The Wheels On the Bus

April 26, 2005 at 2:39pm By: Mr. Wilson Posted in The Lincolnite Blog

I saw a hilarious sign this morning. It was one of those signs on the side of Lincoln’s buses promoting StarTran that area schoolchildren have drawn. It said:

Save gas. Save money. Save time.

Save gas? True. Save money? For most people, true. Save time? ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!

I’m a big mass transit fan and I use StarTran buses to get to work most days. I ride the bus for a lot of reasons, one of which is that I once calculated it is about 1,500% more expensive for me to drive to work than to take the bus. But time is one of the biggest reasons not to use StarTran. StarTran is one of the most pathetic excuses for a mass transit system in the country for a city of Lincoln’s size and demographics. It is an incredibly inefficient system, which is one of the reasons why so few people use it. It takes me 40 minutes to get home using the bus (including walking time), compared to 15-20 minutes in my car (including walking time to the parking garage).

And don’t get me started on all the time lost because you can’t run errands on the way to and from work.

No, little fourth grade student from a Lincoln elementary school, saving time is most certainly not a good reason to ride the bus. But two out of three ain’t bad.

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Mr. T April 26, 2005 at 11:08pm

I have yet to use it. One of the reasons being that I chose to live close to work so I could walk it. A public transportation system seems necessary to have in any sizeable community where you have enough elderly, kids, and people without cars. But having a GOOD system that a community can brag about is another story. Seems to me, as an ignorant observer, that there are enough people in Lincoln who use the system to keep it afloat, but not enough to bring in adequate revenue to expand the fleet, routes, and drivers and decrease wait times. Is Star Tran in the red or black? What say you Mr. Wilson, guru of public transportation?

Mr. Wilson April 27, 2005 at 4:23pm

StarTran’s financial picture is pretty terrible. There are many reasons for that, some indisputable, some debatable. To be perfectly honest, StarTran does what it does reasonably well. But it’s the “what it does” that irks me. StarTran does very little.

From a political standpoint the matter is a chicken and egg situation. The chicken is a ground-up redesign of the system. The egg is the resources required to do the redesign.

StarTran needs to engage in a thorough study of its route design, bus purchases, driver scheduling, and, well, just about everything else. A full review should probably take at least a year. I believe that review would recommend some pretty substantial changes. Some of those changes: a brand new route system; evening routes; Sunday routes; more, smaller buses; bus rapid transit; transit-oriented development; redesigned bus stops; new “hubs” Downtown and elsewhere; and more.

All of that—the review and the changes it would recommend—would cost a lot of money. (The technical term, I believe, is “shitload.”) A better mass transit system would bring in more money, save on transportation infrastructure (road) costs, decrease traffic accidents, etc. But the up-front investment would be huge. Lincoln simply does not have the money to develop a system that will get people to change over to a mass transit mentality.

Money is the biggest hurdle, but it isn’t the only one. StarTran is a staunch pro-status quo organization. Lincoln is a car-loving town. The mayor has as much political will as a grandmotherly mayor can be expected to have. And there’s no way the City Council could be organized and dedicated enough to support something this huge from start to finish. Just look at the Antelope Valley Project, for example. The Council doesn’t even seem to know exactly what they’ve gotten themselves into.

It will take $3.50 gasoline to even start a serious conversation. Lord knows what it would take to move from conversation to action.

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