Category Archives: Useful Data

The Politicization of Data

A few weeks ago, the Antiplanner reported on a questionable change in transportation data published by the Bureau of Transportation Statistics. An even more questionable change can be found in table VM-1 of Highway Statistics, an annual report published by the Federal Highway Administration.

Before 2009, Highway Statistics regularly appeared months before the Federal Transit Administration published its annual National Transit Database for the same year. There may have been good reasons for that: the highway data depended on reports from the 50 states and District of Columbia, while the transit data depended on data from nearly 700 transit agencies (as of 2008; more than 850 today). Collecting, reviewing, and collating all that data no doubt took a lot of time.

After Obama took office, a funny thing happened: the highway data started coming out after the transit data. In some cases, not just months, but years after. For example, the on-line 2009 Highway Statistics is still missing some minor tables, and one of the most important tables about highway finance, HF-10, is still missing from the 2011 edition.

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A Questionable Change in Data

According to page 57 the European Union publication, Panorama of Transport, 43 percent of American freight is shipped by rail and 30 percent goes by truck. This makes the American rail freight system the envy of the world, as just 10 percent of European freight goes by rail, with 46 percent going by truck, and just 4 percent of Japanese freight goes by rail, with 60 percent going by truck.

The EU got its U.S. data from the Bureau of Transportation Statistics’ annual National Transportation Statistics report. However, if you look at the most recent edition of table 1-50: U.S. ton-miles of freight in that report, you won’t find those numbers at all. Instead (using 2006 data), something like 42 percent of freight goes by truck while only 32 percent goes by rail. That’s still a greater share of freight going by rail than in Europe or Japan, but a reversal in dominance between rail and trucks.

Yet the Panorama of Transport didn’t get it wrong. I have the corresponding table from the 2008 edition of National Transportation Statistics, and the numbers for 2006 in that table agree with those used by the EU. So what happened to change the numbers?

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Transit’s Share of Urban Travel in 2014

Transit carried 16.6 percent of motorized travel in Honolulu, more than in any other urban area in the country. New York is second at 11.9 percent, followed by San Francisco at 7.9 percent, Chicago at 4.0 percent, State College PA at 3.7 percent, Seattle at 3.5 percent, Lompoc CA at 3.3 percent, and Boston at 3.2 percent. Philadelphia, Salt Lake (but see below), Portland, Baltimore, Los Angeles, Louisville, and six smaller urban areas are between 2 and 3 percent, and 35 urban areas are between 1 and 2 percent. Transit’s share in the remaining 350 or so urban areas is less than 1 percent.

The Antiplanner calculated these numbers using the newly posted table HM-72, “Urbanized area summary,” from the 2014 Highway Statistics, and from my summary spreadsheet of the 2014 National Transit Database. The National Transit Database has annual passenger miles of transit use by agency and designates which urban area is served by each agency; my summary spreadsheet totals the numbers for each urban area. Table HM-72 has daily vehicle miles of travel by urbanized area.

To convert daily vehicle miles to annual passenger miles, I multiplied daily by 365–unlike the transit people, the highway agencies use the average of all days in the week, not the weekday average–and then by 1.6 to account for vehicle occupancy. I calculated the 1.6 based on the share of urban travel by car, motorcycle, truck, and bus from table VM-1, using 1.55 for short wheelbase vehicles, 1.84 for long-wheelbase light-duty vehicles, 1 for motorcycles and heavy trucks and 11 for buses. There’s a slight bit of double counting as slightly less than 1/2 of a percent of urban vehicle miles is buses, and most of those are transit buses, but this won’t change the numbers much.

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2012 Natural Resources Inventory Update

A few weeks ago the Antiplanner posted information about the 2012 Natural Resources Inventory. The post noted that the published documents broke down the amount of developed land in the nation by “large urban and built up” (meaning more than 10 acres of development), “small built up” (meaning more than a quarter but less than 10 acres) and “rural transportation,” but did not include a state-by-state breakdown of these categories.

Since then, the Natural Resources Conservation Service was nice enough to send me a spreadsheet with the state-by-state breakdown (for every state except Alaska). There are no real surprises with it, but I’ve posted it here as may be useful to readers.

One caveat is that the Natural Resources Inventory is a sampling survey, so it is always worthwhile to present it in conjunction with 2010 census data on urbanized lands. The Census Bureau’s definition of “urban” is a little different than the one used in the Natural Resources Inventory, but the two numbers together confirm that, for most states, the vast majority of land remains undeveloped.

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Natural Resources Inventory

The pace of urbanization of rural lands has dramatically slowed, according to the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s recently published 2012 Natural Resources Inventory. Between 1982 and 2002, the amount of developed land was growing faster than 2.5 percent per year, but the rate slowed to less than 1.5 percent per year after 2002 and less than 1 percent after 2007.


Click image to download the 2012 Natural Resources Inventory summary report (6.7-MB PDF).

Conducted every five years, the Natural Resources Inventory uses around a million sample points to estimate the uses of land throughout the United States. Although the inventory includes Alaska, Hawaii, and island territories, for some reason NRCS publishes the data for these in separate reports which are not yet available for 2012. However, the contiguous 48 states represent the bulk of America’s most productive farms and forests, so the new report provides a good indication of their status.

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2014 Transit Data

In mid-December, the Federal Transit Administration posted 2014 transit data on line, then withdrew it–but not before the Antiplanner was able to download most of the data tables. Two tables that were not available then were “Service” (including such things as vehicle revenue miles, passenger miles, and average daily trips) and “Vehicle Inventory” (including the number of vehicles and number of seats and standing room per vehicle).

The FTA has reposted all of the tables, including the two tables that were previously missing. Those two tables are dated today, so I appear to have downloaded them almost as soon as they were posted. Most of the other tables date to mid-December, so it is likely that few changes or corrections were made since then.

I’ve added the new data to my master spreadsheet and posted it for your convenience. This takes the information I consider the most important, including costs, ridership, fares, and energy consumption, from eight different spreadsheets and puts them in one spreadsheet.

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2014 Transit Database Posted, Then Withdrawn

The nation’s transit industry carried about 1 percent more trips and passenger miles in 2014 than in 2013. But to carry that many, industry operating costs grew by 7 percent and maintenance costs grew by 2 percent. For that increase in operating costs, vehicle revenue miles grew by less than 3 percent.

Transit is thus becoming increasingly expensive to operate and maintain per rider: the operating cost of single trip grew from $3.81 to $4.04, a 6 percent increase. Fares, meanwhile, grew by just 2 percent, and the industry as a whole collected just $15.1 billion in fares while spending $42.4 billion on operations, $11.0 billion on maintenance, and $6.0 billion on capital improvements.

These numbers are from the 2014 National Transit Database that the Federal Transit Administration posted last week. The numbers are only tentative, however, as the FTA took the numbers down this week (though some of the data are still available if you know where to look for them–see below). Moreover, a few key spreadsheets were missing from the data that were posted.

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Cars Saving Energy Faster Than Transit

The average automobile on the road in 2013 used 1.2 percent less energy per mile than in 2012, according to table 2-15 of the latest edition of the Department of Energy’s Transportation Energy Data Book. Both cars and light trucks achieved about the same gain.

Click image to download a 12.9-MB PDF of the data book. Click here to access individual spreadsheets of all the tables and charts in the data book.

In contrast, says the datebook, the average transit bus used 0.9 percent more energy per mile in 2013 than in 2012. Worse, the average number of people on board transit buses declined slightly, so buses used 1.0 percent more energy per passenger mile.

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State Home Price Indices

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.

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Home Price Indices Through 2nd Quarter 2015

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.

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