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.
The nation’s best-known rail disaster is in Washington, DC, where the city is fighting with the surrounding counties over who should pay what share of the $500 million a year Metro wants to rehabilitate the decrepit system. What no one is saying is that, even after 10 years of $500 million a year, the system will still have a $10 billion maintenance backlog.
Crime has gotten so bad on Denver’s West light-rail line that the Regional Transit District (RTD) is now putting security officers on every train between certain stops. Denver police department statistics show a large increase in crime in the neighborhoods around light-rail stations since the line opened.
It hasn’t gotten in the news yet, but ridership on Denver’s newest light-rail line, the R line, is so low that RTD may be forced to reduce service. Nearly all light-rail lines operate at least four times an hour, but in this case they may go to twice an hour. They should have used buses, which can be scaled to ridership so they cost about the same no matter how many riders they carry.
In a ballot measure known as “Sound Transit 3” because two previous measures had already been passed, Seattle managed to convince voters to support a $54 billion expansion of its light-rail system. But now Sound Transit has admitted that its Lynnwood line, authorized under Sound Transit 2, is $500 million over budget and will be delayed at least six months. Sound Transit doesn’t care; it will simply borrow against the Sound Transit 3 money to pay for the overrun. The revised cost for the Lynnwood line will average $340 million a mile, which is also the average for the lines in Sound Transit 3 (which means they will probably be more).
By the time the Lynnwood line opens in 2024, driverless ride-sharing may have already begun stealing rides from light rail and other forms of transit. After all, Elon Musk predicts that driverless ride sharing will cost less than public transit. And Musk is never wrong, is he? Even if you aren’t a part of the Cult of Musk, it isn’t hard to calculate that driverless transport will average no more than about 25 cents a passenger mile, while transit fares today average 28 cents a passenger mile.