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As Metro Boosts Service, Which Regions Will Follow?
Improving transit to reinvigorate our urban cores
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As Metro Boosts Service, Which Regions Will Follow?
LA Metro (LACMTA) and Washington Metro (WMATA) both just announced increased rail service, as the agencies make valiant efforts to continue rebuilding ridership. In Los Angeles, B/D heavy rail service will hit 12 minute frequency from 6 AM to 9 PM on weekdays, meaning combined trunk service downtown will be every six minutes. Frequency will be almost as good on weekends, alternating between 12 and 15 minutes on the branches depending on the hour.
Light rail lines will hit 8 minutes on peak (10 minutes off-peak) come December, according to leaked documents, meaning trains on the new regional connector’s trunk will arrive 15 times per hour. The continued investment into off-peak service is showing dividends, as weekend ridership has already recovered to 88% of pre-pandemic highs, while weekday sits at 72% (although the APTA puts LA’s recovery at 89%, a number most other large agencies would kill for.) Overall the 2023-24 budget includes 9.6% more service than pre-pandemic, including 27.5% more on the region’s expanded rails.
In the D.C. area, service is picking up too. Peak service will hit every 5 to 10 minutes on each line, slipping a few minutes midday, and varying between every 8 and 12 mins on the weekends. Due to WMATA’s more complicated branching, some station pairs will see trains arrive as frequently as every three minutes at rush hour. This will mark the most service the agency has run in its 47-year history.
With those two agencies worth celebrating, let’s take a spin around the country to see what kind of service other regions are running these days. Unsurprisingly, frequency remains relatively strong in transit-dependent NYC. On Manhattan trunk lines like the B/D/F/M, trains arrive as frequently as every two minutes during weekday rush hours. Service tapers a bit on weekends and evenings, but still runs at levels that would make other Americans envious. The real issue is outside of Manhattan; trains like the G run every 12 mins midday, every 15 on Sundays. Branches of the A line can arrive as infrequently as every 20 minutes during prime weekend hours, making a trip to the beach a real slog. Given the importance of off-peak and non-downtown service to rebuilding ridership in a post-Covid, less office-centric world, that’s a missed opportunity.
Other agencies still have much further to go, as they deal with continued labor shortages and projected budget deficits. While SF’s BART is improving service, going from every 30 to every 20 minutes off-peak is hardly enough to really restore ridership that continues to lag peer agencies, especially given that night and weekend riders often need to make transfers. The improvements also come at the expense of weekday service, which will now be consistently three trains per hour at the end of each branch. Things aren’t much better on MUNI, where the city’s poky light rail system often runs at 15-20 minutes frequencies on evenings and weekends.
Chicago seems to be in particularly dire straits, as the once vaunted L runs at levels that do the great city a serious disservice. The Green Line runs every 20 minutes per branch / 10 on the trunk at peak, but falls to every 24 minutes on the branches midday; rather socially injust given the neighborhoods it serves. The Blue Line peaks at 7.5 minute service, but midday half the trains short turn, meaning you’re waiting twice as long if you’re not in a close-in neighborhood. The Red Line looks a bit stronger, the others a bit weaker. The Chicago area is staring at a fiscal black hole that could worsen service by 30%, as ridership languishes at about 60% of pre-pandemic levels. The region’s planning agency has suggested merging the myriad transit providers that serve the ‘burbs, a good idea given the lousy service far from the Loop. (But expect regional power brokers to protect their fiefdoms at the expense of average riders.)
In other parts of the country, transit service continues to languish. But look across the globe and you can see that other countries have learned that strong service is the key to rebuilding ridership. In Paris, trains that come every two minutes on weekdays drop down to *gasp* every 2.5 minutes on weekends. Ditto in Osaka. Even smaller cities understand the importance of frequency: Copenhagen’s 4-line system runs every 2 minutes on the trunk at peak, but still comes every 3 minutes on the weekends, with branches seeing a train 10 times per hour. You don’t even need to leave North America; in Vancouver, trains still come as good as every eight minutes around 1 AM, and even more often before midnight.
It’s no surprise that agencies providing better service have seen ridership rebound faster than their American peers. But the bigger takeaway is that these regions have also seen much stronger rates of workers returning to offices. While the office occupancy rate languishes below 50% in the Americas despite bosses’ shortening patience, it’s above 75% in both Asia-Pacific and Europe. That’s led to a much stronger rebound in commercial activity for urban neighborhoods: dining, shopping, and the like. If America wants to restore vitality to its urban neighborhoods, step one is reinvigorating the transit service that makes it convenient to live in, work in or visit those communities.
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HOT INDUSTRY NEWS & GOSSIP
A crowding of curb news: In New York City, a new “Smart Curb” program aims to unclog deliveries and double parking in the dense Upper West Side. While America dawdles, Paris built 52 protected bicycle facilities in one summer. Small cities are getting in on the action too: State College, PA seeks feedback on an updated curb and mobily plan, with the implementation phase coming up next. Helsinki found that prioritizing pedestrians leads to more transit usage — a 5% improvement to the walking environment led to an €8.5 million increase in fares — talk about a cheap way to improve your city! And the City of Seattle has unveiled its new curb management API, thanks to Populus and CDS.
Where do tickets happen? A fun new data visualization project shows where parking tickets occur most often in Los Angeles. The top block for street sweeping violations is where the B and G Metro lines meet — perhaps thrifty commuters are avoiding the nearby paid lot? The top expired meter locations look to largely be popular shopping and dining districts — no surprises there. But the real fun twist would be to map where the city’s meter-workers dispatch from; are they just ticketing low-hanging fruit?
It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s UPS-man! The FAA just cleared UPS and uAvionix to make longer distance deliveries via drone. The new BVLOS clearance means operators can fly packages beyond the visual line of sight, a key step in making drone delivery even remotely plausible in an economical sense.
Who’s hungry? Ghost kitchens continue to struggle to retain larger customers, as CloudKitchens reportedly has only about a 50% occupancy rate. Bigger chains are seeing they can retool their existing real estate to better serve delivery, as demonstrated by Chick-fil-A’s roll out of 300 delivery pickup lanes, or Del Taco launching its first digital-focused location.
3PD innovation: Grubhub launched “supplemental delivery,” allowing restaurateurs to shunt select orders to its couriers when a kitchen’s in-house workers are overloaded. The feature costs $5 per ticket and initially launches in Boston, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, D.C., Seattle, Chicago and Denver. European 3PDs might want to copy and paste this feature, as conglomerates like Delivery Hero are still struggling to get their margins in line with investor expectations.
In AV news: Looks like serial entrepreneurs never run out of jobs (or maybe that Softbank can never be fooled too many times.) Bryan Salesky, Pete Rander and Brett Browning previously pushed AVs at Uber ATG, Waymo and recently-shuttered Argo AI. Now they’re back with the launch of Stack AV, which has reportedly collected over a billion dollars of Japanese tech money. On the smaller scale, PeykBot looks to differentiate itself from its PDD competitors with a modular design and a focus on markets in the Gulf.
Wonder what’s inside? Curbivore 2023 attendees may remember Wonder, the well-funded delivery disruptor that’s gone from running a fleet of special vans that cook the meal right outside of customers’ homes, to popping up ghost kitchen / food halls all over the Tri-State. Now some of its old vans have hit the used car market, offering a juicy opportunity for anyone doing some competitive intel.
Rumble in the jungle: Amazon is shaking up its leadership team, with one of its now-elevated execs running its Zoox robotaxi ambitions. We guess Andy Jassy is as jazzed about the curb as we are. Meanwhile, logistics giant Flexport saw its CEO Dave Clark, former Worldwide Consumer CEO of Amazon, step down after one year on the job.
Lagos goes ahead: By some measures, Nigeria’s commercial center of Lagos has the world’s worst traffic, as its 20 million residents contend with minimal infrastructure. That’s starting to change, thanks to the soft opening of the city’s first light rail line, built with the assistance of Chinese loans. Other than a light rail line in Ethiopia, this service represents the only frequent passenger train south of the Sahara and north of South Africa.
A few good links: LA breaks ground on curb and bike lane enhancements near USC. Parisians turn to their neighbors to improve city life. Nice — Biden cancels oil and gas leases in Alaskan Arctic Refuge. Cool job alert — LatAm supply chain scale-up seeks VP of Online Growth. WeWork looks to renegotiate its office leases. Bird loses Baltimore permit. Wonks get the goods — AB 835 moves ahead in California, promoting single stair designs that improve density, affordability, and quality of life in apartment buildings. Has Google Maps sprung its redesign on your browser yet? Arizona-based weirdo fights speed camera bill in California. European train giants vie for slice of American high speed rail line that may or may not ever exist.
Until next week!
- Jonah Bliss & The Curbivore Crew