Do Your Transit Leaders Ride Transit?
October 27, 2014

I had a fun day out with my wife in Little Rock this weekend. We were at Success Vision Express and our next stop was at the Pleasant Ridge Town Center (a fancy named strip mall). I used Google Maps on my phone to find the address and I noticed a little icon saying "Directions: 1 hr 54 m". What?! It was nearly 2 hours away? Did I get the name wrong and it was showing us another city?

No, it was not 2 hours away. The journey only took us 10 minutes. And no, the address was in Little Rock.

Google Maps showed that reaching our destination would take an hour and 54 minutes away. Was it broken? No. It told me it would take that long because I had not used my phone since I was in Minneapolis for the Strong Towns National Gathering, and my phone was still set to show me transit directions.

We drove everywhere in Little Rock, and for good reason too. You would be crazy not to. If you want to know why you would be crazy to not drive in Little Rock, consider this:

We were trying to get from Success Vision Express (the green bubble) to the Pleasant Ridge Town Center (the red bubble) - approximately 3.2 miles apart;

Using Google Maps to calculate directions from point A to point B, here is how long the journey will take using local roads, the interstate, transit, a bicycle, and my own feet;

It is 31% longer to take transit than to walk. It is 268% longer to take transit than to ride a bicycle. It is 1167% longer to take transit than to drive a car.

Also, an important thing to note here is that I calculated these at 12:00pm today. The closest transit trip, according to Google Maps, does not leave until 3:25pm;

Let's factor in having to wait 3 hours and 25 minutes for the bus to come;

If we include the wait time, transit will take us 267% longer than walking, 929% longer than riding a bicycle, and 3447% longer than driving a car.

Let's imagine we are at Success Vision Express right at 12:00pm and we want to get to the Pleasant Ridge Town Center. What is the best way to get there?

Mode Travel Time Arrival Time
Driving (Interstate) 6 minutes 12:06pm
Driving (Local Roads) 9 minutes 12:09pm
Bicycling 31 minutes 12:31pm
Walking 87 minutes 1:27pm
Transit (With Waiting) 319 minutes 5:19pm

"You are being unfair. That's not the purpose of transit!"

Doing something as mundane as getting from one set of shops to another on the same side of town is not the purpose of transit? Cities are full of people doing mundane things - getting to work, visiting a friend, getting to the store. If your transit system is not designed for people doing mundane things - then what is it designed for?

"But nobody in Little Rock takes transit if they don't have to."

Neither would I if it is mid day and I had the choice between arriving at 12:06 or 5:19. Would you? If you build your city around cars, the vast majority are obviously going to drive. Transit alone will not solve this - even with great transit, most of these places only have a single destination worth visiting, so nobody will ride it from place-to-place between half a dozen destinations - unlike a true urban core where you can walk around with thousands of destinations after you get off transit.

"But people are taking transit Little Rock."

The Central Arkansas Transit Authority reports 2,823,695 passenger trips in 2012. The combined population of Little Rock and North Little Rock (2013 estimate) is 263,432. 2,832,695 trips per year is about 7,756 trips per day. People are taking transit in Little Rock - between 1.5% to 2.9% of the population use transit each day depending on if we assume 2 trips = 1 person (assuming riders take a trip to their destination and back) or 1 trip = 1 person. So yes, people do take transit. It may even be convenient for them - maybe they happen to live and work perfectly along a route - but that leaves 97% that do not - likely because there are more convenient options.

"You were in west Little Rock, transit is much better downtown!"

Transit is significantly better in downtown Little Rock (where it out performs walking when I experimented with Google Map's directions). There is a street car that will take you around the major tourist attractions like the Museum of Discovery, Arkansas Art Center, River Market, the Bill Clinton Library. My wife and I have had fun days out downtown before. If we visit downtown, it is possible for us to park once and do everything on foot. Unfortunately, we came to Little Rock with a to-do list - which involved shopping and seeing a stand-up comedian - and as much as I would have liked to, we could not have done any of this downtown. So, to say to a resident "live downtown if you need or want transit" really is not fair because you just cannot get many of your mundane everyday needs downtown.

I had a great day with my wife in Little Rock, and we drove everywhere. We contributed to traffic congestion, pollution, we added demand to gasoline, we took one of your parking spots. Every other person visiting and at least 97% of those living in Little Rock that day did the same. I do not blame them, it is the only viable way to get around.

If your city has transit, make sure the people in charge of transit actually ride transit. I do not just mean they ride it between their home and their downtown office during rush hour. Use transit to take your kids to see a movie. Use transit to visit your doctor. Take your family to a ball game via transit. What do you mean you cannot do that? What about the people that do not have a choice?

The only way the people in charge of transit will address these issues and know how to make something that does not suck is if they ride it themselves.