I can’t believe it’s been over a month since my last roundup of how COVID-19 (coronavirus) has affected transportation providers in Fresno and the surrounding areas. Time is really moving in strange ways these days. At this point, it’s clear we’ve reached the bottom in terms of service cuts, short of an airline declaring bankruptcy (cough, AA, cough). How quickly service is restored is an open question. Some transit agencies have already said they don’t expect to return to full service until the end of the year. Agencies that rely heavily on rush-hour commuters are going to be the most affected, as some jobs (such as Twitter) may remain remote forever. It will be interesting to see if those agencies restore more off-peak service than peak-service, which would create a flatter utilization of their fleet, and that may end up being a good thing in the long run.
Remember the 2010 stimulus package? Way back then, money was set aside to build new trains for Amtrak California. They were supposed to be similar to the existing bi-level models, but with an updated design, and arrive around 2016. Their arrival would allow for Amtrak California to expand train service on all three routes.
Unfortunately, the company who won the bid (Nippon-Sharyo), completely failed at that task. After several years of building a prototype, they said they could not build what they said they would. In 2016, Amtrak California announced a plan B: they would buy existing Talgo trains that had been built for Wisconsin, but never used. Except that never happened, and there’s no official reason as to why. They just stopped talking about it.
Last November, I reported that Fresno Area Express (FAX) received funds to update various bus stops. The upgrades include making them ADA accessible, so they can be used by those in wheelchairs, and adding new amenities like seating and shelters. Unlike the three-plus year odyssey that has been the reconstruction of the Manchester Transit Center, FAX has moved very quickly with these updates, and they’re almost all done.
For reference, here was the render they shared:
And here is what they look like in real life. Remember, they were previously just a sign planted on dirt.
You can see the new crosswalk and accessible ramps from the sidewalk to the island.
A transit agency can lose ridership extremely quickly and it can take years to build it back up again. When a bus route is cut, or service is decreased, riders are immediately affected and have to change how they get around. In some cases, that might mean getting a car and never looking back. But when service is added or increased, it can take people months or years to notice. Ask yourself, how often do you look up the schedule for buses you don’t normally ride?
In July 2015, I posted about how Fresno Area Express (FAX) had seen seven full years of ridership declines. Those declines weren’t unexpected, as the city kept cutting routes and service. In March 2018, I followed up by looking at twelve years of data, and the results weren’t pretty. Fortunately, Fresno started adding back some service. Three buses routes received more frequent (15-minute) service. “Night” buses were launched (until 10pm). Service on weekends was improved as well. In July 2018, it looked like these additions were helping FAX turn the corner.
Ten days ago, I decided to make a record of how COVID-19 (coronavirus) has affected transportation providers in Fresno and the surrounding areas – including the Bay Area and LA region. This post is a follow-up, to chronicle what has changed since. I have also added a few agencies I missed last week. It is sort of lucky I waited until today to make this, instead of last Sunday, as a bunch of changes go into effect today!
Fresno Area Express (FAX)
Officially, no changes to the schedule, but the system has been struggling with drivers calling out, as seen in this tweet:
This makes Fresno one of the only transit systems to continue running full service.
Are you sitting at home, twiddling your thumbs, looking for something to do? Lucky for you, the Draft Environmental Impact Report (DEIR) for the Valley Rail Sacramento Extension Project is now available for public review! You have until May 15, 2020 at 5:00 p.m to send in any comments you have.
Unlike many rail projects, this is one you should take seriously, because they got $500 million in funds to actually build the thing. As I mentioned back in 2018, the improvements are aimed at both the Amtrak San Joaquin line and the ACE commuter line.
According to the project team, the purpose of Valley Rail will be:
If you’re anything like me, you’ve spent the last few weeks reading a LOT of news about COVID-19 (coronavirus). All the bad news has taken away most of my motivation to write blog articles, and not just because “regular” news is on pause, but because it’s been pretty exhausting. I also figured that because the news has been changing so quickly, there was little reason for me to write. This isn’t like a new trail, where posting two weeks late is still timely. By the time I get around to posting any news, it has likely changed.
That being said, I’m thinking there may be some value in having a static record looking backwards. Because of the volume of news, six months from now, it will be pretty difficult to do a Google search to find exactly what the transportation impacts were. So the goal of this post (and a probable follow up), is to have one place summarizing what the impacts of the virus were on Fresno-area transportation. Here is what the impacts looked like as of March 29, 2020.
For the first time in forever, Fresno Area Express (FAX) is seriously considering some pretty major changes to bus routes. This could include the much-needed Herndon route, and a bus line to the new Amazon and Ulta warehouses built in southwest Fresno. However, the new service comes at the expense of existing lines. In this post, I take a look at how FAX is getting the word out, and what those changes are.
FAX has started holding public events and workshops on the proposed changed. This looks to be an extensive outreach effort, with the following pop-up events at bus stops throughout the system:
On January 9, 2017. the Manchester Transit Center closed for renovations. It has been over three years and it is still closed for remodeling.
The Manchester Transit Center is one of three spots in Fresno where multiple bus lines meet, allowing seamless transfers. Or at least that was the case, as those buses were rerouted for the “temporary” construction project.
It’s not a particularly challenging project. It’s a surface level bus stop with 6 spaces for buses to stop. There are benches. There is a light canopy. There’s a trashcan or two. The FAX office is there, which sells passes, but that was never touched, and looks hilariously outdated.
Last week, at the bottom of a newsletter, FAX dropped the bombshell that students at Fresno City College would no longer enjoy free rides on local bus routes.
In 2017, when the program was initiated, officials boasted that it would ease parking concerns, help students save money, and decrease emissions.
Apparently, those concerns no longer matter. According to State Center Community College District Vice Chancellor Christine Miktarian:
“Parking revenue is supposed to be paying for the maintenance of our parking lots, and so since we’ve been using bus passes, we have been not doing the maintenance we should have been for the last couple years,” says