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I would venture that "mutual incomprehension between the [actual work] and marketing worlds is a major source of frustration" not just inside transit agencies but many companies in general. At least, I know that that's occasionally been the case everywhere I've worked.


I'm assuming that airport workers wouldn't justify demand for a transit link--often times it's the staff rather than air passengers who justify a transit link. This is particularly true of a small auto-centric city like Bellingham.

Eugene Wong

No comments yet? Wow...

It's interesting that you mentioned Translink. I've communicated with them on several occasions and spoke to fellow riders about realigning the #326 away from 140 St. This would give longer crosstown bus service, and would free up space on the #321. Translink never gave me a satisfactory answer.

Maureen's answer above would be mostly satisfactory to me, because she strongly implies that she thought about the numbers.

I think that the lesson here is to try to justify it in terms of a cost-benefit analysis, when saying "No!!".

Also, it is interesting that your example speaks of a *new*, instead of what I want: a route realignment. I can understand Translink's need to speak to the public, before realigning a route, but I felt that I covered Translink's objections, in my own research and proposal. 140 St is not a major destination, and it already is serviced by another route with more consistent frequency.

Tom West

"... they respond to your questions with automated emails that prove to you that nobody read your question."
That is the the most annoying thing to me. Not the "we didn't quite understand your question" but "we saw two key-words in your question, and here's a stock response".

I remember sending an email asking why service on a route was so frequent (every 4 minutes) in the day when the buses were 75% empty. I got back an email explaining why they didn't operate a higher frequency...

Joseph Alacchi

Do not get me started on the marketing department at my local agency!


It's a good response, and the kind that I would have appreciated getting from my own transit agency. Mostly, when I ask a legitimate question (why do all 6 different routes that pass through my central neighbourhood come at the same time with 15 to 20 minute gaps between service?), I get snark about how transit planning is hard and it's not all about me.

I suspect the answer has something to do with this "pulsing" thing, and perhaps a respectful answer along these lines would still make me prefer to avoid transit when the weather is pleasant for biking, but would at least leave me not angry with the people running the system.

One thing I was wondering though was the repeated justification that the existence of a transfer means the service won't be used. My understanding from reading your blog is that whether changing routes is a problem or not depends a great deal on how frequently those routes run, which isn't addressed.

Where I live, we finally got airport service last year, after decades of being the largest city in Canada without airport transit. Of course, the taxi alternative was typically $60 instead of $10, so there's substantially more cash savings to having a bus option available than in Bellingham.


Houston has useful and frequent bus service to both airports, which I've used on many occasions. Their secret lies in understanding the target market.

The 102, to Intercontinental, runs express most of the way there, but spends the last few miles winding through various garden apartment complexes, including an easy connection with other local routes at Greenspoint. This makes it exceedingly useful for people who work at the airport, as well as people who work downtown and live in the Greenspoint area. There is an almost complete changeover of ridership between Greenspoint and IAH, with perhaps 3-5 people per bus riding the full distance from IAH to Downtown.

The 88, to Hobby, runs express from Downtown to the UH, local through campus, express to Gulfgate, then local again through several miles of garden apartment complexes to the airport. So again, you've got Downtown-Gulfgate trips, and local airport worker trips, with the addition of University-Downtown trips - and that's not considering the extension to Sagemont.

Service to an airport as small as Bellingham's is stymied by the fact that the small town airport isn't the same sort of employment center as a big city airport is. But the basic methodology is sound - design an airport route that's useful for the workers and the budget-conscious air travelers will follow.


Such a well-reasoned and written letter. Having worked in a government transport department (albeit working in the cycling area) I can't imagine being able to send something like that out without it being translated into meaningless corporate speak.

Paul K McGregor

So many topics to discuss so let me jump right in.

First, the answer to your question that you posed is that I as a staff planner I fielded a lot of service suggestions and had to provide responses to them. Most times the response that would be provided would be that we don't have resources available to provide the service and/or there isn't sufficient demand to justify the cost of providing the service. In a bigger, regional transit agency where you get a large volume of "suggestions", sometimes this response is all you have time to provide.

For smaller agencies, you can get into more detail. The only peeve I have with the response is instead of saying that the pulse could not be maintained, it would've been more appropriate to respond by saying that in order to maintain the pulse, we would have to add additional buses to the route which we do not have available at this time. It is always important to provide a reason for saying no and hopefully it would help people understand the reason behind saying no.

Finally, just a brief word about providing transit service to airports, which could be the subject of another post. I've had the opportunity to look at airport services in major metropolitan areas like Dallas and Houston as well as intermediate cities like Austin. Smaller airports like Bellingham would probably not be good candidates for transit service but larger airports would certainly need them. It is interesting to note here in Salt Lake City, the current bus route to the airport operates every 30 minutes directly from downtown to the airport. They will open a light rail line next year that will operate every 15 minutes, a dramatic increase in transit service to the airport that extends beyond just serving employees. Let's hope it will draw more users that just employees.


In Bellingham's case, there are actually buses on I-5 from Blaine to Bellingham that could pull off the freeway and serve passengers. They are fairly infrequent but would provide some sort of lifeline service. The probable issue is that the dogleg from getting off the freeway to the terminal is too time consuming, even though the terminal is visible right from the freeway.


At a large urban transit agency I worked at, I was piqued - not to find that thoughtful responses weren't written, but to find that once written they were not delivered back to the customer unless the customer called again to request them. The performance metric seemed to be that comments and complaints have responses entered in the system in a timely manner, regardless of whether anything was ever done with those comments.

It was galling in two respects. The obvious one is that customers never knew how much care was taken to develop a thoughtful response to their concern, and instead had their suspicions confirmed that the big bureaucracy is impenetrable an uncaring. The other reason it's galling is that it failed to use one of the richest sources of customer feedback to make change. The waste of a planner's time writing a careful explanation that would not be read is the least concern, but ridiculous still.

I wish there was also a review process of comments and complaints to ask whether there is an action possible to address them. Usually the planner's response is limited to an explanation of policy or resource limits, regardless of whether the comment has merit. That's because responders aren't asked to recommend changes in policy; only to state the agency's position. But couldn't comments and complaints be mined as a resource through a more challenging review process to resolve issues that are important enough for someone to go out of their way to comment about? Shouldn't there be a step in the comment response process where the responder is challenged to consider whether a change might actually be warranted? That's what motivates commenters to write, not the tying up of a planner's time explaining company policy.


One interesting approach to serving airports that I would like to see tried more is to arrange things so that the same buses that serve park-and-ride commuter markets can also facilitate trips to and from the airport.

The way this would be implemented is very simple. Lots of cities locate their airports at the edge of town. Which means lots of people living near the airport who want to drive somewhere close by to catch a bus going downtown.

Now, suppose that instead of building one parking area for long-term airport parking, then building another parking area a couple miles away for commuter parking, we built one parking area to serve both airport travelers and transit customers. (The parking rates would be structured so that the first 24 hours would be substantially cheaper than each additional 24 hours so that price would not be a deterrent for commuters).

Now, the commuter express bus you have to run anyway for the commuter market and the 5-minute-headway terminal->parking lot shuttle you have to run anyway for the airport parkers can combine to provide a fast, two-seat ride between the airport and downtown at virtually no additional cost.

Even if the downtown express bus runs only during rush hour, it's still a whole lot better than nothing. It is possible to plan plane trips to depart or arrive during rush hour to align with the bus. And when a plane that's supposed to arrive during rush hour actually lands 3 hours late, forcing you to miss the last bus, as long as there are taxis running, one way or another, you will still get home.

Keep Houston Houston


The problem with a unified parking garage is that airports handle huge mass of pickup and dropoff traffic and if the short-term parking is priced too low then you're building a lot of excess capacity for people who could've otherwise just rolled up to the curb.

Seattle in the pre-Light Rail era used to route a lot of the southern express routes through SeaTac, you might have a bus that runs up I-5 from 348th to 188th, goes through the airport, then heads downtown on 509. But this requires that your airport access road complex isn't a stub terminal a la O'Hare.


I got a very polite, if frustrated, response to my complaint about online information, which said that they don't have an IT department or even an IT guy, and that scheduling was done by untrained, jumped-up bus drivers.

I consider that a fair response, although it does show that they have some very serious problems!



Haakenson Viera

It is all the responsibility of every transit agency to answer to any questions raised by the passengers with regard to the inconvenience of their services. It is a big challenge for them to be realistic in facing those questions and answer them politely to be more transparent in running their business. I hope that every agency particularly in transportation can now provide a good and quality services to the people so there will be no questions to raise like this from the passengers.

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