¾ of a mile of the new fixed routes, the service area of RTS Access would be much more limited. We would like to see specific details from RTS about what the future service area for RTS Access would be, how many Access riders would be orphaned by the new design, and what plans would be put into place to transition riders to a new service.

Changes we’d like to see:

  1. At least one east-west and one north-south route should bypass the Transit Center through downtown. This would make getting around downtown quicker, and create opportunities for people with an origin or destination on the outskirts of downtown to travel more quickly.
  2. The Fairport & East Rochester route should continue to use 490 as it does today, instead of the more serpentine route in the draft plan. The time saved by going directly to each town via 490 should be used to make service on this route more frequent.
  3. The Airport should be included as one of the proposed “Community Mobility Zones.” The plan should have the Zone at the Airport be fully designed, so that design in turn can be used as a template for other Zones.

As additional funding becomes available, we would prioritize the following improvements:

  1. Expand Service Beyond 12am. The draft plan has service ending at 12am. We would like to see this extended to 1:30am in consideration of late night shift employment.
  2. Continue to Increase Frequency. We would like to see frequency of service increase going forward, with more routes being brought up to the 15 minute service level. We would also like frequency increased on all weekend routes, again with an ultimate goal of 15 minute frequency.
  3. Add additional routes to service the following areas:
    • Seabreeze (in consideration of seasonal employment)
    • Northwest Rochester, especially around Edison Career and Technology High School
    • Area colleges such as RIT, St. John Fisher, Nazareth and Suny Brockport
    • Eastview Mall
    • The Town of Irondequoit – North of Titus Ave.
    • The Town of Pittsford
    • The Town of Brighton
    • The Town of Greece
    • The Town of Gates
    • The Town of Webster

It’s not too late to give your input!

We all have a stake in the success of our public transportation system. Reconnect Rochester believes this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for our community to get mass transportation right. It is critical that RGRTA and its project team receive input from every corner of the community. Visit www.myRTS.com/reimagine to submit your comments before the listening period ends this Friday.

— 14 Comments —

  1. Your Downtown comments mention last half-mile service. But they don’t address fare disparity. Commuters from suburban areas, such as Pittsford or Gates, can take a bus to any downtown employer near the Transit Center for $2 round trip. However, those of us near downtown who must access destinations also near, but not in, downtown (Public Market, Park Avenue, Village Gate, Kodak/MCC, museums, city churches) must pay a $4 round trip fare (double the cost) due to the requirement of changing buses at the Transit Center. Despite shorter trips and associated lower costs to RTS for expenses such as fuel and driver time. Given the concentration of poverty in areas surrounding downtown, this appears designed to place the greatest burden on those least able to handle it.

  2. Great point, Gary. There IS a fare disparity, but it’s not due to the transfer. People traveling from the suburbs to those same destinations will also need to transfer and pay $4 (or else buy the $3 all-day pass). The difference is that if you’re traveling from the suburbs you are covering more miles for the same amount of money than people who live closer to the transit center.

    How to actually fix the fare disparity could be the subject of a whole other study.

    If, for example the fare were distance- or time- based, we could more accurately capture the relative value of the service provided. But it’s a double-edged sword, as many city residents travel to the suburbs for work and other tasks.

    Perhaps some combination of distance-based fare and income-based subsidy should be explored. What we don’t want to do is make the transit system more complicated to use. But there are ways around that.

  3. With all due respect, Reconnect, I think you’re grossly overcomplicating this problem. Most cities allow for some combination of the following on a single fare bus ticket:
    – one free transfer
    – unlimited free transfers within x hours (x typically equals 2) of the first bus entry
    – free location-based transfers (e.g. if you’re getting off a bus at the transit center, you get a free transfer ticket that only works from the transit center.

    I think there could be research into selected crosstown routes, but any one of the above options would be incredibly easy to implement without all the fussing about distances.

  4. Okay. But what are those cities that allow free transfers and how much is the fare?

    We have a $3 all day option which allows for unlimited transfers.

    By comparison an all-day pass in Buffalo and Syracuse are both $5. And their regular fare is twice as much as RTS at $2.

    Syracuse has zones that allow riders to travel beyond the county line, but you’ll pay an additional $1 for each zone you travel through.

    In NYC if you pay your fare with a MetroCard ($2.75) you can transfer free from local bus-to-subway, subway-to-local bus or local bus-to-local bus within two hours of the time you paid your fare. Or, for $32 a 7-day Unlimited Ride MetroCard includes all transfers free of charge. But you can’t use an Unlimited Ride MetroCard on Express buses, unless you purchase a 7-day Express Bus Plus MetroCard for $59.50.

    Not trying to over complicate, but fares have a way of getting complicated. That’s all we’re saying.

    Let us know what cities we should look at as models.

  5. Bus fares and bus passes are arbitrarily priced in that each city is determining how to structure their fares and who will be paying more or less. Rochester currently severely penalizes those who aren’t going into or out of the transit center or only staying on one route – one penalty is the increased cost, the second penalty is the increased time and inconvenience of transfers. This is why most cities use the direct fares to subsidize the indirect fares and not the other way around.

    Fort Wayne IN recently got rid of their transfers (comparing Rochester to NYC is absurd for so many reasons I’m not even going to approach the explanation), but their bus fare is $1.25 and their day pass is $3. One can see that for however much a city’s fares are, the multiple rides ought to be comparatively cheaper.

    I’m very surprised that with the issue of the connection between frequent bus ridership and poverty, which Reconnect KNOWS about, they wouldn’t understand the importance of favoring the multiride user in their fare calculations. The current scheme is subsidizing everybody systematically off those who are least likely to be able to afford it. So sure – if free transfers would lead to a shortfall in income for RTS, which they might not due to an increased appeal from the ease of ridership, we might need to study a fee restructuring and see how it might be cheaper overall for those most in need of taking the bus.

  6. Pamela, I may be confused. Fort Wayne has a $3 all-day pass (as does RTS) as a solution for the multiple ride issue. Did I miss something there?

    Gary’s comment was that city residents effectively pay more than suburbanites who ride into downtown. I agreed with that albeit for a different reason than Gary.

    A distinction needs to be made, however if we’re talking about people living in poverty – many of whom live in the city, but some also work (and/or live) out near the end of the line. I hear you saying that free transfers would help low income transit riders, and absolutely we agree on that too.

    But my question is… Should we tell RTS that they need to give everyone a free transfer at the Transit Center? Or free transfers only in certain situations?

    It seems simple enough until RTS says that they’ll need to make up for the lost revenue by increasing the fare and discontinuing the $3 all-day pass.

  7. In Buffalo and Syracuse, in order to go from two bus fares to an all day pass, one pays 50% of a bus fare. In Fort Wayne, to go from 2 bus fares to an all day pass, one pays 40% of a bus fare. And in Rochester, to go from 2 fares to an all day pass, one pays 100% of a bus fare.

    Bus fares are set based on a variety of factors. Ridership, income of riders, cost of system, service level, etc – all of these contribute to how much a transit system decides to charge for a fare. RTS has decided that is $1. It’s a nice number. I like it. I’ve never heard of a bus system charging less than that in my lifetime. Some cities have free circulars, or shuttles, between various locations, but all fare-based systems are usually $1 or more.

    But if this number is low because it relies on transfer riders to subsidize the cost of the system, I have an issue with that number. I already pointed out the problem with using transfer riders for your cash cow – the system is already not tailored to their needs, and you’re charging these least-served the most? It is very different to take 7 different bus trips to various locations on a day pass than it is to need to take 2 routes each way to get from where you are to where you need to go. The former is the way the rider uses the system, the latter is the way the system fails the rider.

    You seem to be dwelling on distance as it relates to pay. I don’t think this is much of an issue, since the fares are so low, unless what you’re proposing RTS does to make up for a shortfall in transfer tickets or day passes is set a long distance zone and charge more for that. I personally think that isn’t going to solve anything. RTS is already barely meeting the needs of people using it, and I think transfer tickets are one way to make it more appealing and useful as a system, not more expensive long-distance fares.

    I personally believe that the best way to handle transfers in our system, and one that may produce greater ridership and therefore not a shortfall at all, is free (timed) transfers at the transit center. If you use the rechargeable cards, it’s marked digitally with transfer capabilities for maybe two hours. The transfer only works at the transit center. (Or hey, I wouldn’t mind transfers outside the transit center, but having them at the transit center should be a bare minimum).

  8. The the “new network map” above has no legend. What are the blue routes? What are the tan routes?

  9. Hi Pamela,
    Thanks for the clarification. Based on that info I think you are making your calculations based on the “Reduced Fare” rates offered by CENTRO and NFTA.

    Both of those agencies offer a Reduced Fare of $1 (or $2.50 day-pass) for seniors (65+) and persons with disabilities. However, those rates are not offered to people with low income.

    So yes, if you are 65+ or on medicare, your all-day pass is 50¢ less. But if you are just low-income, you’re paying $2 less for a day pass in Rochester vs Syracuse or Buffalo. The same as Fort Wayne.

  10. I think you still do not understand the point I’m making. In Buffalo and Syracuse (and correct me if I”m wrong, because I am taking your word on this), the single ride adult fares are $2 and the day pass is $5. That means that the day pass is 250% of the single ride ticket. For Fort Wayne, the day pass is 240% of the single ride ticket. For Rochester, it is 300% of the single ride ticket.

    Does this help to understand what I’m referring to?

  11. Hi Pamela, yes I understand your math. I’m just not sure why the relative percentage matters when RTS fares are still cheaper across the board. I can be slow on the uptake, so I apologize. By that logic RTS would either need to raise the base fare to $1.25 to match Fort Wayne, or lower the day pass to $2.50.

    If it were up to me, public transit would be free to ride, but sadly this is not our reality 😉

  12. It matters because of the psychology of somebody deciding to take the bus to or from a given location, and it matters because of who the transit system is getting it’s extra dollars from.

    In any given system, somebody is looking at their options when they decide to purchase various passes, and they’re comparing it to other options within the same system. When an RTS rider (such as myself – I made all of these calculations when I moved here) is deciding what to purchase, I compare it to what the cost of a single fare is. If I’m going to and from a location on the same bus line, it’s $2. But if I’m inconvenienced by poor bus route coverage, now I have to pay for an additional trip to get there? Seems like a bad use of my money. Maybe I should find alternative transportation. Flip that around to 50% additional fare, or transfer tickets, and the psychology of the decision is completely different. Now, if you have any chance at all of taking more than 2 routes/trips in a day, the day pass is a great deal. Maybe you don’t use the additional trip that day, but if you buy a day pass the next day and you do use it, you break even on bus fare. There is no way to break even in the RTS system for a day pass that you don’t use as such. You’ve burned a whole extra bus fare getting the day pass, and that just feels rotten. (Note why it’s important to compare within-system bus fares – the bus fare of the local area dictates what that money is worth to the user. A dollar in Buffalo only gets you a half a bus fare, but in Rochester it gets you a whole bus fare. If you waste a whole bus fare, you waste a whole bus fare. It doesn’t matter that the dollar is only half a bus fare in Buffalo, you’re living and making financial decisions in Rochester).

    This extrapolates to the pricing of the week and month passes, by the way. They’re priced at a rate that is not economical unless we’re using transfer riders as the main funders of the system. Because realistically, how many rides can a person take on RTS in a day? Commuting to and from work or school leaves you with almost no time for additional bus trips in that day. (There being no cross-town routes connecting shopping centers for the purpose of before-or-after-work errands is a needed area of improvement to the system that I have seen disappointingly NO conversation of in the RTS proposed system updates). So a 5 day pass for $14? That’s only going to realistically appeal to transfer riders. A $56 monthly pass? There aren’t more than about 20-25 working days in a month. Again, only going to appeal to transfer riders. For everybody else, single fares are cheaper and safer bets to save money on buses to get around on, OR they’re people who really are using the bus system for what all it’s worth.

    There are two ways to address this: A) lower the fares of the passes, which will make it even cheaper for the people who are using the bus system more frequently than other users and also reduce income, or B) take care of transfer riders better by giving them transfers! This stands the best chance of making the frequent users pay for their more frequent use, while also ceasing the penalty placed on those who the system is serving least.

  13. I ride the bus multiple times a week and I agree that we need more frequent buses. There’s been times when I’ve had to wait a whole hour for the next bus.

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