Rider alleges staff issues at GGT will mean increasingly unreliable service

The other day on Twitter, Danny Skarka, a regular rider of GGT’s commuter route 54 (Novato), said his driver announced there was a looming driver shortage. The result, said the driver, will be unreliable service on the 54. Skarka followed up with a Google+ post, reproduced here in full:

This is what the driver announced this morning:

When the new schedule starts in June, our bus will not have a regular driver. Our bus, the 54, is considered “expendable” and when they are short drivers, our bus will be cancelled with no notice.

I felt sorry for the driver. The rider reaction was less than positive. The 54 has been plagued for some time. 

My assumption is not ALL 54s are expendable, but considering how full they get, canceling any one will cause a ripple effect of overcrowded buses. I have been on many 54s with standing room only. “Bus Surfing” at 60 mph and no seat belt. 

They are often short drivers. So this scenario will happen. I have already seem many cancelled 54s. 

Unfortunately GGT is not very tech. A Geo-aware mobile app (since we all have a smart phone on us ) where we can set what route we use would be wonderful. It could give us updates. We could refresh Clipper Cards much more easily without the delay seen now using the website. In other cities, the bus location shows up on maps so you can tell if you need to run to a stop to meet a bus. Tag data could tell us if a bus was full. Much can be approved. 

I don’t know the agencies challenges so it’s not fair to be overly critical. However, the same agency is raising bridge tolls, and charging for parking at ferries. So non-drivers are stuck with the monopoly.

I am considering starting a #MissingBus hash on Twitter for passengers to help each other. Something easily followed and contributed to. 

Comments please.

If true, this is a disturbing lack of regard for GGT’s customers and GGT’s mission. Reliable bus service is vital to a commuter. What will someone do if they usually take the last 54 and it never shows up?

I have an email out to Golden Gate Transit to find out how true Skarka’s assertions might be and to get some information on staffing and service hours in the June schedule and I will update if I get any more information.

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Planning for Reality check: Larkspur conspiracies

Image from Planning for Reality

An apropos image from Planning for Reality

The Larkspur Landing Station Area Plan (SAP) is all the rage nowadays, and for good reason. People apparently don’t want to see any development or any changes to their community, and it looks like the development aspects of the plan are heading to the dustbin.

But there’s a myth Richard Hall, a leader in anti-development circles and writer of Planning for Reality, told me about yesterday on the IJ. He said the Larkspur SAP was necessary so SMART would get funding. Let’s fact-check this gem.

The claim

Under the Metroplitan Planning Commision’s (MTC) Resolution 3434, a commuter rail line like SMART can only get regional funding if it has an average of 2,200 housing units with a half-mile radius of its stations. MTC is in charge of dispersing regional funding from a variety of sources, and it’s entirely in its prerogative to disperse funds how it sees fit. Resolution 3434 is intended to promote transit-oriented development around train stations to limit sprawl out into the East Bay hills, farms, or elsewhere far from anything.

SMART, Hall claims, does not meet this requirement and needed to add 920 housing units around Larkspur Landing to qualify for MTC funding. Somehow Larkspur got involved, developed the plan, and now we’re headed for a train wreck of a plan.

The reality

There are a number of problems with this claim, highest on the list being that SMART has already qualified for regional funding under Resolution 3434. In fact, it was determined 4 years ago, in December, 2010, that SMART qualified for regional funding. SMART has since received funding and is using it to fund construction.

The finding was that SMART, excluding Corona Road and Novato North stations, had 15,251 housing units built or planned within a half-mile radius of its 7 planned stations. This is 99 percent of the required 15,400 units, and it was deemed sufficient.

Including Corona Road and Guernville Road, which was not the chosen plan MTC approved, there were 17,295 housing units out of 17,600 needed. It’s close, but not quite there.

Let’s say nothing happens in Larkspur except for a new station is built there. Let’s also say the planned Sonoma County Airport station is built and that SMART decides to open Corona Road. This means SMART will have 12 stations on tap, which means it needs at least 26,400 housing units within a half mile of its collection of stations.

Since I can’t find data on housing around either Novato North or the Sonoma County Airport, I’m going to say those have 0 units, just for the sake of argument. Adding up all the rest of the existing housing units gets us 19,796 housing units, well short of our needed 26,400.

However, San Rafael, Santa Rosa, and Petaluma have all completed station area plans. San Rafael plans for 272 more units downtown. Petaluma plans for 1,716 more units downtown and 523 more around its northern station. Santa Rosa plans for another 3,409 units around its downtown station and 2,680 around its northern station. This gets us to 28,396 total units, or 107 percent the needed amount.

A Rohnert Park SAP is also in the works, but it hasn’t been completed yet.

If there is a conspiracy afoot to get SMART to qualify for more regional funding through a Larkspur SAP, the conspirators are really bad at math. But if the author of Planning for Reality, a computer programmer, is similarly bad at math, perhaps we shouldn’t be so hard on them.

In sum: Hall’s claim is false.

What if there were no SAPs at all?

It’s important to note here that, when presented with this information, Hall shifted his tune both in email and online, choosing to criticize Sonoma for implementing SAPs and saying it was part of a bigger conspiracy for regional funding for construction. He also asked whether Larkspur Landing could have been included if no SAPs had been passed.

This question poses a highly improbable set of circumstances. First, Sonoma cities actually want to change, Rohnert Park especially. They believe their future lies in their downtowns, in the kind of places that Marin takes for granted. It is extremely likely they would have planned around their stations even if there were no MTC grant money, and likely would have planned even if SMART never existed.

Second, it was Larkspur, not SMART, that applied for SAP grant money. Anti-development activists believe MTC and SMART colluded to pressure Larkspur into taking that money against their will years before the Larkspur Landing station seemed possible. This was, they claim, to allow SMART to qualify for regional funding, even though it had already qualified for said funding.

But let’s indulge them. Adding Larkspur Landing would have dropped the number of housing units from 99 percent of qualifying to 94 percent. However, as link of regional significance, it would be extremely unlikely that MTC would have allowed this to disqualify SMART. It was still largely in line with Resolution 3434, and there would have been strong pressure to keep the funding.

But there were SAPs passed, and SMART is going to open with 10 stations, not 7. It can easily add Corona Road for 11, and it looks like Larkspur Landing will open in 2017 for 12 stations. But perhaps we should forgive SMART for building itself. After all, it was voters – a more insidious force than any regional body – who put them up to it.

New coalition has a more livable Marin as its mission

Since starting this blog in 2011, the debate around urban issues has exploded, and not in a good way. Once the Santa Rosa Tea Party crashed our Plan Bay Area meetings and lit a fire under anti-development activists – liberal, libertarian, and conservative alike, many of whom recoil at being associated with the Tea Party – we’ve gone from name-calling to dirty politics to anger and back again.

Not since the fight over whether to preserve West Marin has the tenor of debate been so high and the emotions so strong.

While our debate ramped up, the housing crisis in San Francisco continued to spill over the Bridge and into our tree-lined streets. Rents have skyrocketed and the last vestiges of Marin’s blue-collar hippie past are finally starting to be pushed out entirely.

Traffic’s bad, and it will only get worse as richer people replace Marin’s not-so-rich. Sprawl beyond Marin’s borders will only continue as the county becomes even more of a commuter destination.

The well-organized progressive lobby has only existed in name. It has the institutions but not the activists. It has lacked the votes to see through plans that had been in the making for years or to keep plans passed with full community support just a few years ago.

Some groups advocate for bikes, others advocate for affordable housing, still others open space, and yet more transit. Thanks in part to a lack of cooperation, these groups’ messages have been smothered beneath the constant refrain of No.

Not that the voices of No have a majority – far from it. The most recent survey on the subject found Marin to be strongly in support of transit-oriented development and more in favor of affordable housing than opposed, as long as it fits with Marin’s character.

It’s high time for a new coalition, then, to give this silent majority voice and bring together those diverse groups who do support a progressive vision of Marin County.

Last week, the Coalition for a Livable Marin (CALM), an organization with precisely that goal in mind, announced its formation. I’m privileged serve this group on its steering committee as one voice among many. Our mission is “to create and maintain the vibrant, inclusive, and sustainable communities that, in combination with our magnificent open space, make Marin such a great place.”

We believe that the guiding light for Marin’s human habitat lies in its traditional town centers, warm and welcoming places built around transit, bikes, and people on foot. These places are at the heart of Marin’s culture and community, and our mission and actions flow out of our commitment to those places.

From the press release:

CALM’s starting coalition includes Friends of SMART, League of Women Voters of Marin County, Marin County Bicycle Coalition, Sustainable Corte Madera, Sustainable San Rafael, and TRANSDEF. This list is growing as the coalition welcomes others who are just as passionate about Marin’s traditional town centers.

I’d also like to add The Greater Marin to that list.

When I started starting this blog, my aim was to find the ways Marin has done it right and figure out how to apply those lessons to Washington, DC. As it turns out, I’ve spent nearly all my time trying to show how Marin can learn its own lessons and rebutting the critics who said such lessons were not applicable to our suburban character. It turns out I was not alone in my admiration for Marin’s traditions. Again from the press release:

CALM is interested in building on the strong base of support for biking, transit, and affordable housing. It points to surveys that show nearly 60% of Marinites support building transit-oriented housing, and that a strong plurality of people support multi-family housing in the county (40 percent vs. 31 percent). Marin residents are also frequent users of public transit, with 1 in 4 of Marin’s commuters to San Francisco taking Golden Gate Transit.

I’m excited to serve alongside some of Marin’s most experienced and knowledgeable activists on the CALM steering committee and alongside you as a volunteer. The path ahead is rough – I have every confidence that this coalition will come under fire for a host of reasons – but the county that invented the mountain bike has never shied from rough paths before and neither will we.

Take a look at our website and add your voice to the cause of maintaining Marin’s traditional patterns of development. Join us today.

Boost connectivity with integrated scheduling

The principal problem with Larkspur Ferry parking is really that it has poor connections to other modes, especially bus. Though there used to be a shuttle system in place, it didn’t do well and was cut years ago. While the Wave has taken a step toward reintroducing the shuttle, Golden Gate Transit has ignored regular bus service from the 29, as well as daytime and weekend trips to and from the ferry.

To help riders get a visual of their options, I’ve created an integrated bus/ferry schedule (PDF) for routes 17, 25, 29, and 228 – all of which serve Larkspur Ferry Terminal at some time or another. The Interurban light rail schedule (PDF) did the same thing with the Sausalito Ferry.

On the weekdays, what stands out to me is the very long connections for people coming from San Francisco. Though the 29 does pretty well for those heading to the ferry during the day – most require waits of only 10-15 minutes – it’s awful for connections from the ferry. Most connections are between 20-30 minutes, a couple leave only a minute to spare, and just a handful are in the sweet spot between 5 and 10 minutes. Optimizing the time points between the bus and ferry could boost ridership all on its own, without any need for new service.

Study the schedule yourself and you’ll see what I mean. And, if you’re a frequent ferry rider, print it out and keep it in your schedule book.