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Tallahassee Transit System - What's Old is New Again

 City of Tallahassee StarMetro staff held a series of public workshops to answer questions about the upcoming changes to routes and schedules. Kudos to StarMetro staff at the open house who patiently answered many questions. They were very knowledgeable. 

The new transit system to be rolled out August 13, 2016, promises 'greater connectivity and shorter commute times due to more efficient transfers' with 14 routes and one weekend Rhythm bus.

Evident in the conversation last night at Jake Gaither Community Center is that the 'proposed' changes to bus schedules and routes have already been solidified with drivers being scheduled for the changed routes beginning August 13th. 

'woefully out of date'

Tallahassee changed from the 'hub' system in 2011. At that time, the goal was to replace the City's existing hub-and-spoke bus route system--in which every one of the City's bus routes led to a downtown transfer station--with a grid-like system that more accurately reflected the population and employment clusters. Transit planners called the hub system 'woefully out of date, essentially using the same routes that had been in place for more than 60 years.' 

Under the 'old system,' each of the City's 26 bus routes led to a downtown station, where all the routes convened at the bottom of the hour so that passengers could transfer simultaneously. At that time the system of simultaneous transfers was determined to be inefficient because it meant buses had to spend a lot of time waiting; essentially, no bus could leave the downtown station until the last one arrived in order for passengers to make their connections. Thus, if one bus was behind schedule, by default all buses fell behind schedule. 

Also in 2011, the number of routes was reduced from 26 to 12. The design allowed for more frequent service, with buses operating nearly every 30 minutes instead of hourly. The transit agency also eliminated the distinction between peak and off-peak hours. StarMetro realized that the two periods didn't have a difference in their level of demand, as its customers tend to be retail and service workers, as well as students, who don't necessarily work on 9-to-5 schedules. 

The city distributed thousands of ride guides at the downtown transfer before the switch and mailed out brochures to the city's utility customers detailing the plans. Dozens of public meetings were held in the months leading up to the switch, and the transit agency put alerts about the change on its website, on the radio and on billboards. 

An estimated 140 volunteer recruited by StarMetro rode the buses to help passengers with information, about where to get off and transfer. StarMetro made bus fare free during the first week of the new routes, so drivers -- who would face lots questions from riders -- wouldn't be further slowed down by passengers fumbling for cash. The final tweaks to the route map were officially implemented in January 2012.

Less than a year after the switch, surveys showed that 47 percent of customers liked the change; 16 percent had no opinion; and 37 percent weren't happy with it. Despite an initial and expected small drop in the early months of the transition, by January 2012, ridership numbers were up about 15 percent compared to the same month the previous year. [Governing MagazineMarch 2013]

New System Adopted

With a few exceptions, the new system has returned StarMetro to the hub-and-spoke system where routes terminate at the CK Steele Plaza. Survey data from 2009 revealed just seven percent of StarMetro riders actually had downtown destinations. [A request has been made to StarMetro for more current data.] 

  • The simultaneous transfer system will be readopted.  All buses will be converging at CK Steele Plaza at nearly the same time. 
  • The system of peak and off-peak hours has also been resurrected.  
  • Wait time for non-peak times have been increased to 60 minutes on most routes. 
Two routes have been split.  For example, the Tall Timbers route previously traveling between TCC and the Village Commons Center at Capital Circle NE has now been divided into two routes.  Travelers on the Tall Timbers route must now change buses at the Koger Center to continue their travels from the Steele Plaza north to the Village Commons Center.  

Current or historical ridership numbers are not available on-line, so one could not compare increases or decreases over time.  The StarMetro Director, Terry Lowe, did indicate that anyone who wanted to see the data could come by the offices and view them.  

The StarMetro Director also hinted these route changes will result in increased 'efficiencies' and that additional changes are planned, but he was unwilling to share any insights into what might occur. 

Staff did say that all new buses, including Dial-a-Ride vans, will operate on compressed natural gas (CNG). When asked if additional electric vehicles would be added, staff indicated that no additional electrics would be added to the fleet and referenced high maintenance concerns as the reason.  

No new bus shelters are planned for this year, since bus shelters cannot be installed anywhere where ADA compliance cannot be met. Most often this means there must be sidewalks. Without sidewalks, no bus shelters, without bus shelters, less convenience for people who ride the bus.  Additional benches, however, are planned.   

A trolley system might be reinstated to travel throughout downtown during mid-day in an attempt to alleviate car trips by downtown workers.

The free Rhythm bus will be reduced to one bus operating every 40 minutes instead of 20. 

With future Blueprint and other funding, an additional central transit transfer point may come to the southside of Tallahassee on Orange Avenue near S. Meridian.

Terry Lowe, who headed the City's fleet operations, now also leads StarMetro.
Ivan Maldonado, the previous director of StarMetro, was reassigned within the department and is in charge of Dial-A-Ride services.

You can still provide comments to StarMetro via this Survey Monkey link:



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