Tag Archives: transit

Is Gentrification Reducing Transit Ridership?

The Eastsider, a Los Angeles publication, has suggested a new explanation for that city’s spectacular decline in bus ridership: gentrification. Rising housing prices have forced many low-income transit riders to distant suburbs while the people moving into gentrified neighborhoods have higher incomes, more cars, and are less likely to ride transit.

The Eastsider bases this idea on a story in Curbed Los Angeles, which offers four explanations for declining ridership: traffic congestion slowing down buses; service cuts; low-cost fuel; and high-cost housing. “Many of the most transit accessible neighborhoods in Los Angeles are significantly more expensive, and home to more affluent demographics than they once were,” says the publication. “As the transit-riding demographics get priced out of relatively central and transit-friendly neighborhoods, and move to the cheaper but more far-flung and car dependent suburbs, ridership suffers.”

While I’m not discounting this as a partial explanation, Curbed LA never even mentioned Uber and Lyft, which the Antiplanner has estimated may be responsible for more of the decline in transit ridership than all of the other explanations put together. Aside from that, there are plenty of reasons to think that gentrification plays only a tiny role in transit ridership, even in Los Angeles. Continue reading

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Transit Ridership is Declining–So Why
Pay Transit CEOs So Much Money?

Transit ridership is declining, and that decline appears to be accelerating. Nationally, ridership declined by 4.4 percent between 2014 and 2016 and by 4.5 percent in the first six months in 2017 compared with the same period in 2016.

Despite these losses, transit agency CEOs get paid staggering amounts of money. Here’s a few examples.

  • Los Angeles Metro lost 10.5 percent of its riders from 2014 to 2016, and another 5.8 percent in the first six months of 2017. Yet the agency’s CEO pulls down a salary of more than $430,000, plus nearly $48,000 in benefits.
  • San Francisco BART ridership has been flat for the last several years, and it lost 4.9 percent of its riders in the first half of 2017. Its CEO collected $498,000 in pay and benefits in 2016.
  • Even better paid was the CEO of San Mateo County Transit, who also runs the commuter trains between San Jose and San Francisco. From 2014 to 2016, SamTrans lost 4 percent of its riders and another 7.6 percent in 2017, while CalTrains ridership has been flat through 2016 and lost 7.9 percent in 2017. Its CEO received $492,500 plus $24,000 in benefits in 2016, for a total of more than $516,000.
  • Atlanta’s MARTA lost 4.8 percent from 2014 to 2016 and 2.1 percent in 2017; its CEO (who recently resigned) earned $369,000 in 2016.
  • Honolulu Area Rapid Transit (HART) has yet to carry a single rider, but its CEO will earn $379,000 this year.
  • Boston’s transit system, the MBTA, is falling apart and it lost 4.0 percent of its riders from 2014 to 2016 and another 3.2 percent in 2017. Its CEO collects about $384,000 plus benefits.

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Notes from the Transit Apocalypse

The Antiplanner is back in the air today, but a review of recent headlines reveals the continuing decline of the nation’s transit industry, much of which is self-inflicted. None other than Streetsblog has figured out that the headlines trumpeting the great success of new Los Angeles light-rail lines are misleading considering that the county has reduced bus service and lost several times more bus riders than it gained rail riders.

Joe Mathews, writing in the Sacramento Bee, points out that the recently opened “Smart” train in Sonoma and Marin counties is actually pretty dumb. They built it from one mile away from the Sonoma County Airport to two miles away from a Marin County ferry terminal. Taxi drivers won’t take people from the train to the airport because they resent missing out on the fare they would earn from a longer ride. Of course, anyone who thinks that trains should go from where they are to where they want to go doesn’t understand the real cost of building rail transit.

The nation’s biggest rail disaster, at least on a per-capita basis, continues to unfold in Honolulu. The city’s 20-mile line was originally supposed to cost under $3 billion, but the current projection is $9.5 billion and it may breach $10 billion. Even as the state and city debate who should pay for the cost overrun, Honolulu’s bus ridership is falling. Continue reading

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“Quick Win” for Buses = Loss for Commuters

New York City rail transit lines have fallen on hard times, with frequent delays, accidents, and even trains not running at all. While Governor Cuomo has declared a state of emergency, some transit advocates want to make sure buses aren’t forgotten in any multi-billion-dollar fix.

Some of their ideas, such as having people pay before they board to hasten loading, are good ones. But they also want more dedicated bus lanes and to have traffic signals be programmed to give buses priority at intersections.

In any city but New York, giving transit priority over other traffic is foolish because cars typically move 50 to 100 times as many people and trucks move far more freight than transit. In New York City, however, transit carries well over half of commuters to work, so deserves more consideration. But how many of those transit commuters take the bus? Continue reading

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Why Rail Transit Doesn’t Work in Atlanta

One of the more interesting presentations at the 2017 American Dream conference was by Alain Bertaud, a French demographer currently working at New York University. He has compared urban areas all over the world to see how transportation has influenced the layout of those areas.


Click any image for a larger view.

He started by comparing Atlanta with Barcelona, Spain. Although both have about the same number of people, Barcelona occupies about 63 square miles while Atlanta covers 1,650 square miles. Barcelona has about 62 miles of rail lines, while Atlanta had about 46 when Bertaud was making his comparison (it’s up to 52 today). In order for Atlanta’s rail system to provide the same level of service to its residents as Barcelona’s, the region would need to build another 2,350 miles of rail lines. At current construction prices, that would cost at least $700 billion. Continue reading

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The Last Mile May Hasten the End for Transit

Amtrak has agreed with Lyft to cooperate to allow the railroad’s passengers to order a Lyft ride from Amtrak’s own app. Dallas transit riders can call Uber to get them from a transit station to their final destination. A town in New Jersey is offering the same service to New Jersey Transit riders.

Transit agencies have long known that their transit vehicles usually can’t reach the final destinations for every rider, something known as the last-mile problem. Now, some of them see Uber and Lyft as the solution to that problem.

This is going to bite them in the end. A century and a half ago, river boat companies thought that railroads would solve their last mile problem. It never occurred to them that the railroads would soon be competing against them by building along the rivers. Within a few decades, the river boats were out of business. Continue reading

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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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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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Estimating Ride Hailing’s Bite out of Transit

The Antiplanner has credited the decline in transit ridership mainly to low gasoline prices, but ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft may be having more of an impact than I thought. A survey of Uber, Lyft, and Sidecar users in California found that, if the ride-hailing services did not exist, a third of them would have taken transit. That’s less than the 39 percent who would have take a taxi, but still a large share.

Lyft carried 163 million rides in 2016, up from 53 million in 2015. If a third of that growth would otherwise have taken public transit, transit lost about 36 million rides to Lyft in 2016. I can’t find exact numbers for Uber, but Uber carries about four times as many riders in the U.S. as Lyft, so the two of them together may have taken 180 million riders from transit.

APTA’s 2016 report found that ridership declined by about 244 million trips nationwide. That suggests that ride-hailing services could be responsible for about three-fourths of the drop. Considering the rate at which ride hailing is growing, it could effectively replace transit in some communities even before driverless cars hit the streets in commercial service. Continue reading

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