The Antiplanner isn’t the only one to notice transit’s disastrous year. “NYC bus ridership fell 6 percent in 2017, a stunning year-over-year decline that accelerates a decade-long trend,” reports Streetsblog. “New Yorkers are are abandoning the bus at historic rates because service is terrible and getting worse.”
In Washington, ridership is not only falling, but Metro is forecasting a continued decline this year. “The ridership drop appears most dramatic for the system’s bus network,” says the Washington Post.
Every transit agency’s favorite solution to the problem, of course, is to throw money at it. Few of them acknowledge the real problem: too much money is being spent on rail transit, forcing cut backs in bus service and hurting many riders.
As a county commissioner in Michigan observes, “if we build mass transit, they won’t necessarily come.” I wonder how many people are “coming” to Detroit’s Woodward Avenue streetcar? It was supposed to be free for the first couple of days, but they ended up not charging fares for the first three months because they were afraid of losing too many riders. Ridership fell 40 percent, to about 3,000 daily rides, after they began charging fares.
Some people have convinced themselves that, if only their cities had rail transit, they would have been considered for Amazon’s second headquarters. If that’s true, then Amazon wouldn’t have picked Columbus, Indianapolis, or Raleigh to be on its list of twenty finalists, as these have three of the lowest-funded transit systems in the country.
Nashville, which also has a pretty minimal transit system, is also on Amazon’s list. To make the city more attractive, Nashville’s popular mayor Megan Barry, has proposed to spend some $5 billion on light rail.
However, her popularity took a hit recently when she admitted to having an affair with the head of her security detail. Worse, she ordered the city’s legal department to create a new job position that wasn’t in the budget and give the job, without competitive interviews, to her lover’s daughter. For some reason, some people have a problem with this. We won’t know until May if it affects people’s votes on light rail.
Before they vote, they should take a look at Montreal, which is also building an insanely expensive and obsolete light-rail system. Construction has barely begun and it is already $300 million over budget and is expected to be only 30 to 40 percent complete a year after it was supposed to be 100 percent complete. Why wait for years to build a fixed system that doesn’t go where people want to go when you can improve bus service right now?
Eventually, driverless cars are going to completely replace transit. Until that happens, it makes sense to only spend money on transit buses, which are inexpensive, flexible, can start new service tomorrow, and don’t require 30 years of debt payments. That’s a lesson most major American cities have yet to learn.