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Cities reap benefits of bus hubs

TARTA has been considering one for at least 8 years

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    The Wright Stop Plaza Transit Center in Dayton.

    DAYTON DAILY NEWS/TY GREENLEES

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    TARTA buses line up along Jackson Street in downtown Toledo. Transit officials could look to the $7.94 million Wright Stop Plaza Transit Center in Dayton, or Fort Wayne’s Citilink Central Station, for project ideas.

    THE BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH
    Buy This Image

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    Citilink Central Station in Fort Wayne.

    (FORT WAYNE) JOURNAL GAZETTE/CATHIE ROWLAND

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    Julia M. Carson Transit Center in Indianapolis offers free Wi-Fi, a customer service counter, and a bus drivers’ lounge, with separate restrooms for both the public and drivers.

    INDYSTAR/JACKIE MOLLOY

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    Indianapolis’ $26.5 million Julia M. Carson Transit Center’s 19 bus bays provide a covered area where buses dwell next to an indoor waiting room.

    INDYSTAR/JACKIE MOLLOY

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    The $17.2 million Akron Transit Station has an on-site police substation, where off-duty police and sheriff’s deputies provide security, as well as a community room where local groups can hold meetings.

    AKRON BEACON JOURNAL/MICHAEL CHRITTON

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    A photo of the solar array on the roof of the Akron Metro Transit Center.

    AKRON BEACON JOURNAL/MICHAEL CHRITTON

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The $17.2 million Akron Transit Station has an on-site police substation, where off-duty police and sheriff’s deputies provide security, as well as a community room where local groups can hold meetings.

AKRON BEACON JOURNAL/MICHAEL CHRITTON Enlarge

Making bus transfers safer and more pleasant for passengers is the main benefit regional cities cite when building new central transit stations in their downtowns, but they are not the only ones.

Transit agencies in Akron, Dayton, Grand Rapids, Indianapolis, and several other cities said their downtown bus hubs also offer passenger amenities previously unavailable, particularly restrooms and basic food service.

While several of the stations replaced off-site transfer centers, others took lined-up buses off downtown streets, easing congestion and freeing up curbside parking.

And many established a permanent downtown presence for the local transit agencies that built them.

Those are also reasons the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority has sought to develop a central transit station in downtown Toledo in place of its existing five-station loop, although its initial site proposals proved unworkable.

“If you go to one hub, you can make it nice, you can have better amenities,” said James Gee, TARTA’s general manager. “It can be a catalyst for downtown development, and there’s a cost savings — you save a lot of miles and wear-and-tear on buses by not having to traverse the loop any more.”

Like Toledo still does, Indianapolis previously had a loop, established during the 1980s, around which every downtown bus circulated.

While stops on that four-block loop are still served, building a central station ended the practice of all buses making all stops and improved traffic flow through the area, said Lauren Day, marketing and communications manager for IndyGo.

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Indianapolis’ $26.5 million Julia M. Carson Transit Center’s 19 bus bays provide a covered area where buses dwell next to an indoor waiting room.

INDYSTAR/JACKIE MOLLOY Enlarge

At the $26.5 million Julia M. Carson Transit Center, which opened last year, 19 bus bays provide a covered boarding area where buses dwell for up to 10 minutes next to an indoor waiting room.

The facility offers free Wi-Fi, a customer service counter, and a bus drivers’ lounge, with separate restrooms for both the public and drivers. Previously, Ms. Day said, bus drivers “had to use merchants’ generosity” if they needed to use a toilet between trips.

“It’s more efficient and more comfortable,” she said. “There’s also the statement it makes. As a city, we’re acknowledging that transportation is an important thing.”

The Indianapolis system’s ridership is growing, and having a single hub makes it easy for new riders to know where to go, Ms. Day said.

“It’s one central location you can go to, buy your pass, and have your questions answered,” she said.

Safety and security

The Akron Transit Station, which replaced bus lineups on that city’s Main Street, has become a city landmark since its 2009 opening just south of downtown on a former railroad yard site.

It hasn’t affected ridership, which fluctuates “based on the economy and gas prices,” but the center “has been a boost to the safety and security of our riders,” said Molly Becker, the Akron Metro Regional Transit Authority’s director of communications and marketing.

“Passengers would have to dart across the street, between the buses and cars, to catch a bus,” she said. “At our center, the buses are always in the same spot and there are no vehicle-passenger general crossing areas.”

The $17.2 million center has an on-site police substation, where off-duty police and sheriff’s deputies provide security, as well as a community room where local groups can hold meetings and gatherings. The transit authority holds events there too.

Moving most bus activity out of downtown Akron “truly proved the economic impact our riders make to our community,” Ms. Becker said.

“Downtown Akron initially saw a drop in some of their convenience-store business because fewer people were congregating on Main Street,” she explained.

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The Wright Stop Plaza Transit Center in Dayton.

DAYTON DAILY NEWS/TY GREENLEES Enlarge

The Greater Dayton Regional Transit Authority’s Wright Stop station in downtown Dayton is the biggest of its five bus hubs.

Built in 2008 and 2009 on a combination of city-owned property and that of an abandoned hotel, the $7.94 million transit station took bus lineups off Third and Main streets. Bus stops were eliminated within a two-block radius after it opened.

“We had complaints about the bus lineups,” said Michele Conley, the Dayton system’s manager of planning and service development, “because the buses were blocking lanes, and the business community did not like that look — tons of buses lining up at night and customers waiting and blocking the sidewalks.”

Not only has setting up a bus station off-street eliminated that congestion, but the new facility has recently added a produce market that provides local fruit and vegetables in season and employs local college students.

The produce market not only provides lower-income bus riders access to healthy food at reasonable prices, it draws other people in to shop, “not just Wright Stop patrons,” said Brandon Policicchio, the agency’s chief customer and business development officer.

And like in Akron, while Dayton’s station can’t be credited for increasing ridership, it has provided a safer transfer point “and customer amenities are much better,” he said.

Added improvements

Both Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids, Mich., had centralized their downtown bus operations, but built new transit centers to improve their riders’ and employees’ experiences.

Grand Rapids’ Central Station in 2004 replaced a parking lot that had three traffic islands and a ticket booth, said Jennifer Kalczuk, a spokesman for The Rapid.

The $22 million station has an inside waiting area with concessions and is large enough that intercity Greyhound and Indian Trails buses also stop there. Amtrak has since moved its local station next door.

“Bringing all these things together has been very positive for us,” Ms. Kalczuk said.

Riders “have really enjoyed having a place where they could wait indoors,” and an upstairs conference center makes board meetings and other public events “very accessible for our passengers,” she said.

Ann Arbor’s $8.1 million Blake Transit Center also replaced an existing hub, while adding “improved” restrooms, conference rooms, and administrative offices.

Like many of the newer stations, Ann Arbor’s has environmentally friendly features including collection of “gray water” for flushing toilets.

“We have received nothing but a positive response from riders. The customer waiting area was made larger with our new transit center, which accommodates our growing ridership,” said Samantha Potter, the Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority’s spokesman.

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Citilink Central Station in Fort Wayne.

(FORT WAYNE) JOURNAL GAZETTE/CATHIE ROWLAND Enlarge

Other area cities with central bus stations include:

● Lansing, which opened its transit center in 1997 as a stop along a downtown loop the Capital Area Transit Authority still operates.

● Detroit, which opened its Rosa Parks Transit Center in Times Square on Michigan Avenue in 2009.

● Youngstown, whose downtown Federal Station was built in 1985.

● Fort Wayne, Ind., where Citilink Central Station opened in September, 2012.

● Cincinnati, whose Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority did not erect a station building but did build off-street bus bays with canopies at its main bus stop in Government Square.

TARTA’s future

Developing a central bus station and rearranging downtown Toledo’s bus routes to serve it has been in the planning stage at the Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority for at least eight years.

Parsons Brinckerhoff, an international public works consultant and engineering firm, recommended in a Comprehensive Operations Analysis submitted in early 2009 that the local transit service adopt one of two system models: one retaining a downtown focus, the other with seven hubs scattered throughout the metropolitan area.

In either case, downtown was proposed to feature a central bus station as a transfer hub and focal point. Potential amenities could include restrooms, a coffee shop, vending machines, and a drivers’ lounge.

The bus loop, designed during the late 1970s and built during the early 1980s, was consistent with efforts of that day to help downtown traffic “get in fast and out fast,” Mr. Gee said.

“It was efficient, but not effective in terms of development,” he said, nor was it consistent with urban planners’ current favor toward “traffic calming” and making downtown areas easier for pedestrians to navigate.

It also was unpopular with downtown Toledo’s dwindling number of storefront merchants, who protested the reduction in on-street parking along the loop’s streets.

Cindy Kerr, executive director of the Downtown Toledo Improvement District, said that along with restoring parking, eliminating the bus loop could boost new business development, such as restaurants downtown that might offer alfresco dining.

“Right now, we can’t even think about something like that,” she said.

The agency also believes a central station would be good for both TARTA and its riders, Ms. Kerr said.

None of the current bus-loop stations has space for off-street bus bays, so the transit authority began looking nearby for candidate locations.

It dropped an initial downtown hub proposal to redevelop the former Paramount block — bounded by Jackson, Superior, Adams, and Huron streets — after nearby businesses objected to the loss of a privately owned surface parking lot there.

And a subsequent proposal to repurpose the eastbound lanes of the Jackson Street boulevard as a bus concourse was abandoned after a city council leader and The Blade bristled at the loss of the boulevard, a focal point of Toledo’s 1980s-era downtown revival efforts.

Most recently, The Blade building itself has been proposed as the possible home for a future downtown transit hub.

TARTA in December hired an architectural consultant to perform a feasibility study. Mr. Gee said its report is expected in the spring.

Bill Southern, The Blade’s president and general manager, said that from the newspaper’s end, “nothing has really happened since then” beyond consultant staff visiting the building.

Adaptively reusing a building like The Blade’s would be an unusual approach to developing a central bus station. Facilities built in the cities The Blade contacted all were new from the ground up.

Lisa Myers, the Central Ohio Transit Authority’s public and media relations manager, said that the agency’s consideration of a single-hub model ended when officials were unable to find a suitable site in downtown Columbus.

Instead, when COTA implements a major revision of its route system in May, it will use two stations originally built for commuter express buses — one on the city’s north side, one to the south — as system focal points.

One city near Ohio that has no downtown transit hub at all is Pittsburgh, although buses do connect with light-rail trains at the latter’s stations.

Jim Ritchie, communications officer for the Port Authority of Allegheny County, said the transit agency has not considered establishing a downtown station for as long as he can remember. He declined to comment on whether it might in the future.

The Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has a de-facto hub at Tower City and Public Square.

All of the RTA’s light-rail lines serve the underground Tower City station, using space where intercity passenger trains once stopped. The RTA also has a customer-service center inside the building.

Ohio authorities

Kirt Conrad, president of the Ohio Public Transit Association as well as executive director of the Stark Area Regional Transit Authority in Canton, said transit agencies with tough finances prefer to spend on bus operations than facilities, and using on-street bus stops “is much cheaper than owning a building.”

But a central station, he said, eliminates three major “de-motivators” for using public transportation: lack of information, lack of reliability, and lack of security.

“Having a nice facility doesn’t get any more people to work,” Mr. Conrad said, “but it does provide more security, a better waiting area, and better customer service.”

SARTA has four hub facilities, he said, and all of them have restrooms and bus information.

“It’s a place you know where your bus is always going to be, and better for customer service overall.”

Contact David Patch at: dpatch@theblade.com or 419-724-6094.

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