Category Archives: Transportation

Commuting Data for 2016

Last week, the Census Bureau posted 2016 data from the American Community Survey, including population, income, housing, employment, and commuting data among many other categories. The survey is based on data from more than 3.5 million households. Today, the Antiplanner will look at commuting data: how people got to work in 2016 compared with previous years.

To save you time, I’ve downloaded and posted 2016’s table B08301, “Means of Transportation to Work,” for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urbanized areas. I’ve also posted similar tables for 2006, 2010, and 2015.

In columns Z through AE, I’ve calculated the shares of commuters (excluding people who work at home) who traveled to work by driving alone, carpooling, transit, rail transit, bicycling, and walking. (These won’t quite add up to 100 percent as are other categories such as taxi and motorcycle.) Only some cities, counties, and urban areas are included because others were too small for the sample size to be valid. Since the places that are included may vary from year to year, the rows of the various spreadsheets do not line up below the state level.

The data show that, nationwide, transit’s share of travel grew from 5.03 percent in 2006 to 5.49 percent in 2015. This growth was at the expense of carpooling, as driving alone’s share also grew. In 2016, however, transit’s share fell to 5.36 percent while both driving alone and carpooling grew. Continue reading

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Denver’s Immobility Plan

Denver’s Mayor Michael Hancock has issued what he calls a Mobility Plan. But if carried out, it will actually reduce the mobility of the residents of America’s nineteenth-largest city. Instead of doing anything to relieve congestion, the number one listed goal of the plan is to increase the share of commuters walking, cycling, or taking transit to work to 30 percent. Such a 146-percent increase over the current 12.2 percent is unattainable, so the plan ends up devoting most of the city’s transportation funds to forms of transportation that are either insignificant or obsolete.

Click image to download a 5.5-MB PDF of this plan.

The centerpiece of the Mayor’s plan is dedicated bus lanes on Colfax, Denver’s most important east-west street. Currently, buses carry about 22,000 people a day, more than any other corridor in Denver. But, as the Antiplanner noted recently, dedicated bus lanes can move than many people per hour, and even the 50,000 people per day that the city optimistically projects for Colfax isn’t enough to justify dedicating that much street space to buses. Continue reading

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Reversible Lanes, Not Trains

Predictably, in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, some people are saying that Florida would have been better off trying to evacuate people with passenger trains than over the highways. No one knows exactly how many people did evacuate south Florida, but after the state ordered 6.3 million people to leave their homes, photos of bumper-to-bumper cars on Interstates 75 and 95 became a staple of hurricane reporting.

Rail advocates like to claim that rail lines have much higher capacities for moving people than roads, but that’s simply not true. After the San Francisco earthquake of 1906, the Southern Pacific Railroad moved 300,000 people–free of charge–out of the city in what was probably the largest mass transit evacuation in American history. While impressive, it took the railroad five days to move all of those people. Even accounting for improvements in rail capacities in the last century, moving 6 million people out of south Florida by rail would take weeks, not the four days available between Florida’s first evacuation orders and the arrival of Hurricane Irma.

Certainly, the state of Florida could have done more to relieve congestion on major evacuation routes. As near as I can tell, the most it did was to allow vehicles to use the left shoulder lane on part of I-75 and part of I-4 (which isn’t even a north-south route), but not, so far as I can tell, on I-95. What the state should have done, since there was very little southbound traffic, was to open up all but one of the southbound lanes of I-75 and I-75 to northbound traffic. Continue reading

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Driverless Car Update

The National Transportation Safety Board has issued its report about the 2016 crash that killed a Tesla driver. This has been billed as the “first self-driving car fatality,” but the truth is that the Tesla wasn’t designed to be a self-driving car. Instead, it is what is technically known as an SAE level 2 autonomous car, which is defined as “driver assistance systems of both steering and acceleration/ deceleration using information about the driving environment and with the expectation that the human driver perform all remaining aspects of the dynamic driving task.”

Instead of treating it this way, the driver acted as if it were a level 3 car, meaning a car capable of performing “all aspects of the dynamic driving task with the expectation that the human driver will respond appropriately to a request to intervene.” The Tesla was not designed to deal with all aspects of driving nor was it capable of making a request for the driver to intervene.

In this case, the car was going the legal speed limit on a highway and failed to slow or stop when a truck illegally entered the right of way to cross the highway. The Tesla was designed to detect another car in its lane but not a vehicle crossing the lane. The truck driver–who, the NTSB notes, had been smoking marijuana–cross the highway in violation of the Tesla’s right of way. An alert driver would have slowed down, but the Tesla driver was relying on his car to do things it wasn’t designed to do. Continue reading

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DC Metro More Reliable But Riders Are Not

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) has blamed much of the rail system’s ridership declines on the system’s reliability problems and all of the track work it did in 2016 and early 2017 to fix those problems. Now, the system has become more reliable, but riders don’t seem to be returning.

The Federal Transit Administration has published month-by-month ridership data for all transit systems through June, 2017. The numbers show that Metro rail ridership in February, March, and April of this year were all about 10 percent less than in the same months last year. In May, however, it was only 1.5 percent less, while June 2017 ridership was actually more than in June 2016–though only by 0.6 percent.

While that’s grounds for a bit of optimism, Metro rail ridership still has a long way to go before it returns to its 2009 peak, which was 28 percent higher than the year ending June 2017. I don’t like making predictions because there are too many unknown variables, but I suspect ridership will never return to those levels partly because many former riders have lost faith in the system and partly because the band-aid work done on the system in the last year won’t solve its long-term reliability problems. Time will tell.

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Is Gentrification Reducing Transit Ridership?

The Eastsider, a Los Angeles publication, has suggested a new explanation for that city’s spectacular decline in bus ridership: gentrification. Rising housing prices have forced many low-income transit riders to distant suburbs while the people moving into gentrified neighborhoods have higher incomes, more cars, and are less likely to ride transit.

The Eastsider bases this idea on a story in Curbed Los Angeles, which offers four explanations for declining ridership: traffic congestion slowing down buses; service cuts; low-cost fuel; and high-cost housing. “Many of the most transit accessible neighborhoods in Los Angeles are significantly more expensive, and home to more affluent demographics than they once were,” says the publication. “As the transit-riding demographics get priced out of relatively central and transit-friendly neighborhoods, and move to the cheaper but more far-flung and car dependent suburbs, ridership suffers.”

While I’m not discounting this as a partial explanation, Curbed LA never even mentioned Uber and Lyft, which the Antiplanner has estimated may be responsible for more of the decline in transit ridership than all of the other explanations put together. Aside from that, there are plenty of reasons to think that gentrification plays only a tiny role in transit ridership, even in Los Angeles. Continue reading

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Transit Ridership is Declining–So Why
Pay Transit CEOs So Much Money?

Transit ridership is declining, and that decline appears to be accelerating. Nationally, ridership declined by 4.4 percent between 2014 and 2016 and by 4.5 percent in the first six months in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.

Despite these losses, transit agency CEOs get paid staggering amounts of money. Here’s a few examples.

  • Los Angeles Metro lost 10.5 percent of its riders from 2014 to 2016, and another 5.8 percent in the first six months of 2017. Yet the agency’s CEO pulls down a salary of more than $430,000, plus nearly $48,000 in benefits.
  • San Francisco BART ridership has been flat for the last several years, and it lost 4.9 percent of its riders in the first half of 2017. Its CEO collected $498,000 in pay and benefits in 2016.
  • Even better paid was the CEO of San Mateo County Transit, who also runs the commuter trains between San Jose and San Francisco. From 2014 to 2016, SamTrans lost 4 percent of its riders and another 7.6 percent in 2017, while CalTrains ridership has been flat through 2016 and lost 7.9 percent in 2017. Its CEO received $492,500 plus $24,000 in benefits in 2016, for a total of more than $516,000.
  • Atlanta’s MARTA lost 4.8 percent from 2014 to 2016 and 2.1 percent in 2017; its CEO (who recently resigned) earned $369,000 in 2016.
  • Honolulu Area Rapid Transit (HART) has yet to carry a single rider, but its CEO will earn $379,000 this year.
  • Boston’s transit system, the MBTA, is falling apart and it lost 4.0 percent of its riders from 2014 to 2016 and another 3.2 percent in 2017. Its CEO collects about $384,000 plus benefits.

Continue reading

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LaHood to DC Metro Board: “You’re Fired!”

Washington DC’s Metro system has a multibillion-dollar maintenance backlog, declining ridership, and serious problems with labor unions. The systems problems are so bad that Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe asked former Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood, one of the least credible people ever to hold that office, to lead a search for new funds for the agency.

Now LaHood has come out with his proposal. Has he found a billion dollars stuck in the seat cushions of Metro trains? Nope. Has he discovered a treasure map at the White House that leads to a city of gold? Nope. Has he found any money at all? None.

Instead, he proposes to replace Metro’s current sixteen-member board of directors with a “reform board” consisting of “five members who are solely responsible to the transit system, not the parochial interests of the local officials who would appoint them.” Continue reading

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What If All American Cars Were Electric?

An Antiplanner reader writes, what “if all vehicles in USA were powered by electricity?” The reader wasn’t sure, but suspected that it would be “impossible to do with electricity as now generated and distributed.” I was inclined to agree, but when I looked into it, the results surprised me.

First, as I’ve noted before, only about a third of the power used to generate electricity ends up being delivered to the end users; the rest is lost in generation and transmission. This would seem to reduce the apparent efficiency of electric cars.

Counter to that, however, internal combustion engines dissipate most of their energy in the form of heat. On average, only about 21 percent of the energy from burning gasoline or Diesel is used to move vehicles; the rest is lost. Electric motors, however, only lose about 20 percent of their energy as heat. This more than offsets the losses from electrical generation and transmission. Continue reading

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Notes from the Transit Apocalypse

The Antiplanner is back in the air today, but a review of recent headlines reveals the continuing decline of the nation’s transit industry, much of which is self-inflicted. None other than Streetsblog has figured out that the headlines trumpeting the great success of new Los Angeles light-rail lines are misleading considering that the county has reduced bus service and lost several times more bus riders than it gained rail riders.

Joe Mathews, writing in the Sacramento Bee, points out that the recently opened “Smart” train in Sonoma and Marin counties is actually pretty dumb. They built it from one mile away from the Sonoma County Airport to two miles away from a Marin County ferry terminal. Taxi drivers won’t take people from the train to the airport because they resent missing out on the fare they would earn from a longer ride. Of course, anyone who thinks that trains should go from where they are to where they want to go doesn’t understand the real cost of building rail transit.

The nation’s biggest rail disaster, at least on a per-capita basis, continues to unfold in Honolulu. The city’s 20-mile line was originally supposed to cost under $3 billion, but the current projection is $9.5 billion and it may breach $10 billion. Even as the state and city debate who should pay for the cost overrun, Honolulu’s bus ridership is falling. Continue reading

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