Questions and Answers
So that more buses go to pinpointed work locations to satisfy commuters, could some buses be used to serve outlying "satellite" park and ride locations as worker "buspools", serving a number of large corporation sites and the municipal downtown area of Oakland and/or San Francisco during the morning peak period and reverse the run in the evening? During the off peak periods during the day, the same bus could serve as a shuttle for large sports stadiums, picking up fans at designated "sports satellite" park and ride lots advertised in the newspapers and at certain Bay Area websites "online". Other off peak uses to avoid "dead time" after the commuter runs could be limited paratransit overflow demand "back up" service for a few hours during the day. Another option would be "mid-day shopper" runs between Senior Centers and Community Centers and Shopping Malls to help people with their shopping trip needs. Designating which "Satellite Parking" lots are for what purpose around the outer suburbs of a huge metropolis growth area would go a long way toward organizing the bus trips in peoples minds.
Golden Gate Transit used to have a number of subscription buses. It has proven hard for these to hold riders and they seem to be fading away as the riders who started the buses (in the 70s) move or die or retire. I do think it's a strategy that can work in some markets, however.
Far more common are employer shuttles and in a growing number of cases, employment center
shuttles, business park shuttles, downtown shuttles, and community shuttles. These provide service both from P&R lots /satellite lots and from transit hubs and are very popular and cost-effective (av. 50-60/hr op. costs, about the same as the least expensive of the region's bus operators.) There are over 800 such shuttles in the region! the business district and community shuttles operate as commute links during the peak periods and carry seniors, school kids, shoppers, business visitors, etc. during the midday. So do some of the employer shuttles, most of which allow non-employees to ride along.
The Bay Area already has about 50 Caltrans owned park and ride lots and we surveyed them as part of the study. We also surveyed some private lots and some transit center garages. One issue is that the lots are mostly small and lack amenities (need better maintenance, fencing, lighting, security, waiting areas, toilets, beverage and news outlets). In some locations there is enough demand to increase parking in the short term by retriping, etc. to maximize use and in the longer term by building parking garages, although the high cost will be an issue. Respondents are willing to pay a few dollars a day for a high quality P&R space.
An interesting finding from the P&R study is that lots on the am inbound-peak direction are heavily utilized while lots on the opposite side of the freeway go under-utilized. This is because both the driver and the bus lose several minutes crossing the freeway, sometimes because of poor signal timing or no transit priority. There is a need for traffic engineering improvements to make these lots more accessible - and evidence that we should try to locate new lots on the inbound side. (We also may be able to locate some lots in the median, but noise is a big issue (we measured 85+ dbA at the LA freeway median transit stations and at BART median stations) and in the Bay Area, we have mostly used the medians already to widen the freeways.
Will the Bay Area transit systems use any demonstration grant funds and explore the use of "Fuel Cell Buses" in its fleet? I believe Sunline Transit of Coachella Valley, California had some fuel cell buses they were using a few years ago. With the demand and price of natural gas and foreign oil rising and the aging demographics of an increasing population heightening the interest in transit options, will fuel cell buses hold any promise to help diversify the types of energy used? In addition, foreign oil imports is one of the largest causes of the Federal Budget to be in a deficit situation in the Billions each year. Anything we could do as transit and transportation agencies to diversify energy away from sole dependence on oil would help our country avert worse deficit build up.
We worked with about 15 operators. Currently many of them have some altfuel vehicles in their fleets (some even using recycled veggie oils!). While this was not a major focus of the plan, there were some discussions of bus designs and maintenance issues came up regarding these altfuel vehicles. I can elaborate in the Q&A if there is interest