Monthly Archives: January 2017

2015 National Transit Database

If you downloaded the summary file for the 2015 National Transit Database that the Antiplanner posted December 30, please do so again (link fixed). I discovered I made an error transferring the operating cost data from the raw files to this summary sheet, and the revised version corrects this error.

The revised version, which is about 1.6 megabytes, also has a lot more calculations in it. These include vehicle occupancy (passenger miles divided by vehicle revenue miles), average number of seats per vehicle, and average standing room per vehicle. Some columns calculate operating and maintenance costs per passenger mile or vehicle mile, but these should be used with care as maintenance costs can vary tremendously from year to year.

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Benefits & Costs Benefits of Autonomous Cars

A new study estimates that self-driving cars will save the United States more than $300 billion per year. The study adds up the costs of traffic accidents and assumes that self-driving cars will reduce accidents by 90 percent. That’s optimistic, but the study doesn’t even count the savings due to congestion relief, increased productivity while traveling, and the reduced cost of delivering goods and services.

On the other hand, one analyst estimates that self-driving cars will “wipe out 4 million jobs.” A taxi- and limo-driver lobby group has already begun to lobby the New York legislature to protect jobs by banning self-driving cars.

This is where it is important to understand the difference between benefits and costs. Jobs are not a benefit; income is the benefit. Jobs are costs: if more income can be produced with fewer jobs, everybody gains. That includes the people whose jobs are lost because–at least if the society is reasonably mobile–they can find better jobs instead, paid for out of the money people saved by reducing costs.

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Is Dallas-Houston High-Speed Rail Viable?

One of the projects on the supposed Trump infrastructure priority list (which, I am 90 percent convinced, is not an official Trump administration list) was a Dallas-Houston high-speed rail line. When the Antiplanner called this project a boondoggle, I received an email from a supporter saying it will be entirely privately financed. While that would alleviate my objections, I remain skeptical that it could work.

The Texas Central project is backed by the Central Japan Railway and proposes to use Japanese high-speed rail technology in the 240-mile corridor from Dallas to Houston. Trains would make only one stop between those two cities, making the journey in 90 minutes at top speeds of around 200 miles per hour.

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Confusion about Infrastructure

The Christian Science Monitor thinks that the Democrats wrote their infrastructure plan as a “political bridge to President Trump.” Fox News thinks that Trump might “get on board” the Democrats’ plan. Statements like these show that many reporters–and by extension members of the public–haven’t yet figured out the real issues behind the infrastructure debate.

As Business Insider points out, there’s a bigger difference between the two sides over “how it’s paid for” than “what gets built.” The Democrats want the federal government to spend a trillion dollars, money it would have to borrow. Trump wants private investors to spend their own money. Never the twain shall meet.

But Business Insider doesn’t understand how Trump’s idea will work. If Trump is going to rely on the private sector, it says, then only projects that generate revenue will be built because “projects that don’t generate revenue for the private sector generally don’t get financed.” But there are two kinds of public-private partnerships. The kind that Business Insider is writing about is called demand risk because the private partner takes the risk that tolls, fares, or other user fees won’t repay the cost.

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Competing Infrastructure Plans: Trump vs. Democrats

Senate Democrats have proposed an infrastructure plan that calls for $1 trillion in federal deficit spending. In detail, the plan calls for:

  • $100 billion for reconstructing roads & bridges;
  • $100 billion to “revitalize Main Street,” that is, subsidies to New Urbanism and affordable housing;
  • $10 billion for TIGER stimulus projects;
  • $110 for reconstructing water and sewer;
  • $50 billion for modernizing rail (Amtrak and freight railroad) infrastructure;
  • $130 billion to repair and expand transit;
  • $75 billion for rebuilding public schools;
  • $30 billion to improve airports;
  • $10 billion for ports & waterways;
  • $25 billion to improve communities’ resistance to natural disasters;
  • $100 billion for a next-generation electrical grid;
  • $20 billion for broadband;
  • $20 billion for public lands and tribal infrastructure;
  • $10 billion for VA hospitals;
  • $10 billion for an infrastructure bank;
  • $200 billion for “vital projects” that “think big” such as building “the world’s fastest trains.”

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Trump Should Cancel New MPO Rules

One of the first things President Trump did when taking office was to block implementation of a reduction in mortgage insurance premiums that President Obama had ordered a few weeks before. Obama’s order would have reduced FHA insurance premiums by 0.25 percent of the value of the value of the loan. Since FHA’s fund balance is just 16 percent above the legal minimum, Obama’s order would have turned it from a solvent program to a money loser. By reversing Obama’s order, Trump was giving incoming HUD Secretary Ben Carson a chance to review it.

Another recent rule that Trump should cancel or postpone is a final rule on metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs) that was issued on December 15. As the Antiplanner noted last October, this rule would force adjacent MPOs to either combine into one or coordinate together when writing plans. The assumption is that, if writing regional plans is good, writing super regional plans is even better.

The flaw in that assumption, of course, is the notion that writing regional plans is good. Regional planners necessarily have less information about their regions than local planners, who have less information than landowners. The idea that people with less information can do a better job of planning your property than you can do is one of the basic flaws in all government land-use planning.

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The Evils of Urban Containment

The Antiplanner is flying to the East Coast today to help some local activists fight a proposed urban-growth boundary. Coincidentally, the Antiplanner’s faithful ally, Wendell Cox, released his annual international survey of housing affordability today.

As the Antiplanner has done for American states and urban areas, Cox shows that, among international urban areas, there is a high correlation between urban containment policies–whether through growth boundaries, greenbelts, or other tools–and unaffordable housing. Simple supply and demand says that when you restrict supply in the face of rising demand, prices will go up–and that’s exactly what we see all over the world.

Cox supplements data he has gathered himself from eight countries (plus Hong Kong) with additional data for urban areas in China and Malaysia. With a little work, it should be possible to add urban areas in non-English-speaking Europe. Perhaps we can have this done in time for the 2018 survey.

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Interlude
Most Europeans Don’t Ride Transit Either

Contrary to popular belief, Europeans don’t ride transit a lot more than Americans. In fact, most rarely use transit.

Conventional wisdom holds that Americans drive cars while Europeans ride transit and intercity trains. In fact, while there are some differences in travel habits, differences in rail and bus travel are a lot smaller than most people believe.

In 2009, the European Union published a Panorama of Transport that compared passenger and freight transport between members of the European Union and several other countries, including Japan, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States. Page 100 shows 2006 data for the EU-27 (the 27 members of the European Union at that time) and the United States. For accuracy in the table below, I extended the data to more significant digits by dividing total passenger kilometers by 490.0 (for the EU-27) and 301.3 (for the US).

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Reason #8 Most Americans Don’t Ride Transit
Life Is Complicated

Transit works best going from point A to point B if you happen to be near point A and want to get to point B. Transit doesn’t work well for trip chaining, going from point A to point B via points C, D, and E. Because life is complicated and people don’t want to spend all their time traveling, trip chaining works best in an independent vehicle such as a car.

On your way to work, you might want to drop off your kids at school or daycare, drop off your suit at the laundry, and get a cup of coffee. On your way home, in addition to picking up the kids and laundry, you may want to go grocery shopping. This is called trip chaining, and it is a lot easier to do in a car than by transit. (Yes, there’s probably a Starbucks next to your transit stop, but your transit agency probably doesn’t allow you take beverages on board.)

Some analysts wonder whether people choose to drive because they want to trip chain or if they trip chain because they have cars. But this is the wrong question. The reality is, life is complicated, and cars do a better job of helping people deal with that complexity.

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Reason #7 Most Americans Don’t Ride Transit
It Doesn’t Carry Freight

Carrying large packages, suitcases, or shopping bags on transit is awkward at best and impossible at worst. Anyone who expects to travel with such cargo, even if only some of the time, will do best with a car.

In 2007, Ikea opened its first store in Portland. It is 280,000 square feet, has around a thousand parking spaces, and is near a light-rail station. How many people who plan to do more than just window shop do you imagine carry their purchases home on the light rail?

Drag right to see the Cascades light-rail station, which is much further from Ikea than any of the parking spaces.

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