A few questions to consider when you are not watching today’s election returns.
Should cities be car-free, or simply driver-free?
Has Atlanta reached peak transit?
Should Indianapolis spend nearly $100 million on a bus-rapid transit line that will increase congestion and greenhouse gas emissions?
Does the new DC streetcar go 12 miles per hour or 4 miles per hour? And why, after more than a decade of planning and construction, hasn’t the city figured out how it will collect fares?
A new report published by Indiana Policy Review critiques the use of dedicated bus lanes and battery-powered buses in a proposed Indianapolis bus-rapid transit line (if this link is password-protected, the password is 3544). As described in the FTA’s annual New Starts/Small Starts report, the proposed Red Line would cost $96 million to start and $6 million per year to operate, but the report says nothing about how many riders the line would carry.
The critique of the plan points out that the county transit agency, IndyGo, plans to run buses on the dedicated bus lanes no more frequently than every five minutes, which means they would be empty more than 90 percent of the time. The auto and truck traffic they would displace would have carried far more people than the buses are projected to carry.
According to IndyGo, that projection is a little less than 11,000 riders per day, or about 4,200 more than currently take buses in the corridor. This large increase is projected due to the buses’ faster speeds, but those speeds will only average about 18 mph, compared with 13 mph with existing service. Since the Red Line buses won’t stop as frequently as ordinary buses, it is possible that they would average nearly 18 mph even without dedicated lanes, but IndyGo failed to consider that alternative.
The Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce thinks a regional (as opposed to county) transit agency will help Indianapolis compete with regions such as “Minneapolis and Salt Lake City that offer extensive transit systems.” The Antiplanner disagrees, pointing out that the Indianapolis urban area is already growing twice as fast as Minneapolis or Salt Lake City, and higher taxes aren’t going to help.
Unmentioned is the fact that “regional transit” is generally a euphemism for rail transit, and that the proposal for a regional Indianapolis transit agency includes a plan for a low-capacity rail line. Basically, someone wants to spend a lot of money on obsolete transportation.
Only about 17,000 Indianapolis-area workers live in households that lack cars. I’m not saying this should be done, but it would cost less, and do more for regional vitality, to give every one of those households a new Toyota Prius than to build a low-capacity rail line. With or without rail, Indianapolis doesn’t need regional transit.
The Antiplanner was invited back to Indianapolis yesterday to testify to the Senate Tax and Fiscal Policy Committee on a proposal to create a regional transit agency for Indianapolis. Currently, the transit agency is limited to serving Marion County, but Indianapolis suburbs extend well beyond that county’s limits.
While this seems like a no-brainer, it is not. Proponents of regional transit have made it clear that they want to build a light-rail line that will cost well over a billion dollars and either bus-rapid transit on dedicated lanes or light-rail lines in other parts of the region. Even if that weren’t the case, the regional transit idea is just another case of “bigger is better,” when in fact allowing smaller transit agencies to cross county lines if that is where their patrons want to go could be far more efficient.
The Antiplanner argued that the regional transit plan is likely to make Indianapolis more congested, at a higher cost, yet won’t help transit riders, particularly low-income riders who lack access to cars. While it probably had nothing to do with anything I said, as soon as I was done with my testimony, the committee unanimously voted to send the proposal to an interim study committee, effectively deferring it for another year.
You can download my testimony in PDF (2.8 MB) or Word format.
One of the claims made by Indianapolis transit advocates was that improved transit would help the region “compete for jobs and talent.” They cited a study by a group called CEOs for Cities that found that “Young adults with a four-year degree are 94% more likely to live in close-in urban neighborhoods than their counterparts with less education.”
This is the old Richard Florida idea that cities should strive to attract the “creative class” of well-educated people that want to live in lively cities with walkable, transit-intensive neighborhoods. Ninety-four percent sounds like a big number, but let’s put this into context.
The CEOs for Cities study defined “close in” as neighborhoods near downtowns housing an average of less than 5 percent of urban area populations. “Young adults” includes people in the 25- to 34-year-old age class. The 2010 Census found that about 31.5 percent of this age class has a four-year degree or better. If this group is 94 percent more likely to live close in than their cohorts without a four-year degree, then less than 7.5 percent of young, well-educated adults live “close in.” This is less than 2.5 percent more than might be expected if the population was evenly distributed by education class.
Indygo, Indianapolis’ transit agency, offers one of the lowest levels of transit service of any urban area of its size in the Midwest–only Omaha’s is lower. The proposed Indy Connect plan calls for changing this by making a $1.3 billion capital investment and more than tripling Indygo’s operating from about $50 million to $175 million a year. A key feature of the plan is to have communities outside of Marion County–which is the current limit of Indygo’s services–join in a regional transit district.
Proponents say the plan will make Indianapolis more competitive, relieve congestion, and reduce air pollution. Yesterday, I gave a presentation arguing that the plan wouldn’t accomplish any of those goals. Instead, I urged the region and state to save money by contracting out existing transit services; legalizing private transit operations; and encouraging cities outside Marion County to start their own cross-county transit service, which would probably offer better service at a lower cost than a regional transit district could provide.
My presentation can be downloaded as a 16-MB PDF. Feel free to use this shows or any of the shows downloadable by clicking on the new “presentations” link above.
The Antiplanner is going to Indianapolis this week to talk to people about a proposed transit plan. The plan, which was written by the Chamber of Commerce rather than Indy’s transit agency, calls for creating a regional transit district (IndyGo, the city’s transit agency, only covers one county) and running several “rapid transit” lines that are billed mainly as bus-rapid transit but that might use light rail on one route where a rail right-of-way is owned by local governments.
The plan is expected to require more than $1.3 billion in capital investments, and the transit system will then require more than triple the operating subsidies–from $43 million in 2011 to $140 million when the plan is fully implemented. Of course, if they actually build a light-rail line, the total costs are likely to go much higher.
In reading through a PDF version of the plan, I was struck by a one-sentence summary of the basic justification for the plan: “A robust regional transit system is necessary to spur our region’s continued economic growth, to preserve our ability to compete for jobs and talent, and to address growing challenges with congestion and air quality compliance” (page 5).