Tag: FAX

Fresno night bus service expands to Saturdays

Two and a half years ago, Fresno Area Express (FAX) created a “night bus” network by extending bus service past 9pm on the five busiest bus routes. This new service came with a major asterisk:

  • Only Monday to Friday
  • 1 hour wait between buses after 9pm
  • Only 5 routes offering “night” service 
  • ….and only on select portions of those 5 routes

Starting November 16, at least one of those issues will be improved: service will be extended to include Saturday nights as well.

The bus routes affected include routes 1, 9, 28, 32, and 38, which are the same routes that saw a previous service expansion. Handy Ride, the on-demand paratransit service, will also follow the new extended hours.

Current weekend service in Fresno is abysmal, with even the “BRT” route (Route 1) starting the final runs around 6pm. This reality stands in contrast to the claims that Fresno government is invested in revitalizing downtown and attracting night life. Unfortunately, this news may have come too late for the Fresno Foxes. Click to read more!

Fresno added bus service, and riders appear to be responding

In February of this year, Fresno finally launched the “Q,” a new express bus line with increased peak service along the two busies transit corridors in the city. In addition, the system expanded service hours past 9pm and added live bus arrival times. While it is way too early to make any definitive statements about how Q has impacted FAX (Fresno Area Express), the early data looks promising. We now have data showing three full months under the new service plan, and the initial results are good.

First a reminder. Here is what Fresno bus ridership looked like for ten years, from July 2008 to October 2017. Pretty scary. You can read my full analysis here.

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Now let us zoom in to the last 2 years. I have highlighted April and May of 2016, 2017, and 2018 to make an easier year-over-year comparison.

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Since the status quo was a continuous decline, even stopping that decrease would be a positive. Instead, the system has done better and shows ridership ticking up a notch compared to previous years.

This next chart shows ridership plotted against Vehicle Revenue Hours (VRH) since 2005. The higher the VRH, the more time the buses are spending on the road serving customers. You can see that began to increase in 2017 when FAX introduced later hours and increased service on Shaw Avenue in advance of the Q rollout.

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This next graph shows ridership plotted against the maximum number of buses FAX runs at a given time (rush hour peak). I like it because it helps highlight how stagnant the system was for so many years. Once again, you can see when the initial FAX-15 rolled out on Shaw and Blackstone in advance of the Q service. This one also helps to show that even with this expansion, FAX used to operate more peak service in the past. Essentially, they cut 3 routes and re-allocated the money to run those buses on other lines during other times of the day, which is why the previous graph does not show a marked decrease.

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Of course, I look forward to seeing this data again once we have a few more months to look at. People do not respond immediately to transit improvements. If you bought a car because FAX service wasn’t getting you to work, it is hard to come back, for example. However, as people move and start new jobs, they might take a new look at FAX and realize that the improvements help get them to where they’re going, and at least for the near future, these improvements in service are guaranteed by federal funds.

One question that will surely be brought up: What about gas prices? They have indeed been rising. However, that increase hasn’t yet resulted in improved ridership in the peer cities I track. Modesto and Visalia are pretty flat, and Bakersfield is hard to compare with because they started counting their ridership in a new way in 2017. Across the country, I continue to read stories about how transit ridership is still falling as well.

In conclusion, congratulations FAX, you have discovered that people like better service!

12 years of FAX ridership – the decline in riders (and service) is real

With the recent launch of the new “Q” bus service in Fresno, many articles have been asking if this will stop the decline in bus ridership. However, I have yet to see any article actually talk about numbers. What has the decline been? How long has it been happening? Well, let’s solve that mystery and dive right in!

I last looked at ridership in July 2015. That post was titled “7 years of decline.” Unfortunately, it hasn’t gotten better.

We begin with the big picture: Ridership by month on Fresno’s bus system, FAX, from July 2005 to December 2017. These numbers are for regular buses only, not including para-transit. Clovis, which operates its own system, is also not included.

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Peak month is not a surprise. Ridership peaked in October 2008 with 1,390,745 bus rides.

That makes a lot of sense: the housing market was crashing, there was major turmoil in Wall Street, unemployment was on its way up (11.1% in October, on its way to 15.4% in February), and gas prices were skyrocketing ($4.64 a gallon in July 2008). People were desperate to save money, and riding the bus was a way to do so. This was true around the country. Additionally, FAX had recently implemented 15-minute service on major lines, thanks to a federal grant.

And then things started heading south. Even though people needed the bus, the city was slashing services left and right because they were broke. They eliminated the highway express routes, decreased service frequency, and eliminated routes 4, 12, 18, and 56. On top of that, they hiked fares.

As the economy started to very, very slowly pick up, ridership continued to fall.

Ridership fell to 803,866 in July 2011, an astonishing decrease of 42% from peak. (Unemployment was 16.2% in Fresno that month)

This past July, unemployment reached 8.6%, similar to the “good old days” of 2006.

FAX ridership July 2017: 570,395. A decline of 59% since the peak. October 2017, the annual high point, was 866,634, below even 2005/

I had no idea it had gotten this bad. Here is what almost 10 years of decline looks like:

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Incidentally, Fresno population in 2008 was 472,949, which increased to 522,053 for 2016.

These next charts show how Fresno cut service. The first is ridership compared with Vehicle Revenue Miles, or distances the buses travel when picking up customers. A smaller number means less buses and/or less routes. The cuts in 1010 are very clear.

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This one is similar, but with Vehicle Hours Traveled, compared with ridership. Same idea, less service, less hours the buses are rolling.

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Neither measure is perfect. For example, if FAX were to send a single bus on a route to San Francisco every day, and it carried one person, the charts would show a huge increase in service hours and miles, but that wouldn’t really be an improvement.

However, it is useful data. You can clearly see the cuts in service Recently, you can see an increase in 2017. This is because the Q route was supposed to be open by 2017, so Fresno started using some of the operating grants to increase service.

Passengers on two of the busiest Fresno transit routes to and from Fresno State will start seeing more frequent weekday bus service starting Monday, just a week before the start of spring-semester classes at the university.

FAX15 is the brand for the city’s new service, on which new buses will run every 15 minutes on portions of Shaw and Cedar avenues from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. FAX stands for Fresno Area Express, the city’s public bus system.

More buses will mean that passengers on the prime sections of two routes won’t have to wait more than 15 minutes for the next bus to come along.

On FAX’s north-south Route 38 along Cedar Avenue, the FAX 15 buses will run between Jensen Avenue and Shaw Avenue, said Brian Marshall, the city’s transportation director. Click to read more!

Live bus arrival times now available in Fresno (FAX)!

Paris got real-time bus tracking in 1996. In the United States, NextBus launched in Emeryville in 1999. In the Central Valley, tiny Visalia adopted the technology in 2011.

And now in 2018, finally, Fresno’s bus system has real-time bus tracking!

This is incredibly important because it makes riding the bus predictable. No more standing in the heat wondering if your bus is late…or if it came early and you missed it!

As far as I can tell, they haven’t advertised this feature. No press release, nothing on the website. I didn’t even notice it myself, but it was pointed out to me by Joe in the comments. Thanks Joe!

The new Q line, set to open on February 19, 2018, was advertised as having the tech, and fortunately, it appears that the entire system has been outfitted with it.

Right now, the primary way to see the data is on Google Maps. You can check it out on both desktop and mobile. Let’s take a look!

Zoom in to a bus stop and click the bus icon. Then click on any of the buses listed.

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It will then open up the bus lines that serve that stop, along with the times for the next buses.

Times in green are live! Times in black are from the schedule.

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Compare with these other bus services that stop downtown. They’re all in black, so not live times.

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When you set it as part of your route, you will be informed of any delays. As an aside, 51 minutes in bus vs 15 in car. Hm, I wonder why bus ridership is down…

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On the phone the screens look a little different, but it’s the same concept to see all the bus times. Find the bus stop, click it, and then this opens up.

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You can then click the bus line you want and actually see where the bus currently is. This screen shows the scheduled time and the actual time.

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As an aside, note that many other transit agencies are available to help you plan your transit trips. However, not all have their real-time info coordinated with Google. For example, you can find real-time status of Amtrak trains on the Amtrak website (including a map showing current speed), but the times on Google are just the scheduled ones.

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Boltbus (and Greyhound) are available too, but the same issue – you have to go to their websites to see if they’re on time or not.

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Additionally, the Fresno website mentions a dedicated transit app. Well sadly, the app mentioned on the website is complete garbage. If there were smartphone apps in 1996, they’d probably look like this:

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This is insulting.

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HOWEVER, upon browsing the store, it appears that a second app was developed, which recently launched! The one with the higher rating is the newer one.

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Super confusing, right?

Supposedly, this new app has modern features, including the real-time tracking info.

Unfortunately, it greats you with this:

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No thanks.Why do I need to create an account to view the bus schedule? Ridiculous.

The Google Play store does have a screen shot showing that the app supposedly looks like this:

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So more like 2010 instead of 1996.

Just stick with Google Maps.

Is the Manchester Center Food Hall Really Coming?

I love food halls, or em, an “artisan food community”. I’ve enjoyed them in Los Angeles, Manhattan, Brooklyn, Philadelphia, and Washington DC. So naturally, I was excited when one was announced for Fresno back in September 2016. Especially because the location was to be inside the Manchester Center Mall.

The plans include a new mall entrance, a redesigned facade with signage, a marketplace or “artisan food community” for chefs, food trucks and restaurants, an exterior shopping area and an outdoor events plaza.
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At the time, it was supposed to be ready “a long way off, probably opening in late spring of 2017, Bagunu says, though construction has started.”

In January 2017, this was the update:

Inside the mall, renovations are going hot and heavy in the former Gottschalks store, though you wouldn’t know it because windows covered in black plastic hide the mess. It’s the beginning stages of what the mall calls a marketplace – essentially a fancy food court. Click to read more!

A Final Look at Construction on Fresno’s New Fake BRT Line “Q”

Fresno’s new fake “BRT” (bus rapid transit) line, branded as “Q” is set to open Fall of 2017. Well, that’s what the website says.

Key Dates
Construction Kickoff: June 2016
Construction: 2016-2017
Testing: 2017
Launch: Fall 2017

In reality, the bus line was delayed yet again to February or March of this year (originally, it was expected way back in 2012).

And this time they really mean it, so they’re hosting public meetings to educate people on what the bus line is. The first one is this week:


Shaw & Blackstone Corridor
January 17, 2018 | 5:30 pm–7:00 pm
Tornino’s
5080 N Blackstone Ave
Fresno, CA 93710 

Quick aside: This is a complete failure of public outreach and engagement. Asking people to come to YOU, on a certain date, at a certain time is public outreach in name only. FAX knows where the customers are (on the bus and at the stations). FAX should come to the people. Nobody is going to take time and money out of their day to go to a random location to hear some official talk about a kiosk. Worse: The three meetings are in the same time period (5:30pm-7pm) so anyone who works during those hours is out of luck.

Depressing. I recently read about a city which launched a new bus service and advertised it by mailing info to every house within 1/4 mile of the route. That’s outreach.

Also, at some point they should maybe tell the public how this will affect the two existing bus lines that currently run on Blackstone and Kings Canyon. I’ve yet to see any information about that.

Anyway, let’s take a look at the construction shortly before the new line opens. This post looks at a regular stop in Blackstone, the Manchester Transfer Center, and the Van Ness stop by the Courthouse Transfer Station.

Previous updates:
September 2017
January 2017

We start at a random bus stop on Blackstone and Clinton. This location previously had a regular bus stop, shelter, and bench.

Like all the Q bus stops, the sidewalk was pushed out into the roadway. This is because the stations require extra space, and because it means the bus doesn’t have to pull out of traffic. Pulling out slows the bus because drivers don’t let the bus merge back in.

Oddly enough, this stop already had a shelter and bench, so the sidewalk was already wider. They actually REMOVED sidewalk in this process….why?

You can see the sidewalk to the left is all even, rather than extending back a bit towards the store. This actually causes the “newly widened” sidewalk to have a narrow pinch point. Couldn’t those electrical boxes be kept in the back?

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On the other end, the sidewalk extension doesn’t go all the way to the corner. Why?

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Here’s looking north.

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And with a bus that didn’t stop.

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Some people have worried that extending the stop out has made the lane too narrow. Nope. Look at the blue car in relation to the width of the lane. The sidewalk could have been extended another 5 feet or more.

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The stops have bicycle racks.

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Garbage cans.

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A semi-transparent roof. I don’t know what’s up there.

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This stop was not fortunate enough to get seating with back support.The stop previously had two benches, so this is actually a downgrade.

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There are now ticket machines.

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They take credit cards

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Everything is in English and Spanish.

….except the “language” button. Really. Oddly, “Cards” is in white text in English, while all the other English is in black text.

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The map is still locked away

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The (unnecessarily large) electrical box is to support the kiosk and also a time estimate, although I didn’t notice a screen.

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And one last look.

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Now we move to the Manchester Center Transfer Center. This place closed a year ago. When I visited in August, I was shocked at how little progress had been made at what is the busiest bus stop in Fresno.

Four months later, it’s not looking much better.

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A year of construction and they couldn’t even level the place.

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For reference, this is what the old shelters looked like

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A lot of FAX buses will stop here. The stop at the end is for Q.

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Very similar to the previous stop we looked at.

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The ticket kiosk and map.

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But two benches, one with back support, one without.

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This trash can is open for business.

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There are bike racks, but they were installed incorrectly. They should be rotated 90 degrees, or else you can only lock 4 bikes rather than 6.

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Note the location of the push button. This is a good installation. The location we’ll look at downtown was installed badly.

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The Blackstone crosswalk. This was built brand new in 2016…and then never opened. They ripped it all up and built it again. Your Fresno money at work. (Although the newer design is much better). However, the push button is not well located.

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(The pedestrian crossing is functional, I pushed the button and it quickly changed)

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From the parking lot.

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And now we go downtown to the Courthouse Transfer Center on Van Ness.

Q will stop at island platform, the other routes along the courthouse park like always.

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Same design here as the other stops.

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Except this one has a longer roof than the random stop on Blackstone. Only one bench though.

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Other direction

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New crosswalks built to the islands at a new signal. Remember earlier how I called out the push button? These are badly installed because they are relatively out of the way.

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One thing they did do well is install the vehicle detection. See the circle and lines in the pavement? That’s how the traffic signal knows a bus is waiting. A bus can stop behind the white line, load, and then when ready to cross, move forward to trigger the traffic signal. (As long as the drivers are told to do this).

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The angle of the red/green arrows is a novelty in Fresno. But the signal on the far left is a waste of money.

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The other shelters in the transfer center were updated. I think the design is pretty cool, but I love Art Deco.

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For reference this is what the old ones looked like. They were horrendously ugly, but they provided a lot more cover.

Is it too much to ask for the shelters to be both attractive and large?

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That’s it for the Fresno FAX Q update!

Service is supposed to start soon, and hopefully it improved the lives of those using the bus system to get around. Faster boarding will speed up trips, and buses every 10 minutes (during peak hours) will be well used.

Shame it took a decade to built what many other cities call “standard bus service.”

My next post will be a look at construction inside the Manchester Center Mall. The new food hall was supposed to open this winter, will it? (Hint: No).

A Look at BRT Construction in Fresno

Construction should not take this long.

We last looked at BRT (“bus rapid transit”) construction in Fresno back in January. Eight months later, the thing still isn’t done. We’re not talking about a new tunnel, a new corridor, or anything of significance; just sidewalk extensions and shelters. And apparently that’s just too much for Fresno to manage in a timely manner. It is embarrassing how little is being built and how long that is taking.

This is a project that has been in the works since around 2008. The city council finally signed off on it in 2014. It was supposed to be done, this time for real, in 2016. Now it is supposed to be done in 2018. Maybe.

High Speed Rail is also plagued by delays. The Central Valley segment was supposed to be finished up by the end of this month. In that case though, the delays are a little bit more understandable. It is a brand new corridor, full of tunnels and viaducts. Republican lawmakers have thrown every bit of obstruction that they could muster at it. Property owners took up lawsuit after lawsuit. Out-of-state interests poured in money to kill it.

So more understandable, but certainly still disappointing.

Anyway, this post will look at BRT construction, next one will be HSR.

We start with a typical “station” on Blackstone Avenue. All along the route, sidewalks have been bumped out to provide space for these stops. This one is located adjacent to a delicious Ethiopian Restaurant.

There is nothing about this that screams “two year construction project.”

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Some of the branding is in place with the ticket machines.

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The placement of this station, as is the case with many of them, is pure garbage.

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Look at where the nearest marked crosswalk is.

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This stop further up Blackstone is even worse.

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This is how you encourage illegal crossings.

And then get sued when someone dies.

Now we move to Manchester Center. This is a transfer center that closed in January for construction. One of the busiest stops in the bus system. Surely a priority right?

The main building (where passes were sold) is still there.

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All the other shelters are gone. Does this look like 9 months of hard work?

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On my last post, I mentioned a brand new crosswalk and curb ramp at a new traffic signal.

So brand new that in January it wasn’t officially “open” yet.

January.

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Now.

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What a ridiculous waste of money.

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January

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Now

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And now onto the downtown transfer center, which does look close to being done.

Coming from Fulton Street, you see a new traffic signal.

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BRT buses will actually stop in the center of the roadway, rather than entering the station loops.

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The new median platforms. Really the one and only true BRT feature.

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The BRT stop has a unique design where the two directions face each other.

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Meanwhile, the rest of the station got new shelters as well. While the new ones are certainly more modern and more attractive, the old ones appear to be larger and provide more shelter.

Old

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New

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There is a variety of seating, but not enough shade.

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Another loop area

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And the opposing BRT platform

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I’ve seen 200-house developments go up faster than this. They need to hurry up and get it done.

Fresno’s new night bus service comes with some big asterisks

Fresno’s bus system (FAX) recently launched “night” service on May 1st. When I wrote about this news, details were quite sparse. Indeed, the FAX website didn’t update with the new schedules until the first day of the extended service. Unfortunately, some of those details have been disappointing. =&0=&

Fresno will finally expand bus service past midnight on weekdays!

With a population of 520,000, Fresno is not a small town. And yet until now, the bus system, FAX, has acted like it serves a population of 50,000. Currently, service ends before 10pm on weekdays – all trips depart their last run around 9pm. On weekends it’s even worse – the buses are in their garages by 7pm. =&0=&