Posted on Dec 10, 2008 in Weblog | 4 comments

Only two members of the public were present (I one of them). I asked the board to consider UC Irvine as a stop with the Bristol-Irvine Rapid Bus (what will be route 557). I don’t think I articulated it particularly well, but I brought up my fears that:

Bravo won’t be as big of a success if it’s just a limited line.

From the conversation and the presentation given during the board meeting, this rapid transit project has been slashed down from a full light-rail project (CenterLine), to a rapid bus project (Bravo), to limited bus service whose only changes are

  1. a rebrand, and
  2. limited stops.

I brought up something similar that the Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority had done with their rapid bus, the rapid 522: they promised ticket-vending machines, traffic light signal priority, and bus tracking with digital signs at each stop for several corridors (Stevens Creek, etc). But the only thing the VTA accomplished in the past three years was implement only one rapid line with

  1. a (hideous) rebrand, and
  2. limited stops.

VTA says they boosted ridership by 10 or 20% with their new rapid bus, but I don’t trust these statistics because in the 1.5 years that I rode the Rapid 522, that bus has been nearly empty. My worry is that OCTA will fall into a bit of a marketing pickle if regular non-riders do try their Bravo service, and find that it’s not as big a deal as it really is. As you can see, not even their Bravo vehicles in my photographs look all that distinctive.

Two other attitudes that worry me:

Bravo exists because OCTA has a gun to its head.

Bravo! feels like it’s a "free from jail" card from the defunct CenterLine light rail project. The way that Art Leahy described the CenterLine project at the OCTA board of directors meeting felt like Bravo! was there because Orange County is legally forced to do this. From my typed notes, he said:

"We had Southern California at risk for losing federal funds. It took us a year to do this with all of the federal funds. I know we discussed this stuff [at transit committee]. Our goal is that an undefined project that’s good that it’s undefined. It’s undefined without mandatory performance parameters. That’s good. That gives us flexibility. So we agreed to run more buses, on top of the 3 busiest lines in the system, along with a limited application fo have higher speeds. At a certain point we were looking at high capital investments, high boarding costs, a 20- to 30% reduction. What we have found here is a low risk moderate cost way of getting out of billions of dollars of CenterLine. There are cost tradeoffs but what we’ve done here is low risk, low cost approach is to get out of a very serious noncomformative problem.

"It’s not only federal funds but also state and local funds that haven’t been spent like Measure M. But if you recall, the replacement of Centerline for air quality involved the entire BRT system along with Metrolink, so it’s not just one item to replace air quality, it was the full BRT system and enhancements for Metrolink."

Another reason why Bravo might be a flop is that…

It feels as if no one in Orange County cares about their public transit system

…except spokker, students, and the hordes of the underserved in urban Orange County. I realized this after only 2 people showed up to the public hearing for the Rapid Bus system. Contrast this with the roughly 150 people who appeared to an OCTA meeting to voice their support for a double-decker 55 freeway in Costa Mesa. 2 for transit << 150 freeway expansion. That’s sad.

Orange County also spends a disproportionate amount of funds towards freeways and highways. In fact, there are 5 freeway and tollway expansion projects that OCTA will go begging $3 billion for from the Obama Administration whereas the Bravo! team faced harsh criticism during the board meeting for even spending millions. Millions for transit << billions of subsidies for freeways and highways.

The team behind Bravo! have lots and lots of good ideas, but there’s no political willpower or funding to support their vision. When only two members of the public show up to what could be vastly-improved transit service in Orange County and when the mayor of Anaheim can’t even accept their bus shelter designs, this means that, really, no one cares (or perhaps transit riders are too busy working!). And that’s too bad because Orange County’s bus system is actually quite terrific — I feel that it’s the cleanest, safest, and most punctual of all the other bus systems I’ve tried (Rhode Island’s, Los Angeles’s, the Bay Area).