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HITS or misses

A taxpayer-funded HITS is...

I saw a political article in a news medium on an internal Herndon trolley or bus system.  The acronym was HITS.  When I first saw HITS, my baseball background came up and I thought of batting averages – you know the number of ‘hits’ divided by the number of at-bats.  Not the case for this HITS.

But no, it meant Herndon Internal Transportation System.  And its co-authors, a former council member who is no longer a Town resident and the current Vice Mayor, first raised it up as something the Town should bring into being – AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE.  It was pitched to the Town Council and to the Planning Commission.  The Chamber of Commerce jumped onboard the ‘bus’ and supported the idea of the Town providing this service AT TAXPAYER EXPENSE –to move folks around Town to bring them to businesses.  I noted that even one civic-minded developer encouraged the Town to establish a HITS.  If I was a business operator and someone would provide transportation of customers to my door at THEIR expense, I’d support it too!

I raised a cautionary flag to the Town Council that the Town could not and should not even consider creating such a system.  Three separate working groups, headed by Council members over a couple of decades, have indicated such an internal ‘trolley’ or bus system could not be supported by ridership.  I agree with the studies.  I also suggested that the Town work with the county to use the county bus system (Connector) to move residents and customers through Town to/from the metro landing (when it’s in place) and the other economic hubs in Town.  I thought the concept of inter-modal bus service through the Fairfax County Connector service had been accepted.  Silly me.

Virtually all public transportation systems – including the Metro and the Connector - are subsidized by us taxpayers.  In other words, taxpayers pick up all of the capital costs (buying vehicles, etc.) and part of the ongoing cost of operating them.  Otherwise, the fares that would have to be charged would simply be too high and there would be few if any riders.  The systems would fail.

The county has been serving the Town with bus routes for several years to include service to/from the Herndon-Monroe Park and Ride and thence to West Falls Church and the Metro Orange Line.  In recent years, costs have caused the county to DECREASE service in Herndon as the ridership didn’t warrant the level of service being provided.

If establishing and operating a HITS is such a benefit, I strongly urge the proponents to start one – using their private sector funds and to reap the financial benefits that such a system might bring to them.  Leave the Herndon taxpayers out of this and let Town leaders work to incorporate proper Fairfax County service to/from the Metro stop when it’s ready to operate.

A taxpayer-funded HITS is a ‘miss’ for Herndon taxpayers.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Doug Shuster April 01, 2012 at 05:35 PM
I agree that the analysis has to be done to show the economic and fiscal cost or benefits of an internal bus system. But as you state, public transport is rarely viable on a purely financial basis and we shouldn't expect this system to be any different. If the internal bus system saves the town from spending more on road and traffic projects because there are less cars on the roads, then there may be a net benefit to the town. Regarding private funding, with the arrival of Metro and with a large number of hotels in Herndon, which will probably each have their own shuttle service to take their guests to Metro, downtown, etc., it is possible they would be interested to share the cost of an internal bus system (a public private partnership) as well as other restaurants and businesses. As for Fairfax County's bus system, if you've ever taken the 950 to the Herndon-Monroe Bus Station you know how painfully inefficient it is. Personally I can walk there in about 15 minutes, which is a lot faster than waiting for a bus that may or may not be on time and takes a circuitous route with many stops. Bus systems need to be reliable and frequent enough to actually get people out of their cars, which is not an easy thing. And we do need to work very hard to get people out of their cars, esp. Metro commuters. I think we should keep looking at this to see if we can come up with a solution that works for Herndon without a net cost to the taxpayers.
Carl Sivertsen April 02, 2012 at 10:47 AM
As a long time member of the planning commission and member of the most recent bus study I support the idea of a bus service to move people arond the town, routes should be designed too e people to the metro and to downtown at a fair price and often The. County bus system ahold be altered to meet our needs rather than having Herrndon provide the service. The town cannot afford a bus system and should work with the county to improve services as desired by the town. The big question for the town to deal with what will it cost. The next question what is the destination that will be the draw other than metro. Work on building the downtown and work on letting people know what a great place Herndon is
CriticalVoter April 02, 2012 at 01:09 PM
Isn't the County bus service funded by taxpayers as well? How can anyone say that Herndon residents won't be funding bus service when they pay taxes to the County too? That is a load.......bus service sound great to get commuters off the road, but let's be real, there ain't no such thing as a free lunch.
Richard Downer April 03, 2012 at 02:14 AM
Please see the HITS internal transit system map and Q&A uploaded to this article for the “other side of the story.” After reviewing the map and Q&A, decide for yourself whether we should do nothing, as the author suggests, and let cars take over our town, or seriously study the HITS alternative, in partnership with Fairfax County, our citizens and the business community. The only thing we know for sure about the coming of our Metro Station is that hundreds of people will want and expect to access our north side entrance the day the Silver Line opens! As a community we can’t afford to wait, as the author suggests, and figure out what to do when our Metro station opens. It won’t be free and it won’t be easy to plan and finance, but with a Mayor and a Town Council that embraces the vision of a 21st Century Herndon with it’s own Metro Station, our community will be better prepared. The HITS internal transit system may prove to be one of the transportation solutions we need to best serve the residents, businesses, visitors and workers of Herndon and hopefully “Make the Most of Metro” for Herndon.
Ben April 03, 2012 at 02:36 AM
Definitely a good thing. Better internal transit reduces traffic congestion and will be used by residents because of one key factor: it's simple. There are 2 routes which are easy for people to understand (at least according to the maps attached to the article). A good example of a well-managed Virginia town bus system is Blacksburg Transit. I would look to them for guidance and best practices in planning any Herndon Internal Transit system. http://www.blacksburg.gov/Index.aspx?page=884
Richard Downer April 03, 2012 at 03:52 AM
Ben - Thanks for your positive comments and the Blacksburg Transit reference. This is type of constructive discussion Vice Mayor Merkel and I hoped to encourage when we introduced the HITS idea in June of 2011.
Bob Bruhns April 03, 2012 at 04:40 AM
Ideas are good; but rushes to borrow and spend, are not good. Discussions with Fairfax County about bus service in Herndon, make sense. Spending much more for transit than businesses make from the mobility, doesn't make sense. Looking at what other localities have done that works, makes sense. Panic spending, doesn't make sense. Herndon was all about Downtown Development for years, and at one time people wanted to spend many millions on an arts center. Would we have been better off if the Council had approved it like a machine? Definitely not. And then, people suddenly realized that Elden Street really couldn't carry that much traffic, and the spotlight suddenly turned to the Metro Area - where a very major blunder almost caused a disaster. Mad rushes are not the way to run a town, even if the ideas seem nice. And falling-sky emergencies are almost always false alarms. Careful, realistic planning is what works. We don't need leadership in search of expensive projects, we need to do things that work, and things that we can afford.
Bill Tirrell April 04, 2012 at 03:08 AM
Let’s see – bus service in Herndon has been reduced as rider usage fell off; the Falls Church internal system failed in 2010. Not positive models for HITS. Bus service for the Herndon Metro access is best operated by Fairfax County. Using taxpayer's money for HITS has failure written all over it. High density urban areas (e.g., DC, NYC, Philadelphia, and even Alexandria, VA with its DASH system) can better support bus systems. Herndon is suburban and far less dense (population-wise) than the previously mentioned areas. Our residents work all over the DC Metro area making car transport often the versatile transport system folks need. Workers who come to Herndon for their jobs come from literally all directions. There are advocates for an internal Herndon bus system to support businesses primarily. I’m fully in favor of THOSE ADVOCATES underwriting the costs of creating and operating an internal bus system. Oh – and yes, hotels often shuttle their guests to nearby places (airports, metro stops, and shopping/dining areas). I’ve used the shuttles in places like Dallas and Houston. They can work, and maybe our hotels will see wisdom in pooling their resources. Bus systems? Not so much except in URBAN AREAS with large mobile populations and a great variety of attractions. IMHO - Expending taxpayer dollars on HITS is still a miss.
Richard Downer April 04, 2012 at 03:53 AM
For the record, Mr. Tirrell voted for the following on 02.28.12: Herndon Metro Station Area Master Plan, Section 7 Transportation, Pg IX-7, Major Street Network: “2. Develop an internal transit system to facilitate trips to Metrorail and supplement the Fairfax Connector bus transit service operating within the Town of Herndon.” The Fairfax County Transportation staff has already started the Silver Line feeder planning process. Do we want it to be done without Herndon's input? The HITS proposal merely RECOMMENDS transportation options be studied now, BEFORE Metro arrives. That's what communities and their elected officials with vision do!
Barbara Glakas April 04, 2012 at 01:43 PM
Vice Mayor Merkel has been talking with Supervisor Foust about the possibility of expanding Connector or Fastran routes to serve Herndon commuters in and around our new metro stop area. She also supports STUDYING and internal transit service around the Herndon Parkway for the future. She has NOT suggested that Herndon residents start paying for this with their Herndon tax dollars. We have to plan and think ahead 20, 30, 50 years. That’s how planning is done. There needs to be a future vision. An internal transit system is another way to promote public transportation in order to decrease the amount of car traffic on our roads.
Bob Bruhns April 04, 2012 at 02:15 PM
Mr. Downer, you said "The HITS proposal merely RECOMMENDS transportation options be studied now, BEFORE Metro arrives. That's what communities and their elected officials with vision do!" Mr. Tirrell said "Three separate working groups, headed by Council members over a couple of decades, have indicated such an internal ‘trolley’ or bus system could not be supported by ridership." Mr. Downer - do you disagree with Mr. Tirrell's statement? Also, Mr. Downer, you said "For the record, Mr. Tirrell voted for the following on 02.28.12: Herndon Metro Station Area Master Plan, Section 7 Transportation, Pg IX-7, Major Street Network: '2. Develop an internal transit system to facilitate trips to Metrorail and supplement the Fairfax Connector bus transit service operating within the Town of Herndon.'" Mr. Tirrell said "There are advocates for an internal Herndon bus system to support businesses primarily. I’m fully in favor of THOSE ADVOCATES underwriting the costs of creating and operating an internal bus system. Oh – and yes, hotels often shuttle their guests to nearby places (airports, metro stops, and shopping/dining areas). I’ve used the shuttles in places like Dallas and Houston. They can work, and maybe our hotels will see wisdom in pooling their resources." Mr. Downer - are you trying to suggest or imply that there is something inconsistent in Mr. Tirrell's statements on this matter?
Richard Downer April 04, 2012 at 03:00 PM
Question #1 - Yes, I disagree with Mr. Tirrell's position. He is referencing studies from the PAST, we are calling for studying, as Ms. Glakas mentioned, the Herndon of the future. Herndon will change the day our Silver Line station opens and we need to be ready for it. Question #2 - While Mr. Tirrell lists possible ways to pay for an internal transit system, which our HITS proposal also recognizes, he is inconsistent by suggesting we should wait until Metro arrives to start studying the alternatives when the Master Plan Amendment he supported calls for action now. By the way, most of these questions are answered in the HITS Q&A that is posted by the HITS mao, but I will add it directly to this blog so everyone can read it and make up their own minds.
Richard Downer April 04, 2012 at 03:10 PM
Herndon Internal Transit System Q&A 1. Q. What is the proposed Herndon Internal Transit System (HITS)? A. HITS is an internal transportation system designed to allow as many Herndon citizens as possible to access Herndon’s new Metrorail Station when the station opens in late 2016 – early 2017. Please see the new “Coming Soon” Metro sign in the median near 575 Herndon Parkway. 2. Q. Who is proposing HITS? A. Vice Mayor Lisa Merkel and Former Town Councilman Richard Downer. They may be contacted at ViceMayor.Lisa@herndon-va.gov or RFDowner@gmail.com. 3. Q. Why bring this up now when our Metrorail station won’t open until 2016-2017? A. While 2016-17 seems a long way off, a system like HITS takes years of planning to determine its feasibility, potential cost, methods of operation, financing and implementation. 4. Q. Who is responsible for the formal planning of a HITS type system? A. Both the Town of Herndon and Fairfax County. Since the Town has limited transportation planning resources, we are proposing that the Town request Fairfax County become a partner in the planning of this project. Some of our County elected officials have already expressed interest in the County joining with the Town to further explore the HITS concept. 5. Q. Who needs to initiate discussions with the County to officially start the planning process? A. The Herndon Town Council must authorize any formal request to Fairfax County. Continued V1.5 06.01.11
Richard Downer April 04, 2012 at 03:13 PM
6. Q. What will HITS cost and who will pay, if it becomes a reality? A. While the estimated costs will be determined during the planning process, we anticipate it would be funded by a combination of Town, County, developer and user (fare box) revenues. State and Federal transportation grants would also be explored. 7. Q. What are some of the issues to be explored in a transportation study of the HITS concept? A. Ridership potential, route locations, mini-bus stop locations, frequency of service, available equipment types (Including acquisition and maintenance expense) and labor costs are some of the major study issues. A professional study will be needed before any final action. 8. Q. Who would operate the system? A. The operator would be determined by a public request for bid process (RFB). It would be open to any transit system operator or the Town could decide to operate the system. V1.5 06.01.11 Continued
Richard Downer April 04, 2012 at 03:13 PM
10. Q. Would the Herndon Internal Transit System (HITS) replace the current Fairfax Connector service that currently serves Herndon? A. No. HITS would supplement the Fairfax Connector, which would still serve the areas outside of Town and some in-town areas. Of course, all area Fairfax Connector routes will be re-configured when the new Metrorail stations open along the Silver Line. 11. Q. How may I comment on or express support for this HITS proposal? A. Please e-mail Vice Mayor Merkel at ViceMayor.Lisa@herndon-va.gov and she will pass on your comments to the Town Council and Town Planning staff. NOTE: The HITS map and Q&A were produced by Vice Mayor Lisa Merkel and former Town Council Member Richard Downer who are solely responsible for the content. Neither the map nor this Q&A are official Town of Herndon documents. V1.5 06.01.11
William Campenni April 04, 2012 at 04:44 PM
It's so good to hear Mr. Downer's plan for a Herndon bus system as he runs for mayor - oh wait! It's Mrs. Merkel that's running for mayor, isn't it? I guess if she were to become mayor we would have a co-mayorality, with Mr. Downer, (a resident of Ashburn who pays his property taxes to Loudoun County), sitting alongside a suddenly silent Mrs. Merkel. Wonder whose lips would move. Somehow, I missed somethings in Mr. Downer's now well shopworn proposal for a Herndon bus system, like the missing Q&A #12: Where would all those Herndon busses go at night? Where would there maintenance be done? Where would the fuel tanks be placed? Imagine another bus depot and maintenance facility the size of Herndon's Dept of Public Works yard being set up somewhere in Herndon. My recommendation - right in the center of town in the residential blocks of Elden St. Let those residents put up with the noise and mess and flammable fuel tanks. What about the lost economies of scale when you have to duplicate the facilities and overhead of a Fairfax Connector system, at Herndon taxpayer's expense. Let's also not forget the 40-50 new Town employees, with salaries, Obamacare, and underfunded pension liabilities. A check of the Fairfax Connector finances indicates that Fairfax County taxpayers now pay for nearly 50% of the cost of operation. And routes are being cut to keep it alive. HITS? Makes one think Solyndra.
William Campenni April 04, 2012 at 04:46 PM
Yeah I know - it's "their", not "there" in paragraph 2.
William Campenni April 04, 2012 at 04:53 PM
Leslie: This is Mr. Tirrell's blog space. I think it is inappropraite to have the Downer/Merkel PDF link positioned at the start of the article where it might be construed to be either Mr. Tirrell's image or an official Town of Herndon map. As Downer's post notes: "The HITS map and Q&A were produced by Vice Mayor Lisa Merkel and former Town Council Member Richard Downer who are solely responsible for the content. Neither the map nor this Q&A are official Town of Herndon documents." Please relocate it or have it as a hyperlink to another website. Or allow Messrs Tirrell and Singh to post similar images and PDF files at the top of Mrs. Merkel's blog.
Valerie M April 04, 2012 at 05:05 PM
After reading all of this, I have to wonder why readers of Bill Tirrell's blog would need to contact Lisa Merkel to make their views on HITs known to the Council and Planning Staff? Unless, Mr. Downer , you are inferring that ONLY Ms. Merkel has the ability to speak for the Council or to Planning Staff, it would make more sense to contact Mr. Tirrell directly. Both Mr. Tirrell and Mr. Singh are as involved with Metro and all of the issues surrounding Metro as it pertains to Herndon , if not more so, than Ms. Merkel. Shouldn't Ms. Merkel be responding to Mr. Tirrell here rather than two people who appear to have become her spokespersons? After all, isn't she the person who is supposedly in contact with Supervisor Foust? It would be nice to hear directly from Ms. Merkel since she is running for office.
Matt Genkinger April 04, 2012 at 05:17 PM
How about the town consider another free market alternative - one that wouldn't cost the town a dime to study and could bring additional jobs and revenue. Private van companies have been shuttled commuters through the streets of New York City for months - before the bus drivers union got involved - providing their customers with a service that is inexpensive ($1 per trip), runs on-time & more frequently than busses, and doesn't require a costly contract. We live in a mostly free state. When was the last time government tried solving a problem by letting the free market decide what is best.
Bob Bruhns April 04, 2012 at 05:21 PM
Mr. Downer, you said that Mr. Tirrell "is inconsistent by suggesting we should wait until Metro arrives to start studying the alternatives when the Master Plan Amendment he supported calls for action now." First of all, I did not see Mr. Tirrell say that we should wait until 2016 to start to consider this. If so he has certainly failed, since he is discussing some ideas right here in this blog. Perhaps you could attack him for that as well. Or perhaps you just made it up. Secondly, certainly the Master Plan Amendment is not calling for an internal bus system to be up and running at this moment, because the Metro line will not arrive for years. So please get some perspective here, when you call for immediate action. Now is the time to discuss the ideas, as Mr. Tirrell is doing - not the time to race to spend taxpayer money. You also said that "Yes, I disagree with Mr. Tirrell's position. He is referencing studies from the PAST, we are calling for studying, as Ms. Glakas mentioned, the Herndon of the future. Herndon will change the day our Silver Line station opens and we need to be ready for it." Is this another sky-is-falling panic that we MUST join NOW, or all will be LOST? I have found that most such things are false alarms. More than a few people living outside of the business areas of town may not be interested in paying much for this. Have you considered a tax district for it?
Bill Tirrell April 04, 2012 at 06:10 PM
Time for a round from me. 1. A thought to remember when discussing history and its value from George Santayana: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” I try to keep that in mind. 2. The three HISTORICAL reports were all led by ADVOCATES of a trolley system for Herndon. All three ended essentially with ‘Can’t be supported.’ 3. Disagreement is the essence of discussion making disagreement a good thing. Being ‘disagreeable’ (like calling folks names in public) is, well, simply being disagreeable. 4. Please comment to any member of council with whom you’re comfortable speaking/exchanging written material. Me included. 5. I SUPPORT a PRIVATE SECTOR venture if someone wants to start an internal system for Herndon. Perhaps hotels, car service centers, restaurants, etc., will ‘subscribe (like the old Take-Out Taxi) and make it work in a business model. A political body infusing tax money for this is IMHO wrong. Perhaps Mr. Downer and his like-minded colleagues will want to be first in line for this. 6. Perhaps Mr. Webster is right, although I personally think it’s better done in a densely populated area – which Herndon is NOT. 7. A taxpayer-funded HITS is STILL a miss. Moving on. Next topic …
Bill Tirrell April 04, 2012 at 07:51 PM
OK - a round from me. 1. A most relevant quote from George Santayana (that I like to keep in mind): "Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it." Lots of variants of this, but you get the picture. 2. All three HISTORICAL reports, done by people REALLY interested in bringing a 'trolley' system to Herndon, ended the same way. Not for Herndon at that point in time. 3. The essence of discussion is disagreement; so disagreement is a good thing. Being disagreeable (like calling people names in public) is simply being disagreeable. 4. I favor an entrepreneur starting and operating a transit system. That makes it a PRIVATE SECTOR BUSINESS and it will succeed on its own merit and not because a political body is willing to fund it with taxpayer money. As Mr. Webster suggests - it might work (although a city is usually a pretty 'densely populated area'.) Hotels, automobile service centers, shopping areas, etc., might 'subscribe' and help underwrite costs. Perhaps Mr. Downer and like-minded advocates should follow up. 5. Timing Fairfax County bus service with the Herndon Metro station opening is critical so that money isn't squandered. 6. I hope ALL council members are receptive to thoughts and ideas and praise - and criticism. Please fell free to provide comments to me or any member of council with whom you feel comfortable. 7. HITS at taxpayers' expense is STILL a miss. Have a nice day. Next topic ...
Tom Kellner April 22, 2012 at 09:03 AM
Mr. Downer needs to take back a step and answer the most basic of questions prior to expecting anyone to advocate for his proposal. They are: Who is going to ride this bus and the accompanying Silver Line? And, why would they want to? For once, I would love to see people such as Mr. Downer and Ms Merkel explain how all of this proposed transit system is so superior and why and how often they will use it when it becomes available to them. Oh, wait a minute, for the most part this service is available now. Well then, how often do they use the bus service that is available now? And if they don't use it, why don't they?

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