There’s a new game in town that may make mastering World of Warcraft or building creations in Minecraft pale in comparison. It’s a game that pits the need to get around the nation’s fourth largest city – with scads of potential service areas for residents and workers – against the hard realities of a transit budget.
This unique game demonstrates the challenges of being a transit planner for a place as massive as Houston. The ability for residents to move about, to get to work and back – under the specter of growing traffic congestion and greenhouse gases – hangs in the balance.
Now you can take on transit planning with a game that demonstrates the challenges facing METRO’s Re-Imagine Team, whose mission is to rethink mass transportation in a city expected to grow by leaps and bounds.
It’s not as sexy a name as Warcraft, and surely won’t be on gaming consoles anytime soon, but the Local Service Allocation Game let’s players come up with transit solutions of their own, all constrained by a tight budget.
The game board represents Houston’s three million people and 1.8 million jobs divided among 169 squares or zones. And there are insets for far-flung areas such as Katy and Missouri City. Each of the small grids making up potential transit service areas is equivalent to two miles of Houston on each side.
The objective: How to divide METRO’s resources among these zones. The 250 points players have to use represents what METRO spends on local transit. Players do not have to contend with Park and Ride centers or Express buses.
Each decision to cover a zone comes down to three dimensions that every urban transit planner faces:
- Spacing – how far apart should the routes be?
- Direction – can you afford to run buses back in forth only in one direction, or can you add perpendicular routes, which doubles the cost?
- Frequency – each hour, half-hour or 15-minute stop chips away at the budget.
Think about that half-mile max walk considered the maximum to make public transit work for a rider. Yet, providing half-mile stops costs players two points for one grid. In the end, to see the price of serving a zone in Houston, you multiply the cost of spacing by cost of direction by cost of frequency.
Grids are marked with numbers of residents in blue and workers in red. Which grids deserve transit service? Which can you skip? That’s a tough call with 169 grids in consideration.
It’s a game that gives people a rare, hands-on taste as a planner faced with building a transit network. And building a transit network that works can make most popular games look like child’s play.
You can download a pdf of the game grid and its Excel worksheet here. First print the game grid. Then score each grid with a pencil so that you can make make changes to better serve Houston’s neighborhoods and business districts. When you’re ready to transfer your scores, fill out the excel spread sheet and see the tally of points used and remaining.