Behind the Headlines – April 13, 2018

Behind the Headlines – April 13, 2018

– (female narrator)
Production funding for Behind the Headlines is made possible in part by: The WKNO Production Fund, The WKNO Endowment Fund, and by viewers like you.
Thank you. – The beginnings of a new vision
for transportation in Memphis, tonight, on
Behind the Headlines. [dramatic orchestral music] – I’m Eric Barnes, publisher
of The Memphis Daily News, thanks for joining us. I’m joined tonight
by Suzanne Carlson, Innovate Memphis, and working
on transportation issues for Memphis 3.0, thank
you for being here. Glenn Gadbois handles
transportation issues for the Memphis Medical
District Collaborative, thank you for being here. Scudder Wagg is a transportation
consultant with Jarrett Walker, working with the
Memphis 3.0 people. Along with Bill Dries,
senior reporter with the Memphis Daily News. So this week, you all
will have rolled out, we’re actually taping this on
Monday but on Tuesday you’ll have rolled out the final
recommendations for Memphis 3.0 transit issues to
the City Council, we’ll have written about
that, and things will be online, but we’ll talk
generally about it. And I want to start
real high level actually, and I’m going to
look at you Suzanne, ’cause you’ve worked on
transportation issues with Innovate Memphis
for some years now, deeply involved in
the Memphis 3.0, and we’ll talk more about
that, but just for everyone, and from your perspective,
the challenges and maybe the opportunities of transportation
issues in Memphis right now. And what are
we talking about when we talk about
transportation? We’re not just
talking about buses, we’re talking about a
whole range of issues. – Right, well through the
Memphis 3.0 comprehensive planning process, which
is being run by the city, they did a lot of
community outreach. And found that one thing that
was coming up in really every community was
transportation issues, in this case,
specifically transit. The fact that we don’t have
enough transit to get people to day-to-day
opportunities in Memphis. I know there’s other
transportation issues possibly, pot holes, bike lanes,
there’s a whole gamut, but we’ve really focused on
transit as being a high level issue to solve here
because of the frequency with which it came
up during that process. So Innovate Memphis got involved
as part of Memphis 3.0 to run the transit vision project,
and we contracted with Jarrett Walker and
Associates to look at our transit network
that we have today, and kind of re-assess it and
say, you know is this still the right plan for Memphis. It’s kind of changed
over time with little tweaks to the system here and there. And we wanted to look at it
really more holistically and see if it’s the right network,
as well as the right amount of investment that
we’re making in transit and what could we do
to improve it? – I’m going to go to you Glenn,
for what may be a slightly different perspective in the
sense that you were just hired, I believe, in January,
you started with the Memphis Medical
District Collaborative, focused on
transportation issues. We’ve had Tommy Pacello,
who’s the head of Memphis Medical District,
which is an effort to kind of re-new that whole
area around the hospitals down, towards downtown.
Bring residents back in, retail, in part the
Wonder Bread development is in part a by-product of that. People who have driven
around have seen changes to streetscape,
and more just kind of beautification projects
and so on. I was struck, and we
covered this a lot at the paper, we covered these
issues a lot on the show, that there would be
actually in the Memphis Medical District
Collaborative, a person just focused on transportation. Why was that so important
for the Medical District? – So Eric you did a beautiful
job kind of weighing out– – Thank you.
– the entire 360 comprehensive effort that the
collaborative does. Part of that work with
the anchor institutions, they recognized that there’s
some transportation challenges that are limiting
possibilities for the district. As a consequence they
invested in having me, and bringing me on, and
in basically a program. That works with employers to
help them re-orient the deal. The deal is you drive,
we’ll store your car. That means they
have to change policy, benefits, a lot of different
stuff for their employees to actually
change their behavior. And then we also help their
employees to figure out how to change their behavior, and what
options might work for them. What we know is right now 97%
of the employees and students coming into the district
travel there driving alone. – (Eric)
Driving alone? – Driving alone. And that means the district
has, you know about 375 acres of parking space for
storage of cars. That is slightly
larger than Overton Park. It’s a huge dedication
of space, and money to build that out,
et cetera. And if you’re trying to
strengthen that area, it’s also unfriendly. It’s not pleasant walking
by there, right? And so when everybody
starts looking at how can we re-develop, how can we bring
in, kind of new residential, new retail, all of
that sort of stuff, part of the question is, how
do you deal with the demand for parking spaces
in a different way. – And do I remember, just one, just, for the scale,
that the number of people working in the Memphis
Medical District area, it’s over 20,000
or something like that? – About 25,000 – That are coming in
and out every day, because a very tiny percentage
actually live in that area. – Employees and students
coming in there for those two. That doesn’t count patients, and that doesn’t
count visitors, et cetera. And when we did, and we had this
conversation to tie it back, when we looked at the data they
were providing and compared it to where we know employees
live, we were seeing 900, and only 913 employees
or students having access to viable transit. And what they’re talking about
now is generating significantly more transit,
which gives, we think, can get us up to about 2500. Ten percent of employees
that could use transit. That’s a big difference. – That’s a big difference, yeah. Still a small percentage,
but a big difference from where it is right now. – Yeah, but in my business
you’re not shooting for 100%, you’re shooting
for 10%-20% change. – Yeah, ok. From your
point-of-view, and again, I’m doing this
sort of backwards, but rather than getting,
we’ll get into the specifics of the 3.0, of what’s
going on with that, but I’m curious, I love it when
we get a chance to have somebody who’s an outside expert
on, from other communities. Because there can sometimes
be in Memphis, and in a lot of other communities,
a sense that we’re the only ones that have trouble
with our bus system, we’re the only ones who don’t
have the right transit options. Everyone else is doing it
right and we’re doing it wrong. There can be that sort of
self-defeatism about that. – And you’re not, everyone is
struggling with this problem. In particularly southern cities
like you are struggling with this problem,
but all American cities are struggling
with this problem. To Glenn’s point about
the Medical District, 375 acres of parking, you know,
the fundamental challenge that most American cities are facing,
and cities across the world is, cars take up a lot of space. And cities are places
where people have relatively little space-per-person. And when cars take
up a lot of space, both to move and to store,
there’s less space available for everyone else to have
offices, shops, restaurants. You look at you know,
downtown Memphis today, versus downtown Memphis in 1960,
and the big differences are there are fewer people
and activities there, in part because
a lot of them have been replaced by surface parking. So you know, cities over the
last 10 to 15 and 20 years have really started to re-think
how they want to invest in transportation,
because most of the second half of the 20th century,
they ignored transit. And built entirely
around the automobile. Because the thinking
was that was the answer, that was the new thing. And we’ve discovered after 50,
60 years of trying that model that it doesnt work for cities,
because cities have to be places where people can
get together easily, in, you know, large
numbers with very little space. And when you do that, there’s
just not room for all the cars. And the answers then,
are different options. Walking, biking, and transit. Because those three things
take up the least amount of space-per-person, and get
people where they need to go. So we’ve, and by
we I mean our firm, has worked in a lot of places. Richmond, my home town
being one of them recently, but I mean even cities
in Canada we work in, that are struggling
with this challenge. Because we spent
so many years not thinking about this holistically. – Alright, we’ll come
back to a lot of that, but let me get
Bill Dries involved. – So Scudder, when we
talked about this last year, a couple months,
several months ago, the mix that we have here
with our bus system is, as I understand it,
60% of it is coverage, you gotta have some
sort of bus service there, the frequency may not be
high, but you gotta cover it. The other 40% of our bus
mix is high-frequency. Lot of trips
coming through there. With this draft report
what changes about that? – So yeah,
so to unpack that really quickly for everyone to understand. When, our firm takes a very
clear approach to thinking about the value trade-offs of transit. And one of the value trade-off
conflicts is the conflict between designing transit
that provides basic access and coverage to as many
places as possible, which is what about 60% of your
service in Memphis is doing. Trying to get to every
neighborhood and make sure as many people as
possible have service. Versus designing for getting
as many riders as possible, or getting as many
people to use the service, where you would concentrate
service or you have very frequent service meaning
short waits for transit. Because waiting time is
usually the most important, or the most significant
aspect of travel time for riding transit. A lot of routes
in the Memphis transit system run only every hour. So if you just miss the
bus, it’s a long wait. You know most people
who drive daily don’t think about how that
might affect your life, but it’s like if you had a gate
at the end of your driveway, and it only opens once an hour. If you miss that gate opening,
and you do that two or three days a week, you’re
going to lose your job. So concentrating service,
any fixed amount of service you have, even if you
increase your budget, you’re always going to
have a fixed amount. That balance between how you
spend those dollars makes a big difference in the usefulness
of service for people. And yes, if you go and read our
choices report which we produced last September, the existing
system as we analyze it is 40% focused on
ridership or frequency, and about 60% on coverage. So, based on all of the outreach
work that we’ve done around concepts and around
that value question, the direction that the city came
to was that we should balance it at 70% ridership, 30% coverage,
with an additional investment of about $30 million a
year in the system. And so that makes a big
difference in how much frequent service you can provide. So today, the only
frequent service, the closest thing you have to
frequent system in the system are the trolley routes
and the Poplar route. Everything else runs
only every 30 minutes or 60 minutes or worse. The re-designed network, the
network that you could start implementing in
three or four years, depending on exactly
when you start investing that additional dollars, has at least
four high-frequency bus routes that cover large parts
of the city and increases job access for the
average person by almost 40% in terms of how many jobs
you could reach in an hour. – What are those routes, can
we say what those routes are? – Yeah. Union and Poplar,
the Airways-Watkins-Cleveland north-south route.
The… Cooper… – Airways Cooper.
– Sorry, I got that confused. Airways-Cooper,
Presley-Watkins-Cleveland north-south, Lamar,
and then Union into Poplar. So four high-frequency routes that cover a large
part of the city. – Ok, and you talked
about a dollar figure here of $30 million dollars
over several years. That funding level though
is still tentative and is still being discussed,
or has the administration signed off on on that? – Well let me jump in, since
Scudder’s really working at the behest of the city
and Innovate Memphis, we did pretty
robust public outreach. So we did two phases of
public outreach so far, the first was really
conceptual, it just said, would you rather have
shorter waits for transit, or shorter walks for transit,
kind of the ridership and frequency versus
coverage trade-off. And then in the second phase we
actually had four draft maps, we had the existing system, a
way to re-allocate the existing dollars into a
higher ridership system, and then two maps that
had additional funds, and in fact in that case it was
$35 million annual new operating funds in the draft
maps that we put out. And we heard from folks,
well, if you leave it as is, keep coverage, we don’t want
anyone to lose out on what they have today, but if we have the
opportunity to have more funds lets get more ridership,
lets make transit more useful, and get especially more
job access for everyone. So we made the decision looking
at both public input and a stakeholder committee
that we have to design the system to 70% ridership,
30% coverage. Really just meaning that the
new dollars go to ridership, the base system
stays pretty similar, and new dollars
go to increasing frequency on the routes that
he was talking about. And then the $30 million
figure is actually annual. It would include
capital and operating. So in the beginning we’d need
more capital to buy more buses, make some improvements
on the streets where we’re going to have a lot of
buses, better shelters, transfer points,
things like that. And then as we go
forward, more for operating. So that was really looking
at the information that was coming from the public. The amount of service we need,
and kind of what we thought was feasible in terms
of the demands we have as a city, and where to
invest our dollars, that this is what would really be appropriate
to raise for transit. – Will there be areas of the
city that now have coverage that won’t have coverage
in this scenario? – So the design of the
system, it is is a blank slate re-design, meaning we started
from a completely blank map to design the network. We did start from a policy
point of we want to be sure that anyone that is near
a stop today will still be near a stop in the future. Within a half
mile, quarter mile. Doesn’t mean that the stop
will be in the same place, or the route will be
in the same place, or the route will take
you the exact same route. But we intentionally designed
it so that everyone who is near service today
is still near service with the re-designed system. Most people are near
much better service, because we’ve increased the
frequency on so many routes with that additional investment,
but that doesn’t mean everyone benefits 40% with
better than 40% access. So different parts of the
city benefit differently. But when you look
at the outcomes, the vast majority of people,
across the vast majority of the city have significant
increases in access to jobs, shopping,
all sorts of opportunities with the re-design. – Glenn, in the case of the
Memphis Medical District, is the transit need
there coverage, or is the transit need
there frequency? – So, so, as you would expect,
employees come from all over this region. Some of which
transit will never serve. And so without a doubt, a lot of
people in the medical district are kind of dots on a map that
everything that Scudder just said kind of applies to. Some people would lose
service if it were cut, fortunately it’s not,
unfortunately an hour between buses doesn’t work very well
for employees getting to work. What, but the range of
times and all of that are nice improvements. What we do know is that the
number of employees given the high frequency routes, the
number of employees that can use transit will greatly increase. And then the other thing
we need to still solve, and we’re in discussions with
MATA about how to do this is, a shuttle over
to Harbor Town, because a lot of the Medical
District employees simply aggregate over there. It hasn’t ever worked very
well for MATA to be able to get transit service there, and
this, they’re not charged with expanding the footprint, and so
we will work on how we can get the private sector employers
to show proof-of-concept. And that’s one of the things
that we ought to put on the table folks, is private
sector can invest in this stuff. Places I’ve come to
before Memphis that they have, there’s no reason to expect that
it’s all a public sector issue. – It’s an extreme example, but
I know I’ve read articles of Google has buses that go from
downtown San Francisco to their campus out in Mountain View,
and some of those other high tech firms. But there are other
examples you’re saying, it doesn’t have to be a Google. – We put together an aggregate
of six different employers in you know, basically west
downtown Austin that simply wanted to get their employees
over nine, ten blocks to connect up with transit, and they were paying
the dime for the shuttle. – Another example
of that is you know, sometimes it’s
not just employers, but special events. So in D.C., the Washington
Nationals will pay sometimes to make sure that the metro rails
system operates late at night after a late game. – (Eric)
Oh really? – So, you know, all sorts of
people can come to the table to help solve some of those issues. You know, late night when you
need a little extra service– – I guess that’s no different
than an event or a team or something, a parade,
paying for extra police service. – (Scudder)
Exactly. – That kind of stuff happens
all the time and we don’t think twice about it.
– Yeah, exactly, so there’s tons of opportunities for
those kinds of partnerships. – Let me come
back to you Suzanne, and you may not know these, but
we talked through some of the specifics of the plan.
$30 million. Are you all making
recommendations at this phase on how that gets paid for, or was
that not part of your charge? – That was not
part of the charge, we haven’t been
looking at that so far, we’ve been looking at what sort
of transit investments could help Memphis. So as we go forward, the survey
that we’re going to have when we have the draft
recommended network out, we’re asking for
public comment on it, so people can look at it and
make recommendations whether they like the draft network, or
whether they’d recommend some changes, and then we’re asking
people as well how much they’d be willing to pay. So at this point we’re
really taking the temperature. When we did the last,
the phase two survey, we asked people that question,
and it came in around between $5 and $8 was sort of
the average people said they’d be willing to
pay per month, per household
for better transit service. And we’re asking the
same question again. – What would, the roll-out, how
long would it take to roll-out the proposal that
you guys are making. If money were, lets
say, not an option. Which it will be so
it’s a silly question, but? – Right we put a
target date of 2022, so enough time to have the
public have this conversation around the plan, look at what
some funding options might be, and if and when we get funding
we need time to purchase buses, make some improvements and
then change the system out. – To what extent for all of
you with thinking about transit issues, do ride
sharing, Uber, Lyft, others that might come along,
to what degree does that sort of alter the models of saying, ok,
yeah if we had a really great bus system by 2022, we’d have X,
history shows we’d have all these riders, but now we’re in
this period where more and more autonomous, not autonomous,
but Uber and Lyft are out there, moving slowly or rapidly to
an age of autonomous cars, how does that
change your planning? – Well, in the age
of pre-automation, so pre- you know, vehicles
that can drive themselves, we, you have, the primary cost
of most any transit service, or ride sharing
service or taxi service, and Uber and Lyft are just
taxi services with an app, is the cost of the driver. And so, labor cost is always
going to be the main thing that limits your ability to
provide more service. And the question becomes then
how efficiently can you provide that service. And when you look at
Uber, Lyft or taxi, or para-transit, para-transit is
tranpsortation that is provided for people with disabilities,
all of those types of services that are door-to-door, they
really max out at about five riders per hour is
what they can do. In terms of people
they can carry per hour. And low-performing, in
terms of productivity, which is the efficiency
term we use in the industry, low-performing services on
fixed-routes are in the range of ten boardings per hour. The average for the MATA system
is about 18 boardings per hour, and Poplar,
and other routes like that do 25-30 boardings per hour. – Boardings per hour being? – Being bus running down
the street for an hour, how many people are
getting on that bus, every hour that’s
running down the street. So you think of an
Uber of Lyft driver, why is five the maximum? Well you know,
somebody calls up an Uber, they show up, you
get in the car, you drive ten
minutes down the street, you get out, they
go get another, the maximum they can
really do is five an hour, realistically. When they piloted doing
bridge in Kansas City, they’ve really only
done about one or two. So, you still run
into this gulf in what we call a productivity level. Of they can’t really match
most fixed-froute service, so they could have a role in the
really lowest density area where fixed routes probably can’t
achieve more than five boardings per hour, but even in
most places in Memphis, fixed routes can do
better than that. – Can I broaden
out a little bit? – Yeah please. – Because I’ve been starting to
have these conversations with our MMDC partners,
getting people future ready, which is thinking
about Uber and Lyft, but it’s also a lot
broader than that, there are four
kind of topic areas. One is infrastructure. We’re not paying for
infrastructure like we used to. As a consequence somebody like
Memphis that as many lane miles as New York City is having a
hard time even keeping up with their pot holes,
much less any kind of system improvements, right? On top of that, and that’s not
going to change any time soon, and so that’s, you kind of get
an incredible disruption to our transportation. On top of that, you
look at technology, Uber and Lyft are the
front end of a spear, where you have bike share, you
have zip car that we used to get here today, you have lots of
options coming on the table and what we don’t have a
clear sense of yet, is exactly how they will all
work together and start to fit out different markets, but we
know is transit is that big efficient hub for part of it. – Yeah, and when you talk
about the transit funding, is that really, were you talking
about the Federal funding that has gone away,
or are you talking about funding at all levels. – So funding primarily at
state and Federal levels, which is generally half or more
of our infrastructure funding. Caps on gas taxes have
been in place for decades, Federal money same
thing, and no will, but two others just to
kind of put on the table. One is demographics. The system we built
was built for boomers. And what we have now as 50% of
the workforce are millenials that have very different
expectations about everything from where they live
to where they work. And what that works like. And that’s going to start
driving some real change in how we make arrangements on mobility
and a lot of other things. – With just two
minutes left here, Bill, you wanna get in? – Yeah, just a quick question,
for many of us here in Memphis we can get someplace
in about a half hour, maybe 45 minutes. Can bus
transportation ever match that? Or is a matter of
getting close to that. – We have some fantastic maps
that we’ll have in the report at that
will show where you can get from 15 different points in the
city within an hours time around Memphis with the
re-designed transit system. The amount of
jobs you can access, and in reverse, if
you’re a business, how many people can
access your destination. In the case of the Medical
District how mnay new employees can suddenly get there
in a half-hours time, 45 minutes, and 60 minutes. Do you have some
averages across the system? – I don’t have any
averages across the system, but I think the maps
will say a lot about how, you know, travel times can be
improved across the city with the system. There is a certain limit
you reach though in certain parts of the city. You know, in more
suburban parts of the city, and in outlying
areas around the city, the land use is very
difficult for walking, and most people walk to transit. So when you look at
the total travel time, it can be much more competitive
if people are going to denser, busier places. – We’re going going to give you
the last word because we’re out of time, but we will certainly
be talking about this again in the coming weeks,
and months, and years. Thank you for joining us,
thank you all for being here, join us again next
week, goodnight. [dramatic orchestral music] [acoustic guitar chords]


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