Connecting state and local government leaders

A Way to Make Bus Route Planning More Accessible and Flexible

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Connecting state and local government leaders

New software is helping transit agencies map new stops and lines in greater detail.

Mesa County, in western Colorado, wanted to simplify bus route modifications and came across a tool from San Francisco-based Remix by chance.

The county approached the company eight months ago, after a local planner read about its software in the Colorado Association of Transit Agencies newsletter and became interested in its built-in cost algorithm.

Now Remix is being used to help the city of Grand Junction better serve its transportation-disadvantaged population in accordance with the county’s Limited English Proficiency and Title VI Efficiency plans.

“Inbound and outbound Route 5 used one road, North Avenue, but using census data we identified a road north of that particular area, Orchard Avenue, that better served the LEP population,” Biz Collins, a Regional Transportation Planning Office planner, told Route Fifty in an interview. “So we split the inbound and outbound routes, adding six stops to the deviation.”

Remix was borne out of the complications of changing bus routes in real time, company spokeswoman Alex Baca said in an interview, planners requiring pen, paper, maps and multiple software tools to modify an existing line. An on-the-fly request to calculate the cost of adding a bus stop or adjusting a bus route’s headway takes time to generate a demographic image and translate into Google Maps or an Excel scheduling system.

Remix’s founders met through Code for America and noticed a big gap between urban planners’ processes and the most effective ways to answer accessibility questions surrounding bus routes.

Launched a year ago, Remix’s predecessor, Transitmix, started out as a game where users sketched their ideal conceptual routes before it took off on the Internet. Transit agencies soon realized the tool could make their job easier, so Remix became a software company.

The Remix interface can display American Community Survey and Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics census data, as well as any youth, minority and senior demographics and existing routes agencies make publicly available.

(Remix)

“In Remix, we pull in numerous demographic factors that help illuminate the "catchment area" of a particular stop,” Paul Supawanich, Remix’s customer success director, said in an email. “Factors such as population density, jobs density, income, any numerous others are readily available when placing stops in Remix to help a planner understand at a high-level, where stops make the most sense to benefit the most people.”

Once a planner decides on the rough location of a bus stop, Remix allows them to consider in more detail if it should be placed right in front of a hospital to reduce walking time for vulnerable populations. A stop near the front door of a shopping center protects customers from having to risk robbery walking through a parking lot with their items to reach a streetside stop.

At the macro level, demographic data alone can’t help with these decisions, but Remix’s satellite views can.

Private bus services in San Francisco, one of which has already gone bankrupt, pioneered the crowdsourcing of lines, and Remix allows users to distribute maps with a hyperlink. But bringing transit agencies into the fold is a company first.

Oregon’s Department of Transportation was Remix’s first customer of about a year, but the company now works with agencies in Calgary, Alberta, to the state of Victoria, Australia.

The Alameda-Contra Costa Transit District in the San Francisco Bay Area uses Remix for route analysis, while Louisville, Kentucky, has frequent requests about the cost of, say, running a line through a business park.

“They really like our data layers,” Baca said. “We take a closer look at where people need to be to ride the bus.”

Other clients include Sandusky County, Ohio, with its three buses, the Piedmont Authority for Regional Transportation in North Carolina and, most recently, Miami-Dade County, Florida.

In Colorado, Mesa County wanted to use Remix to plan two routes connecting Grand Junction with adjacent towns but didn’t find a solution that shortened the lines or helped with transfers. Still, the tool’s analysis of route costs and times in relation to low-income and senior populations, as well as its ability to solicit public comment, keeps the county a client.

“Before, it was difficult for residents to even look at the information,” Baca said. “With Remix, people can see what the proposed routes are without having to download these huge files.”

While rail lines can’t be moved, it’s conceivable Remix software could even be used to plan new rail routes by assessing demographic information in relation to stops. All that’s needed is for agencies to calculate the cost per mile of track, and Remix can adapt accordingly.

Recently, Mesa County began offering the tool to consultants on future satellite routes and interlining projects.

“It’s nice to have plans on the shelf,” Collins said.

Dave Nyczepir is a News Editor at Government Executive's Route Fifty.

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