“It has really helped with the ridership, but it has been an image changer as much as anything because people have said there are ways to do transit better than the way we have done. Now what do we do to improve MAX? The next MAX line, how do we take it up incrementally to even a higher level?
“I think that’s going to be looking at additional BRT enhancements on future corridors. We’ll probably be doing some enhancements on the existing MAX corridor, but I think it’s also part of the big issue of why light rail is such a hot topic in this town right now,” Huffer says.
A Sense of Place
It’s not often when I get into a city that transit just kind of jumps out at me. It was late when I got into Kansas City and I decided to take a walk to a nearby restaurant and get something to drink. At the end of the block there was a well-lit transit shelter with a towering marker next to it proudly declaring the MAX route stopped here. Mark Huffer explained to me that this iconic stop was part of their BRT plan all along.
“One of the things we tried to achieve with MAX is a sense of identity and a sense of place,” says Huffer. “We wanted, just as when you are in Washington, D.C., and you can walk out of a hotel and find a Metro station, we wanted somebody to go to a concierge and say how do I get to the plaza and him to be able to say go out to the street, go two blocks and turn right and you’ll see it. You’ll know it’s there.”
Huffer explained that for MAX the agency did a few things differently than their normal Metro bus routes to make it more easily identifiable. They gave the buses a unique shape and paint scheme, with MAX labeled all over the vehicle. Huffer explains that for MAX, they wanted riders to be able to see the bus coming and know it was different from the other 200 buses in the fleet.
And he says, the stations needed to look different as well. “Each of the stations are clearly marked. They have a station name much like light rail, so it’s not just go to the corner of 38th and Main, they’re actually named Midtown or The Plaza or Crown Center. They have their own name clearly identified in the shelters.”
And that marker I mentioned, as Huffer told me, it’s the system’s icon. “It’s a 17-foot high marker. It’s got the MAX logo at the top [and] relevant information in terms of schedules and connecting buses. But within that marker itself is the real-time information. There’s an LED display that says ‘First MAX bus to the Plaza five minutes. Second MAX bus to the Plaza 20 minutes.’
“It’s very visible and clearly identified, it’s got its own markings, it’s lit, which most of our shelters aren’t. So it gives you a sense of security, a sense of place — a sense of comfort that you are in the right place. You know if you’re there, you know a MAX bus is going to come by.”
Huffer says that the real-time information is one of the keys to the MAX success, “a seven-minute wait is a lot different when you know it’s seven minutes, than if you get there and you are questioning, did it already come, have I just missed it, is it late.
“We have some fairly long headways late at night, and we do actually go down to half-hour headways, but if you get there and you know you’ve got 22 minutes, then you know you can cross the street and get a cup of coffee, come back and catch your bus. And that’s made a big difference in terms of attractions on the ridership.”
One of the things I always like to do is ask the officials we interview if there is something about their system that we hadn’t discussed that they wanted to talk about. Mark Huffer’s response was to ask me if I knew about their daycare center.
“A couple of years ago we built and opened a daycare center and transit center combination on one of our busiest bus routes,” explains Huffer.
“Our busiest bus route goes right in front of it, connecting it with another of our busiest crosstown [routes].
“When people talk about one of the obstacles for employment, it tends to be affordable and effective childcare and transportation. And so in this facility, which is just a world-class facility they have, both mothers or caregivers come in and can drop a child off. It’s a Headstart program, so it’s an early development learning center.”