Friday, April 14, 2017

From the Bus Bench: Detours + Poor Planning + Poor Decision Making = Epic Lynx Fail

This is the first installment of From the Bus Bench, a new recurring series here on Lynxed Together that will bring you first-person accounts of what it's like to be a Lynx passenger in Orlando, Florida. If you'd like to share a Lynx-related story for From the Bus Bench, email us at lynxedtogether@gmail.com. I've drafted this first installment ~ Simon


I've said over and over again that given its' limited resources, Lynx does a surprisingly good job of focusing on passengers and getting people where they need to go. But at times, riding Lynx can be an incredibly frustrating experience, as evidenced by two rides I took Thursday (April 13).

Don't misinterpret this as whining or a "woe is me" story, as I'm sure there were hundreds of other Lynx passengers who had just as difficult an experience on the bus yesterday due to missed connections, late buses or any number of reasons. Rather, it's just a snapshot of how poor planning by Lynx and poor decision making by bus operators can complicate even the simplest of Lynx journeys.

I live just south of Downtown Orlando, and travel regularly to downtown in the late afternoon and early evening. It's a 10-12 minute ride, and thanks to frequent service via Links 7, 11, 18 and 40 on Orange Avenue, can usually be accomplished fairly quickly.

The Corporate 5K was going on in Downtown Orlando Thursday night, with some roads closed, and Lynx published a list of links that would be  affected / detoured because of the race.

The list did not include 7, 11, 18 or 40. I normally would arrive at the bus stop at about 6:45 pm to be downtown no later than 7:30. I expected traffic would be heavy with all the street closures, so I arrived at the bus stop 30 minutes early (~6:15) which is 75 minutes before I had to be at my destination, for what should be a 10 minute trip. Should be fine, right? Might even be a few minutes early and have time to grab a quick bite for dinner, right? Nope.

Once onboard Link 7, northbound traffic on Orange Ave started slowing down around Gore, and was bumper to bumper and crawling by the time we reached the 408 overpass. We inched along Rosalind, as traffic was condensed from three lanes down to two, and at Central, to one lane. What should be less than a 15 minute trip took 50 minutes, with nearly 45 minutes of that spent inching along between Gore and Livingston (a 5 minute ride in normal traffic).

I ended up being 15 minutes late to where I needed to be (that's 90 minutes for a 2.5 mile trip) and arrived stressed out and frazzled. I would have made better time on foot.
While Lynx didn't have control over the lane closures, they were aware of them, and should have detoured ALL links that travel on Rosalind to reduce delays during the race. The delays likely cascaded well into the evening, as evidenced by my trip home.

On the way home later in the evening, I arrived at the stop on Orange Ave and Central Blvd to catch the 10:15 pm outbound Link 7. The bus didn't arrive until 10:44 pm (nearly 30 minutes late, presumably due to cascading delays caused by the lane closures during the Corporate 5K). Due to construction on the 408 overpass, southbound Orange Ave was detoured onto Lucerne Circle. What should have been a quick and simple 2 or 3 block detour turned into almost a 20 minute delay that backed up traffic on Orange Ave for who knows how many blocks.



On Lucerne Circle, in front of Lake Lucerne Towers apartments, the driver thought the single traffic lane was too narrow for her successfully navigate. I broadcast the last 6 minutes of the saga on Facebook Live as fellow passengers on the bus grew increasingly frustrated at the delay. The operator refused to even try to navigate the roadway.

After almost 20 minutes, a Lynx supervisor arrived to "direct" the bus thorough the tight lane (something multiple passengers had offered to do) and we were finally on our way. Link 11 successfully navigated the spot on its own moments later.

Including the earlier delay, Link 7 was over 40 minutes late by the time it resumed service.

While I have some reluctance to second guess the bus operator's decision (I'm not a trained bus driver, and understand that navigating a 40 foot bus isn't always easy), it appeared there was more than sufficient room to navigate down the street, especially given the open sidewalk to the left of the bus which could have been utilized if necessary. Causing this delay reflects poor decision making on the part of the operator, and dozens (if not hundreds) of drivers stuck behind the bus were also impacted, in addition to the bus riders.

In total, I spent nearly 2 hours waiting for or riding Lynx buses yesterday for what should have been less than a 25 minute round trip. With better planning and better decision making by Lynx and their employees, these delays could have been significantly reduced or eliminated.

Last month, we argued that Lynx ridership is down because of a new segment of "choice" riders are pivoting away from Lynx for at least some trips, and opting for ride share services like Uber and Lyft. If I had known what awaited me aboard Lynx yesterday, I would have gladly spent the $12-13 and hailed a Lyft for both trips.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

How would you grade the Lynx bus?

What letter grade would you give Central Florida’s Lynx bus service? 

Lynx CEO Edward Johnson gives the bus service an A grade. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Gimme shelter!

Do you ever wonder why some Lynx bus stops have benches and shelters but others don’t have anything but a sign? 

That’s one of the questions Lynx CEO Edward Johnson answered during an exclusive interview with our intrepid blogger Simon Duvall.

Click https://youtu.be/jcnbfKnrpO0 for the answer.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

How long would you wait for a bus?

Ever wish you didn’t have to wait so long for a Lynx bus? During our recent exclusive interview with Lynx CEO Edward Johnson, we asked him what it would take to get faster service. Click here to see Johnson discuss this topic.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Lynx Ridership Has Dropped Over 10% in Less than 4 Years


Annual Lynx ridership has decreased by nearly 3 million annual passengers since 2013/2014, a Lynxed Together analysis has discovered. This decrease represents a drop of over 10%.

Lynxed Together reviewed monthly and annual "Regular Fixed Route" ridership data provided by Lynx for Fiscal years 2013 through 2016, plus data for October through January of Fiscal 2017 and found that Lynx ridership peaked in Fiscal 2013 at 27.83 million riders. In the fiscal year that ended September 30, 2016, Lynx carried just 24.84 million passengers.

Lynx "Regular Fixed Routes" represent regular bus services that run along a defined route on a fixed schedule and exclude Downtown Orlando Lymmo, NeighborLink, Access Lynx and Van Pool services, Link 208 and special shuttles.


Month over month, ridership has dropped 26 out of the last 28 months, with decreases as high as 12.6% (Jan 15 vs Jan 16). Lynx experienced its' peak ridership month in October 2013, with over 2.56 million riders. In October 2016, ridership barely surpassed 2.02 million, a whopping decrease of 21.3%. January 2017, the most recent month for which data is available, showed a rare 1.1% increase over 2016. but the 2.02 million passengers represented a 15.2% decrease from peak January passengers in 2013.

Factors that can help explain this decrease in ridership include:

  • Launch of SunRail service
  • Lower gas prices
  • Ridesharing (Uber, et al)

Let's examine each of these factors.


SunRail


Some longer-distance commuters certainly switched from Lynx to the train when it debuted in May 2014. Indeed, Lynx noted that several commuter-focused links (routes) were eliminated when SunRail service started.
 
However, with the launch of SunRail, 19 links were realigned to provide connecting service to SunRail stations. Ultimately, most SunRail commuters need a way to get the "last mile" to their destination, so the majority of any decrease in longer-distance commuters should have been offset by increases in "last mile" passengers.

Though, ultimately, any decrease in Lynx passengers attributable to SunRail is a wash, and perhaps even a net gain when viewed from a regional/big picture perspective, as these commuters are still utilizing public transit, simply a more efficient mode.

Lower Gas Prices


Lynx attributes the drop in ridership almost exclusively to lower gas prices. It's cited at every board meeting, and they've even started including a graphic in the monthly ridership report that shows year-over-year ridership data vs the year-over-year gas price.

While gas price fluctuations may sway a small number of "choice" riders toward or away from public transit, especially for longer (read: more expensive) commutes, it's not realistic to think that several thousand commuters on a typical weekday who have cars in their driveway (with the corresponding fixed costs of car payments, insurance and maintenance) are leaving them parked and walking to the bus stop simply because gas (a relatively small part of the cost of the car ownership equation) is at $3.

Ridesharing


Uber is a smartphone app that allows you to hire a private driver, on demand, to take you from door to door. An Uber ride costs roughly 1/3 the price of a taxi, is completely cashless, and allows you to track your car and driver and their location so you know exactly when your ride is coming and who is behind the wheel. In short, it's a very convenient, quick and cost-effective way to get from point A to point B. Uber debuted in Orlando in early June 2014.

Lynx, on the other hand, while very cost effective, is rarely a quick or convenient transportation option. Indirect routings, infrequent service, and limited operating hours can make a bus ride both time consuming and cumbersome.

Given the confluence of Uber's arrival in Orlando and the beginning of the decline of Lynx ridership, we argue that Uber has created a new segment of "choice" transit riders: Individuals who don't own a car and can't (or won't) spend money on a taxi, but see value in a quick, cost-effective door-to-door ride for at least some of their trips. These individuals likely still use Lynx for some (and maybe even most of) their trips, but when the weather is poor, they're in a hurry, or for any number of other reasons, they're willing to pay for a door-to-door ride.

Say, for example, that you work the front desk of a hotel on International Drive, near the Orange County Convention Center. You live near W. Colonial Drive and John Young Parkway. When you get off work at 8 pm, you could catch Link 8. But unfortunately, you've just missed the 7:56 departure, so you've got to stand at the bus stop until the 8:25 pm bus. Then, you've got a slow, winding ride that takes you up International Drive to Oak Ridge Road, over to Rio Grande and through Americana, onto the traffic-choked Orange Blossom Trail and around Paramore, finally arriving at Lynx Central Station at 9:20 pm. It's been an hour and 20 minutes since you got off work, and you're still not home. You just missed Link 49, which departed at 9:15, so you've got another wait, this time for Link 48. You depart Lynx Central Station at 9:45 and at 9:57, almost two hours after you clocked out, you finally get off the bus to walk the last few blocks home.

Or, you could pick up your smartphone, open the Uber app and request a ride. An Uber will probably arrive in less than 5 minutes and take you directly home (likely 15 minutes or less). You're home in 20 minutes (that's before that 8:25 bus even arrived) and it cost you about $12.

Which would you pick?

While all three of these factors (and perhaps other influences that we haven't considered) are impacting Lynx ridership to some extent, we believe that this new segment of choice riders created by the ridesharing economy are the biggest factor.

Earlier this month, we sat down with Lynx CEO Edward Johnson for an exclusive interview. We asked him about the ridership trends.



"A lot of that is following the national trend," Johnson said. "When you look around the country, you see many transit agencies' ridership decreasing and that's tied into the ... lowering of gas prices. ... That's one of those things that we in the transit world experience."

When asked if the rise of ridesharing was a factor, Johnson said "There very well might be some decline in ridership due to Uber, we just don't have the analysis that gives us a very good picture of that.

"Even with Uber ... it still ties back into the overall transportation program. We don't necessarily look at them as being competitors."

Asked whether cutbacks were possible due to the downward ridership trend, Johnson indicated that it may result in resources being reallocated. "If we see a decline in ridership in a particular area, maybe the service volume may get decreased so we can allocate those financial resources and put them in areas" with a bigger need.

"What we want to do is have one transportation system for our community. They don't care if it's Uber, Lyft, SunRail, what have you," Johnson said. "What they care about is can they get from point A to point B."

Watch CEO Edward Johnson talk about Lynx ridership:

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

REVIEW: Lynx's Free Wi-Fi Service




We broke the news back in November that free Wi-Fi internet service would be coming soon to Lynx buses, and in early January, Lynx installed the necessary equipment on its' 300 bus fleet and turned on the service for passenger use.

I tried it out over several rides the past two weeks and came away mostly satisfied with the free service.

Speed 




Overall, the speed of the internet connection felt similar to 3G cellular internet, or slightly slower than my home Wi-Fi and considerably slower than 4G cellular. It was acceptable given the nature of the service (on a moving vehicle) and the price point (free).

The speed and connection was generally consistent, with one exception where the service slowed to a crawl and a web page took nearly 5 minutes to load.

High-bandwidth uses, like most streaming video, Skype and downloading/uploading large files were blocked, though I was able to get a few shorter, non-HD video clips to play.

Obviously, speed will be affected by the number of users, and as the service grows in popularity, it's quite possible that speeds will degrade to an unacceptable level. I observed a few others using smartphones during my tests, but it's unclear if they were connected to the Lynx Wi-Fi.


Connecting / Ease of Use




While the speed of the connection was acceptable, connecting to the service was not the most user-friendly process.

After selecting the network to join, a Terms of Use disclaimer pops up; not only is it long (the length of at least 3 phone screens), the text is so small it's nearly impossible to read, and it can't be enlarged.



After scrolling all the way to the bottom and clicking the "I Agree to Terms" button (though the text directly above the button tells you to click "I Agree with Policy"), at least half the time I received an error message that "Hotspot login cannot open the page because too many redirects occurred," although I successfully connected every time even if I received the message.



On one occasion, I received a "Hotspot service not available" message, but was able to connect by disconnecting and rejoining the Wi-Fi network.

Lynx promised that inappropriate web sites and content would be blocked by the service, but they took it one level too far.




A porn site was appropriately blocked, but so was the Florida Lottery web site when I attempted to access it to check my tickets against winning numbers from the previous night's drawing. There's no opportunity to actually gamble on the Florida Lottery site, so the block seems unnecessary.

While there is a button that promises to "Report an inaccuracy" on the block screen, nothing happens when I pressed it to report the lottery site, so it's not clear if a report is filed or any other action was taken.


Creating Awareness




There's a sign next to the front door on most Lynx buses (I expect the rest will receive the sign in the near future), and both the enunciator and LED screen inside the buses periodically tout the availability of the service in both English and Spanish. There were also signs throughout Lynx Central Station in Downtown Orlando.


Overall




Lynx does not have to offer complimentary Wi-Fi on the buses, so the fact that they've decided to roll-out this customer amenity is impressive. Given that the service is reliable and the speed is acceptable, it deserves a solid 4-star rating. We hope that they can make the process of connecting to the service a bit less clumsy in the coming months so the less-than-tech savvy can have an easier time.

I spend a lot of time on Lynx buses, so this service will likely allow me to reduce my cell phone data plan and save at least a little bit of money. I'd imagine there are many other riders who will be able to do the same.

Have you tried the new Lynx bus Wi-Fi? We want to hear from you! Tell us what you think by emailing LynxedTogether@gmail.com


Have You Tried Lynx Lately?



I got this note from David Porter, Editor at SunRailRiders.com and creator of this blog, about his experience on Lynx this past Saturday when he rode to Downtown Orlando for the Central Florida Women's Rally. As he said, he's not a frequent Lynx rider, but he seemed to walk away generally satisfied with the experience.


Concerned about parking in downtown Orlando Saturday where I was headed to cover the Women's Rally I decided to park at the Walmart on Orange near Michigan and rode the bus to downtown. I hate to admit this was only about the 6th time in my life (been here since 1984) that I rode Lynx.

It worked perfectly and cost me only $4, which is actually cheaper than Uber. ... The Lynx schedule leaves a lot be desired, but it's certainly better than SunRail. Now that the buses have free Wi-Fi, in many ways Lynx is on an equal footing, if not better than SunRail

OK, granted there can be a unique set of "characters" on some Lynx buses, they are not unlike some of the folks you encounter downtown or in Lake Eola. That said, the ride was quick and inexpensive. My ride also was pretty uncomplicated (no need to transfer and on a corridor that includes several bus routes).

This got me thinking.., have you tried Lynx lately? Maybe it's not a good option for your everyday commute (or maybe it is and you've never actually tried it), but perhaps you could ride the bus to a special event or at a time when you really don't feel like driving. I challenge you to ride Lynx at least once in the next 30 days, and email us at lynxedtogether@gmail.com and share your experience!