As one of the fastest growing U.S. cities with populations more than 500,000, Fort Worth, Texas, has created positive planning challenges for the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, known as The T. Now the 17th largest city, Fort Worth has grown from a population of 541,926 in 2000 to 703,000, and is the seat of Tarrant County, also among the country’s fastest growing. Fort Worth’s relatively recent, rapid expansion was fueled by its wide-open developable land with low acquisition costs in a business-friendly state, its integral role in the booming Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex, and its attractive quality of life that blends small city livability with big city entrepreneurial spirit and culture.
Up until the start of the 21stcentury, The T had been primarily a bus service for dependent riders, plus an extensive vanpool system to reach its outer-most perimeters. With the influx of new residents and the arrival in Fort Worth in 2000 of its first commuter rail, co-owned with Dallas Area Rapid Transit, there is increasing demand for more rail and expanded bus service, as well as greater interest across all population segments for an expansion of the public transportation system in the greater Fort Worth area and adjacent counties. Today The T operates 40 bus routes, mobility impaired services, carpools and vanpools, the Trinity Railway Express as co-owner and is developing a new commuter railroad that will operate diagonally across most of Tarrant County.
The traditional challenge for The T’s bus transit planners has been how to plan effective and efficient transit service to accommodate the rapid growth, which has been primarily on the low-density edges of the city which extends for 350 square miles. The existing bus network illustrated on The T’s system map shows a strong concentration of service within the Interstate 820 “Loop” but limited in areas outside the Loop. In sum, The T planners have chosen to concentrate service to the denser areas with the strongest transit potential. The T’s bus transit system — with an annual operation cost of approximately $26 million — has proven to be lean and efficient, providing good coverage to the central city and inner-core communities. As with other transit agencies across the country, The T responded to the economic downturn with a “belt-tightening” program in 2009 for administrative items. As the economy continued to constrict, The T planning staff was challenged to identify potential reductions to its already efficient bus service.
To begin the evaluation of what level of bus service to cut, T planners were first provided with a goal from President Dick Ruddell, who directed staff to identify up to $1 million in savings. The planning team then put its existing resources and evaluation tools to work, beginning with a key Route Monitoring Committee that understands the system from the ground level.
Route Monitoring Committee
This committee is a group of volunteer operators and customer service representatives who meet monthly with planning and scheduling staff to improve communication between the departments while creating an additional avenue to enhance service quality. Bus operators relay on-the-street operational concerns and help to evaluate proposed route changes. T planning staff took advantage of this operating group’s understanding of existing service to provide an initial brainstorm of potential service reductions. Several ideas were brought forth for further investigation. Because detailed surveys and studies can be very expensive and time-consuming to produce, it is important to gain this observational input before embarking on any empirical analysis.
T planners next put their internal evaluation/tracking tools to work. To track system efficiencies, The T used multiple evaluation tools: route performance index (RPI), farebox passenger counts, boarding and alighting counts, and origin-destination surveys.