Tag Archives: transit

Rejoice in Transit’s Decline (plus new book)

“Urban transit was developed for a kind of city that no longer exists,” says an op-ed in USA Today, “one in which most jobs were downtown and most residents lived near downtown.” For people who can’t or don’t want to drive, ride hailing makes much more sense than mass transit, so we should be happy to see transit (and the taxes we pay to subsidize it) decline.

The article also reveals the title of a new book that will be out this fall: Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need. This book will provide the background needed to understand transit and intercity passenger trains today. Continue reading

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Uber/Lyft Find New Ways to Destroy Transit

Lyft has a growing service called Line that could make the long-unfulfilled dreams of carpool advocates come true. Users who request a ride through Line are paired with drivers going to the same general destination — a true example of ride sharing instead of the ride hailing that describes most Uber/Lyft rides. Rides might take a little longer if the driver picks up other carpoolers, but the cost is only 40 percent of a regular Lyft ride. The service is available in 19 cities to date and has proven particularly successful in New York, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Chicago, and Miami.

Uber has announced that it plans to expand its app to offer a comprehensive transportation service. Users say where they want to go and the Uber app will give them options of Uber rides, bike sharing, rental cars, or even mass transit. All rides would be paid for through the Uber app, so Uber would get a share of revenues from any public transit agencies that participated.

Even if public transit is one of Uber’s options, these kinds of innovations will continue to whittle away transit ridership. People who now ride transit will be tempted to use Uber to pay for their rides, thus saving the trouble of dealing with ticket machines or exact change. Once using the app, they will also be alerted to alternatives to transit, and some will select those alternatives in place of the transit they were using. Continue reading

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How Bad Is “That Bad”?

The transit industry loses $50 billion a year. It’s customer base is dwindling. Business in many regions has declined by 20 to 40 percent. Yet Bloomberg, one of the nation’s leading business publications, says, “The outlook for public transit isn’t all that bad.”

Sheesh. Just how bad does it have to be to be “that bad”?

According to Bloomfield columnist Noah Smith, light-rail and commuter-rail ridership “are at all-time highs,” by which he means highs for 1990 to 2017, the time period used in his charts. In fact, his chart doesn’t show it, but according to the source of data in his chart (American Public Transportation Association (APTA) ridership reports), both light rail and commuter rail declined in 2017 and light rail (which APTA equates with streetcars) was much higher before 1955 than it is today. Continue reading

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Transit’s February Numbers

Nine out of the top ten and forty out of the top fifty urban areas saw transit ridership decline in February, 2018 compared with the previous February, according to the latest data posted by the Federal Transit Administration. That’s slightly worse than in January: When compared with 2017, ridership in Buffalo, Denver, and Portland had grown slightly in the first month of 2018 but shrank in the second, which is slightly offset by Providence ridership growing in February after having declined in January.

The other regions seeing ridership grow are Los Angeles, San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle, San Diego, Riverside-San Bernardino, Las Vegas, San Jose, Hartford, and Raleigh. However, all of these regions except Seattle saw ridership decline in 2017, so the growth trend may be short-lived.

The declines are much more spectacular than the growth. While Los Angeles ridership grew by just 0.6 percent, Chicago lost 5.6 percent of its riders. San Francisco-Oakland did better with 6.9 percent growth, but Dallas-Ft. Worth lost 14.3 percent. Ridership in Seattle, which has been the only major urban area with consistent growth, grew by just 1.8 percent, but Portland ridership declined by the same percentage. Houston, which supposedly benefitted from a restructured bus system, saw ridership fall by 5.0 percent. Continue reading

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Austin’s Foolish Plan

Another transit agency whose ridership is plummeting has published a multi-billion-dollar plan to build light rail. Austin’s Capital Metro, whose light-rail proposals have twice been rejected by voters, has issued a draft system plan that calls for construction of three light-rail lines.

Naturally, the proposal is full of lies. First, they call it a “high-capacity transit” plan when light rail actually is low-capacity transit. Second, Capital Metro told its board that the plan would cost $6 billion to $8 billion when in fact their own projections indicated it would cost $10.5 billion. “It’s extremely early in the process, so these numbers are very preliminary,” a Capital Metro official said when asked why the agency used the lower numbers. But the reality is that costs go up, not down, as plans become more detailed.

On a percentage basis, Austin is one of the two or three fastest-growing major urban areas in the United States, growing faster than 7 percent per year since 2010. Of the top 50, only Raleigh is growing faster, though Charlotte is close. Yet this growth hasn’t resulted in growing transit ridership. Since 2010, ridership has dropped 12.5 percent, and since its 2013 peak, it has dropped 19.2 percent.

Light rail won’t help. Charlotte, which is also growing at 7 percent per year, has a light-rail line yet lost 21.5 percent of its riders since 2013. Charlotte opened a new light-rail extension last month. While it’s too soon to tell, early indications are that its ridership will be below expectations. Continue reading

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Anatomy of a Transit Disaster

The Santa Clara Valley Transportation Authority (VTA), San Jose’s transit agency, has been making a series of happy-talk advertisements about how transit is green, is faster than driving, and reduces congestion. Of course, it is none of those things: VTA uses about as much energy and producing as much greenhouse gases per passenger mile as the average SUV; VTA light-rail trains average less than 16 mph and its buses less than 12; and rather than reduce congestion it is increasing it as its poor service leads people to give up transit and drive instead.

The reality is that VTA’s transit and transportation planning has proven to be a disaster for Silicon Valley. In 2000, VTA buses and light-rail transit carried 55.6 million riders, or more than 36 trips per capita in the San Jose urban area. Ridership grew to 57.3 million in 2001. But then the dot-com crash hit, reducing jobs and ridership. Desperate to avoid defaulting on the huge loans it had taken out to build light rail, by 2005 VTA had cut bus service by more than 20 percent. Even though the number of jobs declined by only 9 percent, ridership fell by more than 30 percent. Continue reading

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New Transit Data

The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) posted, then withdrew, its fourth quarter 2017 ridership report last week. The Antiplanner downloaded it during the brief time it was available and reposted it here. I’ll let you know if there are any changes when APTA posts it again.

APTA collects its own ridership data from transit agencies, including agencies in Canada and a few U.S. agencies not in FTA’s National Transit Database (NTD). But the U.S. data should be pretty similar to the NTD numbers. Annual NTD numbers are based on the fiscal years of individual agencies so won’t be exactly similar to APTA’s calendar year data. But NTD also posts monthly numbers that should be similar to APTA’s.

APTA’s 2017 numbers show a 2.9 percent decline in U.S. transit ridership from 2016, while transit in Canada declined by 0.95 percent. Every major mode of transit declined except demand response (paratransit) and “other” (which includes ferries, people movers, monorails, vanpools, and a few other types). Heavy rail fell by 2.1%; light rail by 0.8%; commuter rail by 0.2%; and bus by 4.3%. In previous years, light rail ridership has grown faster than other modes mainly due to the opening of new lines. Apparently, either no new lines opened in 2017 or the gains from those openings weren’t sufficient to offset losses elsewhere. Continue reading

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Not My Utopia

If Waymo and other manufacturers can get the bugs out, driverless cars promise many benefits including reduced congestion and pollution and increased speeds and safety. But anti-car people are upset because the utopia promised by self-driving cars is not the utopia they want, which is a city without, or at least fewer, cars.

A graphical op-ed published in the New York Times argues that cities should design streets for “people not cars,” as if cars don’t have people in them (or the people in them somehow don’t count). Only mass transit counts.

The op-ed distorts numerous facts and issues. For example, it starts out saying that streets in the early 1900s had pedestrians, bicycles, and wagons, and the result was “chaos. . . but it work[ed] because no single mode of transportation is privileged.” Whoever wrote this didn’t actually see those streets in the early 1900s, when New Yorkers complained at least as much about congestion as they do today, pedestrians stuck to the sidewalks (as they do today) because getting in the way of streetcars (which the op-ed doesn’t even mention) was dangerous and no one wanted to step in the pollution left by all the horses. Continue reading

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Will Spending More Money Save Transit?

Speaking of simplistic solutions to complex problems, Streetsblog has an article on how to save transit. Based on ridership numbers from thirty-five urban ares, the pro-transit site says the two keys to transit success are, first, to spend lots of money, and second, to spend it in the right places.

I wonder why no one ever thought of that before.

The article points out that only three urban areas saw an increase in transit ridership from 2016 to 2017: Seattle, Phoenix, and Houston (where ridership grew just 0.1 percent). The numbers in the article are somewhat different from the numbers the Antiplanner calculated from the National Transit Database, but I agree that the only significant growth was in Seattle and Phoenix. (My numbers show a 0.1 percent decline in Houston.) Continue reading

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Graphing the Transit Apocalypse

The Washington Post has declared the continuing decline of urban transit ridership an emergency. The Post takes it for granted that the real purpose of cities is to maintain the transit industry and not the other way around. While it is clearly an emergency for those obsolete transit agencies, especially ones saddled with even more obsolete rail transit systems, it isn’t an emergency at all for cities and individual travelers who are finding faster, more convenient, and often less expensive ways of getting around.

And the decline continues. Nationwide transit ridership in January 2018 was 2.5 percent less than in January 2017, according to the latest National Transit Database numbers posted by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA). This drop was even more significant because January 2018 had one more work day in it than January 2017.

Supposedly, according to experts consulted by the Post, we have to maintain urban transit because it is more “space efficient” than other forms of travel. Yes, it is real space efficient to have 60-passenger buses that drive around with an average of 9 on board, or 150-passenger (some claim 200) light-rail cars that carry an average of fewer than 23 on board (the averages in 2016). If you drive alone in your six-passenger SUV, your car is carrying a higher percentage of its capacity than the average transit vehicle. Continue reading

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