The Continuing Transit Apocalypse

The Utah Transit Authority (UTA) has come up with a creative explanation for why its ridership is dropping. It seems Salt Lake police have started something called Operation Rio Grande aimed at arresting drug dealers and other criminals near downtown Salt Lake. Many of those drug dealers were apparently regular light-rail users, so their incarceration has significantly reduced UTA ridership. Or so UTA says.

UTA hopes to gain new riders once the system appears to be safer. But it is forecasting “stagnant” ridership for the next year, which may actually be optimistic.

Meanwhile, reporters in Hawaii have noticed a drastic decline in ridership on Honolulu’s bus system, which on a per-capita basis is one of the most popular in the nation. Local transit officials profess to believe that bus ridership will recover when the city’s rail line opens. That’s pretty unlikely, however, both because they don’t even have funding to complete the rail line and because bus ridership has dropped when new rail lines opened in nearly every other city.

In the nation’s capital, officials of the Washington Metro system have admitted that Uber and Lyft may be cutting into Metro’s ridership. They have taken the time-honored transit solution to any problem by hiring a consultant. This consultant will do little more than “create a forecasting and modeling tool” to help Metro respond to this competitive challenge, especially as driverless cars enter the picture–which, as commenter Capitalist Roader noted in last week’s Antiplanner, may be in as little as two years. While that seems optimistic to me, I’ve repeatedly stated that there are simply too many unknowns about self-driving ride-sharing to forecast the consequences, so the model Metro is paying for will be worthless.

As if in protest to transit’s declining relevance, New York’s Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal both decided to immolate themselves on Wednesday. While there’s no evidence that these fires were anything but accidents, they underscore the fact that too many people have forgotten the lesson of 9-11, as stated by Stephen Ambrose: “Don’t bunch up.” Or, as Wired magazine put it: “Density kills.”

Wired thought the problem was how to “preserve the virtues of density while protecting city dwellers from the nonlinear, asymmetrical threat of modern warfare.” But, Ambrose responded, “It is no longer necessary to pack so many people and offices into such small a space as Lower Manhattan. They can be scattered in neighboring regions and states, where they can work just as efficiently and in far more security.” Such scattering, of course, is not good for transit, so transit agencies are fighting this attitude for selfish reasons. The good news is that they have been, for the most part, unsuccessful.

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5 thoughts on “The Continuing Transit Apocalypse

  1. LazyReader

    A leading environmentalist opposes city accommodation of cyclists, claiming that promoting cycling in cities is incredibly costly, damages local businesses, hurts city revenues, increases pollution, increase traffic, and leaves cyclists suffering black lung.According to Lawrence Solomon, an executive director of Urban Renaissance Institute and one of Canada’s leading environmentalists, cycling used to be a great benefit to cities. In an op-ed for the Financial Post, Solomon claims that in the 1980’s, the bicycle “blessed cities with economic and environmental benefits,” as it reduced the number of cars on the road which in turn, eased traffic. In the United Kingdom, London is a great example of how cycling has become a detriment cities.

    The former mayor of London, Boris Johnson, created a “cycling revolution” in the form of a public bicycle hiring scheme. The scheme saw rentable bikes in docking stations spring up around the city. Although the concept was well received, it has now proven to be a large source of congestion for daily commuters due to the many bike lanes, which the Transport for London (TfL) call “cycle superhighways.”

    These bike lanes, which are mostly underused, have forced traffic to move at a snail’s pace as cars are unable to use the entirety of the road to maneuver. Due to the immense amount of traffic caused by bike lanes, the pollution levels of the city have risen. The main victims of this pollution, ironically, are cyclists.

    Solomon, who cites a study by the London School of Medicine, explains that cyclists inhale 2.3 times more soot than people who walk. This is because cyclists “breathe more deeply and at a quicker rate than pedestrians while in closer proximity to exhaust fumes … Our data strongly suggest that personal exposure to black carbon should be considered when planning cycling routes,” the London School of Medicine report suggests.

    Not only are cities spending a large amount of money on cycling schemes, Paris aims to become the “cycling capital of the world” by spending 150 million euros on the issue, bike lanes cost businesses money as they typically replace lanes that accommodate street parking, which can heavily impact businesses that rely on street parking to operate.

    Oregon, which has a large number of cyclists, has attempted to fix the problem by implementing a sales tax on new bicycles. The senator who co-wrote the bill explained that legislators “felt that bicycles ought to contribute to the system.”

  2. LazyReader

    Remember Puerto Rico’s “Struggling” Government? They Just Gave Themselves $113 Million In Bonuses

    This is the Democrat Party, ladies and gentlemen.

  3. prk166

    WMATA has more obvious problems than the possibility of automated vehicles. They’re smoking out their current customers, scaring them away with fire and unreliable service. And they’re doing it at a time when the infrastructure for working from home / remote work is becoming increasingly reliable, secure and easy to deploy.

    DC’s not booming because of factory jobs, it’s office work. And a lot of that work doesn’t have to occur in an office. If half of their riders work in office jobs that can be done remotely, what happens to ridership when a large portion of the start to work from home 3, 6, 12, or 22 days every month?

    They could be looking at a decrease in trips of 5 or 10 percent every year as more remote work is implemented. Seem odd? Maybe. But there are several studies showing people who work from home get more done. Employers have reasons to push it.

    The other piece is what we’ve seen in New York City. For all the chatter about Uber and Lyft taking away trips from taxis, by and large they’re either generating new trips or winning them from transit.

    So you start to see situations where someone takes the train into work in the morning, does a long day and at 630pm at night, tired and exhausted they “treat” themselves to a $20 uber ride home instead of slogging it on the train.

    And worse for WMATA with huge fixed costs, that person doesn’t come into the office for the rest of the week. They work from Panera and home, doing calls and video calls and shared screens when needed.

    Automated cars could never happen and WMATA could still be facing large losses in ridership every year into the foreseeable future. For an agency that’s so wedded to a technology, rail, that requires enormously high volumes of traffic to offset it’s humongous fixed costs, that could end up being their coffin.

    The loss in revenue would’ be great. The problem is that they rely on politicians for 80% of their funding. If people realize they do _NEED_ the metro, they won’t care if their elected officials fund it, especially the very expensive, underutilized rail routes.

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