Streetcars as an Intelligence Test

The Antiplanner spent much of last week in San Antonio releasing a review of the city’s plans for a downtown streetcar. The trip turned out to be a lot more hectic (and with a lot less Internet access) than I expected, which is why I made so few posts last week.

Sometimes I wonder if streetcars are tests of intelligence or gullibility, as they are such bad ideas it is hard to believe that cities are falling all over themselves to fund them. As I point out in my report, 100 years ago, both streetcars and automobiles went at average speeds of about 8 miles per hour. Today, autos routinely cruise at 80 mph (at least in Texas), but San Antonio’s proposed streetcar will still go at just 8 mph.

The Antiplanner’s report for San Antonio is called “The Streetcar Fantasy,” partly because the feasibility study for the San Antonio streetcar is filled with fabrications and imaginary data. For example, page 68 the study discusses how the Boise streetcar was financed and page 69 discusses how the Arlington, Virginia streetcar contributed to economic development–yet neither Boise or Arlington have streetcars.

Page 53 of the feasibility study makes the bold assumption that rail vehicles will automatically attract 30 percent more riders than rubber-tired vehicles. “These calculations demonstrate the ability for rail service to attract choice riders,” the study even more boldly asserts, yet the only calculations are to add 30 percent to ridership estimates due to the supposed “rail advantage.” Similarly, the study blithely assumed that fares would cover 15 percent of operating costs (as if that is impressive), yet other streetcars in the country only cover, on average, 8 percent of operating costs.

My report showed that streetcars are just plain inferior to buses in every possible way. They are slower; can’t carry as many people per hour; prone to system failure (if one is disabled, every car on the line has to stop); can’t easily respond to changes in travel habits; and are far more expensive than buses.

Portland billed streetcars as a low-cost version of light rail–$20 million to $40 million per mile instead of $40 million to $80 million per mile. But those costs are per track mile for the streetcar and per route mile (which is two track miles) for the light rail, so streetcars really have no cost advantage over light rail.

Streetcar advocates seem immune to these facts. Instead, their notions are all based on the nostalgic fantasy of taking a railcar somewhere. “San Antonio is the largest city that doesn’t have streetcars,” said one advocate–as if they have to be just as foolish as everyone else.

In response to the “rail advantage” argument, the Antiplanner pointed out that even if people were so snobbish as to ride streetcars when they won’t ride buses, there is no reason why taxpayers should subsidize snobs. Incredibly, the response I received was that snobs deserve urban transit too–even if their demands cost taxpayers four to eight times as much per trip or passenger mile as buses. “The nostalgic and hip need streetcars,” said one writer.

“Bus routes can be very confusing,” says another such self-admitted snob. In other words, the fact that rails are so expensive that they can only reach a few places is touted as a virtue. Apparently, if you can’t get there by rail, it must not be worth going to.

This snob obviously fails the intelligence test. Life is about trade offs. If you want simplicity, move to a small town. If you want to live in a complex city, realize that any money the government spends on you will mean less resources for other people, including people who may need help more than you do. It is ironic that it is the so-called “progressives” who effectively advocate for reducing services to low-income people so they can have their snob transit.

Streetcar proponents are treating the streetcar as a done deal. Several years ago, San Antonio voters approved a penny sales tax for transportation on the promise that none of the funds would be used for rail transit. (For the record, the Antiplanner opposes the use of general sales taxes for any transportation.) To fund the streetcar, San Antonio’s transit agency “swapped” $92 million of its share of transportation funds to the Texas Department of Transportation for state funds that could be spent on the streetcar. THe $92 million in local funds would be used on road construction projects that the state had already planned to fund. In effect, this was a money-laundering scheme.

Of course, $92 million is nowhere near enough to build the increasingly expensive streetcar system they plan, so the transit agency is now preparing the environmental documentation needed to get federal funding. Of course, the Obama administration, which loves streetcars, will be overjoyed to grant such funding.

Fortunately, there remain many potential stumbling blocks for streetcar supporters. Congress may run out of money before it can fund a San Antonio project. The Honolulu NEPA court case should make writing the environmental documents more difficult.

On the other hand, if San Antonio streetcar advocates prevail, they will pave the way for other Texas cities, such as El Paso, to do similar money-laundering operations so they, too, can build streetcar lines. Because streetcars are just what towns such as El Paso need to deal with all of the social problems that result from living on the border with Mexico. If El Paso really believes that, it fails the intelligence test as well.

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60 thoughts on “Streetcars as an Intelligence Test

  1. JimKarlock

    Antiplanner: If El Paso really believes that, it fails the intelligence test as well.
    JK: How many transit advocates (other than as welfare) can pass an intelligence test??
    1. Transit costs more than a car per passenger-mile.
    2. Transit is usually slower than driving.
    3. Transit uses more energy than cars under the new CAFE standards.
    4. Transit is usually less convenient than driving.
    5. Driving is easier than getting to transit for most elderly.
    6. Driving is easier than getting to transit for physically handicapped.

    Just what is the social good of transit, other than as welfare?

    Thanks
    JK

    bennett Reply:

    I don’t really refute 1-4 (though “convenience” is a subjective term and transit choice riders must have their reasons). 5 & 6 depend entirely on the mode. Generally, especially outside of city centers, the elderly and people with disabilities (political correctness alert: “physically handicapped” is taboo) use demand/response transit services. These door to door services do not require getting to a transit stop and waiting in potentially adverse weather conditions. For these cohorts it doesn’t get much easier. That said, these services are the most heavily subsidized bus services and the most expensive.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    Demand response in my area requires an appointment, unlike the car parked in front of your house. It is also frequently shared with other users, so the trips are not always direct or fast.

    Thanks
    JK

  2. JimKarlock

    I forgot to refer the reader to http://www.debunkingportland.com/ for evidence for the above claims.

    Let me pre-answer the expected troll(s):
    That you attacked me instead of my statements and data show that you have no logical argument with my claims.

    Thanks
    JK

    msetty Reply:

    Karlock, Litman has detailed all the costs and negative impacts of driving, ad nasaeum” that you have refused to acknowledge over the many years your website has been up, at http://www.vtpi.org/tca/.

    Also, overall when transit passenger miles are counted, transit is somewhat more energy efficient than the current automobile fleet average. And improved transit technology such as a new type of hybrid bus (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2012/09/lco140h-20120916.html) can be deployed much more quickly than waiting for the U.S. auto fleet to turn over completely over 30 years+/- waiting to meet the new CAFE requirements. Similarly, the GHG emissions from coal-powered rail transit in the East and Midwest will also decline significantly, and relatively quickly, as the electric generating industry converts to now dirt cheap natural gas.

    Also, every passenger mile traveled by transit substitutes for 2 or more auto miles driven, according to events.awma.org/GHG2011/ghg2011.html, scroll down to Session 12, Abstract #30, Transit Land Use Multiplier Analysis: A Kentucky Example. Lewison Lem, Rami Chami, and Dylan Tucker; Jack Faucett Associates, Bethesda, MD. This is consistent with a trainload of other research over the years, which I don’t have time right now to list for a “mere” blog post.

    sprawl Reply:

    Despite all your studies and conclusions, the majority of people choose to drive their cars instead of using transit.

    Why? Because they prefer door to door service, using their own car, coming and going when they want to, carrying the things and people they choose.

    msetty Reply:

    So you don’t have any facts, other than people like cars.

    And the sun rises in the east every morning.

    I fail to see that your rhetorical point is an argument against improving transit, per se. And it is a pointless point when there are myriad negative impacts of driving that still fail to be mitigated in this society. And with few exceptions, transit advocates aren’t advocating abolishing automobiles, just fixing the problems with it, particularly its negative impacts on walking (which people “like” even more than driving; link on request) and all the damage it does to ensuring our cities cater to people as first priorities.

    Auto apologists like you, Sprawl, sure come across as a bunch of whiners when anyone dares challenges the current unearned hegemony of the automobile and the problems it causes. It really is embarrassing…for you.

    sprawl Reply:

    I have tried transit in many cities including my own and transit rarely gets me to where I need to be, when I need to be there. Unless I invest a lot more time and inconvenience to use transit.

    I don’t need a study to figure that out.

    msetty Reply:

    Sprawl:
    I have tried transit in many cities including my own and transit rarely gets me to where I need to be, when I need to be there. Unless I invest a lot more time and inconvenience to use transit.

    I don’t need a study to figure that out.

    You only reinforce the need to make vast improvements in transit in this country, as transit advocates constantly point out. I agree that in most places in the U.S., transit sucks compared to Europe and Japan in particular. Your rhetoric about cars and how people love them so doesn’t follow from this latest comment.

    sprawl Reply:

    Not until 100% of the money for transit comes from the customers, will you see improvements worth talking about. Public transit has to serve the politicians that fund them, not the riders that use the systeem.

    msetty Reply:

    Not until 100% of the money for transit comes from the customers, will you see improvements worth talking about. Public transit has to serve the politicians that fund them, not the riders that use the system.

    Well, the ROADS also serve the politicians that fund them, or make corrupt backroom deals like so-called “public private partnerships” for toll roads that are likely never to make their traffic projections, particularly when the goal is support continuing sprawl (sic) development such as TX 130 around the east side of Austin, TX well into the countryside.

    And auto apologists don’t get a pass until the cost of driving actually reflects ALL the costs it imposes, not just those reflected in government budgets. And this change comes before transit can be expected to provide 100% of its costs, minus subsidies to seniors, persons with disabilities, children of poor parents, etc.

    I also seem to recall the purpose government funds roads and transit was to provide transportation for the overall society, not make a “profit” in a business sense, so the ultimate gist of your reasoning escapes me. Is this because you don’t want to pay for transit? Well then in the same vein I don’t want to pay for your loser suburban and rural roads that don’t cover 100% of their costs, either.

    Sheesh.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    msetty: You only reinforce the need to make vast improvements in transit in this country, as transit advocates constantly point out.
    JK: How would that benefit society (except for welfare)? Current transit is mainly welfare for well paid downtown workers.

    msetty: And auto apologists don’t get a pass until the cost of driving actually reflects ALL the costs it imposes, not just those reflected in government budgets.
    JK: Why don’t you list some of those costs. Please leave out costs that also apply to transit, like foreign troops to defend oil supplies and pollution because buses use MORE oil than cars per passenger-mile (see above.)

    msetty: And this change comes before transit can be expected to provide 100% of its costs, minus subsidies to seniors, persons with disabilities, children of poor parents, etc.
    JK: Cars DO pay 100%, so lets get transit to the same level. If you argue that the reality is some lower level for cars, then lets apply that same level to transit.

    BTW, just what is the social benefit of transit beyond welfare for the needy (who would be better served by taxis and jitneys with transportation vouchers.)?

    Thanks
    JK

    JimKarlock Reply:

    msetty: Karlock, Litman has detailed all the costs and negative impacts of driving, ad nasaeum” that you have refused to acknowledge over the many years your website has been up, at http://www.vtpi.org/tca/.
    JK: Yeah, I refuse to buy his Bull Sh*t analysis – every time I look in detail at his case, it falls apart. I questiond a few of his false claims on the transport email list and he suddenly disappeared.

    msetty: Also, overall when transit passenger miles are counted, transit is somewhat more energy efficient than the current automobile fleet average.
    JK: The current USA car fleet is more efficient than the current bus fleet at 3,447 vs. 4,118 BTU/passenger mile. (See Table 2.12 of the Transportation Energy Data Book, 31st edition)
    Transit rail at 2,520 is more efficient, being comparable to a car that gets 32 mpg, which is a bit less than the 2016 CAFÉ standard of 35.5 mpg. It is pathetic compared to the 2025 standard of 54.5 mpg. (125000B/gal)/(2520 B/mi) = 49.6 mi/gal; 49.6/1.54 = 32 mpg

    msetty: And improved transit technology such as a new type of hybrid bus (http://www.greencarcongress.com/2012/09/lco140h-20120916.html)
    JK: Let us know if it actually works in a fleet. (Local reports are that hybrids are not saving much fuel.)

    msetty: can be deployed much more quickly than waiting for the U.S. auto fleet to turn over completely over 30 years+/- waiting to meet the new CAFE requirements.
    JK: Get real – one does not have to wait for the fleet to completely turn over.

    msetty: Similarly, the GHG emissions from coal-powered rail transit in the East and Midwest will also decline significantly,
    JK: Please leave your greenie religion out of this. If you want to claim that man’s CO2 is causing dangerous global warming, please show us the evidence. (We both know that Nature puts out 96% of the CO2 compared to man’s 4%, that Al Gore’s ice cores show CO2 increases FOLLOW temperature by about 800 years, that unusual weather, melting glaciers, etc., is not proof that man is the cause, that the climate was warmer in the medieval, Roman, Egyptian and Minoan times and water vapor causes more greenhouse effect than CO2.)

    msetty: Also, every passenger mile traveled by transit substitutes for 2 or more auto miles driven, according to events.awma.org/GHG2011/ghg2011.html, scroll down to Session 12, Abstract #30, Transit Land Use Multiplier Analysis: A Kentucky Example. Lewison Lem, Rami Chami, and Dylan Tucker; Jack Faucett Associates, Bethesda, MD. This is consistent with a trainload of other research over the years, which I don’t have time right now to list for a “mere” blog post.
    JK: Care to explain how that happens, other than by forcing people to travel less. (Probably because they run out of time, having wasted so much time on slow transit.)

    Thanks
    JK

    sprawl Reply:

    msetty Reply:
    December 4th, 2012 at 7:29 pm
    -

    Well, the ROADS also serve the politicians that fund them,
    ————————
    sprawl said:
    The same politicians take the money that auto users pay and divert that to transit, bikes, walking etc.

    The difference is, 80% or more choose to drive and pay auto taxes and fees. Transit users seem to feel they should not have to pay 100% the operations of transit, let alone the capital construction.

    This doesn’t count the myriad negative impacts of transit that still fail to be mitigated in this society.

    msetty Reply:

    Karlock:
    JK: Yeah, I refuse to buy his Bull Sh*t analysis – every time I look in detail at his case, it falls apart. I questiond a few of his false claims on the transport email list and he suddenly disappeared.

    What transport list? Are you referring to the one run by Wendell Cox? When I mentioned Cox in a conversation several years ago, all I got were some loud guffaws and chuckles–which I’m sure you’d get if you were known outside Portland.

    To just answer one of your bogus replies, if you’re not familiar with the works of Delucci and many others on the annual trillion+ cost of automobile externalities, I can’t help you. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the work of Shoup on parking costs, I can’t help you.

    Funny how you just dismiss mountains of evidence about global warming by stupid statements about “greenie religion.” Well, Karlock, f— your auto-worshipping teabagging, “free enterprise” religion which was rejected by a majority of Americans on November 7th (now we need to “upgrade” the House of Representatives, but I digress). Tit for tat, bub. Such blanket dismissals earn you absolutely no credibility outside the small circle you talk to.

    Since you’re so confident to accuse Litman of “false claims” what are your links to detailed “takedowns”? On your website?

    Randal tried to do a takedown of Todd’s rebuttal to his “Great Rail Disasters” analysis a few yeara ago, but I don’t think he succeeded.

    msetty Reply:

    Error, error. Thy name is Karlock. One example of your sloppy “analysis” should do.

    Actually, you need to add in light trucks “for personal use” from Table 2.12 to get a per passenger mile energy usage of somewhat higher than for autos only.

    Another thing most people don’t do in making such simplistic comparisons is to also factor for average occupancies on intercity (>50 miles) auto trips. This lowers the urban trip average to somewhere around 1.3-1.5 persons occupancy for autos/light trucks–depending on urban area (I haven’t seen any aggregation of this data at the national level, though it’s available by digging through reams of data from individual MPOs), meaning the urban bus average is roughly the same as cars.

    When the “land use leverage factor” is applied, the indirect impacts of transit can be substantial, e.g., each passenger mile replacing 2 vehicle miles by automobile, or a lot more in some cases. Contrary to what you may think, Karlock, this means auto travel substituted by transit use, walking, bicycling, and shorter trips by automobile thanks to walkable, more compact land use.

    No one is forcing anyone to “make fewer trips” as you allege. In fact, in some places like San Francisco, average residents make somewhat more daily trips than average, according to figures from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Such additional travel is mainly by walking, not driving; I don’t see how someone who can walk to a wide variety of land uses and activities is handicapped compared to someone in automobile forced to drive many miles for their daily activities, particularly in a place like S.F. that has a very wide variety of destinations available on foot. As with everything else in life, there are tradeoffs.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    msetty: What transport list? Are you referring to the one run by Wendell Cox? When I mentioned Cox in a conversation several years ago, all I got were some loud guffaws and chuckles–which I’m sure you’d get if you were known outside Portland.
    JK: So typical of transit supporters when you get to the real world data – they start the personal insults. They can’t attack the data, so they attack the person.

    msetty: To just answer one of your bogus replies, if you’re not familiar with the works of Delucci and many others on the annual trillion+ cost of automobile externalities, I can’t help you. Similarly, if you’re not familiar with the work of Shoup on parking costs, I can’t help you.
    JK: Also of transit supporters when you get to the real world data – they refuste to show the data ands just attack the person.

    Show us the arguments and data.

    msetty: Funny how you just dismiss mountains of evidence about global warming by stupid statements about “greenie religion.”
    JK: So typical of religious zealots – they use personal insults instead of data when asked for real data.

    Let me repeat: If you know of any real evidence, not religious dogma, that man’s CO2 is causing dangerous warming, please show it to us. Be sure to explain how the cause of pervious warmer warm periods is not the cause of the current warm period.

    msetty: Well, Karlock, f— your auto-worshipping teabagging, “free enterprise” religion
    JK: Ok, we get it – you hate other people’s freedom. (Are you capable of a rational argument without name calling?)

    msetty: which was rejected by a majority of Americans on November 7th (now we need to “upgrade” the House of Representatives, but I digress).
    JK: A pretty small majority of actual votes.

    msetty: Error, error. Thy name is Karlock. One example of your sloppy “analysis” should do.

    Actually, you need to add in light trucks “for personal use” from Table 2.12 to get a per passenger mile energy usage of somewhat higher than for autos only.
    JK: Please pay attention:

    My claim was about cars, not light trucks

    (Actually a more fair comparison to transit, would be to a little one seat car, since that is all you get on transit.)

    msetty: Another thing most people don’t do in making such simplistic comparisons is to also factor for average occupancies on intercity (>50 miles) auto trips. This lowers the urban trip average to somewhere around 1.3-1.5 persons occupancy for autos/light trucks–depending on urban area (I haven’t seen any aggregation of this data at the national level, though it’s available by digging through reams of data from individual MPOs), meaning the urban bus average is roughly the same as cars.
    JK: Well then, why don’t you get the data and show it to us. Apparently you didn’t notice that the data source I used was using 1.55 people per vehicle.

    msetty: When the “land use leverage factor” is applied, the indirect impacts of transit can be substantial, e.g., each passenger mile replacing 2 vehicle miles by automobile, or a lot more in some cases.
    JK: We were not talking about land use, we were talking about energy use of transit vs. cars to move people. Quit introducing irrelevant factors.

    msetty: Contrary to what you may think, Karlock, this means auto travel substituted by transit use, walking, bicycling, and shorter trips by automobile thanks to walkable, more compact land use.
    JK: Now you are advocating that the government force people to live a lifestyle they may not want. The fact that several well known planners live in low density suggests that there is a lot of hypocrisy here.

    msetty: No one is forcing anyone to “make fewer trips” as you allege.
    JK: No you are trying to force people to live in ghettos, instead of single family homes, to achieve your dubious goals.

    msetty: In fact, in some places like San Francisco, average residents make somewhat more daily trips than average, according to figures from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission. Such additional travel is mainly by walking, not driving; I don’t see how someone who can walk to a wide variety of land uses and activities is handicapped compared to someone in automobile forced to drive many miles for their daily activities, particularly in a place like S.F. that has a very wide variety of destinations available on foot. As with everything else in life, there are tradeoffs.
    JK: Nice work — use a city that is not affordable to most people as an example. (In case you don’t know high density is far more expensive than low density.)

    Goodby (I’ve had my fill of your name calling.)
    JK

    the highwayman Reply:

    msetty: Well, the ROADS also serve the politicians that fund them,

    THWM: Motorists pay taxes, though non-motorists pay taxes as well.

    Just as even if there were no automobiles, there would still be roads.

    It’s a stacked political deck Mr.Setty.

  3. bennett

    Interesting post. I didn’t know VIA had plans for a streetcar. I think calling the study a “feasibility study,” is misleading. Someone with political power in San Antonio or at VIA wants a streetcar. The purpose of the “feasibility study” is to make the case for building one.

    I’m not categorically opposed to streetcars like others round here, but looking through the “feasibility study” I can say that I’m not convinced the plans for San Antonio are responsible. The main argument seems to be, there are funds out there and we can get them. Plus streetcars are cool, so why not?

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    I have been following the VIA streetcar debate for about a week. The most fascinating thing about it, is the insistence by supporters that streetcars are not the same thing as light rail.

    bennett Reply:

    I actually think there is a distinction, but the lines are often blurred. From the looks of the feasibility study I would consider the VIA proposal light rail.

  4. gecko55

    I make no assertions about my intelligence. But where I live (Zurich, Switzerland), trams are my 3rd most used mode of getting around. (Cycling and walking are 1st and 2nd.) There are two tram lines by my apartment. One will take me to the main train station in 18 minutes. The other to the heart of the financial district in 14 minutes. Each runs 10X @ hour. And I can of course transfer to other lines to get to all parts of the city.

    Per JK’s 6 assertions: all are false here, with the possible exception on no. 6. For disabled people, there are service vans that provide on-call, door-to-door service.

    Compared to buses, which also operate here, the trams are certainly faster, have greater capacity, and are more comfortable. I can’t, however, comment about the operating costs.

    And in terms of the “snob” issue, pretty much everyone rides the tram. For example, several tram lines converge at Parade Platz — ground central for the Swiss banks. You’ll see the high-end private bankers (a dying breed, to be sure) getting on along with the admins and IT geeks.

    paul Reply:

    The key difference with Zurich and most US cities is that Zurich was built around the existing streetcar system just as Manhattan was built around the subway system. Often overlooked is the determining factor that cities are built around the transit system that was dominant when the city was laid out. Trying to superimpose a later or earlier transport system on a city doesn’t work well. Trying to put rail lines in cities built around the auto doesn’t work well, and trying to bring lots of autos into cities built before the auto doesn’t work well. This has resulted in the central core of Zurich being relatively dense. I imagine you live in an apartment, may we ask at what price, sq ft and number of bedrooms? I know someone offered a job in Zurich for US$180,000 per year. He didn’t take the job as to buy a condominium, not a house, he would have had to commute 45-60 minutes each way by train and walking. In Canada he had a single family home with a garden a 10 minute drive from work. He liked Zurich but didn’t want to have to live in a condominium far out of the center of town and suffer the commute. That is a trade off that should be mentioned in this type of analysis. Interestingly, most Swiss people do not seem to distinguish between a house and a condominium, comparing the price of a house in the US to a condominium in Switzerland, a false comparison.

    Most advocates of higher density housing near rail transit actually live in single family homes, including such people as Peter Calthorpe. They apparently want higher density homes for other people, not themselves.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    gecko55: Per JK’s 6 assertions: all are false here, with the possible exception on no. 6. For disabled people, there are service vans that provide on-call, door-to-door service.
    JK:
    1. Are you saying that those trams are NOT subsidized – they pay 100% of their cost, like cars do?
    2. Are you saying that those trams are faster than driving?

    Thanks
    JK

    gecko55 Reply:

    1. Of course they’re subsidized. But those subsidies have the support of the citizens who value the numerous benefits afforded by a high quality public transport network.
    2. Generally yes. I could identify some trips that typically would be faster by car, but for the most part the tram will be faster, especially when considering the time involved in parking the car and getting to your destination (i.e., the tram will stop right in front of the theater, but the parking garage is down the street).

    Here’s a good review of Zurich’s public transport system that I think the planners here would enjoy.

    http://www.andynash.com/zrh-pages/ZRH-pubtrans-qa.html

    prk166 Reply:

    Thank you

  5. JOHN1000

    I love riding trains and, I assume, I would like to ride a streetcar. But that does not mean I am entitled to have the government subsidize my desires with schemes described by the Antiplanner.

    My sassumption if if I was charged the full cost of building the system and operating a streetcar–I would never use it.(and neither would anyone else who had to pay with his own money!)

    the highwayman Reply:

    Now how much driving would you do if road tolls just kept up with inflation and were around $2 a mile?

  6. msetty

    Yes, Randal, CPZ, Karlock et al, there really is a “rail preference factor” even if anti-rail crusaders (and the FTA “alternatives analysis” process) continue to deny this well-documented fact.

    How are buses “superior” come again? Buses are somewhat cheaper perhaps as shown in the German regional rail service case below, cheaper at the relatively low passenger volumes at which rural and regional rail services operate in Germany, e.g. NOT S-Bahns, mainline services or urban rail that operate at much higher volumes.

    I’d like to see a direct challenge to the papers linked below, but I’m not holding my breath.

    Impact on Transit Patronage of Cessation or Inauguration of Rail Service, Edson L. Tennyson, Transportation Research Record 1221 (January 1989). http://www.publictransit.us/ptlibrary/TRB1221.htm or http://www.publictransit.us/ptlibrary/TRB1221.pdf.

    Conclusions
    In most cities served by buses exclusively, transit riding has declined 75 percent over the past 40 years. Exclusive busways have not made much difference absolutely, but they have helped relatively. In 11 areas with updated rail transit facilities, ridership has increased markedly, often by more than 100 percent. In two of these areas, the transit systems are attracting more ridership than they did when gasoline and tires were rationed. It appears that rail transit makes a great difference in ridership attraction, with attendant benefits.
    Because transit use is a function of travel time, fare, frequency of service, population, and density, increased transit use can not be attributed to rail transit when these other factors are improved. When these service conditions are equal, it is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 percent to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors.

    Demery, Leroy W. et al. Peak Period Vehicle Occupancy Statistics for U.S. and Canadian Rapid Bus and Rapid Rail Services. http://www.publictransit.us/ptlibrary/peakoccupancy2007.htm.

    Pertinent findings: Median peak period loadings on HOV and Busway services, excluding Ottawa: 2.9 persons/meter of vehicle length; Heavy Rail excluding Boston, Mexico, Montreal, New York and Toronto: 4.1; median for light rail: 4.1. Rail figures are 42% greater on average than for buses.

    Bosserhoff, Dietmar (Hessian Office for Roads and Transportation, Germany), 2007. Making Regional Railroads More Attractive-Research Studies in Germany and Patronage Characteristics, pp. 27-58, Journal of Public Transportation 10-1 (Spring 2007). Page 38. Available at http://www.nctr.usf.edu/jpt/journal.htm.

    Money quote:
    The study also examined the cost and revenue situation for regional rail and bus transportation under two alternative scenarios: operating regional rail service or replacing rail service with bus transportation. The patronage demand model showed that the examined railroad lines that were converted from rail to bus operation experienced an average patronage decrease of about 45 percent. This loss could be reduced to a decrease of 9 percent by doubling the bus frequency (i.e., buses that operate twice as frequently as trains formally did). Based on these results, it is possible to identify a rail bonus of 35 to 45 percent in relation to bus transportation. Rail transportation exhibits advantages in particular with respect to patronage, travel time, road safety, and its effect on regional structure. In terms of costs, bus transportation-even with twice as high a service frequency-is less expensive; rail transportation is only cost effective if track and station costs are not included 9e.g., regarded as part of the overall government economic responsibilities).

    Quoted from Zoller, R. 2002. Einsatzbereichevon Schienenregionalbahnen (Area of application for regional railway lines). Kassel. In Germany only.

    Exploring the Rail Factor with Schemata of Bus and Rail: Two Studies from Germany and Switzerland. Available at http://trid.trb.org/view.aspx?id=1091809 or earlier version at ftp://ftp.hsrc.unc.edu/pub/TRB2011/data/papers/11-1194.pdf.

    Abstract: Many public transport studies have found that potential passengers consider rail-based public transport superior to bus systems. Why is this? Two studies have been completed in Germany and Switzerland in search of explanations for this so called rail factor. In this paper these two studies are presented and discussed in order to introduce the schemata approach and to help identify differences of attributions towards rail- and bus-based public transport. The ways in which people perceive and value a product or service are called attributions. Together a set of attributions forms an image of the product or service. Attributions can be organized into schemata. Schemata and other routines are used as cognitive shortcuts and hence affect human behavior. This research used attributions towards public transport modes to develop schemata for tram, urban bus, regional train and regional bus. The research found a rail factor (i.e. a preference for using rail assuming equal service conditions) of 65% for regional train and 76% for trams compared to bus services. The higher preference for rail-based systems in urban areas reflects positive attributions towards the guideway. While guideway and environmental attributions are prominent factors in urban public transport mode preferences, emotional and social attributions are important in regional public transport preferences. It is important to emphasize that attributions to schemata are influenced by the region of residence and hence, the experience one has with the different public transport systems. Nevertheless, further research is needed to quantify the influence of these schemata on travel behavior.

    bennett Reply:

    “Rail preference factor”, snobbery, bus stigma. It’s all the same but the semantics are different depending on which side of the battlefield you’re on. By and large trains are nicer, more comfortable, smoother, and easier to use than buses. They are also exorbitantly more expensive. More people prefer BMW’s over Kia’s too. I’m not sure snobbery or “preference factors” have anything to do with it.

    In response to, “The patronage demand model showed that the examined railroad lines that were converted from rail to bus operation experienced an average patronage decrease of about 45 percent,” the only think I can thing of is… Duh!

    msetty Reply:

    Well, Bennett, the “duh!” has to be spelled out, repeatedly, to some people, too many whom reject facts that contradict their precious world view/belief systems.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    msetty,
    are you seriously claiming that a 30-40% increase in ridership justifies spending $300 million per mile to build LRT, only to subsidize running it?
    What is the social benefit of that?

    Thanks
    Jk

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    msetty,

    With all due respect, your research paper is outdated. Since you wrote it, there are plenty of case studies which directly contradict your conclusion. Houston Metro is the most glaring example. After spending several hundreds of millions on light rail, ridership is down overall and is below the peak ridership reached just before the rail building campaign began. Houston Metro is not the outlier in this regard.

    msetty Reply:

    No, they are not out of date.

    Please give some examples of “plenty of case studies” where cuts in transit service overall didn’t occur due to the recession.

    In Houston, their FY 2011 NTD report shows the LRT carries an average “on board” load of 27.4 passengers, buses 10.3–and Houston’s bus system appears skewed to express services, with a “peak to base” load factor of 2.44 versus 1.0 on the LRT line, so it isn’t clear what local Houston routes do compared to the LRT line. The LRT also serves 143.03 boardings per hour, vs. 23.31 for buses–not bad for a route that functions primarily an extended downtown shuttle.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    Please give us meaningful comparisons such as before and after total passenger-miles. Please DO NOT try to pawn off boardings as meaningful data.

    Each year total system passenger-miles starting a few years before the years of interest would help. Compare to population increase.

    Thanks
    Jk

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    msetty,

    You cite the rail line but I am referring to the entire transit service which saw steady increases in ridership, revenue and public support until the first rail line was constructed. After that, Houston Metro ridership has declined every year since, while the Houston Metro service area population increased by over 600,000 people. The rail ridership was easily gamed and assurred by funneling the bus system into the rail line and forcing downtown bus commuters to transfer.

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    One other thing about Metro Rail in Houston. More than a third of the daily ridership is concentrated at the Smithlands Station and the next three stops in the Texas Medical Center. This is because there are 5500 parking spaces Smithlands for the use of Texas Medical Center employees. Several Metro Buses disgorge there as well. All of the car drivers and all of the bus riders stop at Smithlands and then hop on the Rail to ride the final mile and a half into the Medical Center. While this is a good way to boost rail ridership it achieves little else in the way of improving transit times for those 14,000 riders or getting autos off the freeways.

    prk166 Reply:

    @msetty, you’re conflating preference for rail with number of rides. Number of rides is not a reflection simply of preference. As you probably know, rail lines are often built to not only replace a bus route but to have others funneled into it.

    The old rule of thumb as I remember it – rightly or wrongly – was @ 25% more trips on rail for @ 3 times the capital cost. Maybe it’s changed with time?

    msetty Reply:

    I’ve never heard of the “rule of thumb” you cite, and I’ve been in this business for more than 30 years. Source? Sounds like something John F. Kain or

    There are numerous cases where transit ridership doubled or tripled after the introduction of rail transit, including an accounting for additional transfers. Portland, Sacramento, Washington, D.C. and a number of other places. In the Bay Area, BART increased total ridership about 30%-40% but since the 1970′s has nearly tripled total transit passenger miles in the four counties it serves (San Mateo, San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa), including Samtrans, S.F. Muni and AC Transit ; total population of these areas has increased less than 25% over that time.

    msetty Reply:

    …er, to complete a thought: Sounds like something John F. Kain or Peter Gordon or some other anti-rail screwy academic might have said.

    prk166 Reply:

    why would you compare rail ridership changes to population changes? Why would you not compare it to overall trips?

    msetty Reply:

    prk166
    why would you compare rail ridership changes to population changes? Why would you not compare it to overall trips?

    Actually I DID make a back of the envelope estimate; I’m not going to spending 2-3 hours replying to a nitpick comment in an anti-transit blog when I’ve already provided a bunch of other details today in other posts.

    From memory I recall that BART provides around 2/3 of transit passenger miles in the four BART counties with only about 1/3 of total boardings. For the record, PER CAPITA annual ridership did increase since the 1970′s, a measure that is still the best overall measure of transit usage, though not used very much in the U.S. During the same time, in Portland, for example, per capita usage more than doubled, too, even allowing for population growth during the last four decades.

    Look up the NTD data yourself if you want the exact details: http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/data.htm.

    JimKarlock Reply:

    As to Portland. Bull Sh*t.

    Transit ridership has just barely kept up with population increase.

    Thanks
    Jk

    prk166 Reply:

    I’m just asking questions because if I don’t ask, I don’t learn. I’m still very curious as to why transit usage as a percentage of population is a better measure than transit trips relative to total number of trips. It would seem to have a few shortcomings. I’ve poked around on google but havent’ been able to find anything explaining it. grax

  7. MJ

    “Bus routes can be very confusing,” says another such self-admitted snob.

    And yet large numbers of poor people manage to negotiate them without much trouble every day. How do they do it? Must be a miracle.

    bennett Reply:

    True, but visitors often have a difficult time with bus service. And downtown San Antonio is all about visitors. From the looks of the feasibility study this project seems to be way more about “economic development” than mobility.

  8. MJ

    Apparently, the “rail advantage” is so strong that San Antonio cannot afford to collect more than 15% of the streetcar’s operating costs from users.

    bennett Reply:

    That’s the rub. I prefer Filet Mignon over Oatmeal, but guess what I had for breakfast this morning?

    MJ Reply:

    Your heart will thank you.

    Jardinero1 Reply:

    MJ,

    Oats are for horses and other grazing animals. In humans, they cause elevated insulin levels-obesity and inflamed intestines and colons. It’s best to eat the steak, not the oats.

    msetty Reply:

    So MJ, do you know the farebox return of the current downtown San Antonio shuttle “streetcar” e.g., fake trolley on a bus chassis?

    The standard VIA fare applies to the downtown fake trolley buses, e.g., $1.10 regular and $0.55 discount, so I suspect the average fare is around $0.60 to $0.70, with an overall farebox return similar to the projection for the streetcar and given the likelyhood the downtown shuttles carry less than 30 passengers per hour (e.g., typical of downtown shuttle buses). VIA’s overall farebox return is only 17% for fixed route buses according to the latest NTD reports for FY 2011 (http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/data.htm.

    So do you have a more specific point?

    MJ Reply:

    My point is that the decision to set fares is entirely within their hands. If they are providing a premium service, which they (and you) claim they are, they should charge a premium price, especially if the streetcar is much more expensive option.

  9. msetty

    Karlock, Portland’s transit ridership per capita went up somewhat more than “just keeping up with population.” From 1996 to 2011, ridership per capita went up 15% (Source: 1996 and 2011 NTD reports), which is remarkable since most Portland growth was suburban during that time. The numbers:

    1996 Pop. served 1,172,158 Boardings 71,338,510 Annual boardings/capita 60.9
    2011 Pop. served 1,489,796 Boardings 104,644,261 Annual boardings/capita 70.2

    Rides per capita are slightly under the figures here since small operators in Clackamas County are not included.

    Considering that most metropolitan areas in Portland’s size range carry 20-30 annual rides per capita, Portland’s investments in transit have clearly paid off despite your whining. And daily miles per capita for the entire metro has dropped since the mid-1990′s and is well below the average for all U.S. metro areas.

  10. C. P. Zilliacus

    msetty wrote:

    Yes, Randal, CPZ, Karlock et al, there really is a “rail preference factor” even if anti-rail crusaders (and the FTA “alternatives analysis” process) continue to deny this well-documented fact.

    Mr. Setty, I am not an “anti-rail crusader.” I will defer to Randal and Jim regarding their status as crusaders.

    However:

    . I am a skeptic of projects that promise much in terms of patronage and highway congestion relief, yet deliver little.

    . I am a skeptic of projects that have massive cost overruns – overruns that are almost invariably paid by taxpayers, at least if the project is a rail project.

    . I am a skeptic of modes that vacuum up all available funding (and especially if the percentage of the available funding consumed is wildly higher than its modal percentage of all trips in a region).

    . I am a skeptic of “clean electric” (usually rail) transit systems that consume electric power generated at dirty coal fired generating stations, be the smokestacks far away or local.

    the highwayman Reply:

    You’re not a skeptic, you attack the entire mode, not the politically inflated price tags.

  11. C. P. Zilliacus

    Regarding bus and rail.

    I have ridden both modes in quite a few places around the world.

    If someone that owns a private automobile is planning to take transit, the service needs to be good. It is probably easier to attract people not to drive if the out-of-pocket costs are (relatively-speaking) higher.

    That means: courteous drivers; clean vehicles; reliable vehicles; working air conditioning (at least in the steamy summers of the Atlantic Coast states); schedule adherence; ideally fast service (as in faster than someone can drive the same trip); and ideally no transfers.

    Note that I made no mention of rail (light, heavy, commuter or streetcar) or bus.

    Sandy Teal Reply:

    Thank you CPZ for always injecting common sense into these discussions. Theory only goes so far, like not far outside the college campus.

  12. the highwayman

    O’Toole; As I point out in my report, 100 years ago, both streetcars and automobiles went at average speeds of about 8 miles per hour. Today, autos routinely cruise at 80 mph (at least in Texas), but San Antonio’s proposed streetcar will still go at just 8 mph.

    THWM: You’re not going to drive down city streets at 80 mph, more like 25-30 mph.

    Sure you could go along a freeway at 80 mph, just as with HSR there can be trains moving at 180+ mph.

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