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My Position on Public Transportation

This is a lengthy article, Dear Reader. Thank you for reading it through. As your next City Councilor, I pledge to listen to your concerns, take action, and keep you informed. Just as I’m doing now. Just as I did as Chair of Southeast Neighbors; and just as I’ve been doing in a myriad of ways for the past 18 years living with you in Ward 2.

Let’s talk about Public Transportation. LTD has formulated a plan called ‘Transit Tomorrow’. I’m in favor of the concept Transit Tomorrow offers – more frequency to increase ridership. I’m not in favor of offering more frequency and more ridership to some people at the expense of other people having no access at all. People who are dis-abled, elderly, low-income, and students young and old live in all neighborhoods in our city.

Equity and inclusion are the basic tenets of public transportation. Everyone pays for public transit. Everyone should benefit. I perceive public transit much like the mail. We wouldn’t tell people in certain neighborhoods they can’t have their mail delivered anymore. Nor should we tell people they can’t have access to the tax supported public benefit of LTD.

Additionally, If climate change is the problem, electric buses are the answer, not disenfranchising thousands of people from public transportation they support through their taxes. What does it say to our children when we tell them climate change is upon us, and everyone must do more to cut Green House Gases (GHG); but then we eliminate one of the easiest, most relevant and available ways to do that?

I raised my kids to take the bus and ride bikes, here in Ward 2, on Martin Street. They rode the #28 daily to school, which stopped ½ block away. They rode buses all over town as middle-schoolers and teens, and now as adults. They are now 32, 28, and 27-year-old vegan/vegetarians who not only don’t drive, commuting by bike and bus instead, two of them don’t even own cars. 

LTD’s Transit Tomorrow plan, if approved, will effectively disenfranchise almost an entire ward of its public transit. When a public institution creates a plan to marginalize large portions of its constituency, who use its service, it needs to be held accountable.

As Chair of Southeast Neighbors in November 2019, I convened a well-attended (130 people) general meeting with LTD. Ward 2 residents had the chance to inform LTD how cutting service to 54 of the 72 stops in our neighborhoods is unacceptable and would not work for them. 

Because this plan eliminates public transit to a large section of Ward 2, many of us stood up and said wait a minute LTD. Slow your roll LTD.

Since the November meeting, I’ve been fighting to maintain public transit in South Eugene. To that end, I helped organize the SEN transportation committee who have been working very hard to maintain LTD in our Ward.

Many of you have heard me speak about the acronym I coined – ITEA. ITEA is the foundation of my campaign. It is also by no accident the foundation of my personal life and professional work. I’m running for office because I believe ITEA must be the underpinning of responsible government.

ITEA=Inclusiveness. Transparency. Equity. Accountability.

LTD’s Transit Tomorrow Plan is a genuine case study of lost ITEA.

  • LTD did not include South Eugene in its community engagement program for Transit Tomorrow. Check inclusive.
  • LTD sought to implement the plan without notifying the population who stood to be negatively impacted. Check transparency.
  • LTD created a plan that disenfranchises a significant portion of the taxpayer. Check equitable.
  • And now they’re being held accountable, which is precisely what needs to happen. Check accountability.
#28 stops at Martin Street and W. Amazon Dr.

I held a press conference on March 2 in front of Amazon Corners #1405 bus stop on the #28 route. That stop will be closed under Transit Tomorrow. Ironically, the property management company and owners of that mixed-use development had no idea their bus stop amenity was scheduled to be eliminated. They saw it by chance on someone’s FaceBook post. 

Kate's press conference media event
Kate holds press conference confronting LTD plan to cut bus service to Ward 2

So, let’s get into the details as to why this plan is so flawed:

Ridership

Lane Transit District’s ridership has historically gone through a number of cycles corresponding to the economy of Lane County and LTD’s annual payroll tax revenues.  Transit Tomorrow’s analysis was done at a point in time when:

  1. LCC enrollment was down because of the local economy’s strength.
  2. The Eugene/Springfield area was experiencing a time of economic expansion.  Typically, LTD has seen less ridership when households have more disposable income and become multi-car households.  Less people use LTD when the economy is up, while more people are more transit dependent during economic cycle down turns.

LTD hired Jarrett Walker & Associates (JW&A), an out of state consulting firm.  JW&A is a highly regarded transportation consulting firm with one major caveat.  Jarrett Walker’s firm has a strong disposition to recommend productivity over coverage in the great majority of the transit districts they evaluate. 

Just as importantly, former LTD planners maintain there is a critical flaw in the manner in which JW&A chose to analyze LTD’s service in the crucial productivity versus coverage (P vs C) arena.  Their analysis formed a seminal part of their subsequent findings for Transit Tomorrow.  For whatever reasons, JW&A chose to run their seminal P vs C analysis of LTD’s service without including LTD’s rural routes.  This decision contradicted LTD’s long-standing practice of INCLUDING rural service in determining if the service was meeting LTD board policy from the early 1980’s. 

The former Service Planning Manager at LTD, who became a national transit consultant after leaving LTD in 2005, conducted an analysis of ridership, calculating how many miles people are riding on the bus (passenger miles/service hour). This method will show the efficiency per service hour. How many miles that car didn’t drive because the person who would have been driving it is taking the bus instead. LTD planners recognize that passenger miles/service hour is a better metric to measure C02, and therefore progress on ECC climate goals.

Finally, the JW&A study should have taken the time to use demographics from a future point in time (ten to twenty years down the road) to see how our neighborhood would include more elderly and more housing density.  Many public agencies make it a priority to do future point in time planning.  For example, in order to determine future capital expenditures, the 4-J school district did a comprehensive demographic study of what neighborhoods would look like 15-25 years down the road. In my view, this was another crucial oversight on the part of LTD.

To that end, here are some current relevant statistics:

  • 23% of Southeast Eugene residents are 50 years or older (U.S. Census Bureau 2010)
  • 10% are veterans
  • 11.4% are middle school and high school students
  • A 172 unit low-income housing development located at the South end of the Ward where LTD plans to no longer serve, has been approved
  • More housing density is on the way, due to HB2001 (see the ‘issues’ dropdown menu on this site)

RideSource

RideSource, while a great service, is very expensive. The Federal government reimburses for it less and less every year. The gap then comes out of LTD’s general fund. Money LTD needs to be squirreling away in order to more quickly electrify the fleet, will go toward a gas-guzzling service whose use could easily be avoided by simply maintaining normal bus service.

RideSource is not an equivalent service. The qualification process is lengthy, and not guaranteed.  One need reserve 24-48 hours in advance.

RideSource is not more fuel-efficient than LTD bus service.  It averages only 2.7 boardings per service hour.  Comparing fuel consumption of their respective vehicles, you only need 7 boardings per LTD service hour to match the fuel efficiency of RideSource. LTD’s Assistant General Manager said recently: “But one of our commitments is no matter what we do, anybody that’s RideSource eligible will stay RideSource eligible.”

This is a mis-direct. It is challenging to become eligible for RideSource. It takes a lot of paperwork, time, and energy.  Furthermore, hundreds of residents won’t be within the RideSource distances from bus stops in order to qualify.

Some of the biggest losers under LTD’s plan are seniors and people with disabilities.  RideSource is not an equal service to a regular bus. It is inferior service, due to the considerable restrictions on its use.  A non-disabled transit user doesn’t have to convince a screening official that their health status qualifies them for access to a bus. A non-disabled transit user doesn’t have to schedule their bus ride 24-48 hours in advance.  A non-disabled transit user can use transit to go to multiple destinations on a given day, change their plans, adapt their travel to unexpected circumstances. Services like RideSource offer little independent mobility, and aren’t a substitute for equal access to the bus system that able-bodied transit users may use. 

If Transit Tomorrow is implemented as currently proposed many residents will now need to traverse two miles to reach an active bus stop. Many seniors and people with disabilities could lose much of their independent mobility under Transit Tomorrow.  Eliminating service has adverse impacts on people’s lives and livelihoods.  If transit is eliminated, it ensures the isolation of vulnerable populations. The bus service we have here is a lifeline service to many of our elderly and alter-abled in South Eugene.

Additionally, 4J students dependent on LTD to get to school will now need to find other means of transportation. LTD did no outreach to South Eugene High School and Roosevelt Middle School principals, for their input on the changes.

Less bus service means more cars on the road. A new housing development of 172 CIR (Controlled income and Rent – low income) units may soon cover a 15.8-acre parcel at the south end of Ward 2.  As developers and investors begin to capitalize on the passage of HB2001 – a bill designed to increase density – South Eugene will need more bus service, not less.

Public Engagement 

LTD’s Transit Tomorrow public engagement process was late, deficient and flawed.  It is clear the process was designed for bias confirmation to come to a pre-determined conclusion.

  1. Of the surveys from LTD’s “Rider Engagement” Strategy through tabling at transit stations – in other words, people whom we know actually ride the bus:
  2. #1 MOST IMPORTANT ranking to the question of ‘Neighborhood Livability’ was “access to all modes of travel to all people”.
  3. #2 MOST IMPORTANT ranking was: “neighborhoods that support ability to meet needs without a car”.
  4. The data shows that the most popular items in response to another question about neighborhood livability were:
  5. #1 Extra service at rush hour and
  6. #2 Service to more places in Eugene/Springfield

Despite the binary nature of limited choices LTD was offering in their surveys, a deeper dive into the survey data of people whom we know actually ride the bus, during phase II Community Outreach gives us the following information. When asked about:

Ridership vs. Coverage

Of 139 responses:

  • 66 voted for added coverage
  • 46 voted for ‘ridership’;
  • 27 voted for “in between”

More Service vs. Lower Fares

Of 140 responses:

  • 95 voted for Additional Service (it wasn’t clear if the question meant added coverage or more frequency)
  • 34 voted for Lower Fares.
  • 11 voted for “somewhere in between”

Outreach to residents in South Eugene was non-existent until I convened the Southeast Neighbors General meeting in November 2019, where I invited LTD to attend. They attended because we urged them to attend. At that meeting, 130 citizens showed up and lined up to speak out to let LTD know that Transit Tomorrow was not going to work for them. This meeting lasted 2.5 hours. At the end of it, one of the LTD board members said to me: “We had no idea this was such a big deal up here”.

I am keeping this topic alive for my future constituents so LTD knows it is a big deal. Creating a plan to disenfranchise from public transit almost an entire Ward in Eugene is simply not acceptable. I, along with many others, are urging LTD to take a step back, and create a plan that works for everyone in Eugene – for tomorrow and the next day and the next day after that.

Reducing GHG

Everyone agrees that we need to reduce CO2 emissions as quickly as possible.

According to LTD’s approved 2020 Budget (which budget refers only once to climate change, in a few sentences in the closing letter from the GM), 68% of their fleet is ready and/or very close to retiring. The budget for replacing buses:

  • 4 electric buses
  • 4 diesel hybrid buses
  • 6 more diesel buses

More electric buses more quickly could resolve the conflict of coverage VS. frequency and focus on collaboration of coverage AND frequency. (The City’s CAP 2 plan states replacing diesel to electric buses as a “Strategies in Action”, presumably happening immediately).

LTD’s Transit Tomorrow plan could generate 1.0 to 1.5 metric tons of CO2 emissions per month in Southeast Eugene – just covering the additional distance to the new closest bus stops and the increased use of RideSource.

In a Southeast Neighbors survey, half of the respondents said they would be more likely to drive a car rather than take the bus due to Transit Tomorrow reducing access to service. This will increase CO2 emissions even more.

An Alternative Plan

The SEN Transportation Committee has proposed a way to preserve existing coverage, which could serve as a model for the rest of the district. Here it is in summary:

  • Instead of making all connections through the downtown central Eugene Station, include neighborhood hub stations like our own Amazon Station at 29th and Amazon Parkway
  • For the same cost of the new Route 20 that Transit Tomorrow proposes to run from Eugene Station to 43rd, we suggest new shorter versions of Routes 24/73 and 28 that deliver rider to Amazon Station
  • Less frequent neighborhood buses connect riders to the high frequency route network. 
  • Neighborhood riders would have to make one transfer to get downtown, to LCC, or to the University, but coverage is preserved and/or expanded
  • Routes 24 and 73 could be combined and only a few stops from the old route 73 would close
  • Amazon Station as a hub would offer a wide variety of Mobility on Demand options

With access to coverage preserved in the neighborhoods, there would be no increases in CO2 emissions under this plan, all current riders could choose to continue using the bus, and new riders would be able to connect to the high-frequency network at Amazon Station.

I realize this is a lengthy article, Dear Reader. Thank you for taking the time to read it. As your next City Councilor, I pledge to listen to your concerns, take action, and keep you informed. Just as I’m doing now. And just as I’ve been doing in a myriad of ways for the past 18 years living with you in Ward 2.

To further explore documents relating to LTD’s Community Engagement process and other information they have shared with the public related to their planning process see: https://www.ltd.org/transit-tomorrow-document-library/

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