As I was scurrying around town a few weeks ago, finishing up some holiday shopping, I grew jaded from all the driving and searching for parking. I thought “Why am I not more inclined to take a bus?” As I drove down 41st street in Sioux Falls, I didn’t really see any buses, so that may have been the beginning of my answer. I’ve looked up the schedules in more ambitious years gone by, in an attempt to see if any of them fit within my work schedule, but none were very accommodating, either requiring me to wake up an hour earlier than normal, or arrive a half hour late to work. And then recently the news came out that Sioux Falls was studying their bus service Sioux Area Metro (SAM) to see what improvements could be made. Great… I thought.
It didn’t take long for me to run along a photo caption in a related editorial that gave me pause:
“Public Transportation Deserves Bold Thinking”
“A part of the task force’s work is engaging bus riders and the general public, so members were at the bus depot at 9 a.m. Friday to talk to riders and ride the buses”
9 am? Based on the photo accompanying the caption, it didn’t appear to be a prime time for ridership. I would think something between 7 and 8 would be a better option. I myself would’ve already been at work for an hour.
Then I shifted my thinking, though the the timeframe still caused concern. My family has two cars, can afford gas, and I have a flexible work schedule. While I may have enjoyed such an amenity like an efficient and convenient bus system in grad school (Ames, IA has a fantastic bus system), the Sioux Falls bus system is not meant for me.
Now I should note, ideally, the system SHOULD work me, and for you, and for everyone. But the primary purpose of a mass transit system is to transport the masses – of which I am not. As a middle-class male, I am more and more a socioeconomic minority, though it seems much of the world is designed around me and my convenience. The bus system’s main focus should be supporting those who can’t easily get themselves to and from work any other way – not providing the same exact service to every single person. It’s called equity.
Back to the caption. Even removing my convenience from the equation, I’m still not convinced that 9 am on a Friday is still the best time. Maybe they are capturing people headed to a retail or related job. I’d be interested to see if any consideration was given to identifying peak ridership times for this study. 9 am just seems a bit too convenient for a city employee’s schedule. Depending on location, it can take 45 minutes or more to make the proper transfers and finally get to one’s final destination. If I lived near Hayward Elementary and had a job near Avera Hospital that started at 8 am, I’d need to leave the house by 6:45 to ensure I made the bus. And a good chunk of that commute is sitting at the downtown depot for 20 minutes. Frustrating to be sure.
So what’s the solution to make SAM more equitable? I don’t have the answer. Certainly, the inefficiency in providing access to those who need it most is not entirely SAM’s fault. Overall city development plays a big factor, ensuring that lower-income residents and families aren’t relegated to areas on the city periphery or other transit deserts. Nevertheless, I do have some thoughts on what directions the study could be taken to ensure a better system.
- Survey all people. And attempt to eliminate any bias from the survey: 9 am on a Friday is probably not a good sample. And don’t survey just current users. Identify neighborhoods that could potentially benefit most from usage, and identify what schedules/routes might work best for them.
- Identify possible express zones or lanes. Zig-zagging routes take more time. A straight shot running continuous down 41st street (passing high-schools like Roosevelt, O’Gorman, and Lincoln, and connecting the neighborhoods beyond, east and west) could be more efficient than a loop that needs to start and end downtown.
- Identify more transfer stations than just downtown and a single southwest transfer stop for one route. This could help with item 2.
- Identify peak times, similar to item 1 above. Many routes appear to have the same intervals between each cycle, regardless of time of day. This seems entirely inefficient, though it makes a schedulers job easy.
- Investigate whether other forms of transit would be more cost effective long term. Is Sioux Falls ready for light rail, or a tram system, in key areas?
I’m sure you have thoughts too. Share them below. And let us endeavor to always think of the other as we design – that’s part of what this season is all about. Happy Holidays!
Chase Kramer, AIA, is an architect with TSP Inc. in Sioux Falls. He received his M.Arch from ISU where he focused on urban design and sustainability. Before that, he received a degree in Art from Augustana University. He lives in Sioux Falls with his wife and two daughters. Beyond Architecture, he is a musician, art lover, and fan of cheese and beer.