Exactly right. Fred Jarrett has an excellent article on bus service allocation over at Crosscut. He’s writing about service in King County, but the principles he lays out could be applied pretty much anywhere:
Metro’s strategic policy should be to put buses where they work, and where we want them to work. Putting buses where they work (drawing good ridership) will maximize the performance of the system in those markets where transit can dominate: Downtown Seattle, the University District, Bellevue, and SeaTac. These are job centers already dense enough to make transit successful, and they are designated as growth centers for regional employment. They are the “cash cows” of the system.
More interesting, though, is putting buses where we want them to work. For 20 years, we’ve had a regional strategy of growing “centers” with density sufficient to be successful transit markets. Current plans identify 27 such centers in 18 cities in the county, and propose “prioritizing transit funding” to encourage investment in those centers… Thus far, despite our “multi-modal” goals, our growth management policies have focused on vehicle mobility.
Meanwhile, standards for those markets where we want transit to work in should be tied to specific commitments by cities and other public agencies to measurable concurrency decisions.
All service cuts should be based on these standards: Service should not be taken from markets where transit has a competitive advantage or from urban centers where committed development plans give transit a competitive advantage.
It all seems so glaringly obvious, right? And yet in the Seattle area, as in some other cities, transit service is often allocated by arcane, political, and counterproductive means. (Seattleites are cursed with what’s known as the 40-40-20 rule, which basically ensures that the most transit-friendly neighborhoods get trumped by the suburbs.) Jarrett’s point is that in an era of serious budget cutting by transit agencies, we have a rare window of opportunity to rethink our systems and design them for efficiency and cost-effectiveness.