Improvements have arrived to Fresno’s bus system (FAX). The most impactful, for riders, was the introduction of FAX15 on January 9th. The initiative saw the return of 15-minute frequencies on portions of route 9 and 38, from 6am to 6pm. What most cities consider “standard service” is a luxury Fresno riders will be happy to have.
Oddly enough, none of the marketing for the new service mentioned what routes were affected. The new webpage said “Shaw and Cedar.”
ABC-30, the Fresno Bee, and all other reported the same:
The new buses will travel up and down Shaw and Cedar Avenues with pick-ups and drop-offs every 15 minutes instead of every 30 minutes.
I was confused. No bus route serves Shaw and Cedar. Multiple bus routes serve Shaw. Only one does Cedar.
It appears that FAX-15 operates on Routes 9 and Routes 38 as a short-turn service. That is, every other bus will only run a section of the route, providing that section with 15-minute frequencies. The rest of the line will continue with service every 30 minutes.
For Route 9, Fax-15 buses will run from Shaw and Brawley to Shaw and Cedar. The leaves an odd orphan section at the east end.
For Route 38, Fax-15 will run from Cedar and Shaw south to Cedar and Jensen.
Route 30 is also getting 15-minute service, before the BRT branding rolls out. You wouldn’t know it from the news report or the FAX website, but that’s what the map and schedule shows. When the fake BRT starts, it is supposed to improve to every 10 minutes. Speaking of BRT, the end of this post has construction photos.
So why is this happening?
You might remember recently I posted about how Fresno held a workshop on emphasizing frequency over bus coverage. In that plan, the idea was to keep the FAX budget constant, while increasing frequency on key routes. The cost came from pulling buses on other routes, along with savings from route changes and finding efficiencies.
None of that happened this month however. The FAX network continues to look almost identical to the system designed in the early 1970’s.
So where did the money come from?
Well, you might remember that about a decade ago, Fresno already had 15-minute frequencies. Indeed that lasted for three years.
In both cases, then and now, the answer comes from Federal Grants. Grants for funding operations are incredibly rare, and yet Fresno has benefited twice. Of course, last time, once the grant ended, Fresno didn’t add a single dollar into the budget, so frequencies fell back to 30-minutes. However, this caused immediate overcrowding, as the 15-minute “trial” was a success. By moving buses around, FAX compromised on 20-minute rush hour frequencies on the main 3 lines, at the expense of other routes which have since vanished.
This time, the money comes as part of the BRT package. Back in 2014, the Council killed off most of what makes BRT into BRT, and nipped at the carcass to spread general bus improvements around town. Frankly, I’m shocked the feds didn’t take their money back. However, because the BRT project is so far behind schedule, FAX was able to implement some of those improvements now.
The Fresno Bee reported on the news, but got some things wrong:
The city’s transportation department bought 20 new buses for the service, which will roll on portions of Shaw and Cedar avenues to and from the university every 15 minutes. Each of the new buses cost about $550,000, City Manager Bruce Rudd said during the unveiling at Fresno State.
No, the city did not buy 20 new buses for FAX15. The buses were part of the BRT money order, and the bid actually went out way back, I believe in 2011.
That’s how far behind the BRT project is – FAX was ready to get those buses rolling in 2012. The bid was not executed until last year.
So how is that BRT stuff going? A reminder of the changes.
- Exclusive bus lanes, ELIMINATED
- Articulated (60-foot) buses, ELIMINATED
- “Level boarding,” ELIMINATED
- Attractive stations (rather than a bench and a sign), ELIMINATED
- 10-minute headways, SCALED BACK
- Off-board payment, PRESERVED
The removal of level boarding is especially problematic. The original plan called for “stations” to be raised another couple inches from standard curb height, so boarding would be even easier. The stations would also include attractive shelters and amenities. You know, a place for customers to wait in the 100 degree + Fresno heat, and an advertisement that bus service exists.
However, I recently went to take a look at the construction and I was happy to see that the implementation was not as bad as the 2014 council meeting called for. While the council wanted “portable” stations, the implementation is obviously permanent.
The bus areas feature expanded sidewalks, which is essential on Blackstone, where sidewalks are tiny (4 feet) or don’t exist. A photo tour from 2012 (not much has changed).
The new stopping areas take over the parking area, an area which is never used.
Unfortunately, as part of the budget cut, they are 40 feet long, rather than 60. That means that future capacity expansions will be very expensive.
It is especially unfortunate that the project is so self-contained. It would have been a perfect opportunity to enhance more sidewalk space, and impose access management best practices (consolidate driveways).
I don’t know at this time how crappy the stations will be. They are however wired up for pre-payment machines, and one can only pray will include countdown timers.
The signage doesn’t look exciting
And here is the standard-height curb
One of the biggest issues is the distance from the intersections. The placement will encourage jaywalking, which is dangerous as Blackstone traffic moves fast and lighting is poor.
Manchester Center Transit Area
Moving south, we get to Manchester Center, where no work had started when I visited. However, a week after these photos were taken, bus lines were re-routed so serious work could begin. I do not know if the station (selling tickets and passes) will remain, nor what the new shelters will look like.
The existing shelters are adequate
A new traffic signal was installed. This will both facilitate bus movements and create a new safe crosswalk for pedestrians. However, the ramp design is disappointing.
Walking back towards the station area
The existing shelters have displays that show scheduled (not real-time) departures
The office sells tokens and passes and was popping when I went by. I do not know if this building will be replaced. There is also an indoor waiting area.
Van Ness Transit Center
We then move further south to the downtown area, where progress has also been slow. The courthouse and the courthouse park sit above a parking garage. Buses stop all around the park. As part of the BRT project, the Van Ness section is being reconfigured.
I do not know if the old shelters will be replaced or retained. They are not attractive, but functional.
BRT buses will stop on a new island, rather than diverting to the side of the road
There is the existing underpass, I am unsure if there will be any cosmetic work, or if they’re just strengthening the concrete
View from across the street
There has not been any construction on King’s Canyon yet.
Note: This was supposed to be posted on January 12th, when I returned from a conference in Washington DC. However, when I went to submit, blogger had returned my draft to a much earlier version, with no option to recover my work. I then left on a 12 day cruise. I plan on quickly posting a series of photo updates over the next 2 weeks as I have no more travel planned.