“President Obama promised to fight corporate concentration,” says public interest journalist Justin Elliott. “Eight years later, the airline industry is dominated by just four companies.” It’s true that what were seven major airlines in 2008 have merged into four today. The Antiplanner isn’t sure, however, that this is a bad thing.
According to Wikipedia, in 2008, those seven major airlines (American, Continental, Delta, Northwest, Southwest, U.S. Air, and United) had 88.0 percent of the domestic air market. As of fiscal 2016, that’s dropped to 84.5 percent.
Meanwhile, Alaska has increased its market share by 65 percent and JetBlue has increased its share by 43 percent. Hawaiian’s share has increased by 15 percent. Two major new airlines have appeared, Allegiant and Spirit, giving travelers more choices particularly since they have different pricing models.
If you think the presidential election is stupid, just get a look at all of the cities that are voting on stupid rail transit projects. Los Angeles wants $120 billion; Seattle $54 billion; San Diego, $7.5 billion; San Francisco, $3.5 billion; San Jose, $3 billion; Atlanta, $2.5 billion, Kansas City, $2 billion; Virginia Beach, $310 million; and Tigard, Oregon, which has the chance to kill a $2 billion project in Portland. That’s nearly $200 billion worth of stupidity that has rail contractors salivating.
Voters from these cities should look at the experiences other cities have had with rail. Portland opened a new light-rail project a year ago that was supposed to carry 17,000 people a day in its first year. Actual ridership is more like 11,000. Rail apologist Jarrett Walker says he isn’t surprised as rail lines “are designed to encourage denser and more sustainable development in addition to serving people who are there now,” so initial ridership is “almost always disappointing.” C’mon, Jarrett: planners took this into account when they made their projections (or if they didn’t they should have). By the way, the article also says the project came in “under budget,” but it doesn’t say that the budget was almost twice as much as the original projected cost, just one more way transit agencies lie about rail transit.
Speaking of cost overruns, Honolulu is the smallest urban area in America to be building rail transit, and its project, which was originally projected to cost less than $3 billion, is now up to $8 billion and possibly more than $10 billion, which would be more than $10,000 for every resident of Oahu. The city is stuck because it doesn’t have enough money to finish it, but if it doesn’t finish it, the Federal Transit Administration says it will demand that the city return the federal share of the cost.
The National Transportation Safety Board hasn’t made any final determinations, but it’s looking more like the September 29 New Jersey train crash could have been prevented by positive train control (PTC) systems that Congress has mandated but the railroads have failed to install. This is going to lead to a spate of articles accusing New Jersey Transit and other railroads and transit agencies of dragging their feet in installing PTC. Yet the Antiplanner isn’t positive that positive train control is the best way to make rail lines safer.
According to National Transportation Statistics table 2-39, since 1990 an average of 8 passengers and 26 railroad employees have been killed per year in accidents, many of which could have been prevented by positive train control. Meanwhile, an average of 416 people per year have been killed when struck by trains at grade crossings and another 354 have been killed when struck by trains because they were trespassing on tracks. None of those deaths could have been prevented by positive train control.
That suggests that positive train control, which the Association of American Railroads says is likely to cost $10 billion, may not be the most cost-effective way of making railroads safer. Every death is tragic, but if the $10 billion the railroads have to spend to save 34 lives a year could have been spent improving grade crossings and fencing off railroad rights of way, it might be able to save hundreds of lives per year instead.
Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump both say they want to spend more to fix America’s supposedly crumbling infrastructure. But if Congress passes an infrastructure spending bill, this is the kind of thing it will be spent on: digging two tunnels for Interstates 84 and 91 in Hartford, Connecticut. This project is being promoted by Representative John Larson (D-CT), who is obviously looking forward to the day when Democrats control the White House and at least one house of Congress.
How much would these tunnels cost? A mere $10 billion, estimates Larson, who promises that “It’s not remotely close to what the Big Dig was.” No, the Big Dig was only supposed to cost $2.8 billion. Since it eventually cost $14.5 billion, will the Hartford dig end up costing $40 billion?
The purpose of the tunnels is to relieve congestion since there is supposedly no room to add capacity to the existing, above-ground highways. I suspect Larson hasn’t considered overhead solutions such as the Selmon Expressway in Tampa, which added three lanes without taking any new right of way by being built in the median strip of an existing highway. It cost about $7 million a lane mile, far less than a tunnel.
Last week’s commuter train crash in New Jersey has left people wondering how safe our transportation system really is. We can answer this question with data from National Transportation Statistics, which show passenger miles, fatalities, and injuries by mode of transportation since 1990.
Table One: Fatalities per billion passenger miles by mode. As noted in the text, the most recent decade is 2005-2014 except for commuter rail, which is 2003-2012. Sources: Calculated from National Transportation Statistics, tables 1-40, 2-1, 2-34, and 2-35.
|Mode||1990-1999||Last 10 Years||Change
The statistics show transit data only through 2012, but the Federal Transit Administration has safety data for the years since then. Unfortunately, the Federal Railroad Administration, not the Federal Transit Administration, monitors commuter rail safety, and it doesn’t seem to publish those numbers, so we only have them through 2012.
The CEO of Valley Metro, Steve Banta, “went golfing on workdays, took 50 days off that did not count as vacation time, flew first class and failed to provide documentation for his expense reports,” says the Arizona Republic. Banta and his wife spent $26,000 of taxpayer money flying 56 times between Portland and Phoenix for “relocation-related trips.” A city auditor found $272,449 in “unallowable or questionable” expenses.
After the Republic revealed these excessive expenses, Banta, who previously worked for Portland’s TriMet, resigned. But then he changed his mind and, when Valley Metro’s board wouldn’t give him his job back, hesued Valley Metro for “wrongful termination and breach of contract,” asking for $1.65 million. The case was settled last week: without either side admitting any wrongdoing, Valley Metro will give him $125,000 severance pay.
Strangely, the Republic blames Banta’s behavior on Valley Metro, which “created a system that allowed him to” do these things. But that’s not really fair. On one hand, the public has a right to expect that any public official who is paid $265,000 a year will be honest in their use of taxpayer money. On the other hand, the real problem is that Valley Metro, like TriMet and so many other rail transit agencies, has become a giant scheme for transferring billions of dollars of taxpayers’ money to the pockets of rail contractors, manufacturers, and operators. It is only natural that agency officials seeing all that money going out the door for truly trivial transportation benefits would want to get their fair share of the take.
The share of American workers who live in households with no vehicles yet nonetheless drive alone to work grew from 20.4 percent in 2014 to 20.9 percent in 2015, according to the latest American Community Survey. This growth came at the expense of slight declines in carpooling, transit, work-at-homes, and “other” (taxi, bicycle, motorcycle), while walking to work increased slightly. No one knows for certain how people with no cars drive alone to work, but most probably use employer-supplied vehicles.
You can download 2015 commuting data by numbers of vehicles in the household for the nation, states, and counties, cities and other places, and urbanized areas. For comparison, 2014 data for the nation, states, and counties, cities, and urbanized areas are also available.
Only 4.5 percent of American workers live in households with no vehicles, a share that remained stable from 2014 to 2015. Nearly a third of them are in the New York urban area. Outside of the New York area, the only places with double-digit vehicle-less households tend to be in the Boston, San Francisco-Oakland, and Washington, DC urban areas.
The Department of Transportation says that it plans to issue a series of rules for self-driving cars that will potentially preempt state laws and regulations. This comes after lobbying by Google, which was disappointed when a state law that Google had supported led the California Department of Transportation to issue rules that forbade the use of cars that didn’t allow human drivers to override. Since Google was planning cars that didn’t have steering wheels and other controls that drivers could use, the state rule conflicted with Google’s goals.
The Antiplanner has urged against federal regulation, fearing that the feds would be as likely to get it wrong as the states, whereas if the states were left to regulate, at least a few states would get it right and the others would emulate their examples. Federal regulation wouldn’t be bad if the rules were perfect, but how likely is that?
For a more detailed free-marketeer’s view of the Department of Txansportation’s proposal, see Marc Scribner’s analysis. Here, I want to focus on one thing: the debate over fully autonomous vs. semi-autonomous vehicles.
The share of commuters driving alone to work grew from 80.0 percent in 2014 to 80.3 percent in 2015, according to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey. This increase came at the expense of carpoolers; the share of people taking transit, walking, and cycling remained the same.
The Census Bureau posted 2015 data early this month, giving data junkies lots of information to play with. The bureau has conducted the American Community Survey every year since 2005 based on surveys sent out to about 3.5 million households each year. This makes it far more reliable than a typical poll, which usually surveys only a few hundred people. However, the data should still be used with caution for small categories, such as the number of Latinos living in households with no cars who walk to work in Buffalo, New York.
To save you time, the Antiplanner has downloaded journey-to-work data, table B08301, for the nation, states, and counties, urbanized areas, and cities and other places. For comparison, I’ve also posted the same raw data for 2014: nation, states, and counties, urbanized areas, and cities and other places.
Michael Lind, a co-founder of left-leaning New America, is urging the federal government to create universal mobility accounts that would give everyone an income tax credit, or, if they owe no taxes, a direct subsidy to cover the costs of driving. He argues that social mobility depends on personal mobility, and personal mobility depends on access to a car, so therefore everyone should have one.
This is an interesting departure from the usual progressive argument that cars are evil and we should help the poor by spending more on transit. Lind responds to this view saying that transit and transit-oriented developments “can help only at the margins.” He applauds programs that help low-income people acquire inexpensive, used automobiles, but–again–thinks they are not enough.
Lind is virtually arguing that automobile ownership is a human right that should be denied to no one because of poverty. While the Antiplanner agrees that auto ownership can do a lot more to help people out of poverty than more transit subsidies, claiming that cars are a human right goes a little to far.