What’s Causing New York Subway Delays?

The Antiplanner was in Portland Wednesday to talk about light rail, which is why there was no post yesterday. I’ll be in Seattle tomorrow to again talk about rail transit. As of 2016, Sound Transit has spend $335 million (in 2016 dollars) on commuter buses that carry 64,000 weekday riders and $2.1 billion on commuter trains that carry just 16,600 weekday riders. Another example of poor planning.

Meanwhile, New York’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority has blamed increasing subway delays on overcrowding, an explanation that raised the Antiplanner’s skepticism, partly because the city’s subway system carried far more riders during and after World War II and didn’t suffer similar delays.

Village Voice writer Aaron Gordon is also skeptical, noting that ridership has declined for the last two years but delays continue to increase. Instead, he blames the delays on a deliberate effort by MTA to slow trains down. For safety reasons, MTA has reduced speed limits in many parts of the system and imposed penalties on train operators when they exceed the limits. While the trains can theoretically meet the schedules at the reduced speeds, a tiny delay can cascade into serious problems. Continue reading


More Evidence of Government Failure

The Antiplanner is fully aware that government doesn’t work, but I wish that politicians would stop trying to prove it. First, the Portland city council has decided to make permanent a temporary rule that requires landlords to pay moving costs of up to $4,500 for any tenants they evict without cause or whose rents they raise by more than 10 percent. Portland housing costs have been rising at faster than 10 percent per year for the past several years. this is supposed to control that rise.

Instead, what it will do will discourage anyone from renting a house or building apartments for rent. This will only make costs rise faster than before.

Second, the California legislature is proposing to allow San Francisco to use congestion pricing to deal with the world’s fifth-worst traffic congestion. Only the bill doesn’t really call for congestion pricing; it calls for cordon charges, that is, a fee for crossing a particular line in the city or urban area. As the Antiplanner has explained before, cordon charges don’t really relieve congestion; instead, their real goal is to raise money that cities can then waste on useless urban monuments. Continue reading


One More Reason to Kill the TIGER

The Department of Transportation announced half a billion dollars worth of TIGER grants last week. While some of these projects may be worthwhile, others are clearly wasted.

TIGER, which stands for Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery, was created by Congress in 2009 to help the nation recover from the Great Recession. Since that recession is supposed to be long over, the Trump administration wants to abolish the program. But members of Congress want to keep it because they see it as a form of pork barrel.

The good news is that none of this year’s TIGER grants are going for streetcars. One is supporting a bus-rapid transit project in Atlanta and a couple more are supporting transit centers in Eau Claire, Wisconsin and Immokalee, Florida. Such infrastructure improvements are wasteful, especially when the money could be spent on repairing existing transit infrastructure (in Atlanta) or operating more frequent service (in the other two cities). The Atlanta BRT project is particularly questionable because it wasn’t on either the city’s or the transit agency’s lists of funding priorities; as one local web site says, the $12.6 million for this project is “a lot of money for a route that no one has heard of before and that never saw any public engagement.” Continue reading


California High-Speed Rail Update

Finishing the high-speed rail line from San Francisco to Los Angeles is now expected to cost $77.3 billion, says the California High-Speed Rail Authority’s latest cost estimate. This is a big jump from the 2016 estimate of $64.3 billion and an even bigger jump from the $25 billion estimated in 2000, which was the only one available when voters approved the project in 2008. Completion has also been pushed back from 2020 in the 2000 plan to 2029 in the 2016 plan to 2033 in the latest plan.

While the cost increase has gotten a lot of media attention, less noticed is the fact that this $77.3-billion plan is for trains that will go at “speeds exceeding 200 miles per hour” and “typically” take “under three hours” to go from Los Angeles to San Francisco. The 2000 plan called for trains going 220 miles per hour and taking two-and-a-half hours from LA to San Francisco.

Of course, 220 “exceeds” 200 and two-and-a-half hours is “under” three hours, but the softening of the language makes it clear that the authority doesn’t expect to meet the original 2000 targets. This is partly because of a 2013 law effectively limiting speeds in Santa Clara and San Mateo counties. A further quibble is that the “under three hours” estimate is for non-stop trains, and most trains “typically” won’t go non-stop. Continue reading


Washington High-Speed Fantasies

The California High-Speed Rail Authority says it will release its latest cost estimates today, which most expect will be much higher than previous estimates. “It’s going to be bumpy,” the rail authority’s new CEO, Brian Kelly, promises reassuringly.

Meanwhile, up north, the state of Washington is planning its own high-speed money pit, including a leg from Seattle to Spokane. A lobby group has already formed to agitate for such a project, based on the slogan “You deserve slower.” Oops, the slogan they are using is “you deserve faster,” but since the fastest high-speed trains are slower than flying, they will actually be slower. The Antiplanner wonders how many contractors and unions are a part of this coalition.

An initial study projected that the Seattle-Spokane route would cost $25 billion to $50 billion. The study predicts that fares will cover operating costs by 2055, but it fails to account for driverless cars, increased airline efficiencies, and other technical changes. The truth is that it would probably cost less to just give everyone a free airline ticket. Continue reading


NIMBYism Not the Real Problem

The California legislature is getting some push back on S.B. 827, which proposes to eliminate zoning in most of San Francisco, Oakland, and other “transit-rich” cities. So legislators have announced a new proposal, A.B. 2923, which would allow the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) to build whatever it wants on land it owns, most of which is presumably near BART stations.

Home sweet $2 million home. Photo from Google streetview.

There’s no doubt that Bay Area housing is too expensive. An 848-square-foot home in Sunnyvale just sold for $2 million (a $550,000 premium over the asking price), or $2,358 per square foot. Increasing numbers of people are buying homes sight unseen. For some, commuting from Bend, Oregon is a viable option because the cost of flying is less than the cost of housing in the Bay Area. Continue reading


Good-Bye Mayor Barry

Megan Barry, the popular mayor of Nashville who wants the city to spend more than $5 billion on less than 30 miles of light-rail lines, has resigned from office after pleading guilty to “felony theft.” The thefts arose because she took her lover (who was the head of her security detail) with her on business trips at the city’s expense — for which he charged the city overtime.

Despite the loss of its biggest supporter, the May 1 election over the “absurdly expensive” light-rail plan will probably go ahead as scheduled. “Our traffic isn’t getting any better,” say supporters, not that it will get any better if the plan is approved.

Election or not, the Antiplanner has to wonder if there is a reason why mayors who support light rail seem to be more prone to sex scandals. There’s Portland’s Mayor Neil Goldschmidt, who had an affair with a 13-year-old girl. There’s Portland’s later mayor, Sam Adams, who had an affair with an 18-year-old boy (the affair started before the boy was 18, but Adams insisted that they only kissed in the city hall bathroom until he was of age). Then there’s Seattle mayor Ed Murray, who resigned after numerous people accused him of molesting them when they were children. It’s probably just a coincidence, but at least Nashville’s mayor had the good sense to have an affair with someone older than the age of consent.


Utah Legislature to Utah Transit Administration:
Stop Wasting Money. Here’s More

Utah politicians are proud of all of the light-rail and commuter-rail lines that the Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has managed to build. But to do so, UTA has built up $2 billion of debt, and 30 percent of its revenues must go to service that debt. This greatly reduces its ability to improve transit to serve a growing area.

Now the state legislature has found a solution to this problem: Abolish UTA. Or, to be precise, replace it with a new entity that has a new governing body, new taxing authority, and restrictions on how it can spend its money.

Unfortunately, merely replacing UTA’s fifteen-member board with a three-member commission won’t solve the real problem: the agency has always gone for the high-cost solution to any problem. For example, as of the end of 2016 it has spend $2 billion (in 2016 dollars) constructing a commuter-rail system that barely carries 8,000 roundtrips per weekday. This is almost unimaginably wasteful, except it just a matter of course for the transit industry. Continue reading


Land-Use Intolerance

Netflix is advertising a documentary on the story of the Rajneeshee commune in Oregon. The trailer below makes it appear that the problem with the commune was religious intolerance on the part of rural Oregonians. In fact, the real problem was land-use intolerance on the part of urban Oregonians.

Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh was an Indian philosophy professor who decided to become a guru preaching free love and sex. The Indian government wasn’t too happy with his followers’ behavior, which included tax fraud and smuggling, so he decided to move to the United States. If they had moved to Texas, or Kansas, or some other interior state, land use would never have been a major issue. Continue reading


More Costly and Later Than Ever

The head of California’s High-Speed Rail Authority, Brian Kelly, says that the train will take longer to build and be more expensive than anyone ever thought. He almost says it like those are good things. The authority plans to publish its latest cost and construction estimates next week.

The authority recently admitted that the first section of the project, which was supposed to cost $6 billion, is now expected to cost $10.6 billion. That’s the cheapest segment of the line because it is flat Central Valley of the state. Getting from there over the mountains to Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area will require expensive tunneling at both ends, including a 13.5-mile tunnel that is expected to cost anywhere from $5.6 billion to $14.4 billion.

The total cost of a truly high-speed line all the way from L.A. to San Francisco is almost certainly going to be more than $100 billion, and it won’t be complete until sometime in the 2030s at the earliest. A representative of the airline industry pointed out that, for just $2 billion and eighteen months, the state could start a high-capacity airline service between the two cities — and sell the planes if it doesn’t work out. Though rail proponents say that downtown-to-downtown train times will be comparable to flying, the Los Angeles area has five airports and Bay Area has four, so far more people live near one of those airports than to downtowns. Continue reading