Transportation Notes from All Over

The city of Detroit decided not to build a light-rail line down Woodward Avenue, so some private foundations are trying to raise the $137 million to build it instead. Are they nuts? Do they really think this is the best use of their money?

In 1996, the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union forced the county transit agency to restore bus service that had been cut in order to pay for rail service. The Bus Riders Union strongly believes that buses work better than train, but the injunction expired a few years ago and the agency has cut service again. However, the FTA has ordered the transit agency to restore the service.

Tampa voters rejected a light-rail ballot measure in 2010, but the rail nuts think it was only because voters were “confused” about the proposal. One thing that’s clear: the main reason many Tampa officials want rail is they hope it will bring billions of federal dollars pouring into their city.

Bolt Bus is starting service between Portland and Seattle on May 17. Four buses a day are scheduled to make the trip in 3 hours and 15 minutes, compared with 3-1/2 hours for Amtrak and 4 hours for Greyhound. Fares start at $1 (1 seat on every bus) and go as high as $25 compared with $32 on Amtrak.

Meanwhile, the New York Port Authority wants Megabus to stop using the curb outside of its New York City bus terminal. The bus company’s permit to use the curb expires this month. Greyhound and Peter Pan–which, ironically, co-own Bolt Bus, whose buses pick up riders curbside near Penn Station–protested that it was unfair that Megabus got to use curbs for free while they had to pay to use the terminal.

While the Obama administration spending billions on not-very-high-speed passenger trains in Illinois, the real problem is slow freight trains in Chicago. Of course, the administration thinks the solution is for the government to spend another $3.2 billion on Chicago’s rail network, when in fact all that investment should be made by the private railroads.

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34 thoughts on “Transportation Notes from All Over

  1. the highwayman

    Autoplanner; “Of course, the administration thinks the solution is for the government to spend another $3.2 billion on Chicago’s rail network, when in fact all that investment should be made by the private railroads.”

    THWM: Why shouldn’t there be government help for rail? You don’t object government help for the trucking and motor coach industries.

  2. Andrew

    Bolt Bus undoubtedly will run express from Portland to Seattle to make that time. Meanwhile, the train makes six intermediate stops in small towns and suburbs where it picks up or drops off over 300,000 of its annual riders.

    Once again, two different markets are being served.

    When Bolt Bus inevitably fails in this market because it is the dirty smelly bus (as Megabus recently did in the Pittsburgh market due to a lack of understanding of real travel demand on the part of its management) will you blame it on a train that is slower and more expensive?

    Builder Reply:

    What do you mean by “dirty smelly bus?” Both trains and busses can be dirty, or clean, depending on how their kept and their is certainly nothing intrinsically smelly about a bus.

    Dan Reply:

    ‘Dirty smelly bus’ is the widespread perception, grounded in experience. That is the stigma for this site’s solution.

    DS

    MJ Reply:

    They are if that description fits your inherent bias.

    Dan Reply:

    Exactly! Millions upon millions of people have that inherent bias. Making the preferred solutions here problematic.

    DS

    bennett Reply:

    I’m not sure failure is inevitable. I’ve taken both Amtrak and Greyhound on this corridor. I’ll tell you that Amtrak was much more desirable, but it’s my understanding that Bolt Bus is much more comfortable than Greyhound. I’d give it a shot next time I’m up there.

    Builder Reply:

    It’s funny that the same people that tell you that modern advertising can convince people to buy all sorts of things they have no need for also tell you that people think that busses are dirty and smelly and they cannot be convinced to ride them, no matter what the fact are.

    Dan Reply:

    also tell you that people think that busses are dirty and smelly and they cannot be convinced to ride them, no matter what the fact are (sic).

    No one here wrote that. Maybe you wished for it to be true, but it in fact did not happen and has never happened.

    Thanks!

    DS

    Andrew Reply:

    Its the dirty smelly bus. Just ask anyonetheir impression of the local intercity bus station. Ask them if they would be fine with sending their 17 year old daughter down there alone to ride somewhere.

    And if you think curbisde operations are any better, you haven’t seen the characters hanging out on these curbsides and the filth generated by the litterbug patrons. Do you know why curbside operators like to board near train stations if possible? Its so their more clever patrons can hide off the street in a civilized place while waiting. do you now why their tickets are internet only via credit card? So that the lowest dirtbag element of society cannot get a ticket, unlike on Greyhound.

    Do you know why the tickets start at $1 and are super cheap? Its because that is all the value that exists to people riding the bus. Bus riders are people whose time has literally no economic value. If Megabus COULD increase prices 50%, don’t you think they would in order to make more money? Or do you believe their shareholders are especially altruisitic and are purposefully passingup revenue and profits so as to provide cheap transportation?

    Yes its the dirty smelly bus. Spewing out foul diesel soot on you as you wait to board or after you get off. Leaving you drenched in the rain during inclement weather. Lacking trashcans and having just a single smelly toilet with too small a retention tank.

  3. Dan

    Are they nuts? Do they really think this is the best use of their money?

    Some assert that private markets are almost always right. Why the harrumphing all of a sudden? Don’t our brave risk-taking Galtian betters know best?

    BTW, you should really do a piece on the Denver-area RTD FUBAR going on. So many wrong things rolled onto one…

    DS

  4. bennett

    “Do they really think this is the best use of their money?”

    Dan hit the nail on the head. I can’t believe the implied questioning of private actors freely spending their money as they please. I had to check my url and make sure I was at the right blog.

    Also, according to the article the money these rich folks are putting into the pot is in the form of donations/grants. It’s a philanthropic venture. They’re not making an “investment,” but giving their money away. I know, it’s enough to make a libertarian’s head explode.

    FrancisKing Reply:

    But there are also government grants – taxpayers being forced to pay more money towards this project.

    bennett Reply:

    Yup. And how does that answer the question “Do they really think this is the best use of their money?”

    And maybe I’m unclear on the definition of personal liberty, but if a self-interested individual chooses to give money to a government project, does that not count?

    FrancisKing Reply:

    “Also, according to the article the money these rich folks are putting into the pot is in the form of donations/grants. It’s a philanthropic venture.”

    But there are also government grants – taxpayers being forced to pay more money towards this project.

    MJ Reply:

    Also, according to the article the money these rich folks are putting into the pot is in the form of donations/grants. It’s a philanthropic venture. They’re not making an “investment,” but giving their money away. I know, it’s enough to make a libertarian’s head explode.

    Of course they are free to dispose of their money however they like, but that does not make them immune from criticism. This project, whether public, private or non-profit, sounds like an incredible waste of $137 million. That is particularly tragic, considering that there are probably a thousand ways that money could be better spent to improve the lot of Detroit’s (remaining) residents.

    I openly question what good a 3-mile stump rail line will do for that city, especially in light of their experience with the Detroit People Mover, which was built in the 1980s to shuffle handfuls of passengers around its dying downtown. The similarities are hard to ignore.

    The only good news is that when this project fails to improve transit service in any meaningful way, there may be an alternative waiting to pick up the slack.

    bennett Reply:

    “Of course they are free to dispose of their money however they like, but that does not make them immune from criticism.”

    No doubt, and I’m sure this project is laden with aspects worth criticizing. But it’s intriguing (errrr totally predictable) that the only private/public partnerships that get any run on the Antiplanner deal with mixed-use developments or rail transit projects.

  5. MJ

    Some assert that private markets are almost always right.

    Nobody asserted that. It is a straw man argument. People do make bad decisions in private markets, and when they do there are consequences (provided government allows them to happen). Bad decisions are deserving of criticism. This particular bad decision is more than deserving of criticism.

    BTW, you should really do a piece on the Denver-area RTD FUBAR going on. So many wrong things rolled onto one…

    Which particular FUBAR are you referring to?

    Dan Reply:

    Nobody asserted that. It is a straw man argument

    It is an article of faith in certain ideologies. Lots of Greenspan quotes out there showing such. Fortunately this view is finally waning, with the advent of Behavioral Economics and increasing studies showing humans are only sometimes rational.

    Which particular FUBAR are you referring to?

    Well, the latest is not bringing a funding vote to the ballot. I’m not sure which tattered Band-aid they will slap on the wound, as the Board doesn’t know either, but the scheme in place now needs some serious help and a strong leader.

    DS

    MJ Reply:

    It is an article of faith in certain ideologies. Lots of Greenspan quotes out there showing such.

    Find one where he made the quote you mentioned previously. And be more specific about which ideology you are referring to.

    As for behavioral economics, there is nothing new under the sun. Perfect rationality only exists in textbooks, but appeals to deviations from this standard as grounds for policy intervention are often just variants of the same straw man clunker.

    Moreover, political economists understand that deference to decentralized decision making and voluntary cooperation takes place not because these arrangements meet some ideal, abstract standard, but because even with some flaws they are almost always better than the alternative.

  6. bennett

    “Millions upon millions of people have that inherent bias. Making the preferred solutions here problematic.”

    I agree, but problematic and impossible are not one and the same. Nor does it mean that these problems make failure inevitable. I don’t agree with Mr. O’Toole very often but I appreciate his advocacy for private intercity bus service. With high end motor coaches, wifi, comfortable high-back seats, reasonable travel times, and competitive prices I think the “bus” stigma can be overcome.

    Also, (on a side note) I’m a transit advocate that first and foremost wants transit services to go to populations that display characteristics of transit dependency. Many transit agencies have looked at service typologies as a zero sum game, meaning that the new light-rail line connecting the fancy new TOD’s comes at the cost of shrinking paratransit service areas (to the legal minimum) or fixed route bus service to low income neighborhoods. To me, (a diehard public transit advocate) this is utterly unacceptable.

    So while 99% of the time I’m inclined to side with Andrew and Dan, when it comes to the subject of privately run intercity bus service I’m with Mr. O’Toole.

    Dan Reply:

    I agree, but problematic and impossible are not one and the same. Nor does it mean that these problems make failure inevitable.

    Nor did I state such. But until the stigma is overcome the solutions to energy descent will not be implemented, making the scenario of both market failure and strong government intervention more likely.

    I’d rather have something implemented when there is still time rather than in a panic. Humanity’s inability to do anything makes it look more likely we’ll have lots of things slapdashed as a response.

    DS

    bennett Reply:

    I feel ya.

    The sigma only has to be overcome enough to fill a bus. Some minds will never be changed. For many who hold the “stigma,” it has little to do with “stinky buses,” but the fact that people dependent on transit ride buses. Basically, they’re asshole snobs and it’s not worth our while convincing them that buses can be convenient, but again, we don’t have to convince the whole world buses are great, just enough people to fill a bus.

  7. metrosucks

    I think this stigma is overblown. And where it exists, maybe it’s because the transit agency disenfranchises the bus system to spend money on boondoggles like light rail.

    I believe Bellevue, WA, has its own bus system independent of King County Metro. It has clean, new buses, and great-looking, modern bus stops with shelters and digital transit trackers. It caters to neighborhoods where many residents work at good paying jobs in the Bellevue area.

    Microsoft also runs its own fleet of private buses that shuttle workers between various neighborhoods and the Microsoft campus in Redmond. Here’s a 2009 article about it:

    http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/html/microsoft/2009025535_msshuttle12m.html

    bennett Reply:

    “I think this stigma is overblown.”

    Well here’s a first… I AGREE. There are a ton of examples of intercity commuter and express bus services that are attractive and successful. They’re not as flashy as rail and TOD’s so they don’t get a lot of run. The unfortunate aspect of the lack of publicity that these successful bus services get is that people desperate to push urban and commuter rail projects trot out “Nobody wants to ride a dirty smelly bus with ‘those people’ on it.” B.S.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Though you’re just saying this as an excuse, you’re objective is to make people drive.

  8. metrosucks

    Thank you Bennett.

    Then the question becomes, WHY is there this Bus vs Train stigma? After all, we have all heard of the bums urinating on NY subways or the dark, scary corridors in the DC Metro system. So why are the equivalent problems on trains swept under the rug, while the same problem on a bus is placed under a microscope and magnified beyond all reason?

    Perhaps the problem is that in a way, the bus is a victim of its own success. Slated as a way to provide low-cost transportation to those dependent on public transit, a few rotten apples create an impression of buses as a dirty cesspool of poor humans. What is the solution to this problem? Perhaps “premium” buses could be created, with express service, wifi, and possibly other amenities, with a higher ticket price. Since those who create trouble on the regular buses aren’t in any hurry to get anywhere, a higher ticket price may cause them to avoid the premium service aimed at commuters and business people.

    (No, I am not trying to paint the poor as lepers everyone wants to avoid. But let’s face it….even Dan has a point here. The middle class and higher will generally avoid the public bus due to its association with the poor).

    “Premium” service is one of the cachets of light rail. No reason why buses can’t provide this instead, at a much lower cost, and with more flexibility.

    To make it clear, Bennett, I also agree with you that public transit should be there for those who need it the most. But I see no reason why buses can’t be separated into regular and premium types, with differing costs and levels of service.

    bennett Reply:

    “Perhaps “premium” buses could be created, with express service, wifi, and possibly other amenities, with a higher ticket price.”

    You mean like Bolt Bus? :)

    the highwayman Reply:

    First you attack trains, then you attack buses, your objective is so that people only option is to drive.

  9. metrosucks

    Hehe. Well, I guess it depends on what we’re discussing. Are we discussing intercity only, or also premium service inside the metro area that can satisfy the people who would otherwise cheer on the construction of expensive rail projects?

    This is the core King County bus service, Metro (the bus agency is NOT the same agency that builds light rail or commuter rail, btw):

    http://metro.kingcounty.gov/

    Their buses are rather dirty, are painted in a dark color scheme, look old, and basically sort of dodgy. Kind of typical for a large metro area bus system.

    This is the system that handles Snohomish County (north) and the eastside:

    http://www.commtrans.org/

    Their buses are a cheerful white and green, clean, with nice bus stops, and basically more middle class than poor.

  10. metrosucks

    Also forgot to mention, that Community Transit has much more of the “paratransit” type service. I have no idea what the economics of this are, but I imagine it makes the service quite flexible.

    bennett Reply:

    It’s the most flexible in terms of service but it’s the most expensive too (and generally the least productive).

    metrosucks Reply:

    Thanks, I seem to remember reading the same elsewhere. Maybe private jitneys will become popular (legal) again and offer this type of service without unduly burdening local taxpayers.

    the highwayman Reply:

    Paid for by Medicare then.

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