Bus Rapid Transit Frequently Asked Questions
How does the Master Plan and Transit Plan coordinate with the State of California High Speed Rail project?
We anticipate that the proposed High Speed Rail (HSR) station will increase the demand for bus service to and from the station. Therefore, efficient links to other modes of transportation, including BRT, will be critical. We envision the proposed BRT stop at Van Ness and Mariposa to play a significant role in providing easy and efficient access to the proposed HSR station, which will be located just a few blocks away at H and Mariposa Streets. The ultimate success of a comprehensive, intermodal transit system relies significantly on its ability to allow passengers to seamlessly transfer from one mode to another.
The Transit Plan operational and capital funding plan rely heavily on Federal, State, and grant funding. What is plan “b” when or if these funds are not available or sufficient? This is of particular concern for a program with an underlying structural problem of operating costs outpacing revenues.
One of the requirements under the FTA Very Small Starts Program is the ability by a grantee to demonstrate financial capacity to operate the system once the project is completed. The attached pro forma has been provided and accepted by the FTA which shows the funding sources that will be used to support the ongoing cost of BRT.
With regard to the capital costs of BRT, the City has successfully received a $38 million Very Small Starts Grant that will fund 80% of the capital related costs. The remaining 20% is being provided through State of California Proposition 1B allocated specifically to the City of Fresno to fund public transportation improvements. Capital funding for three new BRT buses is also being provided by the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District.
As for the concern or perception that Fresno Area Express (FAX) operates in a deficit, I’m not sure how or where such an assertion could be made. While the Department has had issues in the past related to cash flow, this issue is driven by the amount of time (more than six months if not longer) that it takes for the FTA to reimburse the City for eligible grant expenses. As you know, the City experiences similar delays when it seeks reimbursements from the Federal Highway Administration for various street-related projects.
The reality is that over the last two years revenues actually exceed expenses and it is the Department’s intent, based on the Mayor’s Fiscal Year 2014 Budget, to transfer approximately $4 million into various reserves, including $2.5 million into an operating reserve.
Again, based on the pro forma provided to the FTA, which also includes a $3.5 million Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) grant that will fund the first three years of operations, we are projecting FAX will have a $9 million operating reserve by Fiscal Year 2016/2017 which will be used to sustain the Department while it is awaiting reimbursements from the FTA.
The volatility of the proposed funding program (federal funds, state funds, grants) is of concern and a more in depth evaluation of the likelihood of receiving future revenues should be conducted. Measure C is a good example of a revenue source that is well below (35%) its previously projected amounts.
Actually, federal transit funds are the least volatile funding sources the City receives. Approximately 18-20% of the City’s FAX system has been funded with Federal transit funds for more than 10 years. And, as noted above, the City is required under the FTA Very Small Starts Program to demonstrate the financial capacity to operate the service once the project is completed. Based on conservative estimates related to revenues and operational expenses, we are confident that FAX can build adequate reserves, sustain BRT, as well as operate the other routes at current service levels already provided by the Department.
Many of the “new” revenues proposed in the Transit Plan require voter approval. Has there been an evaluation conducted to determine feasibility of these funding sources? Some of the proposed new funding revenues (impact fees, Mello-Roos districts) will have a direct impact on future project feasibility.
As we discussed, the PTIS had recommended some type of fee structure that would be used to fund the capital improvements needed to support BRT. The settlement of a lawsuit filed by Medical Advocates for Healthy Air against the developers of Fancher Creek also called for the collection of a citywide impact fee in order to fund BRT. However, because the City was successful in obtaining the Federal grant funds for constructing BRT, we do not need to assess the development community as originally proposed in the PTIS.
Capital improvement funding sources, such as development impact fees, should be contingent upon security of a sustainable operational funding plan.
Again, there are no new development impact fees being used to fund the City’s proposed BRT project.
The COG travel demand model suggests travel speeds for the region will remain unchanged over the next 20-30 years. What impact will that have on ridership?
We have discussed this concern with representatives from the FCOG and they advise that they have not modeled regional travel speeds. While the FCOG has not conducted a regional travel mode, it is their belief that the speeds will decrease unless roadway capacity is increased significantly.
Furthermore, the implementation of BRT is meant to augment the City of Fresno’s General Plan Update which attempts to reduce the number of vehicle miles travelled and associated vehicle emissions by reallocating future growth and supporting activity centers along the BRT corridors so that public transportation and other alternative modes of transportation become competitive with the personal automobile.
BRT is considered by CalTrans to be a mitigation to traffic impacts on highways and Freeway 41 resulting from new development. Without BRT, as new development happens in Southeast Fresno, Southwest Fresno, and along the Blackstone corridor, CalTrans will likely require additional lane miles to be added to Hwy 180, 99, and SR 41. However, as the City adds the initial BRT corridors on Blackstone and Ventura/Kings Canyon and eventually in SW Fresno, we believe we can lessen the requirements from CalTrans to add highway lane miles. We estimate the cost of highway lane miles to be approximately twice the cost of BRT per mile for construction.
How will the removal of bus stops to accommodate BRT affect ridership?
Removal of a few stops will reduce the amount of time for passengers to travel to their destination and make the service more convenient for the majority of our customers. Passengers will experience a much shorter wait time at stops. This improved level of service and convenience will subsequently result in an increase in ridership.
The fact is the majority of FAX’s existing bus stops are approximately already ¼ mile apart, which is the maximum walking distance between two BRT stations. In fact, the concern over the removal of bus stops has prompted an analysis and review of bus stop placements throughout the entire FAX system, in particular those that are located within a 1/8 mile or less from each other.
Would reducing FAX headways to 10 minutes, as proposed for BRT, increase ridership on FAX?
We do not believe that simply increasing headways would generate a comparable increase in ridership due to the fact that travel times would not decrease as they do under BRT. From a capital and operating standpoint, simply increasing headways is also more expensive because of the slower operating speeds and the need to allocate additional equipment.
Conversely, we anticipate that FAX will experience an increase in ridership along the Blackstone and Ventura/Kings Canyon corridors due to the increased levels of passenger amenities and security, reduced headways, and shorter travel times. These factors, as well as the City’s General Plan Update and our commitment to revitalize the neighborhoods adjacent to both of these corridors, will result in an increase in ridership.
Have other cities the size and diversity of Fresno implemented a successful BRT?
There are at least 20 BRT systems operating nationwide, with five of these systems operating in California, including Alameda/Contra Costa County, San Bernardino, Santa Clara, Los Angeles and Stockton. Of these cities, both Stockton and San Bernardino share a number a similarities as it relates to demographics, unemployment, land use and air quality challenges.
Stockton, who implemented BRT over five years ago, has seen a 40% increase in ridership since it was first introduced in 2007, with plans to build upon its previous success. I have attached a press release issued by the San Joaquin Regional Transit District, dated June 3, 2013, which provides additional information as to the success of their BRT system. It should be noted that this community also faced “skepticism” from some segments of their community as to the viability of BRT in Stockton.
The Master Plan assumes a 7 mile BRT line along the Ventura corridor costing approximately $32 million. Why is there no cost estimate for the Blackstone corridor included in the Master Plan?
The City’s proposed BRT project, which encompasses both Blackstone and the Ventura/Kings Canyon corridors, is estimated to cost approximately $49.5 million. Without reviewing the referenced information and underlying assumptions (e.g., dedicated BRT lanes), it would be presumptuous of me to speculate on the accuracy of this projection.
The Master Plan and Transit Plan assume significant grant funding. What is the status of future Federal or State grants?
Please refer to attached pro forma.
Has the BRT program received Measure C money to date? If so, how much?
Not at this time, but we are confident that funding from the Measure C Transit Oriented Development allocation will become available, as it has been in Downtown, to help attract new investment along the proposed corridors once the BRT project is approved by Council.
Will the grant programs require a certain level of local funding? If so, what additional sources will be utilized outside Measure C?
The only “local” funds being used to support BRT as well as the other services provided by FAX, are derived from Measure C funds designated specifically for public transportation, passenger fares and advertising revenues. The City, as a practice, does not allocate gas tax, Flexible Measure C, or other eligible transportation funds to support public transportation services.
The Master Plan assumes a development impact fee will be collected to fund the BRT program? What is the status of this fee program? Who will be charged the fee and what is the nexus?
As stated earlier, there are no plans to pursue a transit development impact fee. It is the City’s intent to build on the success of the current BRT project to support the future federal and state grant applications that would be used to support the expansion of Fresno’s BRT system.
The Master Plan assumes an annual operational cost of $2.0 million for the 7 mile BRT while the Transit Plan assumes an annual operational cost of $2.6 million for the 13.25 mile BRT. Which is correct?
Annual operating costs were estimated to be $1.8 million and represent the cost of providing BRT compared to current service levels. Given that the original estimates were based on FY11/12 operating costs, the Department has subsequently increased this estimate to $2.3 million in order to reflect inflationary increases in future operating costs.
What is included in the estimate for the operating costs?
Operating costs include items typically related to providing public transportation, including employee costs, vehicle operations and maintenance, as well as a higher level of BRT station maintenance. The operating cost also includes the addition of Fare Collection/Public Safety personnel who will monitor fare compliance and passenger behavior.
Will grant funding continue to be pursued to fund operations? How much and what are the sources? What is the status of any grant funds?
The City is constantly pursuing grants that are used to provide essential services, including public safety, parks, street maintenance, as well as public transportation. With regards to FAX, there are three projects submitted under the FCOG’s competitive CMAQ program that will be used to fund increased service levels on Shaw Avenue, new service to the recently opened Veteran’s Home as well as funding for new CNG buses.
Is it planned that Measure C be used to fund operations? How much will be required and are there sufficient Measure C funds available?
Measure C is just one of the funding sources used to support public transportation. FAX also relies on funding from Federal and State resources that are allocated specifically to provide public transportation services. In all three cases, the City is experiencing growth in all three funding sources, which will allow FAX to sustain BRT operations once the CMAQ grant, which provides three years of operating assistance, expires. In the interim, it is our intent to use this surplus revenue to fund operating and capital reserves.
The Transit plan indicates declining ridership and increased operating costs over the last years. How will this be corrected and how will this structural deficit be funded?
To be clear, the increase in revenues outlined above has eliminated the structural deficit that you are referring to. In fact, it is the Department’s intent to transfer $4 million in FY14 into various reserves, including $2.5 million into an operating reserve that will be used to sustain the operations while it awaits reimbursement from the FTA.
The Master Plan assumes all FAX riders will utilize the BRT. Will 100% of the FAX ridership be required for the BRT to be successful?
No. We actually don’t assume any increase in ridership along the BRT corridors in order to be exceedingly cautious with the department’s funds. Even with the extremely cautious ridership projections, the Department will still be able to continue operating the rest of the system, pay for ongoing BRT operations, and build an operating reserve over the next five years.
Will the fares for BRT ridership be more than the FAX fares on these routes?
Will the existing sewer system along the two BRT designated routes support the planned density? If not, what will the cost be to increase the sewer capacity, when will it be installed and who will pay for the capacity?
Based on the preliminary model results for the updated Sewer Collection System Master plan, it appears the densification along these corridors will have minimal adverse impact or need for increased capacity.
Will the existing water system along the two BRT designated routes support the planned density? If not, what will the cost be to increase the water capacity, when will it be installed and who will pay for the capacity?
The Metro Plan is a citywide plan that will allow us to meet demand wherever it occurs with minimal localized impacts. The Metro Plan improvements will be funded by water revenues. Incremental localized costs to increase a service or distribution lateral would be a project cost.
Let me again summarize the benefits of BRT to our community and your members:
- BRT will reduce both waiting and travel times for FAX customers on the two busiest transit corridors in the city
- BRT provides service improvements to its customers without compromising service levels in other parts of the FAX system;
- The City has secured Federal and state grant funding to cover 100% of the capital costs to implement BRT;
- The City has secured grant funds to cover the first three years of operations of BRT;
- The City’s pro forma indicates the FAX department can (1) operate the rest of the FAX system, (2) operate the BRT corridors, and (3) establish a $9 million dollar reserve without imposing a citywide transit impact fee on development;
- BRT has proven to add value to adjacent properties and businesses in the other cities in the U.S. where implemented, which would be a welcome contribution to businesses and property owners along the Blackstone and Ventura/Kings Canyon corridors;
- BRT can help lower the cost of new development in Southwest Fresno, Southeast Fresno, and along the Blackstone corridor by reducing the number of new highway lane miles that would have to be added to support new development;
- BRT is assumed in Fresno County’s Sustainable Communities Strategy, which was adopted by the FCOG in November. If the City does not move forward with BRT, new development proposals within the City of Fresno’s sphere of influence over the next five years will be extremely vulnerable to CEQA challenges, as our City will be out of compliance with the County’s adopted SCS.
Given that the City of Fresno is in the top 5% of the highest pollution areas in California (according to the CalEnviroScreen), we are constantly under the magnifying glass by both CEQA plaintiffs in the Fresno Area, as well as those concerned with environmental justice issues around the state. It seems to be in the best interest of the BIA membership to see BRT move forward, as it serves as both a traffic and air quality mitigation measure.