City officials finally held their big show for BRT, but completely forgot about the star.
No surprise there. Memory-crushing exhaustion set in long ago as Fresnans waited and waited for the Bus Rapid Transit system to go live.
BRT is now here. The soft opening was on Monday. The official opening was on Thursday morning at the BRT station in front of Downtown’s Courthouse Park.
The $38 million system’s brand name is The Q.
“Our new Q bus service will make daily transit experience more appealing, attractive and accessible,” Mayor Lee Brand said. “It’s a great addition to our city.”
Said Transportation Director Jim Schaad: “I think this service epitomizes what FAX is for our customers and community. I expect great things out of this system and look forward to everybody riding the system.”
Said Council Member Oliver Baines, who represents Downtown and is probably BRT’s strongest supporter on the council dais: “I remember the fight it took to get here, the fight to make sure we have quality transportation for our residents. We want to bring Fresno into the 21st century. We want our residents to be able to move through our commercial corridors and our workforce corridors effectively and efficiently. It is important that our residents have all the amenities of any other city.”
Said Council Member Clint Olivier, whose ideas to reform the original BRT proposal several years ago saved the project from an early death: “This is another example of how we here in Fresno have a great city government. Our city government works for us. The process always works. Sometimes we get trashed in the paper. Sometimes I’m skeptical and I trash my city. But the reality is we have a city government that works, and right here is an example of that. Everyone was able to come together, to give input and to find that sweet spot, to find a system that worked for the taxpayer, the bus rider, the city employee, our transportation department. And that’s what Q is – something that works.”
Said Interim Assistant City Manager Bruce Rudd (described by the Mayor as “Mr. BRT”): “What a long and strange trip this has been.”
Let’s not go into the particulars of that trip. It’s enough to say The Q promises to provide better public transit service along the Blackstone-Ventura/Kings Canyon corridor. The Q’s service area almost certainly will expand in the near future.
Everyone who spoke on Thursday was generous with thank yous. Lots of people, from Washington, D.C. to the City Yard in West Fresno, played important roles in getting The Q up and running. I’ll mention two such people, the first prominently identified at Thursday’s ceremony, the second apparently forgotten.
There’s Ashley Swearengin, the mayor when BRT survived the Council Chamber gauntlet for the last time. And there’s John Downs, the former FAX transit planning manager who loyally carried the BRT hot potato at long-ago council and community meetings.
The Q is a bus. It’s a bus with 10-minute intervals during peak hours, compared to 15- or 30-minute intervals on traditional FAX routes. But make no mistake – The Q is simply a bus.
The Q in my book is different because of its ticket-vending machines and the spiffy stations that go with them.
The project has 51 stations. You have one transit center, two terminal stations and 48 street stations (my term) spread along the 15.7-mile route. Each station has a ticket machine.
You buy a ticket and get on The Q. When you get to your destination, you get off. You don’t drop coins into a fare box at the front of the bus. Bottom line: The Q processes customers in a hurry.
That’s a big deal.
Each of The Q’s stations also has a real-time electronic message board. This message board tells you how much of a wait until the next Q bus comes along.
That’s a big deal.
Combine the two and you’ve got a show-stopping star. We got a ton of idealistic speeches on June 1, 2016 when construction of the Bus Rapid Transit system officially began. That well-intentioned hot air will serve Fresno for a lifetime. Thursday’s shindig could have used less self-congratulation and more trumpeting of Q’s unique customer mechanics.
My wife on Thursday morning gave me a ride from our North Fresno home to Courthouse Park. I listened to the speeches, then took FAX Bus No. 26 home. I had a nine-minute wait at the bus stop. The ride itself took 16 minutes. Traditional FAX does a great job.
I decided in mid-afternoon to walk to City Hall. I wanted to see what the 5 p.m. rush looked like at The Q station where the Mayor and his colleagues had spoken.
I was pleasantly surprised to discover that FAX had assigned workers to Q stations along Blackstone. They were there to provide instruction on how to use the ticket machine. I stopped at three stations to get the low-down. Each of the workers was superb. I bought a ticket, even though Q is free through Sunday. I can activate the ticket anytime I so desire.
I got to the Q station in front of Courthouse Park at about 6 p.m. The station is in the middle of Van Ness. The Q bus for North Blackstone was pulling out of the station. It briefly stopped before turning into the northbound lanes of Van Ness.
At that point a woman hurried across Van Ness’ northbound lanes and stopped at the bus driver’s window. She wanted to board the bus. The driver didn’t open the door; she was too late. The bus left. The woman sat on one of the station’s benches. She yelled and swore.
I struck up a conversation with her.
“I just want to go to Herndon and Blackstone,” she said.
“Look,” I said, pointing to the electronic message board with the wait time. “You’ve got only five minutes until the next bus comes.”
“Yeah. And you’ll ride free today. It’s the city’s new bus service. It’s The Q.”
“Q? What’s that?”
Her F-bombs had turned to hope. Here’s hoping City Hall is right about The Q.