Monthly Archives: October 2012

Should New York Rebuild the Subways?

After Hurricane Katrina, some people argued that we shouldn’t rebuild New Orleans, not simply because it was below sea level but because the city was economically and politically dysfunctional. The same argument could be made for the New York City subway system, which was so heavily damaged by Sandy that repairing it could cost “tens of billions of dollars.”

You could always swim to work.

It’s not just the subways, of course: the entire transit system has been damaged. But in the suburbs, at least, buses on streets can easily substitute for rail.

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Do You Really Believe?

Ninety-two percent of respondents to an on-line poll on World Net Daily believes that the so-called Frankenstorm is a sign that God is angry with the United States for its stance on Israel. It is just slightly possible that the people who voted in this poll were not an accurate cross-section of Americans.

But what do you make of the “progressive” web site, Common Dreams, arguing that Frankenstorm is nature’s “revenge” on the presidential campaigns for “ignoring climate change”? Is progressivism as much a religion as fundamentalist Christianity?

As a believer in the separation of church and state, the Antiplanner ordinarily does not comment on someone’s religion. But I make an exception when that religion disguises itself as a political philosophy that is, in fact, just as anti-science as the most extreme fundamentalists.

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Playing the Numbers Game

Planners for Metro, Portland’s regional planning agency, are playing an interesting game. They did a travel survey in 1994, when gas prices were low and the economy was booming. Then they did another survey in 2011, when gas prices were high and the economy was in recession. They found that Portland travelers in 2011 are more likely to bicycle or ride transit and less likely to drive. Naturally, they credit their land-use policies with the change.

The Oregonian is rightly skeptical of the “spin” Metro planners are putting on the numbers. There are several reasons justifying such skepticism.

First, the sample size was small–4,800 people for a region of well over a million people. Second, the numbers do not tally well with the results of the Census Bureau’s American Community survey. The Metro survey found that 81 percent of Portland-area commuters rode in cars and 11 percent took transit to work in 2011. The Census Bureau, however, found that more than 84 percent drove and only 8 percent took transit in 2008. Since the census data are based on a larger sample–more than 25,000 households in Oregon, of which about a third are from the Portland area–it is probably more reliable.

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The Auto Bailout Failure

A new paper from the Buckeye Institute affirms what the Antiplanner has said about the Obama administration’s “bailout” of the auto industry: it did more harm than good. “The auto bailout transferred over $25 billion in taxpayer dollars to the United Autoworkers labor union,” says the paper, “while actually hindering the kind of ‘fresh start’ that is necessary for the industry’s future success and that normal bankruptcy procedures, without political meddling, provide.”

“When a public policy produces worse results than doing nothing, it properly should be described as a failure,” the paper adds. “The Obama Administration auto bailout is such a failure.”

The administration’s “claim that the auto bailout saved 1.5 million jobs is demonstrably false,” the paper continues, as it is based on an assumption that, not only would GM and Chrysler have completely shut down without the bailout, so would Ford, Toyota, Honda, and other U.S. factories owned by foreign carmakers. As the Antiplanner has done, the paper also accuses the administration of violating the rule of law in order to favor some interests (unions) over others (creditors).

By “injecting politics into the reorganization process,” the paper concludes, the administration actually hindered the industry’s recovery. The lesson is not that a Bush or Romney would have done any better, but that future administration’s should keep their hands off of floundering industry’s and let the bankruptcy process and rule of law sort things out.


Private Transit in Detroit

The Detroit Bus Company, a private operator, is offering $5 door-to-door service in inner Detroit. So far, the service only operated from 6:00 pm to 2:00 am on Fridays and Saturday nights, but if this is successful, it will no doubt expand.

Service area for Detroit Bus’ door-to-door operation.

Within a certain operating area, the company will pick you up at your door in a biodiesel-fueled bus and take you where you want to go. Outside this operating area, the company has some specific stops it will make.

“It’s time this city had a transit system to be proud of,” says the company. The Antiplanner agrees and sends best wishes to this new venture.


Will They Ever Learn?

Arizona Shuttle offers 19 buses a day between Tucson and Phoenix. Greyhound offers at least eight. But that’s not good enough for some people, so the state is spending $6.3 million studying the idea of running passenger trains between the two cities.

The state’s first guess is that the start-up cost would be a mere $1 billion. Phoenix and Tucson are about the same distance from one another as San Diego and Los Angeles, where Amtrak runs something like 11 trains per day. Of course, those trains run just 35 percent full despite the fact that they serve urban areas whose combined populations are four times greater than Phoenix and Tucson.

To make the case for rail, the state is spreading scare stories about how bad congestion will be in 2050. Of course, trains won’t do anything about that congestion, since so few people will ride them. Given that most cars on the road in 2050 are likely to be driving themselves, congestion will probably be a lot less than today even if the region’s population doubles, as planners forecast.

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Private Buses or Public Boondoggles

A team of graphics artists has attempted to map the private buses that carry workers from San Francisco to Silicon Valley, reports the Wall Street Journal. At least six employers–Apple, ebay, Electronic Arts, Facebook, Google, and Yahoo–offer such services, but they are very secretive about where they go and how many people they carry.

Click image for a larger view.

The artists who developed the map estimate that these private buses carry about a third as many people as CalTrains commuter trains between San Francisco and San Jose. CalTrains cost taxpayers more than $110 million a year, but Silicon Valley firms obviously don’t believe they adequately serve their employees, probably because the rails don’t go near their campuses. Google alone has more than 100 buses in its fleet, about as many as serve the entire fixed-route system in the city of Stockton.

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“Just One-Seventh of Capacity”

The San Francisco Chronicle is aghast that new 140-seat ferry boats between South San Francisco and Oakland/Alameda are filling an average of just 20 of their seats (scroll down to “On the line”). The service, which cost $42 million to start up, was expensive enough at projected ridership rates, but actual ridership so far is just a third of those projections. Even before such low ridership was known, the paper opined that the ferry service may not be “prudent.”

It’s too bad Bay Area papers don’t put their analytical skills to work on other transit systems. If the ferries are just one-seventh (14.3 percent) full, how full are other transit lines?

According to the 2010 National Transit Database (summary Excel file here), San Jose’s light-rail line is pathetic at 11.1 percent (one-ninth full). San Francisco Muni’s light rail is not much better at 11.6 percent. By comparison, the BART system is doing relatively well, operating at a healthy (?) 15.3 percent of capacity.

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