May 9, 2013

Report assesses StarMetro's radial-to-grid system move

Researchers at the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) just completed an analysis of the issues and preliminary outcomes surrounding Tallahassee, Fla.-based StarMetro’s decision to restructure its bus network from a radial system to a grid system. The report could be useful for transit agencies or others contemplating a similar move.

“Analyzing the Effects of Transit Network Change in a Decentralized, Small-to-Mid-Sized U.S. Metropolitan Area on Agency Performance and Riders: A Case Study of Tallahassee, Florida” is available for free download.

The research, led by Principal Investigator Dr. Jeffrey Brown, seeks to understand the effects of the service restructuring on the transit agency and its performance; the effects of the service restructuring on transit riders and the larger community; and the roles, influence, and attitudes of important local stakeholders who engaged in the restructuring debate and shaped the restructuring itself.

“StarMetro changed its bus network in July 2011 from a radial to a grid system because local officials and agency leaders believed would better serve the dispersed local pattern of population and employment,” said Dr. Brown. “This major service change occurred literally overnight, but it followed several years of public discussion and debate about the future of public transit in the community. The change has been embraced by some people and opposed by others, which is expected given the dramatic and unprecedented system adjustments.”

Although the changes are still new, noted Dr. Brown, the research report’s short-term, or preliminary, results still offer important lessons to transit agencies, local officials, and transportation researchers regarding the consequences of major transit service changes for agencies and the community.

For example, overall ridership and productivity are lower than before the restructuring due to the short timeframe for rider adjustments and longer-than-anticipated headway. However, new ridership has appeared in previously unserved or underserved corridors and neighborhoods.

The restructuring also resulted in longer walks to bus stops because stops were removed from many neighborhoods and relocated to major roads. Overall, transit travel times are shorter due to more direct routing. No particular neighborhoods or community groups disproportionately benefited from or were harmed by the change.

A key takeaway from the study is that restructuring from a radial to a decentralized transit system can increase accessibility, if done right, but such a change requires careful attention to community concerns about route changes, stop locations, headways, access and safety.

In addition, a longer time horizon is needed to see the results of a major service restructuring such as this. The net result is a modest decline in ridership and in productivity to date. Nevertheless, most local observers feel that the changes represent a clear step forward for transit’s future in the community.

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