Los Angeles Gets People Into Cars

Los Angeles “finds a way to get people out of their cars,” reports the Washington Post. What way is that? Light rail!

According to the article, Los Angeles opened an extension of the Expo light-rail line in 2016 that cost a mere $2.43 billion. With that extension, weekday ridership on the line grew from 46,000 to 64,000 trips. So, for a mere $135,000, the region got, at most, one car off the road each day.

According to the Southern California Association of Government’s long-range transportation plan, the region sees more than 62 million trips per day. So, for only $8.4 trillion, the region could build enough light rail to get all of the cars off the road. That’s assuming constant returns to scale, which is unlikely. Continue reading

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Is Transit Getting More Dangerous?

Someone was shot at a Washington Metro station yesterday. Violent crime on BART appears to be increasing. Emergency calls at Phoenix light-rail stations went up 73 percent between 2014 and 2016. A transit station in Minneapolis is known for “piss, dope, beggars & blow jobs.”

Is crime on board transit vehicles and in transit stations rising, or are news outlets just reporting it more? One answer to this is provided by table 2-38 of National Transportation Statistics, “Reports of Crime by Transit Mode.” Unfortunately, this table only goes through 2012, and the Federal Transit Administration stopped making the data it collects available through the National Transit Database in 2002.

But table 2-38 shows crime falling into three periods. From 1995 through 2001, transit crime was very high, with around 20 homicides, 40 rapes, and 3,000 robberies a year. From 2002 to 2009, crime seems to have have fallen by at least 50 percent, with a couple of homicides, 20 rapes, and 1,500 robberies a year. In 2010, the numbers appear to rise again, though some of the categories are suspiciously low in 2011 and 2012, suggesting that they hadn’t really tallied all of the results.

A note, however, suggests these data aren’t really reliable. “Beginning in 2002, data are no longer collected for the following offenses: Sex offenses, Drug abuse violations, Driving under the influence, Drunkenness, Disorderly conduct, and Curfew and loitering laws,” the note says. “Analysts for the FTA believe the change in reporting requirements in 2002 may have resulted in unreliable data in that year. The reliability of reporting is believed to be much better in 2003 and is expected to improve in the future.” Continue reading

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The Benefits of Light Rail

The Millennials favorite city, Portland, is showing just how well light rail works in reducing congestion. Which is to say, it’s not working at all.

According to a new report from the Oregon Department of Transportation, between 2013 and 2015 the population of the Portland area grew by 3.0 percent, but the daily miles of driving grew by 5.5 percent. Since the number of freeway lane miles grew by only 1.0 percent, the number of hours roads are congested grew by 13.6 percent and the number of hours people are stuck in traffic grew by 22.6 percent. Many roads are now congested for six hours a day.

I’m not sure where those new freeway lane miles are supposed to be unless they resulted from expanding the region’s urban-growth boundary. Except for reconstruction of part of state highway 217–which wasn’t counted in the above numbers–there hasn’t been any new freeway additions in Portland since the 1970s. Instead, the region has been putting all of its spare dollars into light rail and streetcars. Continue reading

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Using Driverless Cars as an Excuse to Do
What Planners Wanted to Do Anyway

Minnesota planners want to be “ready” for driverless cars. But most of what they propose sounds like things that the anti-car crowd wants to do anyway.

This includes things like reducing parking spaces and shrinking the size of streets–both items high on urban planners’ agendas for years. While that may be possible when driverless cars come to dominate the road, there is no guarantee, so they shouldn’t jump the gun.

They are happy to jump the gun when it comes to not building new roads. “The last thing cities should do is add lanes to existing roads,” said a planner from the University of Minnesota. This assumes that driverless cars will dramatically relieve congestion and that neither population nor personal mobility will grow in the future. Actually, a good case can be made that some lanes should be added to existing roads both because they are needed now and because population and travel growth in some areas will make up for the potential congestion relief from driverless cars. Continue reading

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Time to Pretend to Get Serious About Traffic

It’s “time to get serious about fixing Austin’s traffic,” says a headline at KVUE. However, no one quoted in the article is actually willing to get serious about fixing Austin’s traffic.

Instead, the article is exclusively about Project Connect, a front group that has promoted light rail for Capital Metro, Austin’s transit agency. All of the “solutions” discussed in the article involve transit, including light rail and dedicated bus lanes, both of which will actually increase congestion.

Here’s why transit won’t work to fix traffic in Austin, which by some measures is the nation’s fastest-growing urban area. Between 2010 and 2015, the Austin urban area grew by 220,000 people, or 3.0 percent per year. Transit passenger miles, meanwhile, grew by 3.5 percent per year. Sounds pretty good so far. Continue reading

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A Reporter Rode Denver’s Airport Light Rail–And You Won’t Believe What Happened Next

Here’s a heartwarming story of a man who rode Denver’s airport light rail once, and it worked for him, so now he wants everyone in his Virginia city to pay higher taxes to build light rail to the local airport in case he might want to ride it again someday. How thoughtful and touching.

Of course, there are a few problems with his story. First, what he rode wasn’t light rail, which averages about 20 miles per hour; instead, he rode a commuter train that averages 38 miles per hour. So if he manages to persuade people in Virginia to build light rail to his local airport, he will get something far inferior to what he rode in Denver.

Second, the writer is guilty of survivorship bias, which is an assumption that because something worked for him, it will work for everyone else. But the Denver airport train doesn’t work for everyone else, partly because it is unreliable and partly because transit is slow for anyone who isn’t near an airport line station. Continue reading

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Why LA Bus Ridership Is Declining

Ridership on Los Angeles light-rail lines has “surged” (mainly because they’ve opened new lines), but bus ridership is falling much faster. From 2006 to 2016, light- and heavy-rail ridership grew by 28 million rides a year, but bus ridership fell a whopping 103 million rides a year.

Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (Metro) commissioned a report looking at bus speeds and on-time performance. Thanks to growing traffic congestion–which the report admits is partly due to traffic calming measures–average bus speeds have declined by 15 percent and on-time performance has declined from 76 to 72 percent since 2011.

The strong implication is that there is a relationship between bus speeds/reliability and ridership. But that implication would be just as wrong as an assumption that congestion is caused by too many people driving rather than by local governments deliberately making congestion worse through such things as traffic calming. Continue reading

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Ford to the Rescue

Thanks to maintenance work on Amtrak and commuter-train tracks around Penn Station on top of the usual number of breakdowns, this is supposed to be the Summer of Hell for commuters to Manhattan. But Ford subsidiary Chariot plans to ease commuters’ pains by introducing microtransit service in the form of an on-demand shuttle bus.

Chariot’s routes in San Francisco.

Chariot is already operating a similar service in San Francisco, competing not only with existing transit but with Lyft Shuttle. As the above and below maps show, Chariot and Lyft have similar but not identical routes. The difference between them is that Lyft uses owner-operated vehicles while Chariot uses company-owned Ford minibuses and treats its drivers as full employees with insurance and other benefits. Continue reading

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The Hidden Cost of Rail Transit

Pity Capital Metro, Austin’s transit agency. It has an opportunity to include bus-rapid transit stops on a freeway that is now under construction–but it doesn’t have the funds to pay for them.

The Texas Department of Transportation, which is building the freeway, needs $18 million from Capital Metro now to buy the extra land needed for the bus stops. But Capital Metro doesn’t have it. Nor does it have the $105 million more needed to actually build the bus stops.

Where could it get the money? The best way would be to shutter the agency’s pathetic, 32-mile commuter-rail line. In 2015, Capital Metro spent more than $20 million operating and maintaining this line, but received less than $2.5 million in fares. The trains carried fewer than 1,500 round trips per day, which means each daily round-trip rider cost taxpayers nearly $12,000.

A single-year’s worth of savings on the operating costs would be nearly enough to buy the land needed to make the bus-rapid transit work. A little over five years would be enough to pay the rest of the costs. Of course, if Capital Metro hadn’t built the rail line in the first place, it would have plenty of money for bus-rapid transit. The rail line was supposed to cost $60 million, and actually cost $140 million, sending the agency’s reserve fund from $200 million to $5 million. Continue reading

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