Tag Archives: transit

Helping Low-Income People Reach Jobs

What is the best way to help low-income people — a group that disproportionately includes blacks and Latinos — get access to jobs? That question is certainly not answered by a report from left-wing think tank Demos. The report is aptly titled To Move Is to Thrive, but its subtitle, “Public Transit and Economic Opportunity for People of Color,” gives away its real agenda: more subsidies to the transit industry.

Written by Algernon Austin, the author of America Is Not Post-Racial, the report observes that “people of color” are less likely to own cars and more likely to be transit-dependent than white people. But Austin ignores the obvious and best solution, which is to give low-income people (regardless of color) access to cars. Instead, his report promotes “transit-focused infrastructure projects” into minority neighborhoods.

Since 1970, this nation has spent hundreds of billions of dollars on transit infrastructure projects. These projects have been disproportionately directed towards middle-class neighborhoods because middle-class people are the ones who pay for them through their taxes and the ones whose political support is needed to build them. Continue reading

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LaHood’s DC Rx: Raise Bus Fares, Cut Service

Washington Metro should raise bus fares and cut service as a part of a plan to restore its rail system to its former greatness, recommends a report by former Secretary of Immobility Ray LaHood. The report hasn’t been released yet–in fact, it has apparently been sitting on the Virginia governor’s desk for several weeks–but the Washington Post obtained a copy just in time for the report to have no influence on Virginia’s recent election.

Parts of the report are predictable, such as a recommendation that Metro obtain a source of “dedicated funds,” meaning a tax dedicated to it so it won’t have to be responsive to local politicians. However, LaHood’s mandate was to come up with a specific funding source acceptable to regional political interests, and he failed to do so.

What was not predicted was a finding that Metro “offers more [vehicle-hours of] service per rider than other large transit agencies.” Based on this finding, LaHood recommended cutting back service. The report notes that service levels were “average when compared to peers” until the opening of the Silver Line led to increased service hours coinciding with a decline in ridership. Continue reading

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Losing Sight of the Real Goal

Responding to the devastating decline in transit ridership, many interest groups are desperate to “save transit” from competitors and budget cuts. Transit agencies want to save transit. Transit unions want to save transit. Urban planners want to save transit. Transit advocacy groups want to save transit.

The only people who don’t want to save transit, it appears, are the travelers who for the past ninety years or so have increasingly found alternatives to transit that are faster, safer, cheaper, and more convenient. All of which suggests that those who want to save transit have lost sight of the real goal, which is–or ought to be–to provide cost-effective mobility for everyone.

The thing is, transit lost that battle decades ago. Though transit groups love to claim that transit saves people money, it is actually the most expensive form of travel in the United States by far. Moving a passenger one mile by transit cost (after all subsidies are counted) $1.17 in 2016. This was more than four times as much as driving, which cost just 24 cents per passenger mile. Continue reading

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Transit’s Accelerating Decline

Nationwide transit ridership in September, 2017, was 4.6 percent less than in the same month in 2016. That compares to a 3.5 percent drop in August and a 2.8 percent drop in July. Transit ridership for the first nine months of 2017 was 3.0 percent less than the same months in 2016.

These numbers are from the latest monthly data (8.3-MB) from the National Transit Database. As usual, the Antiplanner has enhanced this file (7.9-MB) by adding columns showing annual totals and rows showing totals by transit agency (starting at row 2100) and for the largest 200 urbanized areas (starting at row 3100).

A few months ago, Streetsblog observed that cities such as Houston and Seattle that had redesigned their bus routes (generally by replacing a hub-and-spoke system with a grid system) seemed to be exempt from the decline in transit ridership. That’s no longer the case, as Houston’s ridership declined by 4.3 percent in September and is down by 1.5 percent for the year to date. Continue reading

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The Coming Transit Apocalypse

Tomorrow, the Cato Institute will issue a new paper, The Coming Transit Apocalypse, predicting the end of public transit as we know it by 2030. Antiplanner readers can get a preview of this paper today by clicking on the image below.

Click image to download this paper.

Building on previous Antiplanner blog posts, the paper says the four horsemen of the transit apocalypse include:

  1. Low fuel prices;
  2. Ride-sharing services;
  3. Maintenance backlogs; and
  4. Unfunded pension and health-care liabilities.

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Taxing and Regulating the Competition

Here’s a difference between government-run businesses and private businesses: when private businesses face competition, they are forced to innovate to survive. When government-run businesses face competition, they can regulate or tax their competitors out of business.

Blackberry was once the dominant smart phone. Then came the iPhone, which reduced Blackberry subscribers from 85 million to 23 million in just 18 months. In 2016, Blackberry stopped designing phones. But that doesn’t mean it is out of business; instead, it is doing other things like designing driverless-car software.

Now consider the Chicago Transit Authority, which has lost riders in every year since 2012, partly if not mostly because of the growth of Uber and Lyft. Ridesharing has also reduced car rentals (which are taxed by the city) and downtown parking (which is taxes by the city). Although Uber and Lyft also pay taxes to the city, the city estimates it lost a net of $40 million in revenues (including transit fares and vehicle taxes) in 2016. So Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel wants to increase taxes on Uber and Lyft to make up the difference. Continue reading

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More Signs of the Transit Apocalypse

According to the Washingtonian, a transit advocacy group called TransitCenter “analyzed” the data and found that declining ridership on the Washington Metro system is “dragging down national ridership figures.” With the Metro’s numbers, the national total of heavy-rail riders is declining; without Metro, heavy-rail plus light-rail ridership is increasing. In other words, just give Metro $15 billion or so to restore its system and ridership will recover, both in DC and nationally.

I haven’t been able to find TransitCenter’s analysis, but I didn’t tried very hard because it is clearly out of date. TransitCenter used the National Transit Database to compare data for 2015 and 2016. But the database uses data from each agency’s fiscal year, and for most transit agencies, fiscal year 2016 ended more than a year ago. As the Antiplanner noted last week, the Federal Transit Administration has published ridership data through August, 2017, and it shows ridership declining in all major categories and in almost all major transit agencies and urban areas.

If that’s not enough, the American Public Transportation Association just published its second quarter ridership numbers. APTA collects its data separately from the FTA, though it later corrects its numbers if there are major discrepancies or gaps in its data that can be filled by the FTA numbers. In any case, the second quarter numbers confirm that, when compared with the second quarter of 2016, ridership declined for both light rail (which, in APTA’s world, includes streetcars) and heavy rail, as well as commuter rail, buses, and trolley buses. The only categories that did not decline were demand response (paratransit) and “other,” which includes people movers, monorail, ferries, cable cars, and van pools.

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FTA Historic Times Series Through 2016

Since 1992, taxpayers have spent $364 billion (in 2016 dollars) on transit capital improvements. More than $257 billion of this went to rail transit, while $94 billion went to bus transit. The Antiplanner calculated this information on the Federal Transit Administration’s historic time series capital costs spreadsheet.

The official data show that transit ridership peaked in 2014 at 10.5 billion trips and by 2016 had declined 2.5 percent to 10.2 billion trips. This ridership includes urban, rural, and tribal transit agencies, but rural and tribal together add up to only about a million trips per year. The Antiplanner calculated this information on the Federal Transit Administration’s operations spreadsheet.

Tuesday’s post about the 2016 National Transit Database mentioned that the Federal Transit Administration has also posted the 2016 update to its historic time series, which has operating and ridership data back to 1991, capital costs back to 1992, and fares back to 2002 broken down by transit agency and mode. Except for the capital costs, which are in a separate file, all of the information is on worksheets that can be sorted in the same order, allowing users to make such calculations as operating cost per trip or fare per passenger mile. Continue reading

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FTA’s 2016 National Transit Database

The Federal Transit Administration has posted its 2016 National Transit Database in the form of some two dozen Excel files. As in each of the past ten years, the Antiplanner has summarized some of the most important data in a single spreadsheet. This spreadsheet includes trips, passenger miles, fares, costs, vehicle data, rail miles, energy consumption, and greenhouse gas emissions (in grams) for every transit agency and mode of travel (rows 2 through 3798), totals for each mode (rows 3802 to 3820), and totals by urbanized area (rows 3851 through 4339). Because some of the smaller agencies were not required to report energy consumption, there are also totals for those systems for which energy consumption can be calculated (rows 3826 through 3844), making it possible to calculate average BTUs and greenhouse gas emissions per passenger mile.

In making this spreadsheet, I noticed some minor errors in my 2015 spreadsheet, mainly in some of the mode totals. So I’ve posted a revised version. It includes all of the calculations I’ve happened to make in the past year, including (in cells BH3644 through BK4150) a comparison of passenger miles by automobile vs. transit for each urban area. (Transit carried 11 percent of passenger miles in the New York urban area, 7 percent in San Francisco-Oakland, 4 percent in Honolulu, 3 to 4 percent in Chicago, Seattle, and Washington, 2 to 3 percent in Baltimore, Los Angeles, Philadelphia, and Portland, and under 2 percent just about everywhere else.) I won’t be able to make this calculation for the 2016 database until the Federal Highway Administration posts 2016 Highway Statistics.

In addition to the National Transit Database, the FTA has posted transit data tables in about a dozen different spreadsheets. The tables contain much of the same information but are a bit easier to read than the database, though a bit harder to use for mass calculations (especially since the spreadsheets have been “locked”). This year, some of the data tables come with interactive graphics, though they don’t seem to work on my Mac. Continue reading

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August 2017 Ridership Down 4.0% from ’16

Last week, the Antiplanner reported that July 2017 transit ridership was 3.6 percent below the same month of 2016. Now the Federal Transit Administration has posted data for August 2017 showing that ridership for that month was 4.0 percent less than in August 2016.

Naturally, the Antiplanner has posted an enhanced version of this data file showing totals by year from 2002 through 2017, as well as totals by transit agency and for the 200 largest urban areas. The file also shows the change in transit riders in August 2017 vs. August 2016, January-August 2017 vs. same in 2016 as well as 2014 and 2010, and 2016’s total vs. the peak for each mode, transit agency, or urban area from 2008 through 2015.

These numbers have to be frightening transit industry leaders. Update: They are. Just comparing the first eight months of 2017 against 2016, ridership has fallen by more than 10 percent in Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Charlotte, El Paso, and Albuquerque, and nearly 10 percent in Miami, Cleveland, San Jose, and Raleigh, among other urban areas. Since this decline is, in most cases, on top of declines in 2016, we’re seeing 25 to 40 percent declines in some urban areas over the past few years.

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