Tag Archives: transit

Is Ride Sharing Deepening Inequality?

In the latest made-up panic of the year, ride sharing is supposedly “deepening social and economic inequity.” According to Tracey Lindemen, writing in Vice magazine, it’s doing that by stealing riders from public transit, which forces transit systems to cut their services, reducing the mobility of transit-dependent people.

In fact, Linderman has it backwards: public transit is the source of income inequality, while ride sharing can reduce it.

Linderman claims that “Public transit used to be the great equalizer,” but that was never true. Before cars, transit was used by the middle class, but the working class couldn’t afford it. The Model T Ford was the great equalizer, bringing mobility to those who couldn’t afford transit. In 1910, no more than a quarter of Americans regularly used transit. By 1926, over half of American families owned a car. Continue reading

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Abandoning the Bus

The Antiplanner isn’t the only one to notice transit’s disastrous year. “NYC bus ridership fell 6 percent in 2017, a stunning year-over-year decline that accelerates a decade-long trend,” reports Streetsblog. “New Yorkers are are abandoning the bus at historic rates because service is terrible and getting worse.”

In Washington, ridership is not only falling, but Metro is forecasting a continued decline this year. “The ridership drop appears most dramatic for the system’s bus network,” says the Washington Post.

Every transit agency’s favorite solution to the problem, of course, is to throw money at it. Few of them acknowledge the real problem: too much money is being spent on rail transit, forcing cut backs in bus service and hurting many riders. Continue reading

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2017: Transit’s Disastrous Year

Nationwide transit ridership in December 2017 was nearly 5 percent less than December 2016. Ridership for the calendar year was 2.6 percent less than in 2016 and 6.7 percent less than 2014, transit’s recent peak. These numbers are based on the latest National Transit Database spreadsheet posted by the Federal Transit Administration.

As usual, I’ve supplemented the FTA file by summing the years (2002 through 2017 in columns GU through HJ), transit agencies (rows 2101 through 3098), and the 200 largest urban areas (rows 3101 through 3300). The resulting spreadsheet is about 8 megabytes. While these numbers may be preliminary, they provide a pretty good indication of the health — or lack of it — of the transit industry.

The results show that 2017 ridership was lower than in 2016 in all but two of the fifty largest urban areas: Phoenix and Seattle. As of the posting of November data, it appeared that Houston would be a member of this tiny club, but Houston’s December ridership fell by 1.1 percent from December 2016, leading 2017 as a whole to be 0.1 percent less than 2016. While some of that decline may have been due to Hurricane Harvey, the December drop off does not bode well for 2018. Continue reading

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Transit Losses From Poor People Buying Cars?

A new report from the UCLA Institute of Transportation Studies finds that the main cause of declining ridership in southern California is poor people buying cars. Between 1990 and 2000, when ridership was growing, the Los Angeles region grew by 1.8 million people but only 456,000 cars, or about one car per four people. Between 2000 and 2010, when ridership was shrinking, the region grew by 2.3 million people and gained 2.1 million cars, or nearly one car per new person.

There is certainly something to this, but other factors are probably more important than the report estimates. The report says that neither ride sharing nor changes in transit service and fares have played an important role, and I suspect these conclusions are wrong.

The report shows that transit trips per capita peaked in 2007 and have declined in most years since then. Certainly the decline before around 2012 or 2013 was not due to ride sharing. But the decline steepened after 2014, and I suspect much of that decline is due to ride sharing. Continue reading

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VTA’s Not-So-Smart People

Facing declining ridership and a $20 million annual deficit, San Jose’s Valley Transportation Authority (VTA) needs to be “right-sized,” says San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo. Liccardo was recently made chair of VTA’s board of directors, and in some recent remarks to the board, he offered some ominous warnings about the agency’s future.

Despite the fact that Silicon Valley is in a period of “unprecedented prosperity” and the region’s population is steadily growing, he noted, ridership is declining, the agency had to do some one-time only budgetary hocus-pocus to meet last year’s payroll, and it is facing $100 million of annual capital needs including replacement of worn-out rail cars.

The good news, he said, is VTA has “2,1000 smart people” who “have solutions.” Unfortunately, those solutions so far have proven not to work. In fact, some have worked so poorly that it is reasonable to question just how smart those people are. Continue reading

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Paying People to Ride Transit

Denver urban planner Drew Willsey has what he thinks is a great idea: relieve traffic congestion by paying people to ride transit. He accepts, reluctantly, that the billions of dollars Denver’s Regional Transit District (RTD) has spent on rail transit hasn’t worked: transit’s share of commuting has dropped from 4.9 percent in 2000 to 4.6 percent in 2016, and, considering ridership is dropping, probably lower in 2017.

Unfortunately, like many other planners, Willsey can’t get the idea that transit is the solution to everything out of his head. He implicitly assumes that transit is good, cars are bad, and the most cost-effective way of relieving congestion is always by increasing transit.

In Denver, at least, none of these assumptions are true. The Transportation Energy Data Book says that cars used about 3,000 BTUs and light trucks about 3,600 BTUs per passenger mile in 2015 (and probably slightly less in 2016). The National Transit Database says RTD used 3,800 BTUs per passenger mile in 2016. Cars emit about 212 grams of carbon dioxide per passenger mile, light trucks 268, and RTD 272. Certainly some cars and trucks are worse, but some are much better. Continue reading

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Transportation Energy Costs

The average car on the road consumed 4,700 British thermal units (BTUs) per vehicle mile in 2015, which is almost a 50 percent reduction from 1973, when Americans drove some of the gas-guzzliest cars in history. The average light truck (meaning pick ups, full-sized vans, and SUVs) used about 6,250 BTUs per vehicle mile in 2015, which is also about half what it was in the early 1970s.

Click on the above image to download a 10.2-MB PDF of the above report. Use links below to download spreadsheets or individual chapters from the report.

By comparison, the average transit bus used 15 percent more BTUs per vehicle mile in 2015 than transit buses did in 1970. Since bus occupancies have declined, BTUs per passenger mile have risen by 63 percent since 1970. While buses once used only about half as much energy per passenger mile as cars, they now use about a third more. Continue reading

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November 2017 Ridership Falls 1.9 Percent

Nationwide transit ridership in November 2017 was 1.9 percent lower than the same month in 2016, while ridership for the first eleven months of 2017 was 2.5 percent lower than the same period in 2016. If similar numbers are posted for December, then total annual ridership will have fallen below 10 billion trips for the first time since 2010.

These numbers are from the Federal Transit Administration’s November update to its National Transit Database. The update includes passenger trips, vehicle revenue miles, and vehicle revenue hours by month from January 2002 through November 2017, broken down by transit agency and mode. These numbers may be preliminary and might change slightly in later updates. These numbers are also for calendar years so will differ from the final 2017 report, which is based on each agency’s fiscal year. Continue reading

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Is Transit the Only Answer? Is It Even an Answer?

“Forget self-driving cars,” argues Rod Diridon, the former chair of one of the worst-managed transit agencies in the country. “Mass transit is the only answer to gridlock.” Writing in the San Jose Mercury-News, Diridon presents what he considers to be alarming statistics about job growth and then asserts that only huge subsidies to transit will allow those people to get to work.

“Well over 100,000 new primary jobs will be added to Silicon Valley in the next decade,” he estimates, and each primary job will be supported by seven to thirteen secondary jobs. Since Silicon Valley (which I equate to the San Jose urbanized area) only had 873,000 jobs in 2016, he is essentially predicting that jobs (and therefore population) will more than double in a decade. Considering that the region’s population has only been growing at about 1 percent per year, that’s impossible.

At no matter what rate the region is growing, transit–or at least the Santa Clara Valley Transit Authority (VTA) that Diridon once led–has proven itself incapable of dealing with this growth. Back in 2000, VTA carried 55.6 million transit riders. By 2016, the region’s population had grown 16 percent, yet ridership was down to 44.0 million. In the first ten months of 2017, ridership fell another 8.5 percent below the same period in 2016. As a result, annual transit trips per capita have fallen by more than a third since 2000. Continue reading

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DOT Threatens Hudson River Tunnel

The Hudson River tunnel project, which was started in 2009, then killed, then revived, now has been killed again by the Trump Administration, at least according to an article in Crain’s business journal. It would be more accurate to say that Trump’s Department of Transportation has challenged the project’s financing plan.

Originally projected to cost $2.5 billion, the project to replace tunnels used by Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor trains was killed by New Jersey Governor Christie when it inflated to $8.7 billion. The resurrected project is projected to cost $20.0 billion yet now has Christie’s support, probably because he doesn’t expect New Jersey to have to pay for much, if any, of it.

Most federally supported transit projects are funded on a 50/50 plan, where the federal government pays up to 50 percent of the cost of the project while state and local government pay the rest. The states of New York and New Jersey had agreed to a 50/50 plan for the Gateway project (as the Hudson River tunnel project is now known): 50 percent paid for with federal grants and 50 percent with federal loans. Continue reading

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