The Washington City Paper asked “thirteen riders, advocates, and experts” how to fix the Washington Metro Rail system. Former Metro general manager Dan Tangherlini and former DC DOT director Gabe Klein offered banalities about “putting the customer first.”
Smart-growth advocate Harriet Trepaning thinks Metro “needs a different kind of leader,” as if changing the person at the top is going to keep smoke out of the tunnels and rails from cracking. She admits that “I don’t think we’ve been straight with anybody, including ourselves or our riders, about what it really takes to [keep the rails in a] state of good repair.” But her only solution is to have “a dedicated source of revenue,” i.e., increase local taxes for a system that already costs state and local taxpayers close to a billion dollars per year.
Coalition for Smarter Growth director Stewart Schwartz and former APTA chair Rod Diridon also want to throw money at it. Others dodge the money question and suggest that Metro do all sorts of things that it can’t afford and doesn’t have any incentive to do anyway.
The progressive’s “preferred two-pronged housing approach . . . is government-owned real estate plus restrictions on private-sector developers,” notes Reason magazine’s Matt Welch writes in the Los Angeles Times, but this strategy will only “make a bad problem worse.”
Though California cities spend hundreds of millions of dollars trying to subsidize “affordable” housing, Welch notes, that money has only helped build 5 percent of the new homes constructed in the state. This is a mere “a rounding error in the total supply of housing stock.”
Meanwhile, high developer fees, lengthy permitting processes, rent control, and statutory limits on housing growth in some cities all do far more to make housing unaffordable than subsidized housing does to make it affordable. Welch cites Paul Krugman saying, “The analysis of rent control is among the best-understood issues in all of economics, and — among economists, anyway–one of the least controversial. In 1992, a poll of the American Economic Assn. found 93% of its members agreeing that ‘a ceiling on rents reduces the quality and quantity of housing.'”
60 Minutes covered self-driving cars last Sunday and CBS News took a look at Mercedes’ vision of the car of the future. General Motors, which cut its R&D when it went bankrupt in 2008, now plans to get into self-driving cars in a big way.
Tight-lipped Apple is rumored to be developing a self-driving car; at least, it is meeting the California DMV about getting a license for one. Toyota, which has been less enthusiastic about self-driving cars than many other companies, now promises to have them in the showrooms by 2020.
Washington DC’s H Street streetcar ran down a police car last week. But, as the Washington Post headline notes, it’s “still not carrying passengers.”
Still in the testing stage a year after construction was supposedly complete. Wikimedia photo by Michael J.
The District Department of Transportation began testing the streetcar about a year ago, and the result was so many accidents that the DC council seriously considered scrapping the whole thing. Instead, it asked for an expert peer review by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA). Since APTA has never met a rail transit project it didn’t like, the review’s conclusion was pretty much predetermined.
Portland and San Francisco are not the only urban areas with housing affordability problems. Where the 2013 ratio of median home prices to median family incomes was 7.0 in San Francisco-Oakland and 3.8 in Portland, it was a wallet-busting 9.6 in Auckland, New Zealand.
In response, Chris Parker, the Chief Economist for the Auckland city council, has published a report that correctly identifies the problem as “excessive planning constraints” and a “limiting supply of greenfield land.” Unfortunately, his timid recommendation is that the city seek to reduce the value-to-income ratio to 5.0.
That’s like the Federal Reserve setting an inflation target of 50 percent. A 50 percent rate of inflation sounds pretty good compared with Zimbabwe’s peak inflation of 79.6 billion percent, but as a way of life, 50 percent inflation is still pretty awful.
Eight years ago, the Antiplanner argued that San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority was the nation’s worst managed transit agency, a title endorsed by San Jose Mercury writer Mike Rosenberg and transit expert Tom Rubin.
However, since then it appears that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA or just Metro) has managed to capture this coveted title away from San Jose’s VTA. Here are just a few of Metro’s recent problems:
- Metro’s numerous service problems include a derailment in August that resulted from a flaw in the rails that Metro had detected weeks previously but failed to fix;
- Metro spent hundreds of millions of dollars on a new fare system but now expects to scrap it for lack of interest on the part of transit riders;
- One of Metro’s power transformers near the Stadium/Armory station recently caught fire and was damaged so badly that Metro expects to have most trains simply skip that station stop for the next several weeks to months;
- Metro’s fleet of serviceable cars has run so low that it rarely operates the eight-car trains for which the system was designed even during rush hours when all the cars are packed full;
- WMATA’s most recent general manager, Richard Sarles, retired last January and the agency still hasn’t found a replacement, largely due to its own ineptitude;
- Riders are so disgusted with the system that both bus and rail ridership declined in 2014 according to the American Public Transportation Association’s ridership report;
Metro was so unsafe in 2012 that Congress gave the Federal Transit Administration extra authority to oversee its operations;
- That hasn’t fixed the problems, so now the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) wants Congress to transfer oversight to the Federal Railroad Administration, which supposedly has stricter rules.
Housing has once again become a big issue in many cities. No wonder: as the spreadsheet posted last week by the Antiplanner shows, non-inflation-adjusted prices in many urban areas have reached or exceeded what they were at the peak of the housing bubble last decade.
Portland prices have reached the point where a home will go on the market and sell in a few days for significantly more than the asking price because so many people bid on it. More controversially, Portland and Seattle builders are buying homes, replacing them with several skinny homes, townhomes, or condos.
Last week, the Antiplanner posted a spreadsheet with metropolitan area home price indices and graphs. To complete the set, here is a similar spreadsheet for state. One difference is that the graph only shows inflation-adjusted indices, which are more useful anyway.
To graph different states, simply enter the two-letter abbreviation of up to six states (in caps) in cells BH167 through BM167. If you have autocalculation turned on, the graph should update automatically. If you want to change the years shown in the chart, click on the chart to select it, then scroll down to see the years selected (currently cells BG248 through BM329). Drag the upper right corner up or down to change the beginning year and the bottom right corner up to change the ending year. I hope you find these data useful.
You may want to sit down for this, but it is finally becoming obvious to everyone that the Maryland Department of Transportation and its consultants overestimated ridership on the proposed Purple light-rail line. Even the pro-Purple Line Washington Post is skeptical of the numbers. Of course, this is only after Governor Hogan appears to have signed off on the line.
As the Antiplanner pointed out in a review of the proposed low-capacity rail line, the projected first-year ridership of 58,800 people per weekday is more than any single light-rail line outside of Los Angeles and Boston–and rail lines in those cities serve centers with far more jobs than are found on the entire Purple Line. The line that is most comparable to the 16-mile Purple Line is New Jersey’s 17-mile Hudson-Bergen line, which serves an area whose population density is four times greater and has far more jobs than that along the Purple Line, yet the Hudson-Bergen line carries just 44,000 riders per weekday (p. 9). The Antiplanner also pointed out that light-rail planners almost always overestimate ridership, and Maryland in particular has a poor track record with its lines in Baltimore (p. 8).
Hogan’s Secretary of Transportation, Peter Rahn, apparently didn’t read the Antiplanner’s report, as he told the Post that he was “comfortable” with the numbers because “the FTA was involved, and they were acceptable to them.” Of course, the FTA rarely questions any numbers given to them by transit agencies. What Rahn was really doing, of course, was shifting the blame to someone else for not doing the job he should have done.
After the Antiplanner posted recent housing data on Wednesday, a reader asked for home price trends. These data are available for states and metropolitan areas from the Federal Housing Finance Agency. For some purposes, I prefer urbanized areas instead of metropolitan areas, for numbers like these the differences will be small.
Naturally, the FHFA’s raw data are not easy to visualize, so I’ve supplemented the agency’s metropolitan area data with a spreadsheet that automatically makes charts showing price indices in up to six urban areas. For example, the above chart shows indices for six areas with minimal land-use regulation.