Tuesday, January 5, 2010

FrontRunner and Legacy, wrongly conjoined

As I was reading a Deseret News story, this sentence gave me pause: "In fact, FrontRunner was built as part of UDOT's compromise with environmentalists on Legacy Parkway, which has helped alleviate congestion on I-15 in Davis County."

I don't think that's correct. At all. Seems to me both Legacy and FR were being planned long before there was an environmental lawsuit that stopped construction on Legacy, and that FrontRunner was actually under construction by the time the state compromised with enviros in order to get Legacy back on track.

At any rate, Davis and Weber county residents voted to increase their own taxes in, I think, 2000, to fund transit upgrades including heavy commuter rail between Ogden and Salt Lake City. If my memory is accurate, Legacy construction wasn't halted by the lawsuit until about 2002, and the compromise (55-mph speed limit, blacktop instead of cement, etc.) wasn't reached until years later.

It may seem insignificant to some people, but I'd hate for the notion that FR was only the result of the Legacy lawsuit to somehow take hold in the public imagination going forward. A lot of people were planning, designing and lobbying for FR years and years before the Legacy squabble -- both environmentalists, transportation officials, politicians and newspaper editorial boards.

(Photo by the Deseret News)

New Year, but the same old, same old

On Monday, I caught the 4:27 p.m. FrontRunner home. It had only two passenger cars, both the double-decker Bombardiers. As I was boarding, I asked the station host why there were only two cars for a rush-hour train headed north. His response:

"Some have two, some have three."

Which I discovered was true later on, when I chatted with the train host once we were moving. She said the train that left earlier -- the northbound 3:57 p.m. train -- had three passenger cars (two Bombardiers and one Comet). On our train, she said, there were 12 people standing on the northernmost car; and I could see four or five standing on the southernmost car, where I was standing.

Furthermore, she said she'd called someone at UTA offices -- apparently the man who makes the decisions about how many cars each train should have -- to tell him the train was too crowded. She explained that it didn't make sense to her, since the earlier train didn't have nearly the number of passengers. She said the man told her that by next week, all trains would have three cars.

I wondered why it would take a week to make that happen. A week? Couldn't it happen on Tuesday? That's what the train hosts have been telling me since the short trains and overcrowding have been happening: that after Jan. 1, three cars would return.

Listen, I love UTA's service, but I don't appreciate having to stand for 30 or 40 minutes on the ride home. I'm sure no one else does, either. I'm just wondering why the response and scheduling has been so spotty when so many people on the trains have been complaining. It's my observation that ridership is up since the August schedule changes. But now the transit agency risks alienating riders, and losing them.

My question: Is there solid research guiding these decisions about how many cars to run? Or is someone just making the determination based on their gut?