Monday, May 30, 2011

Riding the bus in Fresno (FAX). Step 2: Can I get there from here?

What a lovely memorial day weekend. Perfect weather on Monday for being outside.

Anyway, continuing my post about FAX.

My key search was to find how to answer the following question:
"what buses go near me, where do they go, and what times do they run"

We've already established that the system map isn't very good. It's not terrible, but it fails at the street level. You can see what bus goes from x part of town to y part of town, but finding out where on earth the bus actually stops? Not so easy. And finding out what streets the buses run on downtown or at major transfer centers, is impossible. But I guess once you know what route covers your part of town, you can move onto another tool to find out where exactly the bus runs.

The website recommends using google maps, so let's try that.

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Well, even though directions are on google maps, the actual route maps are NOT.

This is what a city with the transit overlay looks like. It isn't perfect, because all the bus lines are the same color (light blue), but you can quickly see where BART, MUNI and the buses run.

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Because google isn't perfect, some transit agencies have taken it on their own to create interactive route maps. Take the MBTA. You select your route, you select the direction, and the route is show on google maps. Also marked are where the exact stops are, and what the name of the stop is.

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What Fresno does have, is the individual bus stop locations placed in google maps. If you zoom in enough, you can click the stop, and you're told what bus stops there. Unfortunately, it doesn't show where the bus goes next, so at intersections, you need to click on each stop, one by one, to find which bus goes where. Downtown, it's an enormous hassle, especially when each bus stops at a different shelter, and there are 6 shelters sitting next to each other.

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So that leaves one other way to look at routes: The individual route maps.
This map isn't bad. It marks almost every street the bus runs on (some small "jugs" are not well marked) and also gives reference points, like Fresno State, hospitals, malls, and money marts (are money marts really the best place to sell bus passes?)

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What the map doesn't do is mark the individual bus stops, and spacing is not consistent, so that's an issue. Especially when the bus turns and changes streets. Is the stop before the intersection, or after?

What I would so to improve the map is mark the stops, I would extend the street lines, to make the grid clear (and also make the non-grid streets clear), and also put in the connecting bus routes in a faint color, to indicate direction of travel.

Another major concern are the time points. The schedules only list 4-6 time points, even though the bus route can run for 20+ miles. Look at the locations of the time stamps on this route. A B and C, on top, are all clustered together. Then there's a giant gap to D, and E is all the way downtown.

What FAX needs to do is realize that while paper schedule space is constrained, that's not the case online. They don't need to replicate what goes on paper with what goes on the website, but that's exactly what they do. They post PDF's instead of creating tables.

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Notice how the spacing between time stamps is inconsistent.

In minutes
6
4
5
20
10
5
10

That does not make any sense.

FAX should use the internet and mark 10-12 time stamp locations. There's more than enough room, especially thanks to the wonders of scrolling.


Now, back to google. There's one thing I haven't mentioned. Using google maps, you can mark your start point, and ending point, and google will spit out directions.

This solves a few problems: stop locations, bus times, and a how-to.

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I chose two random locations, and google told me what to ride, where to wait, when to wait, where to transfer, AND gave me 2 alternate routes, taking different times and arriving at different times.

So, as I said, this solves many of the problems, but does have some major drawbacks:

-The transfer system doesn't allow for walking between bus routes
-You can't combine biking and transit trips (all buses have bike racks)
-The system isn't perfect, Route 4 isn't even included
-It gives you no idea of what the system looks like. So if you're willing to walk an extra 1/4 of a mile, you might save 30 minutes....but google won't give you that option.

So while this is a surefire way to get from a to b, it's no guarantee that it's the BEST way. And since FAX doesn't give riders the tools to make an informed decision, you may have many riders wasting time, and some people turned off from riding because the option presented doesn't make sense.

Take this odyssey.
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3 hours!

For someone who MUST make this trip, there is a faster (but not fast) way to do it by bus, but you'll have to look at the system map to figure it out. Google won't suggest riding a bus, walking, and then taking another.

You could have gotten off the first bus, walked .5 miles, and then taken another bus straight south.
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Oh, and by the way, look at this image again
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That's a 6 mile journey. 56 minutes to go 6 miles, during the morning rush?

It's faster to bike.

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And only 10 minutes by car.

So that leaves us for our next discussion on another day. Do the routes make sense? How about the schedules? Based on the above two image, it looks like we may be leaning towards "hell no", but FAX is pretty well patronized, so it's got to make sense for someone.

And also, I'll have a separate post just for downtown issues.

And a post showing best practices elsewhere. So much to do. :(

12 comments:

  1. Is FAX really terrible? I think that it's a grossly inadequate public transit system to say the least, but so many local people that I talk to seem ok with it. It's kind of sad. People ride FAX daily and they don't seem know any better, so they think that FAX is just fine.

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    1. It is a system literally stuck in the 70s. And yes, theyre ok with it because thats all they know, but I doubt they would continue to ride FAX if they had other options.

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  2. What do you think of light rail? How do you think light rail route compares to a bus route?

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    1. I think an electric trolleybus would be a good start for Fresno. Electric = no emissions.

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  3. Switching to electric trollybuses would also mean less heat, a lot less. You may not think about it, but getting blasted by hot diesel exhuast in 95 degree heat waiting at a stop is an unpleasant experience.
    Electric motors would also mean less vibration on board and greater passenger comfort. Older FAX buses vibrate quite noticably even at idle. Onboard and offboard noise would be dramatically cut. Certain FAX buses engines are very loud onboard making conversation with friends and communication with the driver difficult.

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    Replies
    1. The noise diesel engines make is a huge problem, I agree.

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  4. Another thing to think about would be transmissions. At least one FAX bus running the Shaw Ave. route has a dying transmission that slips and jolts the bus.An electric trollybus wouldn't have that problem. Something else I forgot to mention, vibrations.Vibrations are a one of the worst enemies to the bus. Vibrations can shake things like the Bee Box, mirrors, door handles, and and retractable seats until their solid mountings fail ,and they fail begin to start shaking. The Bee Box, a thing added on by the city to sell newspapers, is especially noisy when it's mountings shake loose. The rough roads all over Fresno already beat buses and passangers to a pulp, hence part of my preference for light rail. Trolly buses sound like a good improvement, but to make the ride anywhere near as smooth as light rail, at least on main throughfares, the city would have to invest significantly in street resurfacing.

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    Replies
    1. Because they have less parts, trolleybuses actually last much longer. Buses are considered old at 12, and dead at 20. Electric trolley buses live to 30, more outside the US.

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  5. I noticed the age factor while recently riding on a FAX bus from 2003.Many of the interior bench mounts, panel mounts, and mirror mounts thunder over a rough road.

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  6. You know, I almost dread to think that that bus would be at 20. I want to share some information. FAX buses have a number on their interior seen just above their windsheild. These numbers indicate the year model of the bus and what number it was in that year.So bus 0325 would be the 25th bus FAX purchased in 2003.

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  7. Do you think FAX buses should have free wifi onboard?

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    Replies
    1. I dont think it should be a priority. However, bus tracking is an absolute must.

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