Yesterday, the Antiplanner noted that APTA has published its third quarter ridership report for 2016. The report shows that, nationwide, transit ridership was 2.9 percent less than the same quarter in 2015. Heavy-rail ridership fell by 2.5% and bus by 4.4%, while light rail grew by 4.1% and commuter rail by 0.5%.
In addition to Washington, DC, where heavy rail fell by 13.5 percent, some of the biggest heavy-rail losers include Baltimore, which also declined by 13.5 percent; Atlanta (-9%); San Juan (-8%); and Miami (-5%). Ridership grew in a few places, but that growth was swamped by the 1.4% decline on the New York City subway, which is by far the largest heavy-rail operator in the country.
The main reason light rail grew was the opening of new lines in Seattle and New Orleans, both of which saw growth of around 60 percent, as well as Los Angeles, which saw a 12 percent gain. Light-rail ridership also grew significantly in Baltimore (15%), Boston (13%), and Phoenix (+14%), but light-rail suffered declines of 5 percent or more in Buffalo (-15%), Dallas (-6%), Norfolk (-7%), Pittsburgh (-9%), Sacramento (-9%), San Jose (-12%), and St. Louis (-6%).
According to ColoradoPolitics.com, the state of Colorado ranks 29th in per capita funding for transit, spending just one-twentieth of the national average. Thus, transit is getting “left by the roadside.” This is highly misleading. In fact, Colorado apparently ranks 29th in state transit funding. That’s because most of the funding for transit comes from the regional level.
The misleading-news site’s misleading data are based on a report by a Boulder group known as the South West Energy Efficiency Project (SWEEP), which is urging the state legislature to spend more money on transit. But this recommendation is based on three fallacies.
First is the fallacy that more spending on transit leads to more transit ridership. In fact, the state with the highest state per capita transit funding is Alaska, which has far from the highest level of per capita ridership. Just 1.6 percent of Alaska commuters take transit to work, compared with 5.5 percent nationally. Other states spending more on transit than Colorado, but not attracting a lot of people to transit, include Vermont, Tennessee, New Mexico, North Dakota, Oklahoma, and Wyoming. About 2.3 percent of Wyoming commuters take transit to work; in the other states listed here, it’s less than 1.5 percent.
“Exact change only.” “Carry proof of fare with you at all times.” “No food or beverage.” “No playing music aloud.” “Take off your backpack and put it between your legs so we can cram more people onto your transit vehicle.”
Some of these rules are for the convenience of other passengers, but most of them are for the convenience of the transit agencies themselves. Take, for example, the request–which could easily become a rule–to passengers to not wear backpacks while on board a transit vehicle.
You might think that this was for the convenience of other customers so more people can fit on board. But if the vehicles so crowded, why isn’t the agency running them at greater frequencies so they don’t get so full? In the case of the light-rail car pictured in the story at the above link, the answer may be that the agency picked a high-cost but low-capacity form of transit and now is stuck with that choice.
If you downloaded the summary file for the 2015 National Transit Database that the Antiplanner posted December 30, please do so again (link fixed). I discovered I made an error transferring the operating cost data from the raw files to this summary sheet, and the revised version corrects this error.
The revised version, which is about 1.6 megabytes, also has a lot more calculations in it. These include vehicle occupancy (passenger miles divided by vehicle revenue miles), average number of seats per vehicle, and average standing room per vehicle. Some columns calculate operating and maintenance costs per passenger mile or vehicle mile, but these should be used with care as maintenance costs can vary tremendously from year to year.
Contrary to popular belief, Europeans don’t ride transit a lot more than Americans. In fact, most rarely use transit.
Conventional wisdom holds that Americans drive cars while Europeans ride transit and intercity trains. In fact, while there are some differences in travel habits, differences in rail and bus travel are a lot smaller than most people believe.
In 2009, the European Union published a Panorama of Transport that compared passenger and freight transport between members of the European Union and several other countries, including Japan, Norway, Switzerland, and the United States. Page 100 shows 2006 data for the EU-27 (the 27 members of the European Union at that time) and the United States. For accuracy in the table below, I extended the data to more significant digits by dividing total passenger kilometers by 490.0 (for the EU-27) and 301.3 (for the US).
Transit works best going from point A to point B if you happen to be near point A and want to get to point B. Transit doesn’t work well for trip chaining, going from point A to point B via points C, D, and E. Because life is complicated and people don’t want to spend all their time traveling, trip chaining works best in an independent vehicle such as a car.
On your way to work, you might want to drop off your kids at school or daycare, drop off your suit at the laundry, and get a cup of coffee. On your way home, in addition to picking up the kids and laundry, you may want to go grocery shopping. This is called trip chaining, and it is a lot easier to do in a car than by transit. (Yes, there’s probably a Starbucks next to your transit stop, but your transit agency probably doesn’t allow you take beverages on board.)
Some analysts wonder whether people choose to drive because they want to trip chain or if they trip chain because they have cars. But this is the wrong question. The reality is, life is complicated, and cars do a better job of helping people deal with that complexity.
Carrying large packages, suitcases, or shopping bags on transit is awkward at best and impossible at worst. Anyone who expects to travel with such cargo, even if only some of the time, will do best with a car.
In 2007, Ikea opened its first store in Portland. It is 280,000 square feet, has around a thousand parking spaces, and is near a light-rail station. How many people who plan to do more than just window shop do you imagine carry their purchases home on the light rail?
Drag right to see the Cascades light-rail station, which is much further from Ikea than any of the parking spaces.
Rather than maintain transit systems in a state of good repair, the transit industry has chosen to build more transit lines that it can’t afford to maintain. Transit riders respond to delays and dilapidated transit by finding other methods of travel.
The Department of Transportation’s latest assessment of the nation’s transit systems found an $89.8 billion maintenance backlog. Moreover, the backlog is growing by $1.6 billion a year, because rather than fix transit systems, transit agencies are building more.
To eliminate the backlog in 20 years, the report calculated, every single dollar now being spent on transit improvements must be transferred to maintenance and preservation. Alternatively, the industry must find at least $5.8 billion in new subsidies each year (see page Roman numeral L).
Housing, jobs, and other destinations are so diffused throughout American urban areas that they don’t generate the large numbers of people moving from one point to another that mass transit systems need to work.
“Transit worked when American cities were denser,” is the mantra of today’s urban planners. “If we can increase their densities, transit will work again.” Reality is a lot more complicated, and that reality explains why transit can’t work in American urban areas even if their densities increase.
From about 1880 to 1913, transit and cities co-evolved thanks to new technologies that benefited both. The same steam engines that powered commuter and early rapid transit trains also powered downtown factories. The same Bessemer steel that made the rails that streetcars and urban trains rolled upon also provided the structural beams that allowed construction of skyscrapers. The same electric motors that moved electric streetcars also powered electric elevators that gave people quick access to the upper floors of those skyscrapers.
Compared with the aura of security offered by riding inside of an automobile, many people avoid transit because they feel vulnerable and threatened by other riders.
Crime, sexual harassment, and other invasions of privacy are common on metro systems throughout the world. Sexual harassment is especially bad on Tokyo subways, and a survey of 600 women transit riders in Paris found that 100 percent of them reported having been sexually harassed.
Such harassment often depends on the anonymity that comes with extreme crowding, but most American transit systems don’t get that crowded precisely because Americans won’t accept the invasions of personal space required for such crush conditions. Still, there are numerous complaints of sexual harassment on the New York City subway. Crime is rapidly rising on the DC Metro as well.