Where to spend the marginal transit dollar

If you gave Centro one dollar to improve service, where would you get the most bang for that buck? Where would a marginal improvement in service—more frequency, more speed, better reliability, new service—have the greatest positive impact for the greatest number of people? Where would better bus service result in the greatest increase in ridership?

This is a good clarifying question when talking about how to improve Centro, because it confronts the reality that there are a lot of ways Centro needs to improve, but a constrained budget means Centro can’t fix all of its problems at once.

We need a public transit system that connects every major employment and population center in the County with fast, frequent, reliable service in order to make public transit a truly viable option for people. That means hugely improved service on Centro’s core routes through BRT, and it means decent service to big suburban destinations like Micron and the airport. But since Centro doesn’t have the resources to do all of that right now, which service improvement is most important? Choosing to solve one problem means leaving others unsolved, so we’ve got to prioritize and make the fixes that will improve the most people’s lives first.

The answer to this question—and it’s an obvious answer when the question is framed right—is that Centro would do the most good by investing any new funding to improve service on high-ridership corridors like James Street and South Salina. Those are the places where lots of people already ride the bus, where a lot more people could easily walk to a bus stop, where homes and destinations are relatively close together and easy to connect with a bus line. Run BRT-style service every 10 minutes in places like those, and Centro would get a lot of new riders and existing riders would ride a lot more (more than you could ever hope to get from a new bus line to the airport).

So as Onondaga County prepares for new population growth and thinks about how its transportation system can accommodate a few thousand more people moving around, keep this in mind: of the many steps we need to take to get from where Centro is now to where it needs to be, the first one should be investing in the communities where bus ridership works best—densely populated, mixed-use, city neighborhoods.