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.
Last Thursday, the news came that former Fresno Bee reporter George Hostetter died of prostate cancer at age 70.
If you read this blog, you’re most likely familiar with his work, particularly his “city beat” reporting of downtown Fresno news. For years, when Mr. Hostetter needed to go to City Hall, he would get there by taking a long walk around downtown from the Bee offices on E street. It doesn’t matter what the weather was, he would walk, making notes about any development (or lack of development) along the way. He would also talk to all sorts of people to get their perspective.
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.
I went downtown a couple of months ago (January) to take photos, as I usually do. I hesitated on posting them because frankly, not much has changed over the last year. This is in contrast to five years ago, when there was always a new building popping up.
Then corona hit, and the photos seemed even less relevant, but now I’ve changed my mind on that. With the virus, everything is essentially frozen in time. Nothing is under construction, nothing will be open any time soon, and nobody is lining up to lay down piles of cash on new development. That is, even if the virus suddenly disappeared tomorrow, there are too many questions about the economy for investors. Will people get their jobs back? Will there be a change in demand for office space?
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.
Is it really a construction update if not much construction is going on? Perhaps that’s a bit of a spoiler as I do my annual tour of what’s going on with Manchester Center. As a reminder, here are some previous posts on the topic:
- January 2020: It’s taken Fresno over 3 years to rebuild a bus stop
- November 2019: Sears Closing: What does it mean for Manchester Center?
- January 2019: Manchester Center Renovation Moving at Glacial Pace
- January 2018: Is the Manchester Center Food Hall Really Coming?
- December 2016: Can Manchester Center Mall be saved?
The photos I’m posting today are a few weeks old, but with these timelines, who cares?
We start outside where the only real changes could be found. Ironically, all the construction has taken place at Sears – which is owned independently. That is, while the Sears building is connected to the mall, it’s not part of it. If you weren’t aware, last year Sears decided to empty out half their store and lease the space to two (or three?) other companies. This year, they decided to vacate the remaining space as well (hence the store closing signs).
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: