Thursday, February 15, 2018

Surprise! Fresno FAX bus routes changing Monday 2/19/2018

What's the best time to let people know you're making some major changes to bus routes? If you're FAX, Fresno's bus system, the answer appears to be "the day of."

On Monday February 19, Q launches, which is Fresno's new rapid bus service on Blackstone and Kings Canyon (recent construction photos here). The route was chosen because it covers two of the busiest transit corridors. Naturally, those corridors have existing bus services, which will change once the new system is introduced.

And yet, as of 2/15/2018, this is the only thing you can find online that lets you know routes are changing.

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And no, those buttons for Route 1 (which we can only assume is Q) don't work.

The Q website, which is completely independent for whatever reason, does an even worse job of telling people about the changes.

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I have a feeling there will be some very confused (and late for work) bus riders on Monday morning, when they find themselves waiting at a stop that may no longer be in service.

Since FAX has failed to provide absolutely any information on these changes, I will try my best.

Let's start with Route 30, which apparently is going away. On northern Blackstone, 30 and Q follow very similar routes, but with some important changes. Check out this map. Every 30 is an existing bus stop. The Q is where the new bus will stop.

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Part of what makes the Q faster is that it simply stops less. In this case, it stops a LOT less. Where the 30 stops eleven times, the Q will stop three times.

In the US, bus stops tend to be about 1/4 mile apart. For a rapid transit line, which Q is trying to pretend to be, stops can be further apart because people will be willing to walk an extra distance to save some time. That means 1/2 a mile or so between stops. You can learn a lot about bus stop spacing in this article by Jarrett Walker.

Well, in the above map, the stops are about 3/4 of a mile apart. This is going to shock a lot of people. I also don't think it makes much sense. In a very suburban area - like Fresno - walking sucks. Your destination will never be at the bus stop. When FAX doubles your walking distance, and it's 110 degrees, and the only walking path is through a hot, unshaded asphalt parking lot, you're going to hate Q.

Here is the current walk from a bus stop to the theater (764 feet)
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And the new walk (1,554 feet)
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It's also important to note that many (if not most?) cities offer both express/rapid lines and local lines on the same corridor. That allows those going further to ride the express, while the local bus is available for those who do not want to, or cannot walk extended distances. In this case, 8 stops are being eliminated without replacement.

Additionally, you'll note that Q actually won't go as far north as the 30 does. So northern Fresno actually loses some transit service.

Moving south is where the real question marks begin. Take a look at Route 30. It comes down Blackstone, reaches the GIANT YELLOW BUS (downtown transfer center), and then continues to southwest Fresno.

But Q will follow those red arrow.

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What happens to the part of town near Chandler Airport?

Presumably, FAX knows, but they haven't felt the need to share it, at least not online. It's possible they have posted paper signs at those stops, or maybe placed an ad in the Bee.

Edit: On 2/16, FAX confirmed that Route 28 will take over the southwest Fresno segment and no longer serve Kings Canyon 

So the best I can do is take a look at proposals from 2012 and 2016 that never came to be.

Let's start with the most recent proposal, from the October of 2016 route restructuring presentation.

That plan proposed the following:
  • Route 30 is replaced by BRT (this is happening).
  • 34 terminates downtown instead of through-running
  • A new 31 is created to replace where 30 used to cover. This is a route that ONLY serves downtown to southwest
  • A new 29 is created. This is a route that ONLY serves downtown to southwest

That makes sense. But we've heard nothing since. Would FAX really introduce two brand new routes and make all these changes with zero notice? We know they're working on a new route similar to 29 for the new Ultra and Amazon warehouses, but there's been radio silence.

I doubt they're launching Monday, so what else could happen? Going back further, in 2012 FAX announced major route changes via an ad in the Bee (nothing online). But those changes never happened, and the links no longer work. Fortunately, I have some screen shots!

The changes were based around the BRT (aka Q) route that was coming soon.
You see, Fresno is planning a BRT (bus rapid transit)* system that was supposed to launch in 2012 but has been delayed to 2014.
Ouch!

Anyway, the first change was Route 30, which actually reflects what Q will look like, with some minor changes at each end (1/2 mile less service on north side, 1/2 more on south end).

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Hm, we might be on to something!

Here's what they said would happen to Route 28.

Edit: On 2/16 FAX confirmed this would be the case

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Which makes some kind of sense. That is, it's an easy switch to inform riders. But as I said in 2012:
The area should be served, but with it's own route, not some haphazard branch of one of the city's busiest and most frequent bus lines.
That's exactly what they proposed in 2016! 

Unfortunately, this means Fresno Pacific and the IRS lose service. This is odd, because the IRS is a big employer, especially right about now. 

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So I'm thinking they're taking the 2012 plans off the shelf, and simply making the proposed 30 into Q/1, for now. And maybe one day, they'll make the changes they proposed in 2016, which would better optimize actual bus usage. If the timeline holds, that should happen before 2022! 


We'll know for sure sometime between now and Monday, but wouldn't it be nice to know what's actually going on in advance????



Oh, by the way, the City Council amended the FAX rule system. If you don't pay your fare on Q (you pay before boarding), the first fine is $50 and/or 8 hours community service. Second offense is $100 and/or 16 hours, and the 3rd is $250 and/or 40 hours. Fourth offense becomes a misdemeanor.

Thursday, February 8, 2018

Live bus arrival times now available in Fresno (FAX)!

Paris got real-time bus tracking in 1996. In the United States, NextBus launched in Emeryville in 1999. In the Central Valley, tiny Visalia adopted the technology in 2011.

And now in 2018, finally, Fresno's bus system has real-time bus tracking!

This is incredibly important because it makes riding the bus predictable. No more standing in the heat wondering if your bus is late...or if it came early and you missed it!

As far as I can tell, they haven't advertised this feature. No press release, nothing on the website. I didn't even notice it myself, but it was pointed out to me by Joe in the comments. Thanks Joe!

The new Q line, set to open on February 19, 2018, was advertised as having the tech, and fortunately, it appears that the entire system has been outfitted with it.

Right now, the primary way to see the data is on Google Maps. You can check it out on both desktop and mobile. Let's take a look!

Zoom in to a bus stop and click the bus icon. Then click on any of the buses listed.

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It will then open up the bus lines that serve that stop, along with the times for the next buses.

Times in green are live! Times in black are from the schedule.

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Compare with these other bus services that stop downtown. They're all in black, so not live times.

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When you set it as part of your route, you will be informed of any delays. As an aside, 51 minutes in bus vs 15 in car. Hm, I wonder why bus ridership is down...

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On the phone the screens look a little different, but it's the same concept to see all the bus times. Find the bus stop, click it, and then this opens up.

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You can then click the bus line you want and actually see where the bus currently is. This screen shows the scheduled time and the actual time.

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As an aside, note that many other transit agencies are available to help you plan your transit trips. However, not all have their real-time info coordinated with Google. For example, you can find real-time status of Amtrak trains on the Amtrak website (including a map showing current speed), but the times on Google are just the scheduled ones.

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Boltbus (and Greyhound) are available too, but the same issue - you have to go to their websites to see if they're on time or not.

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Additionally, the Fresno website mentions a dedicated transit app. Well sadly, the app mentioned on the website is complete garbage. If there were smartphone apps in 1996, they'd probably look like this:

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Screenshot_20180131-000607

This is insulting.

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HOWEVER, upon browsing the store, it appears that a second app was developed, which recently launched! The one with the higher rating is the newer one.

Screenshot_20180131-001417

Super confusing, right?

Supposedly, this new app has modern features, including the real-time tracking info.

Unfortunately, it greats you with this:

Screenshot_20180131-001441

No thanks.Why do I need to create an account to view the bus schedule? Ridiculous.

The Google Play store does have a screen shot showing that the app supposedly looks like this:

Screenshot_20180131-001535

So more like 2010 instead of 1996.

Just stick with Google Maps.