“Implementation of Plan Bay Area will require the demolition of more than 169,000 single-family detached homes, or one out of every nine such homes in the region, according to table 2.3-2 of the draft environmental impact report. Any earthquake or other natural event that resulted in this much destruction would be counted as the greatest natural catastrophe in American history.”
The Antiplanner would like to think this is one of the better opening paragraphs that I have written in some time. My complete comments on Plan Bay Area are now available for download.
In reviewing my previous post on this subject, my friend MSetty made the good point that Plan Bay Area planners put that 169,000 home figure in terms of a change in demand. Although 56 percent of Bay Area households live in single-family detached homes today, by 2040 only 39 percent will want to, so say the planners.
A year ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation dramatically shut down more than two dozen “Chinatown” bus companies for safety violations. At the time, the Antiplanner expressed skepticism, saying that if the same criteria were applied to transit agencies such as Washington Metro or Boston’s MBTA, they would be shut down too. But the DOT said it relied on a National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) study that found that “curbside” buses were seven times more dangerous than conventional intercity buses.
Fung Wah, the original Chinatown bus company, was not one of the ones shut down in last year’s federal raids. Wikipedia photo by Toytoy.
Now, some people are challenging this study, saying that its methods were so faulty it may as well have been completely fabricated. The NTSB has a reputation for sound quantitative analysis, but this study was first questioned by Aaron Brown, a Wall Street financial analyst, who accused the NTSB of “statistical malpractice” for improperly manipulating data and refusing to release its raw data. Based on what data were available, Brown estimated that curbside buses were actually safer than conventional ones.
Neil McFarlane, the general manager of Portland’s TriMet transit agency, stunned Portland-area residents recently when he warned that the agency would have to cut service by 70 percent unless unions agreed to reduced benefits in upcoming contract negotiations. When he did so, he piously noted that TriMet’s non-union managers have had a pay freeze for four years.
Turns out that pay freeze was more imaginary than real. In the last year alone, TriMet gave its managers pay increases totaling nearly $1 million. McFarlane alone received a 3 percent raise, which–considering his previous pay was $215,000 a year–means a $6,450 boost to his income.
TriMet’s financial woes are hardly new. Last year, TriMet made the largest service cuts in its history and also decided to start charging fares in what was formerly the downtown Fareless Square. Most of the streetcar line had been in Fareless Square, and as a result actual streetcar fare collections averaged less than 4 cents per reported ride.
Last Thursday, January 17, the Tax Foundation (TF) issued a paper arguing that only 32 percent of state and local highway costs were paid out of user fees, while the remaining costs came from “general funds.” In a post here, I pointed out that, actually, user fees for highways cover 76 percent of the costs of roads and most of the remaining 24 percent come from interest on user fees before they are spend and bond sales that will be repaid out of user fees.
TF replied, saying the Antiplanner “conflates taxes and fees.” In fact, TF specifically said that state gas taxes are user fees, but somehow defined federal gas taxes as “general funds.” I simply argued that, to be consistent, TF should count federal gas taxes as user fees as well.
TF went on to say, the Antiplanner “suggests we include federal gasoline tax collections in state-local revenue.” Again, TF said that federal gas tax collections are “general funds” and I disagreed with that statement. If state gas tax collections are user fees, then federal gas tax collections are too. They are certainly not general funds, any more than state gas taxes are general funds, since federal law dedicates them to transportation projects and mostly to highways.
Garl Boyd Latham, of the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers, predicts that San Antonians will be “pleased by streetcars once they are running.” His response to the Antiplanner’s op ed critiquing the city’s streetcar plan basically amounts to, “don’t confuse me with the facts; I know what I believe.”
To be precise, Latham says, “An astute man can prove anything he wanted with facts and figures,” then argues that the Antiplanner “manufactured an artificial reality through the manipulation of facts.”
One of those supposed manipulations is my claim that streetcars cost more than buses. Latham admits the capital costs are high but claims that, once built, streetcars have “a minimum life expectancy of a half-century or longer,” which will be surprise to the Federal Transit Administration (or just about anyone in the transit industry), which says streetcar vehicles last about 25 years, and other streetcar infrastructure lasts no more than 30 years. Not even counting maintenance, FTA data clearly show that streetcars cost far more to operate–either per vehicle mile or per passenger mile–than buses.
Watching one of the first showings of part II of Atlas Shrugged was a surrealistic experience after testifying to the House Transportation Committee about Amtrak. In the movie, government officials piously argue that for the “greater good” (a phrase that turned out to be just as deadly in Harry Potter as in Atlas Shrugged) they need to provide “guidance” to the nation’s capitalists–and the more guidance they give, the more capitalism fails, which justifies even more guidance.
In the hearing, I testified that Amtrak can’t be reformed because as a government entity it will also be controlled by politics, and the only solution was privatization. This led Peter DeFazio, my own former congressman (I moved to an adjacent district four years ago) to ream me out for not having faith in government.
“You don’t believe government should run our air traffic control? You don’t believe government should run our highways? You don’t believe government should subsidize the Port of Los Angeles?” Before I could fully answer each question, he would roll his eyes and interrupt me with incredulous moans. Fortunately, one of the other committee members rescued me and gave me a chance to answer.
Rail advocates responded to the Antiplanner recent visit to Charlotte, NC, by inviting William Lind, who bills himself as “a conservative who supports rail transit,” to comment on Charlotte’s proposed Red Line project.
“Real conservatives like commuter trains,” says Lind. How does he know? Because the average income of people who ride commuter trains in Lake County, Illinois is $74,000 a year, while the average income of bus riders in that county is $14,000 a year. Lind takes it for granted that everybody knows that rich people are conservative, and in Lind’s mind rich conservatives know that they deserve to have expensive, tax-subsidized trains while poor people should be happy with relatively inexpensive tax-subsidized buses.
Unfortunately, warns Lind, some rail critics “present themselves as conservatives, but they are not.” I don’t know who he is talking about, since the Antiplanner never presented himself as conservative. Lind goes on to say that these pseudo-conservatives are really libertarians, the difference being that conservatives support rail transit “depending on the project’s merits,” while “libertarians oppose all rail transit all the time.”
The Antiplanner’s friend, Ann Brower, barely survived last February’s earthquake in Christchurch when a building fell on her bus, killing the driver and seven other passengers as well as four pedestrians. Now it turns out that the building had been known to be unsafe for nearly 30 years. The owner wanted to demolish it but couldn’t because the city considered it a “heritage building” and any work on it had to tramp through mountains of red tape.
Brower testified before a Royal Commission last week, and noted in a radio interview that numerous experts considered the building unsafe.
The hit of last week’s Detroit Auto Show was the 2013 Ford Fusion. This was a surprise because the car was merely a stylistic upgrade of an existing model.
The real significance of the Fusion is not the “strong personality” or the fact that Ford will offer both hybrid and plug-in hybrid versions, but that it is the first moderate-priced (under $30,000) car to offer key technologies on the road to driverless cars: adaptive cruise control, lane keeping, self-parking, and collision avoidance. While Ford’s versions of these technologies are weak in that they don’t actually drive the car, when combined with an enhanced GPS navigation system, it is likely that all that will be needed to turn the 2013 Fusion into a totally self-driving car will be a software upgrade.
The Antiplanner has reposted the consolidated spreadsheet for the 2010 National Transit Database. The revision of a file I posted last month fixes an error in the calculation of the total number of seats and standing room provided by each transit agency and mode of travel.
More important, the revised file includes some calculations, including BTUs and CO2 emissions per passenger mile, seats and standing room per vehicle, the average number of passengers per vehicle (passenger miles divided by vehicle revenue miles), and operating subsidies per trip and passenger mile. Many more calculations can be made using this spreadsheet and you are welcome to download it and do them.
The Federal Transit Administration added a new kind of transit this year: demand-taxis (id code DT). This is a demand-responsive system that uses private taxis in place of the wheelchair-accessible buses used by many transit agencies. This actually saves money as the average demand-responsive bus costs taxpayers about $30 a ride while the average taxi costs about $17 a ride.