By Nicholas Smith
The Richmond Transit Network Plan (RTNP) will provide significant benefits, but will require a one-time implementation cost to retime routes, train drivers on new routes, replace signs, and inform the public. However, the cost of not implementing the RTNP seamlessly with the opening of the Pulse bus rapid transit line would be even greater.
The RTNP is designed to avoid duplication of the Pulse service and straighten routes through downtown, while obviating the need for a large transfer center.
- This analysis finds that continuing to operate routes as is will result in nearly 78,000 hours of duplicated service per year, costing $7.8 million.
- Not implementing the RTNP at all may also lead to the unnecessary construction of a large transfer center, at a cost of upwards of $30 million.
- Lastly, the construction of a transfer center or an attempt to reduce the duplicated service in a manner other than the RTNP will entail significant costs in retiming, retraining, resigning and Title VI analysis and consultation, which will likely exceed any one-time costs from the RTNP.
Using the Pulse report done for GRTC, the expected number of hours of service without the RTNP is 343,185, and with the RTNP 345,402, less than a 1% difference. This analysis concludes that implementation of the RTNP alongside the Pulse will save GRTC, and ultimately the City, millions of dollars per year and provide many more benefits to City residents than any delay or cancellation of the RTNP.
The Richmond Transit Network Plan is the most comprehensive reworking of Richmond’s transit system in over half a century. Never before have so many stakeholders and members of the public come together to find consensus on a way to move Richmond’s public transit forward. This plan will vastly improve frequency and access throughout the city, all at a low, one-time implementation cost.
Delaying or canceling this plan would not only delay or cancel all the benefits, it would itself incur significant hidden costs. This analysis quantifies these costs and exposes the stark choice that decision-makers must grapple with.
Duplication on Broad Street
The Pulse is intended to be the first choice for trips on Broad Street, being faster and more frequent than other buses because of dedicated lanes and signal priorities. Though the 6 will continue to provide local service on Broad Street, five other buses currently spend a long time on Broad and will duplicate service of the Pulse if they continue to run after its implementation. These five buses are the 1, 2, 3, 4 and 24.
One of the goals of the RTNP is to take duplicative service off Broad and reallocate the service to other parts of those routes. For example, the 2 Patterson follows Broad from Robinson east to downtown and back. The RTNP would stop the 2 at Robinson and turn it around there, so the buses could provide more service on the Patterson part of the route and leave the Pulse to do the trip on Broad.
Since most people would transfer to the Pulse, most of the 2 service east of Robinson is duplicative service, and could be reassigned to other parts of the network. Retaining the current service thus wastes driver time, which costs money.
Using route time data provided by GRTC, we calculated that the time these five buses spend east of Robinson is 43,000 bus hours of time per year. As an hour of bus time costs GRTC $100.40 in 2016 dollars, that comes out to $4.32 million per year to operate this duplicative service, or $360,000 per month. Just for these five routes.
Straightening Downtown Service
Another problem the RTNP addresses is GRTC routing downtown. As you can see, it is harder to follow GRTC routes through downtown than individual noodles in a bowl of spaghetti. Most routes move through downtown, which severely slow them down. That service, which duplicates the Pulse and other buses, would be straightened in the RTNP, so failing to implement the RTNP and retaining current service results in more wasted service.
Adding up duplicated service on 12 routes, we find that there is another 34,500 duplicative hours of service per year, costing $3.46 million yearly to operate, or $290,000 per month.
It is worth pointing out that doing these changes on their own cannot be accomplished without incurring costs. Routes have to be retimed, drivers have to be retrained, and signs have to be replaced. These one-time costs are similar to the one-time costs required for the RTNP, so failing to follow through with the RTNP doesn't save in implementation costs. Further, as more than 10% of each route is being changed, Title VI applies, so a lengthy and costly analysis would follow. The RTNP has already incorporated this analysis into its review, including public meetings and on-board surveys; any other plan would require a new, costly study to satisfy Title VI, while providing worse service than the RTNP.
Further, GRTC's highly skilled Title VI manager, Katie Schwing, whose main job is planning (meaning any Title VI work takes away time that can be used for planning), recently accepted a job at the state level. Any new employee, once hired, will require significant training before she can work on anything new. Thus any alternate plan will either not be implemented for years, duplicating service and wasting resources, or will have to be contracted out at high cost.
If the RTNP were not to be implemented at all, the existing, low-frequency hub-and-spoke system could benefit from a large transfer center downtown. In 2012, GRTC estimated the cost of a transfer center at $27 million. As GRTC's plan would be to build a Transfer Center at Grace and Adams, where no buses currently pass, all routes would have to be reorganized to serve this location at the edge of downtown. Thus all routes would have to be retimed and retrained, which would result in one-time costs on a similar scale to the RTNP, in addition to construction, which today would likely reach $30 million.
The Richmond Transit Network Plan will give Richmond an efficient, frequent network that covers most of the city and will greatly improve the lives of many of its residents. Stakeholders and residents from all over the city have almost universally praised the RTNP as a massive improvement.
But even ignoring the immense social benefits, implementing this plan would be financially preferable to making only minor changes to the existing network. The existing network was not planned around the Pulse, which will form the core of the new network. This significant duplication will not only kneecap the Pulse, but also waste precious resources that could be allocated elsewhere throughout the system.
The waste of running the current system with the addition of the Pulse reaches $7.8 million a year in operating costs and upwards of $30 million in one-time costs. This represents 1/6th of GRTC’s budget and 3/5th of the City’s annual contribution to GRTC, as well as more than GRTC’s entire annual capital budget. The cost of not implementing the RTNP seamlessly with the opening of the Pulse is high.