On “A Streetcar Named Development”, Streetcars, Buses, and Signs

In this week’s Downtown Journal Online, an article “A Streetcar Named Development” discusses the potential for streetcars for Minneapolis.
Streetcars would be the third distinct rail technology that the Twin Cities would have introduced in the course of a decade, following LRT and commuter rail, and of course bus remains. This technology proliferation is one of several issues that has been inadequately addressed. The greater the number of distinct technologies used, the lower the economies of scale that can be achieved with any one of them. While they serve somewhat different markets, they also serve overlapping markets, yet no consideration was given to using technology A in market B.
The more important concern is revealed by the closing quote from Teresa Wernecke, director of the Downtown Minneapolis Transportation Management Organization. ‘“With rail, you know where you’re going,? Wernecke said.’ The implication is that with bus you don’t. Why should that be?
The answer is the under-investment in buses over the past 50 years, in particular the lack of signage. Staff I have spoken with at the Metropolitan Council seem to think it would be too expensive to have simple signs which actually told you what bus stopped where and when (since the schedules apparently change). But it is not too expensive to deploy 3 new rail systems to make up for the institutional inadequecies of Metro Transit’s bus operations.
To illustrate, compare this typical bus stop sign from Minneapolis
Minneapolis Bus Stop
With this one from London
London Bus Stop
While this sign certainly does not solely explain London’s higher transit ridership, it helps considerably. The F helps orient you from which stop (among many), which are all shown on a map. The sign tells you where you are and where the buses go, and which buses go there. The schedule shows you the frequency (or schedule) of buses. Further there are maps at every stop, along with schedules.
It might surprise people to know, but bus mode share in London (18%) is as high as Underground and Surface Rail combined (17%) according to Transport for London.
Other factors include traveler information, designated bus lanes, frequent shelters, etc. But underlying this is the attitude that buses should be given full support as a transit mode.
It is too bad Minneapolis is choosing to throw money at streetcars at $30 million per mile and provide no additional service rather than using those scarce resources to create a world-class bus system.
— dml