On taking a ‘Q’: Rapid bus about to arrive in Fresno

Well, it’s finally going to happen: In a matter of weeks, construction is slated to begin on the first section (Phase 1 of the construction effort) of the coming Fresno bus rapid transit (BRT) system – being branded, incidentally, as the ‘Q’ – along Blackstone between Shaw and McKinley avenues. Why the ‘Q’? ‘Q’ has been chosen, apparently, to connote “Quality” and “Quickness”. Might a third ‘Q’ for “Quiet” be added too?

To upgrade the two routes designated as Fresno’s initial BRT corridors – Blackstone Ave./Abby St. and Ventura St./Kings Canyon Rd. – the cost is $30 million, most of it grant monies coming courtesy of the U.S. Department of Transportation, according to Tim Sheehan, a The Fresno Bee transportation reporter. For that money the city will get 15.7 miles of upgraded roadway infrastructure, new shelters at stops and buses which, by the way, will be afforded priority at traffic signals, prior-to-boarding bus-fare collection provisions (read: “vending machines”), among other improvements. Distance between stops will change, increasing to a half-mile as opposed to stops spaced a quarter-mile apart, as will headways: the time will be less between arriving buses. All of which should mean commutes of about an hour’s time for typical runs from the east-to-north ends and vice versa while also passing through downtown en route, according to Sheehan in the Bee.

Presently, 14 million rides are taken on existing FAX (Fresno Area Express) vehicles annually. The share of rides along the corridor where Fresno’s BRT system is to be operational currently sees approximately 1.6 million rides per year. The hope, of course, is that with this newer, updated/upgraded service, more will opt for taking the ‘Q’.

Overall, the entire 15.7-mile corridor construction effort is projected to be finished by Nov. next year.

Soybeanbus[1]It should also be noted that the new buses being ordered for this service will be of the 40-foot, non-articulated type. If alternative-fuel-, hybrid- or zero-emissions buses, even better.

Adding extra vehicles to the roadway network is always a gamble. Will more people use public transit in Fresno after the ‘Q’ is up and running? Will buses currently providing service along this service lane upon receipt of new equipment, be “bumped” to other routes or flat out be retired? If the former, that there will be nary a reduction in the number of vehicles in the transit fleet and, if that’s the case, then additional drivers will be needed, obviously.

There is no question the city needs improved public transit. I don’t believe there is an established transit rider anywhere in town who would not agree.

Furthermore, with the arrival of high-speed train service to town in the not-too-distant future, there is a nagging question that must be answered: Is building this bus rapid transit system what is best for Fresno public-transit-wise? Will use of these vehicles on existing roads mixed in with all the other vehicular traffic create more constrained thoroughfares where in use or will conditions become more fluid? And, finally, where said services will initially be offered, will implementing this type of operation be exactly what the doctor orders or are there other corridors in the area that would provide a much bigger benefit for more people? A recent Houston, Texas transit-bus-network revamp, when all was said and done, resulted in much improved ridership numbers.

More people using public transit, with faster service provided, coupled with improved vehicular traffic flows along with area air quality improvement, in my mind’s eye, is the ideal. Time will tell how well the ‘Q’ fares.

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