by Pamela Powers Hannley
With pressure from developers and the budget, the Tucson City Council once again is considering decisions which would reduce– or at least hinder– bus transportation.
Today, Tuesday, May 7, at the City Council study session, Councilwoman Shirley Scott is expected to propose a $2 million cut to Sun Tran services. The Bus Riders Union has sent out an action alert for citizens who want to preserve bus transportation to come to the study session, which begins at 1:30 p.m. Here is a link to the agenda.
Tomorrow, Wednesday, May 8, City Councilwoman Karin Uhlich will meet with members of the Bus Riders Union regarding proposed redevelopment of the Ronstadt Transit Center (RTC) at 5:30 p.m. in the library room of the the Armory Park Center, 220 S. 5th Ave. This event is free and open to the public. Please attend if you want your voice heard. (You can also send comments to email@example.com.) More details and results from the bus riders survey after the jump.
You'll remember the City Council voted back in February to start a public process to gather comments about developing the transit center on Congress Street (before they hire a developer to do the work). On April 2, the Bus Riders Union– not Corky Poster, who was hired by the city to conduct the public process– held a public forum at the Rialto. Approximately 250-300 Tucsonans showed up to voice their opinions. Most people talked about improving the RTC and bus service– not cutting it back. No one said, "Oh, yes, let's build a maxi-dorm on top of the bus terminal and put a row of corporate retail shops in front of it." (Here's the story and the video of that event.)
Thousands of public comments have been collected through a bus riders survey of 2800+ SunTran customers, comment cards collected at the April forum, and public speeches at the April forum have expressed a consistent message.
People want public spaces and public transportation at the RTC– not retail shops and student housing. (Seriously, haven't we overbuilt for the student market already?) Most express route riders (83%) and one third of regular riders said they used the RTC and SunTran to go to work. By far the most common suggestion was improvements to the restrooms (73%), water fountains (48%), and customer service booths (48%). Furthermore, bus riders whose routes have been diverted from the RTC during modern street car construction want their routes to go back to the RTC. As expected, business interests have started to spin the executive summary of the survey results.
Below is the summary of the survey results provided by Sun Tran. (You'll note some inconsistencies in the percentages in this report; this is due to distribution of two surveys, one for express route riders and one for everyone else. Most respondents were regular riders.)
RONSTADT TRANSIT CENTER BUS RIDER SURVEY
A survey regarding current usage and future improvements to the Ronstadt Transit Center (RTC) was administered to Sun Tran riders on Wednesday, April 10, 2013. The survey was developed and administered by representatives from the Bus Riders Union, Downtown Tucson Partnership, Ward 3 City Council Office, Imagine Greater Tucson and Sun Tran.
Surveyors were stationed at RTC from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM to administer the survey to Regular Route Riders. Express Route Riders had surveys left on their seats that day because these buses do not currently stop at RTC due to construction detours. Both populations were asked survey questions regarding their preference on improvements to the RTC, their final destination downtown, as well as the purpose for their trip. In addition, Regular Riders were surveyed on their method of arrival at and departure from the RTC, and Express Riders were surveyed on their satisfaction with the current diverted routing through the downtown area.
A total of 2,827 surveys were completed by bus riders; 88% of the surveys were completed by Regular Route riders and 12% by Express Route riders. Data is reported specifically for responses provided by Regular Route riders, Express Route riders and a combination of both groups when appropriate.
Though not a scientific statistically valid survey, the single-day survey results provide a snapshot of the current downtown ridership.
The most commonly requested improvements for RTC by combined riders were upgraded restrooms (73%), water fountains (48%), customer service representatives to provide transit information (48%), security officers (45%), safety improvements (44%) and bus service information, maps & schedules (42%). The top eight improvements were features that directly support transit. The most commonly chosen mixed-use options were retail food/ produce sales (30%) and restaurants (24%). 25% of all riders wrote in additional ideas, the most popular being designated smoking areas and issues related to security (e.g., fewer drugs/ intoxicated individuals).
Completed responses indicate the most common purposes for traveling through RTC are work (39%), transferring (28%), school (16%) and medical & social services downtown (9%).
The majority of Express Route riders responded that they prefer the original routing that took them through RTC over the detour routing adopted during streetcar construction. Riders of the 107X and 103X routes most often indicated a preference for the current diverted routing or had no preference for routing. These are the routes which may be the best candidates for permanent diversion from the RTC; however, due to small sample size, further surveying of these routes may be necessary.
Overview: Two bus rider surveys were administered on April 10, 2013 regarding current usage and future improvements to Ronstadt Transit Center (RTC). Representatives from Tucson Bus Riders Union, Downtown Tucson Partnership, Sun Tran, Ward 3 council office and Imagine Greater Tucson participated together in the development and administration of this survey. The survey was administered on a Wednesday, which is typically the busiest day for Sun Tran riders. Surveyors were stationed at RTC from 5:00 AM to 8:00 PM on April 10 to distribute the surveys to Regular Route riders. On the same day, Express Route riders arrived at their buses with a survey and pencil on each of the bus seats. All surveys were collected that day.
The Regular Route surveys asked riders the following questions:
- What changes and additions would make the Ronstadt Transit Center more pleasant and useful to you?
- How did you get to the Ronstadt Center right now?
- How will you get to your final destination?
- What was your purpose for coming to downtown today?
Riders on Express Routes coming into downtown were asked the following questions:
- What changes and additions would make the Ronstadt Transit Center more pleasant and useful to you?
- Where is your final destination?
- Do you prefer the current downtown routing of your bus or the original downtown routing before streetcar construction started?
- What was your purpose for coming to downtown today?
Total number of Surveys: In total, 2,827 surveys were filled out by bus riders on that day. 2,509 Regular Route riders and 318 Express Route riders completed the survey.
Top needs and requests for changes to RTC: The top requests for changes to RTC by Regular Route riders were as follows:
- Restrooms upgraded (76%)
- Water fountains (51%)
- Customer service staff (Sun Tran) (49%)
- Security Officers (45%)
The top requests for changes to RTC by Express Route were as follows:
- Safety improvements like security cameras, lighting, etc. (58%)
- Security officers (51%)
- Restrooms upgraded (44%)
- Bus service info, maps, schedules (44%)
The requests for changes to RTC by Regular Route and Express Route riders combined are listed in the chart below in order of preference:
The top eight improvements chosen by riders were items that directly support transit. Upgraded restrooms were the improvement most frequently requested.
There was little consensus on other improvements at RTC beyond those essential for transit. In other words, there was not as much consideration of the other uses in a mixed-use transit facility. The most popular of the mixed-use options were the Retail Food/ Produce Sales (30%) and Restaurants (24%). 13% of all riders mentioned Retail Stores and only 8% mentioned Service Stores such as dry cleaning or shipping.
In addition, 25% of riders listed additional suggestions for changes to RTC beyond the items listed in the survey. Some of the more common of these open-ended comments were the following:
- Designated smoking areas
- Issues related to security (e.g., fewer drugs/ intoxicated individuals)
- Awnings or shelter over benches for rain
- Expanded bathrooms
- Change machine
- ATM machine
- Food carts/ food vending machines
And there were a few open ended responses that were less common but could be promising aspects for a mixed use transit center.
- Electrical outlets for charging phones
- Blue emergency call phones (like at UA and Pima College)
Riders arriving at RTC specifically to transfer to another route: The percentage of riders arriving at RTC specifically to transfer to another route is broken out below for Regular Route riders, Express Route riders and all riders combined.
31% of Regular Route riders indicated that their purpose for being downtown at RTC was to transfer. 12% of Express Route riders indicated that they came downtown by bus to transfer to other routes. For the combined counts for Regular Routes and Express Routes, 28% of riders indicated that their purpose for being at Ronstadt was to transfer to another bus. These numbers are consistent with anecdotal and historical calculations from Sun Tran staff.
It is noted that these numbers were determined for the most part through Question 4 on both surveys inquiring into trip purpose. This was an open-ended question, and similar responses were grouped together. In some cases, the responses to these open-ended questions were re-categorized based on other information listed in the survey responses. For example, riders listing final destinations such as UMC, VA Hospital, or the U of A clearly were transferring to other routes and not staying downtown.
Top trip purposes for downtown trip: Riders were asked in Question 4 about the purpose of their trips downtown. This was an open-ended question, and similar responses were grouped together.
The trip purposes for the combined group of Regular Route and Express Route riders are listed in the chart below:
Note: Some respondents listed more than one trip purpose on their surveys (e.g., Main Library, shopping downtown, Special Services Offices) so the total of all the trip purposes above is 111%.
The top downtown trip purposes for Regular Route riders are as listed below:
- Work (32%)
- Transfer to other route (31%)
- School (18%)
- Medical or social services (10%)
The top responses for downtown trip purposes for Express Route riders are as follows:
- Work (83%)
- Transfer (12%)
- School (3%)
Mode of Travel: Another set of questions were asked of Regular Route riders to determine which modes of travel were used. 72% of Regular Route riders indicated that they arrived by bus to the RTC and would travel by bus to get to their final destination. A review of the surveys indicated that the majority of riders interpreted the question of “how will you get to your final destination” to mean how they would make their return trip several hours later. As a result, there was little information to be gained through these questions. Survey developers often use Mode of Travel questions in conjunction with multiple checkboxes to determine specific modes of transportation such as walking, biking, carpooling, driving to Park & Ride lots, etc. Follow-up questions to Mode of Travel questions determine information such as the walking distances between boarding and de-boarding locations.
Safety and Security at RTC: When indicating their preference for potential improvements to the RTC, Regular Route and Express Route riders addressed the issue of safety at RTC. The charts below compare the safety and security preferences for both populations.
The data showed that 30% of Regular Riders and 36% of Express Riders requested by security officers and safety improvements, while 28% of Regular Riders and 38% of Express Riders requested either security officers or safety improvements. By comparison, only 42% of Regular Riders and 26% of Express Riders did not indicate a preference for the addition of security officers or safety improvements at the RTC.
Routing preference for Express Bus riders: Express Route riders were asked if they prefer the original downtown routing that took them through RTC or the current downtown routing adopted during streetcar construction which diverts them from RTC. Express Route riders could also respond that they had no preference by listing they were “happy with either routing”. 43% responded that they preferred the original routing through RTC, 26% preferred the current downtown routing and 31% stated no preference. The chart below shows the complete distribution of routing preference for the nine Express Routes.
Responses for Routes 109X, 107X and 103X indicated a preference for the current diverted routing or no preference for the routing. Because of this, these may be the best candidates for permanent diversion from the RTC; however, because the population size from these routes is relatively small, it may also be advantageous to administer an additional survey on them in order to confirm this result. Among the remainder of the routes, there was either no clear consensus on preference, or a slight to large majority who preferred the original routing through downtown.
Based on the data collected and our review of the responses from both the Regular Rider and Express Rider populations, we can make the following statements:
- Regular Route respondents show a distinct preference for improvements to the restrooms at the RTC above all other improvements. Express Route respondents also heavily support this improvement.
- Large percentages of respondents are also in favor of adding or improving water fountains and customer service representatives of Sun Tran and bus service information, maps & schedules.
- Although they were rated significantly lower than transit-related improvements, the most popular of the mixed-use options were the Retail Food/ Produce Sales and Restaurants.
- Large percentages of Express Route and Regular Route respondents requested security officers and/or other safety improvements, such as cameras and lighting, emergency call phones, increased presence of TPD officers, or generally stricter enforcement of existing statutes regarding panhandling, public intoxication, illegal substances and vagrancy.
- Both populations also indicated an interest in the designation of specific smoking/non-smoking areas.
- 83% of Express Route respondents replied that they travel downtown primarily for work. 12% of Express Route respondents replied they arrived downtown to transfer, and 3% responded that they took the express bus to get to school.
- The top downtown trip purposes for Regular Route respondents are work (32%), transfer to other route (31%), school (18%), and medical or social services (10%).
- Express Routes 109X, 107X and 103X appear to be the best candidates for permanent diversion from the RTC; additional surveying of these routes may be beneficial to verify this conclusion.