Lexi Miller: Ride the bus

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Anyone who has ever paid sales tax in Steamboat Springs has paid their share for the bus service. The majority of the funds for our local transit system come from sales tax. The problem is not that someone else needs to pay for the bus. The problem is that there is no dedicated bus fund for transit to pull money out of each year. Steamboat springs City Council takes funds for the bus out of a general fund, leaving an unpredicted amount of money for transit services each year. If transit had a dedicated fund for the bus, it could plan for the future to make the Yellow Line more efficient.

According to Steamboat Springs Transit (SST), it takes up to three years to establish a route and gain ridership on any given bus route. Since its beginning in the late 1970s, the Yellow Line has changed its route and schedule nearly every year to try to provide a higher level of service and accommodate more riders. In addition to keeping a set route that riders can begin to know and trust, a dedicated fund for the Yellow Line as part of the SST services would give the Yellow Line a chance at gaining ridership.

A lot of talk surrounds Colorado Mountain College and its contributions to the Yellow Line. Colorado Mountain College should not feel forced to be partners with SST. The money that goes to the college should be used for education. The only reason CMC gave any money to the Yellow Line was because it was in the construction budget for the new building and during construction parking on campus was limited. The new building will bring in more students to the campus and to town. Students will spend up to $5,000 in Steamboat Springs per year, paying more than their share of sales tax (the main source of funding for the bus service). Also, CMC students are not the only people using the bus.

The Yellow Line never will compare to ridership on the Red or Blue lines and we should stop singling it out as a weak link. Riders from the Yellow Line connect to other bus routes in the system — for example, they take the Yellow Line to meet up with the Red Line to get to the mountain or to shop in town. More people need to be aware of how it runs and how to connect to other buses. Once we start seeing the Yellow Line as a part of a bus system, we can find ways to make it more efficient.

If you believe in free transportation and this amazing gift that the city gives us, then ride the bus. More than 600 signatures were turned in to City Council on Oct. 2 to keep the Yellow Line; I would love to see all of those people ride the bus, just once a month. Riding the bus is what needs to happen in order for SST to become a more efficient system.

I’m urging people to talk to others about the bus, to tell them how it works and that it’s easy to use. That’s what is in the works for February 2013 — a ridership campaign through Students for Sustainability at CMC to tell people about the bus and explain how it works. We hope to get people to ride the bus, even if it is just once per month. As always, riding the bus helps save on gas, cuts down on carbon emissions, and you never have to find a parking spot. There are many perks to riding the bus, let’s show more locals how to get the most out of this extraordinary free bus system.

Lexi Miller

Steamboat Springs

Comments

Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

Great letter Lexi. The bus is awesome. And it does need some marketing.

Linda had to pull me onto the bus a few times at first because the car was my habit. After 3 or 4 rides I began to like it. Now I'm hooked.

I also like combining my bike and the bus. Getting from A to B happens faster. I'm pretty lazy and like the bus going toward the mtn, but heading back to town is downhill and super easy on my cruiser. Eventually they need to be able to load more than 2 bikes - a design challenge for the Sustainability class?

See you on the bus :)

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Dan Hill 1 year, 10 months ago

The city has a limited (and variable) amount of revenue to cover all the competing demands for services.With total sales taxes pushing ten percent I doubt most people will support paying more. So costs have to be managed. Right now we can't even cover proper maintenance on existing infrastructure so the problem is only going to get worse.

Dedicating revenues to transit solves nothing. It only means when adjustments need to be made other programs have to feel the full brunt of any savings. Cutting a bus service that barely anyone uses seems a good place to start rationalizing.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 10 months ago

Did I hear the word sustainability bantered about? This service is a monument to unsustainability considering that we are 16T in debt due to unaffordable forays as such. I always check out ridership when passing a bus, which has lately been hidden by tinted windows. I am for service that makes sense albeit not politically correct sense. If we cut our naval cord from the nanny state and looked for our own solutions we could attain a sense of pride and leadership that far surpasses anything that we will ever attain from grants. Our present situation is depends on government money, and the attached strings hamper our autonomy and resourcefulness..

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

Because of our projected traffic congestion, we also have advocates for a $100-200 million bypass. I like the bus alternative, but we need to change some habits for it to fully succeed.

Ridership is up. Lexi's effort to promote our bus system only helps it's fiscal performance. If we put more people on the yellow line, it can survive and for good reason. Sure, the yellow line is in a trial phase. It may fail. But we should give it our best shot and the best way to do that is to amplify Lexi's message.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Yellow Line is probably always going to be a troubled line.

First, it is mostly in low density residential areas so the number of potential riders are low.

Second, it runs fairly close to Lincoln so walking is a viable alternative. I live near the Yellow Line route along Tamarack, but if I need to take the bus then usually I'll walk to Lincoln That is faster than waiting for and then riding Yellow Line. For those that ride the Yellow Line, I often see them walking home since they don't want to wait.

The Red and Blue lines are clearly successful with good ridership. It is convenient for tourists, enables people without cars to participate in the workforce, and reduces the number of people looking for downtown and mountain parking.

But Yellow Line will probably have, at best, marginal ridership and be an option to be cut from the city budget. Dedicated funding is not a wise alternative since that would mean it gets funded regardless of ridership.

Those that wish government to be effective and efficient should always fight against dedicated funding. Dedicated funding means a program will be funding regardless of current effectiveness or that other underfunded programs are more effective.

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mark hartless 1 year, 10 months ago

"If you believe in free transportation and this amazing gift that the city gives us then ride the bus."

Wow! Even after beginning the article with the undeniable truth that taxpayers pay for the SST it seems Lexi still can not de-couple from the double fantasy that transportation can be "free" and that it is provided by the "city".

I wonder if the taxpayers of Steamboat Springs, who are forced to pay for other peoples transportation, might rather use their hard-earned money to purchase groceries for their family, a bike for themselves to ride, a hybrid vehicle, a wind turbine or solar panels for their home, etc.

If I put a gun to your head, take your cash, and give it to another person, that person is not recieving an "amazing gift", they are recieving STOLEN PROPERTY. Let a municipal government do it and it's all rainbows and unicorns. Go figure...

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 10 months ago

Steve, The bus system may be your alibi for not facing future traffic problems, but let's put ideology aside and look at Glenwood's age old debacle. CDOT is preparing for a bridge replacement over the Colorado River. They also plan to move traffic down Grand Ave. come hell or high water. Glenwood's head in sand approach has let all reasonable solutions slip by over the decades with leaders choosing the path of least resistance. They seem to use the liberal trump card that a solution is impossible. They are faced with very limited access to Grand Ave, possibly no parking,, basically they will not be in control in their future. Take a poll today and see if that is what we want in SS. I don't expect an epiphany overnight but I think that responsible leaders should be examining potential problems before we become the next Glenwood.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

Fred, you do not believe buses mitigate traffic congestion. I do. They also reduce pollution and fuel consumption.

With years of study on Steamboat traffic we are way past epiphanies - our traffic reality is well described. You support a bypass around Steamboat and you build roads for a living. Where would you put it and how much would you spend on it?

Mark, Lexi speaks of our bus program as a gift. An appreciation of taxes applied that she does not take for granted. Her letter attempts to make that gift into a functioning asset worth the taxes spent.

Someone advocating better use of taxes spent deserves a reasoned reply. Do think that well utilized buses are a waste of your tax money?

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 10 months ago

Steve, I agree that well utilized busses might be a good investment but most of the busses are empty or close to it. It is the conditions of the grants that prevent common sense from ruling. Empty busses cause rather than mitigate congestion. It is not my position to solve our future problems but to support discussion in order to avoid another Glenwood situation that is an embarassment to anyone that considers planning important. If we had started decades ago when the when the planners of the time were overruled we might have avoided the pain that seems inevitable today. I thought that the shortsightedness of main street years ago was insane and I still do..

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Fred,

Red and Blue line buses are well used. It is simply false to say that they run empty. Average of 3,000 bus riders a day.

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mark hartless 1 year, 10 months ago

Let me ask you something, Steve.

If a bank robber gives all his loot to St Judes Childrens Hospital and they use the money to find a cure for childhood cancer wasn't that money very, very well utilized???

Does the fact that the money ended up curing cancer mean the bank robber is any less guilty of theft?

Should he not be imprisoned like other bank robbers?

Should he be given a plaque and keys to the city instead?

Should there be a statue of him in front of St Judes???

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Fred,

Nope, found an article saying annual ridership of 1,050,000 for 2010.

I note that 10-15 people on a bus can look like a nearly empty bus. But that is still a bunch of cars not on the road. And a bunch of economic activity.

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mark hartless 1 year, 10 months ago

Economic activity???

What about the car dealer who lost the sale of those 15 cars, Scott?

What about the gas station operator trying to put his kids through college on gas sales?

What about the tire dealer, the car wash owner, the jiffy-lube employees, auto parts store employees, etc?

What about them, Scott???

Then throw in the "economic activity" that might have been spurred by the rightfull owners of that tax money that went to the bus. What might those families have purchased with those tax dollars? Braces for the kids, a new pair of skis, a bike to ride in lieu of the car???

The busy-bodies never consider all the people hurt by their "helping" because the damage is seldom seen.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Mark,

As if buying a car from a car dealer is what would happen if there was no local public transportation.

In reality, downtown congestion increases 10% overnight. Downtown parking becomes that much more scarce.

Many households such as families with one car would simply leave to where there is public transportation. Thus, a big slice of the lower income workers that allow our resort economy to operate would leave.

Pretty basic economics that a well used bus service helps the local economy.

And taxes are not theft because taxes is the law agreed upon by the people. You may not like the law, but that is still completely different than breaking the law to take a person's money.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 10 months ago

In the first place this project will never be sustainable unless we charge for the product. Second, if we charge to ride the bus there might be more cars sold. Third, We are precluding the private sector from providing a service by our intervention. If there is a need soneone will fill it without gevernment benevolence...

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Bus ridership achieves three important goals for the city.

1) Reduces traffic on roads. Thus, reducing drive time for everyone else and reducing the amount of people's time wasted in traffic.

2) Reduces parking requirements for downtown. Thus, allowing increased business activity in downtown.

3) Provides a popular amenity for tourists similar to what is available in other ski resorts.

Thus, as long as there is strong ridership then the transit program is sustainable because the costs are better than the alternatives.

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John St Pierre 1 year, 10 months ago

So Sunday I'm at Bobs Conoco and in pulls a Shuttle bus with Colorado Mtn College all over it...... so why does the city have to provide a city bus to CMC???? Lest we not forget CMC pays NO property tax being tax exempt I believe.. as such they get free police and fire protection and all the other city services....

Imagine... students working off their loans thru work study driving a shuttle bus up and down 13 th street to the established city bus routes..... all you need is a regular drivers license to drive the shuttles the college already owns........

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

This has been an interesting exchange, mostly emotional and philosophical, with only one number that I have seen--1,050,000 riders per year. I would invite those of you who have the time and the inclination to help us be better informed by providing the full cost of the bus service. That is, just how much would we save if we discontinued the bus service tomorrow? All costs. Including cost of capital. Right now I have no idea if the average cost per rider is 10 cents or ten dollars or something in between. Just to be clear, I am not proposing that the bus service be discontinued, simply trying to get a reasonably hard number, so that this exchange will have a bit more fact to it. Many thanks.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

George,

Overall, it looks to cost $2.47 per rider. Yellow Line is about $10.00 per rider. That is from a recent Yellow Line article. Not sure if that include bus acquisition costs.

There is also a bus route to Craig which does charge fares, but also much less than actual costs. That route is seen as delivering lower paid workers to SB.

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

Thank you Scott. You said you are not sure if the number includes bus acquisition costs. If these are the usual accounting type figures, they would not, nor would they include the cost of capital. Do you know if they have been reduced via subsidies from either CO State or Federal government bodies?

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

George,

The above numbers do not appear to have been reduced due to operating subsidies.

I recall that the bus purchases were subsidized by federal transportation grants.

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Fred Duckels 1 year, 10 months ago

In the past we had big plans for the busses and they ware going to provide major services and we were being told to forget about our cars and jump on board. When the SB700 need was conceived one of the talking points was that bus drivers were in short supply and this would provide housing for them. As time went on reality began to set in and the same visionaries turned on SB700 and squelched the deal leaving the well meaning developers with shabby treatment.

We need transportation, mostly during ski season but might subsidizing the private sector be an alternative to empire building?.Should this venture go the way of affordable housing?

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

Fred,

The talking point of driver housing was an Iron Horse argument made by the City. Recent reports show it does have monthly tenants on the lower income range.

SB700 lost on far larger arguments than affordable housing. The deal was throughly discussed and negotiated for months. 60% voted "no". Shabby treatment and a squelched deal?

You make a good point about affordable housing. The vision is changed. I favored affordable ownership during the boom and worked for that result. Today the free market is solving affordable ownership. Will the ownership need return? I don't know.

Buses and affordable housing are both "infrastructure" which support our economy. They have some shared missions. But they are not the same. Notably, buses see much use by all income levels and many tourists. The bus system does a LOT of work.

But to your point, the years 2007 and 2013 looked very very different from an affordable housing perspective. From a bus system perspective, 2007 and 2013 look very similar.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

I paid some attention to the private shuttles during my last mid-day bus trip to the hill. I saw 5 private shuttles downtown. Each was empty. Likely their reverse trip had occupants. Too bad they can't get their lodging guests to ride the City bus at least from the gondola transit center.

Which matches well with Lexi's letter. The bus system could benefit with more outreach and coordination with user groups.

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

@Scott & Others Interested

I think you are correct that the fed subsidies for vehicle purchases are not included. This I gleaned from reading on other city bus systems. Further, if that cost were to be included the cost would jump dramatically, to say double, triple or quadruple. Again, a personal guesstimate from info on other cities. So, as a first guess, our fully costed bus system here runs more than five and maybe as much as ten dollars per rider-trip. It would be helpful, if only to me, for a person more qualified than I to run down better numbers. While I appreciate that there are environmental, parking, even esthic arguments for our bus service, I personally feel very uncomfortable evaluating its merits not knowing just how much it costs, which of course would lead me to think about more cost effective alternatives for evaluation.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

George,

I searched through the SB City budget.

SB transit budget includes maintenance, but does not include bus replacement. But SB has 22 buses and the expensive hybrids cost $500K each. Seems that bus can be expected to last 20 years without becoming excessively obsolete. SB has operated buses more than 30 years old. So a 20 year replacement schedule would increase total costs of providing transit by about $,50 per rider which is far less than the doubling or more than you guessed.

Some of the costs of not providing public transit are not that hard to reasonably estimate. During periods of traffic congestion, the number of transit passengers can be added as if driving and the new level of congestion can be calculated. Costs for traffic congestion are typically calculated as if the people stuck in traffic were able to do something useful. Similarly, City can track ridership vs scarcity of downtown parking and figure out how much additional economic is able to take place in downtown because of ridership. There is also the harder to measure economic benefit of providing reliable transportation to people without cars or not able to drive.

Anyway, seems to me that Red and Blue lines as well as service to Craig are generally successful and worth supporting. Yellow Line is hard to justify because it doesn't improve congestion or free up scarce parking and has weak ridership.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Steve,

The private shuttle buses have to justify their costs to their owners, not the taxpayers.

One area where government is blocking more efficient solutions is the government regulation of taxi services. Those regulation originally made some sense before cells phone because a passenger was at the mercy of the driver without ability to easily communicate or ask for help.

But now people are using cell phones and some tech to create what could be called real time ride sharing by matching rider's requests with driver's intended routes so a driver can pick up a passenger for an already planned commute or errand and make a few bucks. And the passenger pays much less than a taxi.

But taxi companies are fighting back and saying that is illegal competition.

Free market economics do not work when there are government regulations stating how services are to be provided and the state controls the number of companies allowed to provide the services.

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

@Steve-

Thank you for researching the SS City budget. I have no problem with a guess that the bus life may be 20 years. My cost guesstimates were based on figures mentioned for other communities where, it would appear from your numbers, there are much greater levels of subsidization than we have here. Don't know if that is true, nor why it would be. Perhaps worth further research? I would imagine that there can be significant differences among communities' bookkeeping practices, so getting at comparable fully costed bus services is not an easy task.

On a slightly different tack, I have found when comparing and contrasting, to try to use two relatively orthogonal measures: efficiency and effectiveness. Efficiency would be the number we have been discussing here, cost per rider-trip. Effectiveness contains the agreed upon non-direct cost performance measures. For example, if we were to compare say bus service to an on-call taxi service, the efficiecy measures would be their comparable costs. The effectiveness would be how well they deliver their services. In both, assuming that they delivered the same number of rider-trips, the parking issues downtown, for example would be the same, thus not enter the comparison. Ditto congestion. Again, for me, this is not an exercise to eliminate bus service, but rather to understand much better how much it really costs compared to realistic alternatives, at similar levels of service. You and Scott have helped make some progress in the cost area. Thank you for that.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

George,

Congestion is much different with taxis vs buses. The bus is moving many passengers in one vehicle while a taxi typically has just one or a few.

I think SB is fortunate to have a mountain, central park plaza and a downtown, three major origination/destinations to anchor red and blue lines.

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

Scott-

Yes, when buses carry many more passengers than say an Alpine shuttle could, for example. Otherwise no difference, and I think one could argue that buses may cause more congestion at low load times.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

George,

But a reasonably used bus line is unlikely to be empty when there is traffic congestion.

And, in terms of congestion, the size of a vehicle doesn't make much difference. The spacing in front of and behind a moving vehicle is more than the vehicle itself.

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

Scott-

You are going to have to describe what congestion looks like / feels like, in quantitative terms in downtown SS--with and without buses. I am thinking this may well be a distinction without real differences.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

George,

Well, if you look at CDOT numbers then there are about 30,000 vehicles passing through downtown SB a day. Something like half of downtown traffic starts or ends their trip downtown.

A very rough guess would be that half the bus trips have a downtown end point. So that suggests there are 1,500 passengers to or from downtown.

So without buses then rough guess is 5% more vehicles. The effect upon congestion is basically none when there is no traffic congestion. But rather severe when there is congestion because a road can only handle so much and trying to send more cars just adds to the back up. So if there are 10% more vehicles than a road's capacity and so things back up so it takes 20 minutes to get through downtown then adding 5% goes from 10% to 15% over capacity and changes from 20 to 30 minutes to get through downtown.

And the above rough guess suggests that 10% of downtown terminating trips is from buses and so real rough guess is that 10% of downtown customers are using the bus.

So just a quick free very rough analysis suggests that downtown bus service provides very useful functions that benefit all drivers and downtown businesses (as well as other businesses along the route and the mountain)

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George Hresko 1 year, 10 months ago

Scott-

First, thank you for sticking with the congestion discussion. By this time, many others would have either resorted to AH comments or devolved to something like 'but buses are nice', or 'cars are bad', etc. Second, I will be leaving this aspect, i.e. congestion, with this note, because I believe we have gone as far as we can, and have two very different views of the actual congestion benefit of buses versus other options. We agree, I think that when there is no congestion, there is no difference. I would suggest that periods of actual, material congestion in downtown SS are few and fairly narrow, time-wise; say an hour or so in the morniing, another about mid-day and another in the evening. You use a 20 minute backup, which I have never experienced, and suggest may be experienced primarily in the time frames I mentioned above. In those narrow time-frames, back ups on Lincoln could be resolved by changing traffic light timing. In other words, the case you describe appears to be rather narrow, and what some friends would describe as a 'furphy'.

Again, I think there is no clear, material, real world congestion benefit from the buses. I think the issues around efficiency vs alternatives, as well as other potential effectiveness benefits remain open. Thank you.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 10 months ago

Well, you are free to have your opinions.

But if you acknowledge that there are times of congestion during the day then how can you argue that bus service carrying passengers has no effect?

It is easy to underestimate the effect of public transit. And then something happens to shut it down and suddenly traffic is a mess and businesses have employees unable to get work and so on.

SB could lose Yellow Line and only a handful of people would notice. But if Red and Blue were to be shut down then that would be a major issue.

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Steve Lewis 1 year, 10 months ago

Efficiency is a logical measure, George. CDOT uses Level Of Service in grading traffic flow. In particular they apply or calculate a LOS for each intersection in question, the LOS grade depends solely on the time required to pass through the intersection. I believe these were listed in our last Mobility and Circulation plan. I don't recall the times for D, E and F (failing), but was surprised at the delay lengths considered acceptable.

Obviously this is a measurement of convenience delivered by a roadway. But there are several other pieces that belong in our efficiency equation, as posts indicate above: smaller carbon and pollution footprint, low income ridership to jobs and shopping, and eventual use of remote parking lots like the Stockbridge. Hard to put a number to these.

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