Failing the Intelligence Test

Garl Boyd Latham, of the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers, predicts that San Antonians will be “pleased by streetcars once they are running.” His response to the Antiplanner’s op ed critiquing the city’s streetcar plan basically amounts to, “don’t confuse me with the facts; I know what I believe.”

To be precise, Latham says, “An astute man can prove anything he wanted with facts and figures,” then argues that the Antiplanner “manufactured an artificial reality through the manipulation of facts.”

One of those supposed manipulations is my claim that streetcars cost more than buses. Latham admits the capital costs are high but claims that, once built, streetcars have “a minimum life expectancy of a half-century or longer,” which will be surprise to the Federal Transit Administration (or just about anyone in the transit industry), which says streetcar vehicles last about 25 years, and other streetcar infrastructure lasts no more than 30 years. Not even counting maintenance, FTA data clearly show that streetcars cost far more to operate–either per vehicle mile or per passenger mile–than buses.

The Antiplanner’s friend, Wendell Cox, replies to Latham’s claims about the Dallas rail system. Cox doesn’t even mention that Dallas’ system is mostly light rail, meaning it is faster and has higher capacities than the streetcars planned for San Antonio. Instead, Cox shows that, after building the light-rail lines, transit’s share of Dallas commuting and travel plummeted.

For people such as Latham, rail transit is more about religion than facts. Who cares that all forms of rail lines are far more expensive than buses? Who cares that buses can carry more people faster and more flexibly than rails? Who cares that all of the developments that were supposedly stimulated by light rail and streetcars actually received tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of additional subsidies? All that really counts is that taxpayers pay for rail lines for people like Latham to enjoy.

The Antiplanner loves trains as much as anyone and more than most. But unlike Latham I am not interested in forcing other people to subsidize my hobby. Based on his outlandish claims, he fails the streetcar intelligence test.

Share

47 thoughts on “Failing the Intelligence Test

  1. sprawl

    Earl Blumenauer talks about the cost effectiveness, capacity, speed and support for light rail in the Oregonian Sept 7,1987.

    cut from the article
    “Within three years you won’t be able to find anyone who is against light rail”

  2. MJ

    One of those supposed manipulations is my claim that streetcars cost more than buses. Latham admits the capital costs are high but claims that, once built, streetcars have “a minimum life expectancy of a half-century or longer,” which will be surprise to the Federal Transit Administration (or just about anyone in the transit industry), which says streetcar vehicles last about 25 years, and other streetcar infrastructure lasts no more than 30 years.

    I’m curious about these claims. I haven’t seen either the streetcar advocates or the FTA (yes, there is some overlap) provide evidence to support these widely-varying assumptions. I’m inclined to believe both of them are just pulling numbers out of thin air.

  3. prk166

    I’m not sure what you mean MJ. The FTA base their claims both on tests they’ve done, andhistory. Street cars have been around a long time. I have never seen a source for the claim of “they just magically last nearly forever”.

  4. C. P. Zilliacus

    The Antiplanner wrote:

    Garl Boyd Latham, of the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers, predicts that San Antonians will be “pleased by streetcars once they are running.” His response to the Antiplanner’s op ed critiquing the city’s streetcar plan basically amounts to, “don’t confuse me with the facts; I know what I believe.”

    I’m confused. What do passenger trains (apparently Mr. Latham speaks for train passengers) have in common with streetcars? Not much, except that they both use steel wheels running on steel rails. Ooops, one more thing – in the U.S., both need lots and lots of taxpayer money to pay for the rolling stock and to subsidize their operation.

    One of those supposed manipulations is my claim that streetcars cost more than buses. Latham admits the capital costs are high but claims that, once built, streetcars have “a minimum life expectancy of a half-century or longer,” which will be surprise to the Federal Transit Administration (or just about anyone in the transit industry), which says streetcar vehicles last about 25 years, and other streetcar infrastructure lasts no more than 30 years.

    Has Mr. Latham ever heard of something called a “mid-life overhaul?” Done at least once, and sometimes more than once, on passenger rail vehicles. And not exactly cheap.

    Not even counting maintenance, FTA data clearly show that streetcars cost far more to operate–either per vehicle mile or per passenger mile–than buses.

    Now maybe that’s because any type of passenger rail system has to fund 100% of its operations and 100% of the infrastructure that is needed to for the rail vehicles to roll on (including systems that deliver the traction power to the vehicle generally rather expensive).

    Buses need a lot less of that.

    Even trolleybuses, which do need overhead wires and traction power systems, don’t usually have to pay for the pavement that they run on.

    But unlike Latham I am not interested in forcing other people to subsidize my hobby.

    Like the Antiplanner, I love railroads, trains, streetcars, subways and even light rail. I find them endlessly fascinating. That does not make them good uses of tax dollars.

  5. Frank

    Apparently Garl Boyd Latham is simply just a d!©k. Street cars have been shown to be a HUGE waste of money.

    Will someone please tell Seattle’s city council to fix the GD potholes and build sidewalks where they’re lacking in this supposedly walkable city before wasting hundreds of millions on silly street cars that will take tourists from nowhere to nowhere?

    /end rant

  6. the highwayman

    Track isn’t expensive, trams/trains are not expensive.

    You guys just have a political agenda that wants people to live a certain way.

    Mr.Setty and I might as well be arguing with anti-Semites.

  7. msetty

    The Highwayman spaketh:
    Mr.Setty and I might as well be arguing with anti-Semites.

    That depends on the issue. I think you analogy is extreme. In low patronage situations, streetcars ARE more expensive than buses. However, there can be benefits, mostly land use, that many here systematically deny.

    Highwayman, it doesn’t help “the cause” of transit and rail to edge Godwin’s law, e.g., whenever Nazis (or would be neo-Nazi types like anti-Semites) are mentioned in an Internet conversation, the conversation has skidded to a halt. Many of our opponents here are hard right wingers, but their beliefs do not deserve to be compared with anti-Semitism.

  8. Truthseeker

    Mr. O’Toole, you prove Mr. Latham’s point quite nicely. You quoted Mr. Latham as claiming that streetcars are designed for a life of 50 years or more. Mr. Latham made no such claim. His statement was that the rail infrastructure often has a design life of 50 years or more. You can’t counter Latham with the facts, so you misquoted him and tried to prove what he did not say.

    Yes, rail vehicles require mid-life overhauls. But so do buses. And since the life expectancy of a bus is 12 years, as stated by the FTA, the mid-life overhaul of a bus is after just 6 years from delivery. Rail vehicles last at least twice as long.

    So your feeble attempt to smear Mr. Latham is nothing more than the pot calling the kettle black. And in this case, the kettle most certainly is not black.

  9. the highwayman

    Mr.Setty, roads/streets don’t exist on a profit or loss basis.

    Their argument isn’t about money, it’s about politics and power.

    Anti-Semites don’t want Jews to exist, just as they don’t want rail to exist. Their mind sets are exactly the same.

  10. Frank

    Andrew, I thought that after years of repeating the same worn out and trite phrases you’d agreed to take your schtick elsewhere. Although perhaps the compulsions associated with aspergers are too strong. Seek treatment. Or go play with your toy choo choo trains. Either way commenters from both sides of the aisle have had enough of you. Get lost.

  11. Andrew

    Antiplanner writes:

    Latham admits the capital costs are high but claims that, once built, streetcars have “a minimum life expectancy of a half-century or longer,” which will be surprise to the Federal Transit Administration (or just about anyone in the transit industry), which says streetcar vehicles last about 25 years, and other streetcar infrastructure lasts no more than 30 years

    Randall, I continue to encourage you to look towards the ACTUAL PRACTICE of the two large streetcar systems left in the US – MUNI and SEPTA.

    SEPTA’s backbone streetcar fleet is now 31 years old and shows no sign of needing replaced. It will probably last in service 50 years. SEPTA streetcar tracks are generally only replaced after around 50 years in service.

  12. Frank

    Andrew (username): try to follow along. You might not read comments very often so let me reiterate. First, you hadn’t commented on this thread so there is no reason for you to assume I was addressing you. Paranoid much? Second, I exposed the highwayman to be Andrew Dawson of Montreal. Even if I hadn’t exposed him, as I’ve said before, he signed his early posts here as Andrew.

  13. Frank

    Andrew (highwayman) yes, I do. Maybe I’ll take my complaints about your libelous statements made during work hours to bouclair and the Montreal media, in which you often appear, touting the benefits of rail. How long will the media take you seriously as a “rail advocate” one they see your vulgar and libelous comments spewed here? Or you can follow through on your gentleman ‘s agreement and go away. I also recommend getting treatment for your mental condition, but that’s totally up to you. You come round these here parts again and the big guns are comin out.

  14. prk166

    “SEPTA’s backbone streetcar fleet is now 31 years old and shows no sign of needing replaced” – Andrew

    I’m curious as to exactly what you mean by this. I can get the car I own now to last 300k+ miles. It’s not a question of can the car last that long but what resources it takes for me to keep it running that long. I’d probably have to have the transmission rebuilt once or thrice, drop a new engine or two in it, have a few head gaskets replaced, water pumps, batteries, et al.

    I don’t keep my cars around that long because I’d rather put my resources into something more reliable and modern. And I can do because I have the cash to sink into up front in exchange for lower operating costs.

    Is SEPTA choosing to run cars for 30+ years because the cars are just honky dory and not requiring a lot of work? Or are they doing it because they can’t scrounge up enough cash to buy something newer? What are their maintenance costs on these street car vehicles? How reliable are they compared to newer trams? We are talking about an agency that took until 2011 to start to ditch cash and token and get electronic ticketing in place. Maybe they don’t have the cash to buy new equipment? Or maybe the unusual gauge some of the rail service adds too much to the cost? Surely it’s no as simple as they last for 50 years. Otherwise why did San DIego sell off a portion of it’s original trolley fleet from the early 80s and buy new vehicles?

  15. the highwayman

    Frank, you have stop this.

    When I’m at work, I’m not even looking at this site.

    I have no problem if you only want to drive, but don’t claim road vs rail is some thing economic, when it is clearly political.

  16. C. P. Zilliacus

    Frank wrote:

    Second, I exposed the highwayman to be Andrew Dawson of Montreal.

    Not enough fixed-guideway transit in greater Montreal?

    Though the trainfan in me must confess that I found the rubber-tired Métro de Montréal to be extremely cool (maybe because it does not use conventional steel rails).

  17. C. P. Zilliacus

    Andrew wrote:

    SEPTA’s backbone streetcar fleet is now 31 years old and shows no sign of needing replaced. It will probably last in service 50 years. SEPTA streetcar tracks are generally only replaced after around 50 years in service.

    Please describe how SEPTA’s Trolley Route 15 (Girard Avenue Line) fits the above statement. The PCC cars used there are much more than 31 years old (they were manufactured in the late 1940’s), though they were rebuilt to reasonably modern standards (including ADA compliance) about 2005.

  18. prk166

    “Ironically they don’t worry about guard rails beside a road, but have rails imbedded in street then they freak out.” – Highwayman,

    That was a very daft statement to make, to say the least. Just because the same word is used doesn’t mean the same thing is the subject. You’re talking about two distinctly different things. There is nothing ironic about it.

  19. the highwayman

    Roads don’t have to make money.

    Even O’Toole has admitted that roads “are there regardless of economic conditions”

    You have nothing to complain about.

  20. Frank

    Asperger syndrome is characterized by:

    o significant difficulties in social interaction, check. (Why did they dump you Andrew? Talk about choo choo trains too much?)

    o restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests, check. (Your Facebook page shows this.)

    o physical clumsiness and atypical (peculiar, odd) use of language are frequently reported. Check and check. (Remember in your YouTube–intransitman–video when you were crossing the Steele Bridge while filming and almost caused a collision with a bike and can never hold your camera still? Or how you use odd phrasing over and over and over?)

    Seek it before you get so angry that you resort to violence. Your posts here are a cry for help.

    Treatment is available.

  21. the highwayman

    Frank, you have problems too.

    Stop being so greedy and hateful.

    Stop complaining about the pittance of public funding rail gets compared to road.

    Things can be inclusive for all types of people and modes.

  22. gblatham

    highwayman:

    You’re right; Frank does not want peace. Anyone who’d post a self-described “rant” in which he takes the Lord’s name in vain is most certainly sinister – and anyone who’d label someone else a “d!©k” simply because of differing viewpoints is indeed hateful.

    Sad, but true.

    Garl B. Latham

  23. gblatham

    FrancisKing,

    Please note: I never said “don’t confuse me with the facts,” nor did I write anything which might suggest that idea.

    I’m not responsible for Randal O’Toole’s opinions!

    G.B.L.

  24. gblatham

    MJ,

    Point one:

    Dallas’ MATA (operators of the McKinney Avenue car line, presently the only true streetcar service running in Big D) has quite a bit of trackage in use which dates back to Dallas Railway & Terminal (and predecessor companies) days.

    Once that streetcar route was originally abandoned, roadway pavement (and the rails within it) was eventually covered with asphalt; however, when service was restored, preparing the tracks for revenue operation involved little more than scraping blacktop off the street’s surface.

    Much of that same trackage has now offered daily rides to a new generation of passengers for 23 1/2 years!

    Point two:

    While constructing various parts of its light rail system, DART has often claimed it was planning for an infrastructure design life of 60 years.

    We all understand some of the basic differences between typical L.R.T. operations (similar in many ways to the classic interurban) and modern-day streetcars; still, this three-score-year goal would certainly seem to defy what some of the critics are saying.

    One of the selling points for buses is the fact they’re able to use all the roads a given society has already decided to build and maintain for automobile traffic. Considering that truism, the anticipated long life of street railway trackage (and other infrastructure) becomes an important selling feature for rail-based transit.

    Best,
    Garl

  25. gblatham

    Mr. Zilliacus,

    No confusion intended or necessary! Your comment concerning “steel wheels running on steel rails” sums up the connection as well as anything. Besides, in my essay’s “full disclosure,” I mentioned two bits of professional experience in my background: Amtrak and DART.

    In fact, the last sentence of my op-ed piece reads, “Railway service of all types, from conventional transit to intercity limiteds, needs to regain its role as an equal player alongside roadway and airway alternatives.” I’ve read some of your writing, so I understand a few of the reasons you’d tend to disagree with my affirmation; still, to me, the kinship (if you will) of all rail-based forms of transportation is a natural thing.

    Surely, someone who “love[s] railroads, trains, streetcars, subways and even light rail” and “find[s] them endlessly fascinating” can see that!

    Garl

    P.S. When you figure out a way to support your autocentric desires without the use of “lots and lots of taxpayer money,” please let me know!

    G.B.L.

  26. gblatham

    Mr. O’Toole:

    I didn’t think my claims were “outlandish”!

    Actually, I thought my rebuttal was pretty good, considering the fact that neither one of us were trying to out-data the other. [In addition, it can probably be safely stated we both tend to infuse our work with a bit of, shall we say, “religious zeal”!]

    Anyway, it made me feel a little better about everything when I recalled the time you used my opinion to bolster one of your own essays.

    On 25 June ’10, you posted a column entitled “LaHood Acts Like a Hood – Again.” In it, you said:

    “But the other major railroads view the impediments caused by passenger trains to be greater than the benefits of federal subsidies. ‘The majority of proposed improvements for faster/more reliable passenger services are not necessary for, nor will they positively affect, the railroad’s own freight operations,’ says a rail consultant who is pro-high-speed rail, but skeptical of the president’s plans.”

    I was that “rail consultant” – and you provided a link to my article.

    Men sometimes agree; sometimes they disagree. No problem!

    You know, it might be a lot of fun if, someday, we could engage each other in a public debate!

    Thanks for the publicity,
    Garl

  27. Frank

    I don’t want peace. Right.

    People who use the government monopoly of force on others to support their preferred transport mode don’t want peace.

    You’re not a dick because we disagree; you’re a dick because of your self-righteous attitude and willful distortion.

  28. Matt Young

    SAN JOSE, Calif. — A $2 billion light-rail system built to serve San Jose and some surrounding cities in Silicon Valley has become among the least efficient in the country and suffers from low ridership and high operating costs.
    As the Valley Transportation Authority rail line marked 25 years of service this month, the San Jose Mercury News reported Thursday that less than 1 percent of all Santa Clara County residents ride the trains daily and taxpayers subsidize 85 percent of the service, the second worst rate in the nation.
    Critics are calling the system a failure, and even some optimistic supporters say it has not lived up to expectations.
    http://www.fresnobee.com/2012/12/27/3114493/silicon-valleys-light-rail-among.html

    San Jose, enjoy your disaster courtesy of Norman Mineta.

  29. Iced Borscht

    Mr. Highway Person said: “I want peaceful co-existance [sic], but you don’t.”

    So. You hope to achieve this by depicting those you disagree with on rail and transit issues as “anti-Semitic” or “KKK” or as fill-in-the-blank asinine characterization.

    A winning formula, one deeply entrenched in critical thought! Huzzah!

  30. Frank

    Andrew Dawson of Montreal wrote: “You have nothing to complain about, so stop complaining.”

    After you, Andrew. You complain about trains incessantly on your FB page. Maybe that’s why Celine left you and Cassandra “stabbed you in the back”; your incessant bitching about choo choo trains. Maybe Cassandra got tired of hearing about how the world sucks because it’s not oriented to your mode of transportation. Certainly your FB friends are tired of it; they largely ignore your choo choo posts.

    There is plenty to complain about in a city that spends $200 million on a new stadium and hundreds of millions on rail when “the street in front of my house” is riddled with pot holes, has a sidewalk only on one side, has no curbs so the rain washes gravel onto the road which cars when they speed by (due to lack of traffic calming measures) launched toward pedestrians and their dogs. Billions on stadiums and rail and but no money sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming measures, and pedestrian signs? LOTS to complain about Andrew.

    Now do us all a huge favor and STFU and stop spamming the board with the same tired cliches about roads not having to make money.

    Spend your time tying to find another girlfriend. And don’t blow it this time by obsessively talking about choo choo trains.

  31. Frank

    I’ve talked about this stuff before Andrew, but you can’t see past your OCD with choo choo trains. Now do us all a favor and go get laid. And for heaven’s sake, don’t talk to her about trains!

  32. Andrew

    prk166:

    Is SEPTA choosing to run cars for 30+ years because the cars are just honky dory and not requiring a lot of work? Or are they doing it because they can’t scrounge up enough cash to buy something newer? What are their maintenance costs on these street car vehicles? How reliable are they compared to newer trams?

    They are very reliable. SEPTA spends $38 million to maintain 185 light rail cars and 344 subway cars, or $72,000 per year. Another $28,000 pays for heavy overhauls performed annually. OTOH, new vehicles are projected to cost $5 million each. Its worth spending 50 years worth of maintenance before buying a new vehicle for the same amount of money.

    We are talking about an agency that took until 2011 to start to ditch cash and token and get electronic ticketing in place.

    SEPTA has had electronic swipe passes for over 30 years. It also has long accepted other means of payment for the convenience of its customers.

  33. gblatham

    Frank,

    Regarding my alleged “self righteousness,” your insult of choice should probably not be “d!©k” (unless adopted as an expedient). A much more accurate pejorative would be “p®!g.”

    Now, in reference to your fascinating comment – “People who use the government monopoly of force on others to support their preferred transport mode don’t want peace.” – I must say that, in one simple sentence, you’ve accurately summed up the basic reason why auto-centrists don’t want peace.

    They just want their precious cars.

    When I speak of something which would not be a replacement, but an alternative, it is people like you who busy themselves hurling barbs about and making rash, indefensible statements.

    There seems to be no middle ground for those who have bought into the “American love affair” claptrap, eliminating the possibility that dialogue might be based upon money, reason, environmental stewardship, energy efficiency or quality-of-life.

    And it is sad.

    Garl

  34. Frank

    “When I speak of something which would not be a replacement, but an alternative, it is people like you who busy themselves hurling barbs”

    Whenever an opponent hurls the “people like you” insult, it shows they’ve got nothing except snobbery.

    There is a middle ground: People pay the full price for their preferred mode of transport (yes, auto owners, too). The Antiplanner has shown subsidies to autos to be about one cent PPM, and data show that highways are fully self-supporting and actually subsidize other modes. In recent articles, the AP has shown subsidy to light rail riders in places like San Jose to be five bucks per trip. More importantly, repairs should be made to existing infra (roads, sidewalks, crosswalks, traffic calming measures) before throwing hundreds of millions down the toilet for street cars that go to/from nowhere.

    I’m hardly “auto-centric” and you’d know this if you’d been reading this blog for the last five years. Unlike some of the planners who comment on this site, I walk the walk in a dense development in a dense neighborhood; my spouse and I live and work in the neighborhood and drive fewer than 10 miles per week. Where do you live, Garl? Auto-centric suburbia? Latham Railway Services is registered to a suburban address in Mrs. Latham’s name. Located on a sprawling third of an acre, it’s 2,713 square feet with an attached garage at 432 square feet. Whatcha got in that massive garage, Garl? Some people live in condos and apartments smaller than your garage.

    Why don’t YOU walk the walk, Garl? Move to a 550-square-feet high-rise condo. Abandon your car(s) and walk to work or take public transport. Yet another urban planning hypocrite.

    Stick to designing your toy choo choo trains. This one really should make it into the DSM-IV as a pathology of grown men who never really grew up and who wear overalls and play on widdle choo choo tracks.

  35. the highwayman

    Garl I have some good news, I’ve done some digging about San Jose, LRT costs are $0.30 less per mile than bus costs.

    Also just keep in mind that roads/streets are not subjected to economic tests, so their complaining about rail not making money is just plain fraudulent bullshit.

  36. the highwayman

    Frank: should make it into the DSM-IV as a pathology of grown men who never really grew up and who wear overalls and play on widdle choo choo tracks.

    THWM: Frank, you have psychiatric health issues your self.

    You take stuff out of context, you can’t face reality that roads are not subjected to economic tests.

    You want your street blocked off and I have given you the example of a gated community, but you just get frustrated.

Leave a Reply