Category Archives: Transportation

Just the Infrastructure We Don’t Need

Here’s the great thing about driverless cars: They will need no new infrastructure because the people designing them are making them work with existing infrastructure. All they ask is for cities and states to fill the potholes and do other basic maintenance.

Here’s another great thing about driverless cars: Most congestion results from slow human reflexes, and simulations show that congestion will significantly decline if as few as 5 percent of vehicles on the road are driverless. So, even if you don’t have a driverless car, you will benefit from others being driverless.

So what the heck is Bexar County (San Antonio) Commissioner Kevin Wolff thinking when he proposes that the county use federal infrastructure dollars to build new interstate highway lanes open only to driverless cars? On one hand, they don’t need special lanes. On the other hand, separating them from other traffic eliminates the congestion relief benefits they can provide. Continue reading

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A Poster Child for Government Waste

The Maryland Transit Administration suddenly shut down the Baltimore Metro last week, forcing commuters and other riders to find alternatives with less than 24 hours notice. The state said an inspection had found unexpectedly excessive wear on the rails that could have caused a derailment, and it plans to keep the line closed for a month while it fixes the problem — and then to close it again this summer for further work.

Productivity of United States Metro Systems
Thousands of Trips Per Year

 Trips/mileTrips/stationSubsidy/Trip
New York Subway3,2115,6991.64
NY-NJ Path2,0496,7941.60
Boston1,6153,2312.66
Los Angeles1,3492,8757.82
Philadelphia-SEPTA1,0201,35816.05
Washington8522,7381.96
Chicago9001,6454.56
Atlanta6931,8936.08
Oakland5103,1053.48
Miami3689335.18
Baltimore3598726.92
San Juan3225139.17
Staten Island2713912.34
Philadelphia-PATCO2778193.23
Cleveland1683563.11
“Subsidies” equal operations & maintenance divided by fares. Source: 2016 National Transit Database.

The coincidence that the shut-down took place the same day the White House announced its infrastructure plan led the Washington Post to call the metro the latest poster child for the need for more infrastructure spending. In fact, it is a poster child for less infrastructure spending, as it should never have been built in the first place. Continue reading

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Capital Metro to Try, Try Again

Having lost two light-rail ballot measures at the polls, and having built a semi-commuter-rail line that flopped, you’d think Austin’s Capital Metro would have learned its lesson. But no, twice as much to start, as originally projected, now costs nearly ten times as much per vehicle mile as Austin commuter buses, yet still only carries around 1,400 round trips a day. As the Antiplanner never tires of saying, it would have cost less to give every daily round-trip rider a new Toyota Prius every year than to run this.

On top of this, Capital Metro has lost 19 percent of its transit riders since 2012. Capital Metro hasn’t significantly cut either bus or rail service, so most of the lost riders were probably taken by ride sharing. Continue reading

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Is Ride Sharing Deepening Inequality?

In the latest made-up panic of the year, ride sharing is supposedly “deepening social and economic inequity.” According to Tracey Lindemen, writing in Vice magazine, it’s doing that by stealing riders from public transit, which forces transit systems to cut their services, reducing the mobility of transit-dependent people.

In fact, Linderman has it backwards: public transit is the source of income inequality, while ride sharing can reduce it.

Linderman claims that “Public transit used to be the great equalizer,” but that was never true. Before cars, transit was used by the middle class, but the working class couldn’t afford it. The Model T Ford was the great equalizer, bringing mobility to those who couldn’t afford transit. In 1910, no more than a quarter of Americans regularly used transit. By 1926, over half of American families owned a car. Continue reading

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Trump Plan Won’t Fix Infrastructure

The White House released President Trump’s infrastructure plan today, which calls for spending $200 billion federal dollars as seed money to stimulate a total of $1.5 trillion on “gleaming new infrastructure.” Almost lost in the dozens of pages of documents issued by the administration is that the reason why the federal government supposedly needs a new infrastructure program is that our infrastructure is crumbling, and the reason it is crumbling is that politicians would rather spend money on gleaming new projects than on maintaining the old ones.

The White House proposes several new funding programs. The administration could have dedicated one or more of these programs to maintenance and repair of worn-out infrastructure. Instead, all $200 billion can be spent on new projects, and knowing politicians, most of it will be. To make matters worse, funds for most of the programs would be distributed in the form of competitive grants, but experience has proven that competitive grants are highly politicized.

“In the past, the Federal Government politically allocated funds for projects, leading to waste, mismanagement, and misplaced priorities,” agrees White House economic advisor Gary Cohn. The administration’s solution, Cohn continues, is to “stimulate State, local, and private investment.” In other words, instead of most decisions being made by Washington politicians, they will be made by local politicians. But if local politicians were any better at maintaining infrastructure, then we wouldn’t have tens of thousands of local bridges classed as “structurally deficient” and the New York, Washington, Boston, and other subway systems wouldn’t be falling apart. Continue reading

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Abandoning the Bus

The Antiplanner isn’t the only one to notice transit’s disastrous year. “NYC bus ridership fell 6 percent in 2017, a stunning year-over-year decline that accelerates a decade-long trend,” reports Streetsblog. “New Yorkers are are abandoning the bus at historic rates because service is terrible and getting worse.”

In Washington, ridership is not only falling, but Metro is forecasting a continued decline this year. “The ridership drop appears most dramatic for the system’s bus network,” says the Washington Post.

Every transit agency’s favorite solution to the problem, of course, is to throw money at it. Few of them acknowledge the real problem: too much money is being spent on rail transit, forcing cut backs in bus service and hurting many riders. Continue reading

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2017: Transit’s Disastrous Year

Nationwide transit ridership in December 2017 was nearly 5 percent less than December 2016. Ridership for the calendar year was 2.6 percent less than in 2016 and 6.7 percent less than 2014, transit’s recent peak. These numbers are based on the latest National Transit Database spreadsheet posted by the Federal Transit Administration.

As usual, I’ve supplemented the FTA file by summing the years (2002 through 2017 in columns GU through HJ), transit agencies (rows 2101 through 3098), and the 200 largest urban areas (rows 3101 through 3300). The resulting spreadsheet is about 8 megabytes. While these numbers may be preliminary, they provide a pretty good indication of the health — or lack of it — of the transit industry.

The results show that 2017 ridership was lower than in 2016 in all but two of the fifty largest urban areas: Phoenix and Seattle. As of the posting of November data, it appeared that Houston would be a member of this tiny club, but Houston’s December ridership fell by 1.1 percent from December 2016, leading 2017 as a whole to be 0.1 percent less than 2016. While some of that decline may have been due to Hurricane Harvey, the December drop off does not bode well for 2018. Continue reading

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You Can Build Your Way out of Congestion

Los Angeles is still the most congested urban area in the world, according to the latest INRIX traffic scorecard. However, what is more interesting is that congestion seems to be declining in several fast-growing cities in Texas, thanks to construction of new highways.

Dallas is twice as big as Seattle and Houston is three times as big. The Dallas and Houston urban areas are both growing nearly twice as fast as Seattle’s, but Seattle is concentrating its growth in the city while Dallas and Houston allow more people to settle in the suburbs. INRIX found that congestion was worse in Seattle than either Dallas or Houston, which was a direct result of Washington’s growth-management policies.

Moreover, while INRIX’s congestion index for Seattle — and most other cities — grew worse since last year’s scorecard, the congestion indices for Dallas, Houston, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso all improved. That’s unusual in the United States, INRIX observes, but cities in Scotland and Germany have also managed to reduce congestion by building new facilities. Continue reading

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Who Will Get to Own Driverless Cars?

Some people have predicted that, by 2030, 95 percent of all travel will be by shared driverless cars. The prediction is based on an estimate that the cost of using a shared car will be so much less than the cost of owning a car that hardly anyone will want to own a car.

Some environmental groups, including NRDC, ICLEI, and Transportation for America, want to make this a self-fulfilling prophecy. They have proposed that no one should be allowed to drive a private car in “dense urban areas”; instead, only vehicles in “shared fleets” should be allowed. Since it is also their joint goal to make all urban areas dense, effectively they want to ban car ownership except in rural areas.

Not surprisingly, the companies that want to operate those shared fleets, including Uber, Lyft, and Zipcar, are supporting the proposal. So far, however, no auto manufacturers have signed on; no doubt they will be happy to sell their cars to anyone who buys them. Continue reading

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Transit Losses From Poor People Buying Cars?

A new report from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies finds that the main cause of declining ridership in southern California is poor people buying cars. Between 1990 and 2000, when ridership was growing, the Los Angeles region grew by 1.8 million people but only 456,000 cars, or about one car per four people. Between 2000 and 2010, when ridership was shrinking, the region grew by 2.3 million people and gained 2.1 million cars, or nearly one car per new person.

There is certainly something to this, but other factors are probably more important than the report estimates. The report says that neither ride sharing nor changes in transit service and fares have played an important role, and I suspect these conclusions are wrong.

The report shows that transit trips per capita peaked in 2007 and have declined in most years since then. Certainly the decline before around 2012 or 2013 was not due to ride sharing. But the decline steepened after 2014, and I suspect much of that decline is due to ride sharing. Continue reading

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