NFTA updates on prospect of adding BRT along Bailey Ave, need to pivot service amid pandemic
NFTA Staff met with a group of riders and community stakeholders Thursday evening to discuss various updates of transit service in the Buffalo Niagara region. It was the first meeting of 2021 by the Citizens Advisory Committee. Below is bullet list of takeaways.
NFTA staff discussed the prospect of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) enhancements along the Route #19 - Bailey Ave. It's part of a joint initiative along with the city of Buffalo and Greater Buffalo Niagara Regional Transportation Council to make Bailey Avenue more safe and friendly for all users of the street. GBNRTC is still finalizing a plan to be released. The plan includes 4 options affecting the #19--NFTA's sixth busiest bus route in the system, carrying 4,300 passengers on an average weekday (pre-pandemic numbers). It also is also unique in that it links with other busy bus routes.
Option 0: status quo. Between the Abbott-Bailey Transit Center and University Station, the route takes 40 minutes to get end to end.
Option A: Enhancements on the Route 19 to reduce the commute to 36 minutes end-to-end.
Adding a designated lane space where buses can pass an intersection with cars stopped
Transit signal prioritization - holding the traffic light green until the bus passes
Adding more shelters and benches
Various smart city infrastructure to coordinate traffic flow.
Bus stops would be spaced further apart: 0.2 miles instead of 0.15 miles
Option B: Builds upon the improvements of Option A, and adds a limited bus stop service similar to what happened last year with the #24-Genessee.
In this option, the #19L would have only 13 bus stops and take 28 minutes to reach end to end. Each bus stop would be placed 0.6 miles apart, with larger shelters.
Option C: Turns the #19L into a formal Bus Rapid Transit line--something resembling the CMAX line in Columbus, Ohio.
This would mean having a dedicated fleet of 40-foot-long buses with special branding. Preferably, this fleet would be greener with zero emission, battery electric or CNG.
This BRT line is projected to reduce the commute to 24 minutes.
Such a project would include designing a mobility hub for passengers to connect with a car-share program, a bikeshare station, e-scooters or other first-mile, last-mile features. (One site prospect is a vacant lot at Walden Ave and Bailey Ave.)
Next steps after GBNRTC publishes this report is designing a pilot program to try out limited stop service and finding funding opportunities for a BRT line study.
NFTA Metro's Tom George reports that currently NFTA ridership is 44% of this time last year. Throughout the year, ridership has averaged 50% of pre-pandemic levels
NFTA-Metro intends to build 30 more bus shelters in 2021--the first year of implementing its Stop and Shelter Plan it developed a little more than a year ago. Every year until the end of 2025, NFTA-Metro intends to build 30 new shelters in the system. This is pending on permit approvals from various locals governments. Currently with only 250 shelters system-wide, the staff at NFTA-Metro found that other transit systems of similar size provided riders with more accommodations.
NFTA received a $43 million grant through the federal stimulus packaged passed by Congress in December, adding on top of the $61 million it received from the CARES Act in late March. Despite the influx of federal relief, Tom George insisted that no commitments will be made yet on restoring bus service that was cut in the spring and summer months following the pandemic. That is partly because ridership is at historic lows still and there's an expectation that the state government will hold back a significant slice of its funding to transit authorities this year to close its own budget.
NFTA-Metro is in its final stages of completing the digital fare system overhaul, called MetGo. Many buses currently have the new fare boxes and by the end of Spring, all buses will have the new farebox on board, NFTA staff said.
NFTA-Metro and GBNRTC are hiring a third party firm to survey bus riders boarding the bus about their customer experience sometime before end of summer. Last time they did this was April 2017.
- Simon Husted, BTRU Member