Tuesday, February 6, 2007

Waiting for the jitney?

Apparently some local transit advocates are exploring the possibility of a private "jitney" service to provide short-headway minibus service to Central City neighborhoods. The idea would be to supplement existing RT routes and replace some privately held commuter vans used by senior residences by establishing short-run "jitney" routes from residential neighborhoods to nearby services.

"Jitney" is an archaic term for a bus, and many private jitney services appeared in the early 20th century as an alternative to streetcars. They were generally smaller and slower than streetcars (due to the relatively primitive state of gasoline-powered vehicles) but were more flexible than streetcars, with the ability to easily change routes or avoid obstacles. Streetcar companies objected to their presence, of course, and argued that unlicensed public conveyances caused undue wear to public roads without paying for street improvements like streetcars did, but as automobile technology improved many streetcar companies started "bustitution" as early as the 1920s, replacing older streetcars with buses, which were larger and faster than the original jitneys.

The potential target market would mainly be seniors or others with limited mobility who have difficulty getting around on RT due to limited headway times and lack of access, but a wider potential market to all sorts of urban dwellers could exist.

The potential vehicles would be mini-buses, probably purchased used from local organizations like senior homes that use them for resident transportation, or other such agencies. Potentially they could be purchased new.

While this sort of organization would probably call for some kind of public funding, it has some interesting potentials. Projected headway times of 5-10 minutes between buses mean that it would be more convenient than taking RT. It could feasibly reduce short-trip traffic, and thus be a potential mitigation measure that developers could subsidize instead of providing additional parking spaces (for example, give developers a choice between paying $40,000 for an additional parking space, or $25,000 towards public transit that will be convenient for residents of their project.) Finally, by being convenient enough to encourage people to take it, other modes of transit will be better utilized (a jitney won't run out to the suburbs, for example.)

So, is it time to bring back the jitney? Is the central city dense enough, and transit-ready enough, to support such a service? More details as I find them out...


Joseph said...

Who would operate this service? Volunteer or paid folks?

Joseph said...

I suppose I should elaborate a little more on my question.

The majority of public transportation options in the Sacramento area are operated by a "District", in Sacramento's case that means Regional Transit and a few smaller regional/rural districts in outlying areas.

Most, if not all of these districts operations employees (drivers, clerical) are members of the Amalgamated Transit Union local 256, Of which I am a member.

While my opinion may be skewed in regard to who/how operates this "Jutney" service, I agree that the core city can do a helluva lot better serving the ever growing population of aging and disabled folks who call the Central City home.

I'm currently a light rail operator at RT. When I started last year, I was part of the "Small Bus Division", which essentially is a modified para-transit type service.

Regional Transit dubbed us "The Neighborhood Ride". Operating on a semi-fixed route with usually hourly headways, we provide door to door service within 1/4 of a mile from the fixed route.

In my view, that service has proved to be a huge hit in the Suburbs, but since only the route 33 operates within downtown, it would be hard to gauge what impact if any it would have in the Central city.

I have read some budget documents that give me the hope that RT is considering expanding the service, but it seems that it would be in areas such as Rancho Cordova and the Northern Suburbs.

wburg said...

The idea, at least as presented to me, was to utilize private contractors, which is what is done in Los Angeles, with paid drivers rather than volunteers. I'd be happy to see a neighborhood mini-bus along the lines of Route 33 (which is the run from Alkali Flat light rail station to around the Loaves & Fishes complex, right?) in other midtown neighborhoods. The proposal/idea I heard would have much more frequent headway than the Neighborhood Ride, more like 5-10 minutes.

I have to admit I don't really know how economically feasible such a line would be--supposedly it is done in other cities but I wasn't given particularly detailed examples of where and how.