Sunday, January 27, 2013

Incremental Improvements Add Up

Over the Christmas season, my family and I spent two weekends out of town. The first saw a return trip that is normally less than three hours take four hours, the majority of which was filled with a screaming two-month old. For the second trip, we wanted to avoid that outcome so we looked into the options. We settled on Megabus.

They are the Southwest Airlines of buses. They avoid high-cost terminals and are generally a very affordable option. We started our trip at DART's East Transfer Center (ETC). There was a big dust-up between the bus company and the city. They initially wanted to operate out of the parking lot just south of the ETC, but the City of Dallas had other ideas. They finally came to an agreement with DART to operate out of one of their facilities.

From that perspective, I love it. I have always thought the ETC, for many reasons, is heavily underutilized. This gives it a lot more uses. It also turns the ETC from a bus station a couple of blocks away from a rail station into a multi-modal transportation facility.

From DART's perspective, they will make a bit of extra revenue on the lease, but it should also have a slight increase in rail ridership and up the bus ridership by a rounding area. It also gives the ETC a more vibrant use in downtown.

For the rest of the stops we made, Megabus utilized gas station parking lots of the freeways they stopped in. You can definitely see the low-cost approach here. The only downside, as we experienced on the return trip, is when the bus is late, there is no way to know. Our bus was over an hour late and the staff at the Midland Exxon couldn't relay anything.

Overall, the traveling experience was enjoyable, and I'd recommend. As far as the urban impact, this is a positive for downtown. It adds an extra use to an under-performing downtown bus station, and creates more activity in a part of downtown that has none. I really think several small changes like this will have a positive step in downtown Dallas' transition into a bona fide  urban area.

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