January 10th, 2015
Note: This article can be found on the Antiplanner Blog. The presentations will be linked here as soon as they are available.
Private Property and Transportation Presentations
by Randal O’Toole to a Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) conference, January 8, 2015.
The Antiplanner was in Austin yesterday (January eighth) speaking at a Texas Public Policy Foundation conference for Texas legislators. I gave two presentations, both of which are available for download.
First, I talked about how Texas can keep the “Texas miracle” going by protecting property rights (8-MB PowerPoint show). I made three recommendations:
Don’t give counties the authority to regulate land uses. Texas may be the only state that doesn’t allow counties to zone, and this keeps city zoning from being too restrictive because developers can simply avoid city rules by developing outside of the cities.
Relax the financial requirements for municipal utility districts. Municipal utility districts allow developers to borrow funds to install infrastructure and then charge homebuyers and other property owners a fee for 30 years to repay the bonds. After the financial crisis, the Texas legislature required developers to put up more of their own funds for infrastructure, leading to a significant increase in housing prices. I argued that the risk of defaults was worth it to keep housing affordable.
Retain city authority to annex land without the permission of the residents being annexed. Most debates over urban sprawl are really debates over who gets to collect taxes. In states where cities have a hard time annexing land, they use other tools, such as urban-growth boundaries, to limit land development. While annexations without voter permission are controversial, the alternative is worse. However, Texas cities are also allowed to have control over certain “extraterritorial” lands outside their city limits. This does not seem to be needed to keep housing affordable and eliminating that control would relieve many of the debates over annexation.
My second presentation (download by clicking here: rotfortppflanduse) was about how Texas can meet the transportation needs of the twenty-first century. Because it includes some videos, it is about 66 megabytes in size.
I made two main points. First, infrastructure funded by user fees tends to be better maintained than infrastructure funded by taxes. Second, self-driving cars are going to change the transportation picture in many ways, some of them unpredictable, and so cities and the state should not make expensive long-term transportation investments unless absolutely necessary in the short run.
Put these two notions together, and they suggest that unless user fees can pay for something very quickly, it should not be built. Instead, transportation agencies should attempt to solve today’s problems as cost-effectively as possible by doing things like traffic signal coordination, fixing bottlenecks, and doing basic maintenance to make the road system as friendly as possible to increasingly autonomous automobiles.
Someone pointed out that Texas has seven of the nation’s fifteen fastest-growing cities. While such growth causes strains and some people argue that one way to relieve such strains is to build lots of new roads, I’m not sure this is a great idea. It is especially a bad idea if these roads have to be paid for with tax dollars as opposed to user fees. New roads may be worthwhile only if user fee revenues can quickly pay for a road. I did suggest that people think about mileage-based user fees, which would both encourage people to drive at less-congested times of the day and give transport agencies accurate signals about where capacity needs to be increased.
The tollways that Texas is building often use variable pricing to insure that lanes never become congestion. As a practical matter, this means adjusting the tolls to limit traffic to no more than 1,800 vehicles per hour. While the Antiplanner nominally supports congestion pricing, I also recently pointed out that cars with adaptive cruise control can potentially increase flow capacities to more than 2,700 vehicles per hour, or more than 50 percent, without spending a dime on new pavement.
Even having just 25 percent of cars on the road using adaptive cruise control can almost completely eliminate congestion by interrupting “waves” of traffic slowdowns. Although I didn’t say so at the policy conference, this suggests that, rather than building more roads out of general funds, it might be both less expensive and more effective to give new car buyers a $500 or $1,000 tax credit if they buy a car with adaptive cruise control.
January 2nd, 2015
Cost Commentary: Below is a draft of transportation issues and an approach to a responsive transportation policy which must be fully developed by Austin’s new 10-1 City Council and Capital Metro. A sound policy and vision must be developed to guide responsible and aggressive actions to address the needs of a citywide transportation system which will cost-effectively resolve existing issues and plan for the future.
Austin Transportation Status and Policy Recommendations
by Jim Skaggs, COST, updated January 2, 2015
Austin Transportation Situation: The Austin Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is one of the fastest growing region in the nation; adding a total of about 100 net domestic migration and international immigration people per day. This is an estimated 70 cars per day or 490 cars per week. More than 99% of the passenger miles traveled in the region are on roadways, including private, shared, public transit, emergency, government/school and commercial service and product vehicles. We often forget that the Austin area’s public school bus transit systems carries more daily passengers (all on roads) than public transit during the school year and all on roadways.
U.S. Transit ridership percentage of work commute trips has been on a declining trend since the census first collected this data in 1960, fifty-four years ago. Work commuting is the largest use of transit. Total U.S. transit ridership has been stagnant since 1956, as reported this month by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), while the population has grown 88%.
New York has one-third of the nation’s total transit ridership. NY and five other pre-automobile cities/regions (Chicago, Washington D.C., San Francisco, Boston, and Philadelphia) have 65% of U. S. transit ridership. The rest of the nation has trivial transit ridership. And, no post-auto city has been developed in the high density configurations of these six cities.
Total U.S. transit ridership in 2013 exceeded the 2012 ridership by 0.6% and the NY increase in 2013 was larger than the total U.S. increase. The rest of the nation’s ridership declined. A recent article by professors at Columbia, Cornell and Rutgers Universities stated: “Transit is a small and stagnant part of the transportation system.” While ridership remains stagnant, cost have increased substantially (inflation adjusted).
Texas’ largest cities/regions (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, Austin) have invested billions of taxpayer dollars in public transit, substantially rail, over the past 15 years to increase transit ridership. However, total actual ridership has declined, resulting in a much greater percentage decline in transit travel; as these cities are all among the fastest growing in the nation. The decline is even greater than indicated because rail artificially increases boardings due to more rail/bus transfers being required to complete single trips.
Austin’s regional transit ridership has also been stagnant, dropping 6% in the past 15 years while population has grown 56%. Since the 2010 opening of Austin’s MetroRail commuter, total transit ridership has declined and costs have increased significantly as more cost-effective bus routes were replaced by the train. Moving transit riders to rail resulted in higher costs and less ridership. Capital Metro reported each average rail passenger costs five times each bus passengers and more transfers are required to reach destinations. Total Cap Metro boardings in 2014 were less than boardings in 2013 which were less than 2012. Boardings today are less than before the rail became operational in 2009, at a rail cost to date of more than $200 hundred million tax dollars for this rail’s minute portion of transit travel. CapMetro is planning to spend some $50 million additional on commuter rail capital to increase capacity. This will fruther increase tax subsidies per rider.
Capital Metro and the Media focused on the 37% rail increase (222,000 boardings) in 2013 while playing down/ignoring the loss of 1,600,000 bus boardings. These few added rail boardings came at a very high price to Austin taxpayers and a portion of the bus rider loss is due to reduced bus service. Cap Metro projects declining total rail and bus ridership again in 2015.
Austin’s bus transit costs have also increased 54 % (inflation adjusted) in this 15 year declining ridership period. Work commuting is the largest use of transit and Austin’s transit is the fifth highest mode of work commuting, behind: driving alone, carpooling, work-at-home and “all other” (walk, bike, etc.). Work-at-home is the fastest growing and, at 6.4%, is 2.8 times the 2.3% total transit commute share. Carpool commuting is 11% of work commuting, almost 4.8 times transit and can be substantially enhanced with improved roads.
The Austin region population has increased almost 675,000 people (about 56%) since 1999 and transit ridership has declined about 6%. With this unimpressive transit record, Austin, with primarily a bus system, still enjoys a higher percentage (2.3%) of transit commuters than Dallas, with only 1.5%, and Dallas has spent billions of dollars on rail to implement the longest light rail system in the U.S. Fortunately, Dallas has not ignored its roads as Austin did for 25-30 years.
Austin’s total roadway driving has increased with population growth, but, the region’s ‘Daily Vehicle Miles Traveled (DVMT)’ per capita has a 15 year declining trend as jobs and living have continued to decentralize throughout the region. Work commute trips are only about 15% of overall vehicle trips. Air quality has been on an improving trend for many years, mostly due to improved vehicle engines. Austin has never violated national air quality standards and is the cleanest air major city in Texas. Austin’s 2014 ozone (only major air pollutant) level was the lowest in at least the past 25 years and ozone has a 15 year significant, steady declining trend. This improvement is projected to continue primarily due to continuing improvements in engine efficiency.
Issue: The Austin region has not increased roadway capacity consistent with a long trend of well above average population growth resulting in increasing total vehicle miles driven even though driving per capita has decreased with the spreading of population and its supporting businesses, schools, medical care, etc. Therefore, congestion has increased significantly. Almost all surveys of Austin region citizens place congestion at the top of regional issues.
Funding Condition: The region has finite dollars for transportation from a number of sources including U.S., state and local governments; toll road organizations, both state and private; and, private land developers.
Primary transportation funding is from state gas “tax” and federal gas tax/general tax allocations to the state and transit agencies such as Capital Metro. These gas taxes are a form of user’s fees. Additional County and City transportation funds are part of property tax and Capital Metro’s primary funding is by its 1% portion of the 8.25% area sales tax. In addition, government and private toll roads and lanes are funded by the issue of bonds or debt which are paid by users.
Federal and state gas tax has not been increased for more than 20 years and vehicle engines continue to achieve major efficiency improvements; substantially reducing roadway funding through gas tax. Both federal and state gas taxes also suffer diversions, including: 20% of the federal gas tax is allocated to transit and 25% of Texas’ gas tax is allocated to schools. Since about 2008, U.S. transportation funds have been supplemented by general funds as the Highway Trust Fund (gas tax) has been depleted and no longer supports needs. The overall U.S. financial status has reduced the probability of future federal supplements, especially for transit. In the November, 2014 election, Texas approved a proposition which provides a major increase in state highway funding by allocating a share of the State’s oil tax revenue to the Department of Transportation. This additional annual Texas highway funding could vary between less than a billion dollars to more than $2 billion depending on the fluctuating price of oil which is influenced by a number of major world events.
There are many discussions and ideas at all government levels as to the solution to this critical funding issue, but few have been implemented except for short term “patches.” The most effective funding approach seems to be one which charges all users as fairly as possible for the “full-cost” use of transportation infrastructure, operations and maintenance while recognizing a responsible level of transit subsidies are required to support this very small segment of transportation which supplies mobility to those without alternatives. Reducing diversions is also a key step.
Major Considerations: Following are several points relative to transportation planning:
1. Rail transit’s low relative ridership provides no measurable improvements in congestion in cities like Austin today or Austin 100 years from today; as proven in many cities. The initial proposed urban rail route of 9 miles from slightly north of the City to slightly south of the city (roughly parallel and just West of 1-35 for much of its route) would not improve Austin congestion as it addressed minor, low density origins and destinations for both living and employment with low current public transit ridership. It would likely increase central area congestion as it crossed all East-West streets accessing and leaving downtown Austin, UT and the Capital area. It would also decrease car lanes further contributing to congestion.
Even responsible visions of future growth do not justify rail transit. If the proposed rail route is a reasonable transit route, much less expensive and flexible bus transit should be implemented to evaluate it and determine if ridership is developed. A major proponent argument was: “We have to do something and this is a start.” and “This is for the future and will need additions to fulfill its promise.” This is a bottomless tax pit: Many cities have shown that the further rail is expanded, the less cost-effective it becomes, with growing taxes. This rail would have been a bottomless tax pit: Many cities have shown that the further rail is expanded, the less cost-effective it becomes, with growing taxes.
2. Rail, or any transit, will not produce net, increased development and tax base. Many studies, including in Austin have verified this. Transit may have a minor influence on location of some developments. The only jobs rail will produce are those essentially paid for by taxpayers.
3. Fixed transit is very high risk in “young,’ growing cities, like Austin, as it is very expensive to change routes based on changing needs and development patterns, which will surely occur. Every recommendation for a proposed initial, Austin rail route by agencies, experts and “high level” government/citizens committees, over more than 25 years, has been a different route. Even the proposed urban rail route, released March 25, 2014, was a revised route of some half-dozen routes suggested over the past 5 years.
4. Transit’s major flaw is addressing the elusive future transit explosion which never occurs, instead of tackling the basic, fundamental tasks of providing more cost-effective transit to those needing it in their daily lives and have no alternatives. Social equity demands we prioritize this need.
5. Creating city development plans with weighted regulations to incentivize and require high density development increases congestion on roadways and creates high levels of unaffordability. This will create gentrification and dramatically reduce families and public school enrollment just as it has in our highly praised “pier” city of Portland Oregon where school enrollment was reduced more than 40% by policies similar to those Austin is now implementing. As Austin mimics Portland, its public school enrollment has already begun a decline from its peak which was near Portland’s peak of more than 80,000 students, prior to its decline.
6. Austin has great pride and accomplishment in being creative, unique and above the crowd as one of the most successful and fastest growing regions for several years. This should extend to developing new, innovative transportation and transit solutions which are not based on old, tired, ineffective 19th century train technology. Mimicking “peer cities” failures does not meet the needs of Austin’s citizens in the 21st century. There are far better models and approaches than the “Rail to Failure” approach which has been demonstrated numerous times by most of Austin’s peer cities and many others. We urge citizens of Austin to rise out of this “rut” and work to effectively address critical citizens’ transportation needs and not those of major, greedy rail consultants, contractors and misguided politicians.
7. Exorbitantly expensive, ineffective transit approaches, combined with draconian regulations to force greater density, result in higher taxes and transit fares which disproportionately impact lower income citizens and increase congestion for all.
8.The Future: Technology improvements are developing on many fronts including the development of more efficient, cleaner engines/motors; driverless vehicles; more innovative approaches to transit; shared vehicle approaches; better traffic light synchronization/control; rapid road delay response; ramp metering; better use of our roadway assets including staggered work hours, more work at home, etc. These improvements range from small impacts to “paradigm shifts.”
Driverless, atonomous or self-driving vehicles suggest significant declines in accidents and deaths while approximately doubling the capacity of highways and substantially reducing the cost of mobility. Even before these self-driving vehicles double highway capacity, cars with adaptive cruise control can increase the capacity of highways by up to 50%. This improvement requires as little as 25% of the cars on a road to have adaptive cruise control capability and numerous new car models already have it, as well as other autonomous car features of the future.
Related benefits of self-driving vehicles are to provide many people with physical or age disabilities the major benefits of private vehicle mobility; a major reduction in high priced land, such as Central Business Districts, required for parking because self-driving vehicles can park in remote, less expensive areas; the potential reduction in family vehicles required because commuting vehicles can return home for other family use during the work period; the potential shared use of vehicles, which would normally park for the day, may be used as “for hire” vehicles for such services as Uber or Lyft and earn money while not in use by the owner.
This “paradigm shift” in mobility can result in major reductions in the use of taxpayer subsidized public transit and dramatically reduce the use of very expensive transit such as light rail.
None of these considerations will result in major changes in the recommended policies below but may reduce the current lane miles needed to effectively serve travel levels in the future, within reasonable congestion levels.
Recommended Approach and Policy: The overriding goal is to reduce congestion and provide effective, safe transportation throughout the region to meet the mobility needs of this rapidly growing and expanding population including private, public transit, emergency, government/school and commercial services and goods vehicles as well as walking; while living within constraints of available transportation funds. The following policy elements are important to achieve this goal which is a continuing journey and not a destination; as our region’s population continues to grow:
1. The often heard glib and shallow phrases of “multi-model transportation,” “we need everything,” or “we need choices” to address the critical congestion issue must be tempered with the reality of finite available dollars and all transportation projects must be efficient and cost-effective or the money is all spent before we meet the needs of the vast majority of our citizens. To have “everything” is to have nothing but transportation chaos with degraded quality of life including much higher taxes.
2. The first priority is: Transportation modes must be funded in a reasonable relationship to people’s free choices of mobility which they have determined best meets their quality of life needs. More than 99% of the region’s passenger miles traveled are on roadways. There are no reasonable indications that general mobility choices will be significantly different in the foreseeable future. This suggests roadway funding solutions will be most effective in serving the overall greater-good of the community by private, public transit, shared, emergency, government/school and commercial vehicles sharing the same road infrastructure. Building separate, fixed passenger rail and exclusive guideway infrastructure will cost too much and serve too few.
3. Effective Transportation solutions are not achieved with government policies designed to discourage free choice by coercing and forcing people to make major behavior changes such as shifting from private vehicles to public transit. This “central government knows best” approach has been tried throughout history; near term examples are socialist and communist countries which have all failed. Governments’ mission must be to effectively serve and support the free choices of citizens serving their greater-good which also serves the community’s good.
4. Public transit is vitally important for our community, especially to support the transportation needs of low income and other citizens who need mobility in their daily lives and have no other choice. In a 2006 survey, 40% of Cap Metro riders have zero cars in the household. Public transit serves less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled in the region and has been declining for many years. Therefore, the highest priority for transit is to serve as many trip origins and destinations, of those needing transit, as possible within the significant, but much smaller, portion of overall funds. Transit’s “free” use of taxpayer and ‘user funded’ new and improved roads, managed (toll) lanes and toll roads provides major leverage for cost-effective transit. This “hidden” taxpayer and user fee subsidy, along with the normal required sales and property tax subsidies of all public transit, provides the most financially sustainable transit system with the lowest taxes and the greatest service to more origins and destinations utilizing creative route and vehicle planning.
Austin area major public transit needs should be served by Capital Metro, the agency which was established for this purpose. Cap Metro is now funded with the maximum funding (allowed by Texas law) of one percent of the 8 1/4 percent sales tax receipts within the transit boundaries. This is often referred to as the one-penny from the 8.25 pennies of sales tax on each dollar of such sales taxable items.
This avoids the increased transit costs of duplicate transit agencies which results in increased taxpayer costs to further subsidize transit. This single agency approach creates greater transit management discipline and less taxpayer waste. There should be close coordination between the City and Cap Metro as the City focuses on the roadway system and Cap Metro on the public transit system. This coordination should extend to the County, TxDoT and the CTRMA for roads they are responsible for. Hopefully, transit effectiveness can be improved to the point of paying for a part of the roadway systems which transit uses.
5. The first step for any transportation project is to determine the project is of the priority to be addressed and to fully define the goals for the project. If there are more than one realistic modes, a formal “alternatives analysis” must be performed to select the most cost-effective solution for realistic ridership projections. Comprehensive knowledge of the true costs and benefits for the overall community must be evaluated. The evaluation must fully consider the negative impact of increased taxpayer subsidies for transit and the overall degradation of social equity in a difficult environment of increasing taxes/fees and increasing living costs.
6. Exorbitantly expensive rail transit can only be implemented by regions if the U.S. government pays a significant portion, usually 50% or more. The U.S. government does not share in the operating costs of these rail systems. Austin advertised the need for 50% matching U.S. government funding for urban rail implementation. This essential government funding would not likely have been available for Austin’s defeated $1.4 billion plus dollar initial rail segment and less likely for any extensions. The government also does not share in the 40% overruns which occur in the average rail system. Capital Metro promised voters that the U.S. government would fund one-half of the current MetroRail line (not counting rail cars), but, no U.S. dollars were provided. Their cost overrun was greater than the 40% average which studies have shown.
January 2nd, 2015
by Jim Skaggs, Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, first posted May 29, 2013 - revised July 13, 2014 - updated January 2, 2015
This article was first written and posted more than a year ago. It is remarkable how few changes were necessary to bring it up to date.
We often hear glib, vague, politically secure comments regarding road congestion and the region’s transportation including: “We need all modes of transportation to address congestion including roads, buses, trains, and bicycles.” Or: “We need to offer alternatives to the car for citizens so they have choices for their trips.” Or: “Our growth rate will require trains someday.” Or: “We cannot solve our problems with roads alone.” Or: “We need trains because people will not ride buses.”
While most of these are unfounded statements, some of them and similar comments may have grains of reality and sound all-inclusive, considerate, caring and ‘politically correct,’ with a “feel good” resonance to them. Actually, they are shallow, superficial, mostly incorrect comments regarding a complex subject. These comments, too often, support biased, ideological or self-serving interest of people and lead to the ineffective prioritizing of transportation funds.
Then, there are frequent situations which Wendell Cox encapsulates neatly with this quote:
“Why is it that people have not abandoned their automobiles to switch to transit? Commentators often talk of America’s ‘love affair with the car,’ without recognizing a similar attachment to refrigerators, the Internet, and other modern conveniences. The attachment is to convenience and (affordable) products that enhance our lives.”
—Wendell Cox, “Transit Policy in an Era of the Shrinking Federal Dollar,” Heritage Backgrounder, Jan. 31, 2013.
According to the, Federally required, ‘Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s’ (CAMPO) 25 year transportation plan for the Austin region, almost 50% of the plan’s transportation dollars will be spent on public transit, primarily rail, to serve transit’s less than 1% of the region’s passenger miles traveled. Projections from CAMPO, Austin City, Capital Metro or any other organization do not indicate or support total transit ridership exceeding 1% of the regions passenger miles traveled. Therefore, public transit can have only minimal positive impact on congestion and significant negative impacts if implemented improperly.
It is not rocket science to project: If 50% of the transportation dollars are spent to serve 1% of traveler’s ‘passenger miles’, the remaining 99% of travelers will suffer increasing gridlock and congestion.
The simple truth is: There is not enough money in the region to provide “all modes” or “non-auto alternatives.” for everyone. It is possible to make dramatic improvements in constraining congestion by well-planned road improvements and other cost-effective actions, as already proven in this region.
The greatest positive impact on Austin transportation, public and private, can be achieved by improving road systems which were neglected for many years during strong population growth. Road improvements provide effective auto alternatives as well as substantially improving cost-effective regional transit alternatives which can better and more flexibly meet needs of today’s dispersed population and job markets.
The following guiding principles are intended to be used as guides in more effectively prioritizing the allocation of taxpayer transportation funds to better serve all citizens and the community as a whole. These principles are key but are not intended to be all inclusive. More can be found regarding each of these ‘Principles,’ and others in articles throughout this web site’s ‘News Articles’ section. e.g. - Recent posts include:
Austin Citizens Should Reject Urban Rail – 6 Major Reasons
If You Think Austin Needs Urban Rail, Read This Report
Project Connect’s Proposed Austin Urban Rail is Misguided.
12 Reasons Austin’s Urban Rail is Off-Track
Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions
Auto Access to Jobs is Vital for Better Quality of Life
Austin Transportation Status and Policy Recommendations
24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility
1. An overarching principle is: Greater Mobility Provides Greater Quality of Life.
Throughout history, better human mobility has been associated with higher quality of life as mobility creates time efficiency and access to desires, opportunities and life’s offerings.
2. Private, motorized, road vehicles offer maximum freedom and mobility.
Ultimate mobility freedom and flexibility to go where and when desired is provided by private road vehicles; without competition for the vast majority of travelers and trips.
3. Overwhelming economic evidence links personal mobility with prosperity.
Freedom and prosperity benefits of the automobile have been substantial, enabling modern suburbia and powering a century of economic prosperity.
4. Increased road congestion is the primary cause of degraded human mobility.
Congestion constrains and degrades quality-of-life by limiting one’s ability to go where and when they wish/need to experience desired, quality-of-life outcomes.
5. Increased population density creates increased road congestion.
The promotion of “mixed-use” and greater density ignores the fact that, in general, greater population density produces greater roadway congestion and air pollution.
6. Roads should be primarily funded by users of the roads.
More effective funding and transparency is promoted if all roads are fairly funded by all users to the greatest extent practical.
7. Austin’s, and other Texas cities,’ commuting by public transit has been trending down for many years.
Work trips are transit’s greatest use, but, Austin region’s transit is the 5th highest percentage of work trips at 2.5%, and, has been declining for many years.
8. Public transit must be cost-effective to be sustainable.
Taxpayers highly subsidize all US transit which must be cost-effective; or, it cannot serve the maximum riders, who need it, with the most trip origins and destinations and it cannot be financially sustainable for the long run.
9. Bus transit is more cost-effective than rail in Austin today or 100 years from now.
Modern buses can meet or exceed every major performance characteristic rail for one-tenth to one-fifth the costs with much greater flexibility to meet changing demands.
10. Traditional “hub and spoke” transit routes are inadequate for today’s demographics.
With under 10%, and falling, of regional employment in Austin’s ‘Central Business District’ (CBD); transit should change to “grid” routing to better serve today’s needs.
11. Transit’s most important function is work trips for transit dependent citizens.
Work trips are almost 50% of ridership, but transit serves only small segments of dispersed jobs and population with a small percentage of jobs reachable in an hour.
12. Ineffective, high-cost rail degrades overall public and private transportation.
High cost, low ridership rail raises overall transit costs and taxes; increases fares while reducing service; and, siphons funds from far more effective transportation projects.
13. Many cities have hit a “Financial Wall” with high cost rail.
Numerous rail cities have hit a ‘financial wall’ as their systems deteriorate; requiring billions for replacement/upgrade, for which there are no identified funding sources and unfunded liabilities are increasing at alarming rates in many transit agencies.
14. Variable toll lanes provide maximum people movement on road lanes.
Variable toll lanes with more constant speeds, maximize the number of people which road lanes carry, including: private, transit, commercial and emergency vehicles.
15. Variable toll lanes change driver behavior and reduce congestion.
Free-choice, variable toll lanes are effective in changing drivers’ travel-time behavior; reducing peak traffic period trips and congestion on tolled and non-tolled lanes.
16. Low cost traffic improvements can be rapidly deployed, very cost-effectively.
Numerous lower cost improvements can quickly provide faster, safer and more reliable travel: ramp metering, incident management, signal coordination, shared vehicles, etc.
17. Austin rail doesn’t provide economic benefits commensurate with high costs.
Austin has been a top U.S. growth region for many years and not a single development was due to rail transit: Many cities have confirmed that taxpayers loose “big time” with rail.
18. Trains on busy downtown streets increase safety hazards and sight pollution.
Trains mingling with vehicles and pedestrians on busy, central, city streets create greater congestion, air pollution and safety hazards as well as ugly, sight pollution.
19. Rail will result in major degradation of Austin’s “Social Equity.”
Rail’s high cost and ineffective performance has major negative impacts on low income citizens including: increased taxes and transit fares and reductions in bus service.
20. Two-way streets downtown are more congested and less safe than one-way.
Converting many downtown streets from one-way to two-way provides reduced vehicle capacity with increased congestion while reducing safety for vehicles and pedestrians.
21. Suburbanization reduces driving and helps provide housing affordability.
Increasing suburban living and dispersed job (“sprawl”) have resulted in a long trend of declining ‘daily vehicle miles traveled per capita’ and greater housing affordability.
22. Projections for rail costs are much too low and for ridership are much too high.
Almost all cities have projected much lower costs and much higher ridership than rail achieves and rail offers little advantage over buses, but, has major disadvantages.
23. High cost rail results in all citizens paying higher taxes with little benefit.
High cost rail systems result in higher taxes, directly or indirectly; e.g., commuter rail “bankrupt” Cap Metro and Austin city plans to spend excessive taxes on urban rail without a long-term financial plan.
24. The fundamentals have not changed since light rail was defeated in 2000.
Arguments against Austin’s light rail, defeated in 2014, are much stronger today than in 2000 as many rail cities compiled additional, major, negative experiences; confirming: Austin’s proposed 2014 rail, still: “COSTS TOO MUCH and DOES TOO LITTLE!”
In addition, it would have required many years of Tax Increases which would provide negative benefits for all but a very tiny group of citizens being highly subsidized by all taxpayers. Based on the City’s estimates, the train was projected to attract 6,500 new transit riders and, at the train’s cost, each new rider would have cost taxpayers more than $500,000. This does not count annual operating costs which would be more than $30 million per year.
The resounding defeat of light rail by Austin voters is a major indication they had good understanding of the issue. Major benefits of the light rail’s defeat include: 1) Freeing Cap Metro from a huge, ineffective expenditure for rail operations; allowing the agency to focus on cost-effective improvements to its bus system, serving more people who need transit with increased trip frequencies to more origins and destinations. 2) Freeing bonding constraints on the new 10-1 council; providing flexibility to consider financial trade-offs for city needs without major tax increases. 3) Allowing development of a city-wide transportation plan with financial commitments recognizing 99.7% of vehicle trips: private, shared, public transit, hired, commercial, government/school and emergency will continue to be on roadways.
Future plans will incorporate advancing technologies which are revolutionizing mobility; further outdating rail’s 19th century technology. New technologies include self-driving vehicles, numerous approaches to support efficient vehicle sharing, smart traffic signals and many more. All these will dramatically reduce the cost of mobility and extend mobility benefits to many more citizens. Greater mobility provides greater quality of life.
December 28th, 2014
COST Commentary (updated 2-10-2015): Below is the reference to a series of BBC reports and a short CNN report on autonomous, self-driving, or driverless vehicles, depending on an author’s name preference. Following these, is an Article by Zack Kanter, Entrepreneur and Futurist, with a thoughtful vision and predictions of the impact of autonomous cars. Finally, there is the summary of a CATO Institute Policy Analysis paper by Randal O’Toole regarding “Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles.”
There are hundreds of articles/reports about these vehicles over the past 5 years of their presence on roadways and many U-Tube videos of these vehicles in operation. While, automomous vehicles may not unfold exactly as described here, there is a very high probability they will continue to be developed, phased into operation and become a reality for a major portion of vehicles within the next two decades.
These vehicles are approved for operations in California, Florida, Michigan, Nevada and in the District of Columbia. Also, Texas is working on a law to allow their operation. Google’s driverless fleet is approaching one-million miles on roadways.
Testing of self-driving vehicles is approaching one million miles on roadways. Google and several major automobile companies are designing and testing vehicles. To date, there has been one roadway accident for Google self-driving cars in which a car with a driver ran into the rear of google vehicle while stopped for a stop signal.
Estimates regarding the entry of self-driving vehicles into general public use vary from the end of this decade, 2020, to sometime before 2030. Their mass use would result in many potential benefits: fewer accidents and deaths, approximately doubling the capacity of highways and substantially reducing the cost of mobility.
Related benefits of self-driving vehicles are to provide many people with physical or age disabilities the major benefits of private vehicle mobility; a major reduction in the use of high priced land, such as Central Business Districts, for parking because self-driving vehicles can park in remote, less expensive areas; the potential reduction in vehicles required per family because commuting vehicles can return home for other family use during the work period; the potential shared use of vehicles as vehicles, which would normally park for the day, may be used as “for hire” for such services as Uber and Lyft and earn money while not in use by the owner; major reductions in vehicle accidents and deaths (some project 30,000 fewer annual deaths); and, the potential significant reduction in gasoline powered vehicles as many autonomous cars are projected to be electric powered.
This “paradigm shift” in mobility can also result in major reductions in the use of taxpayer subsidized public transit and dramatically reduce the use of very expensive transit such as light rail.
Austin must fully consider the implications of this, and other, rapidly advancing technologies in its transportation planning for the future. Otherwise, billions of tax dollars can be wasted and result in a disconnect between now and the future. Nineteenth century transportation solutions will degrade future mobility, reduce citizens’ quality of life and diminish social equity.
England’s BBC has produced a series of video and written reports regarding the technology, operation and preparation for the arrival of autonomous cars. These will provide readers with a good understanding of the implications and benefits of this major, new technology. The text article, “Driverless car review launched by UK government” is the first entry on this BBC page.
Google’s fully functional driverless car is adorable
By Heather Kelly, CNN
updated 5:00 PM EST, Mon December 22, 2014
A working prototype of Google’s self-driving car has cameras and sensors, but no permanent driver controls.
Google debuted its new, fully functioning driverless car prototype
The round white car still includes temporary manual controls for a back-up driver
While cute, the vehicle still has many serious issues to address before it can hit public roads
(CNN) — Google’s new driverless-car prototype is downright hugable.
The company unveiled its latest self-driving vehicle on Monday, and it looks like a cartoon koala crossed with a smart car wearing a fez.
Unlike the mock-up car Google first shared in May, this version is fully functional. It even has real headlights. The round, white and gray car is designed without permanent driving tools like a gas pedal or wheel. However, to comply with California state law, there are still removable, temporary controls for the required “safety driver” — a real person who needs to be in the car and ready to take over in an emergency. The goal is to eventually remove any interior controls so that passengers can take a nap or knit while the car does all the work.
Google’s self-driving car team will continue to test the vehicle on a private track in California, where it works its way around traffic lights and mock construction zones. Google has said it’s interested in launching a pilot program for the cars in the coming years.
When the tech company first started experimenting with self-driving technology, it modified existing cars, like a Toyota, Audi and Lexus, by adding multiple cameras and sensors and an onboard computer. Now Google has moved on to making its own car from scratch. The car’s dome-like shape is optimal for giving sensors the widest field of view.
A car could help put people’s minds at ease about the controversial technology. Before self-driving cars can start ferrying us to work, companies need to figure out ethical issues (does it hit a deer or crash into the median?), improve basic driving functions, and work with governments on legislation to allow driverless cars on all roads.
Google is just one of many companies developing driverless car technology. Universities and major auto manufacturers such as BMW and Mercedes are working on similar vehicles. Google hopes to have its version on the road by the end of the decade.
How Uber’s Autonomous Cars Will Destroy 10 Million Jobs and Reshape the Economy by 2025
Commentary By Zack Kanter @zackkanter, Entrepreneur and Futurist, Personal Blog, January 15, 2015. Note: The blog article contains full footnotes
I have spent quite a bit of time lately thinking about autonomous cars, and I wanted to summarize my current thoughts and predictions. Most people – experts included – seem to think that the transition to driverless vehicles will come slowly over the coming few decades, and that large hurdles exist for widespread adoption. I believe that this is significant underestimation. Autonomous cars will be commonplace by 2025 and have a near monopoly by 2030, and the sweeping change they bring will eclipse every other innovation our society has experienced.
ALSO READ: Mystery Van Could Be Apple’s Entry In Effort To Develop Driverless Vehicle
They will cause unprecedented job loss and a fundamental restructuring of our economy, solve large portions of our environmental problems, prevent tens of thousands of deaths per year, save millions of hours with increased productivity, and create entire new industries that we cannot even imagine from our current vantage point.
The transition is already beginning to happen. Elon Musk, Tesla Motor’s CEO, says that their 2015 models will be able to self-drive 90 percent of the time. And the major automakers aren’t far behind – according to Bloomberg News, GM’s 2017 models will feature “technology that takes control of steering, acceleration and braking at highway speeds of 70 miles per hour or in stop-and-go congested traffic.” Both Google and Tesla predict that fully-autonomous cars – what Musk describes as “true autonomous driving where you could literally get in the car, go to sleep and wake up at your destination” – will be available to the public by 2020.
How it will unfold
Industry experts think that consumers will be slow to purchase autonomous cars – while this may be true, it is a mistake to assume that this will impede the transition. Morgan Stanley’s research shows that cars are driven just 4% of the time, which is an astonishing waste considering that the average cost of car ownership is nearly $9,000 per year. Next to a house, an automobile is the second most expensive asset that most people will ever buy – it is no surprise that ride sharing services like Uber and car sharing services like Zipcar are quickly gaining popularity as an alternative to car ownership. It is now more economical to use a ride sharing service if you live in a city and drive less than 10,000 miles per year. The impact on private car ownership is enormous: a UC-Berkeley study showed that vehicle ownership among car sharing users was cut in half. The car purchasers of the future will not be you and me – cars will be purchased and operated by ride sharing and car sharing companies.
And current research confirms that we would be eager to use autonomous cars if they were available. A full 60% of US adults surveyed stated that they would ride in an autonomous car , and nearly 32% said they would not continue to drive once an autonomous car was available instead. But no one is more excited than Uber – drivers take home at least 75% of every fare. It came as no surprise when CEO Travis Kalanick recently stated that Uber will eventually replace all of its drivers with self-driving cars.
A Columbia University study suggested that with a fleet of just 9,000 autonomous cars, Uber could replace every taxi cab in New York City – passengers would wait an average of 36 seconds for a ride that costs about $0.50 per mile. Such convenience and low cost will make car ownership inconceivable, and autonomous, on-demand taxis – the ‘transportation cloud’ – will quickly become dominant form of transportation – displacing far more than just car ownership, it will take the majority of users away from public transportation as well. With their $41 billion valuation, replacing all 171,000 taxis in the United States is well within the realm of feasibility – at a cost of $25,000 per car, the rollout would cost a mere $4.3 billion.
The effects of the autonomous car movement will be staggering. PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts that the number of vehicles on the road will be reduced by 99%, estimating that the fleet will fall from 245 million to just 2.4 million vehicles.
Disruptive innovation does not take kindly to entrenched competitors – like Blockbuster, Barnes and Noble, Polaroid, and dozens more like them, it is unlikely that major automakers like General Motors, Ford, and Toyota will survive the leap. They are geared to produce millions of cars in dozens of different varieties to cater to individual taste and have far too much overhead to sustain such a dramatic decrease in sales. I think that most will be bankrupt by 2030, while startup automakers like Tesla will thrive on a smaller number of fleet sales to operators like Uber by offering standardized models with fewer options.
Ancillary industries such as the $198 billion automobile insurance market, $98 billion automotive finance market, $100 billion parking industry, and the $300 billion automotive aftermarket will collapse as demand for their services evaporates. We will see the obsolescence of rental car companies, public transportation systems, and, good riddance, parking and speeding tickets. But we will see the transformation of far more than just consumer transportation: self-driving semis, buses, earth movers, and delivery trucks will obviate the need for professional drivers and the support industries that surround them.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists that 884,000 people are employed in motor vehicles and parts manufacturing, and an additional 3.02 million in the dealer and maintenance network. Truck, bus, delivery, and taxi drivers account for nearly 6 million professional driving jobs. Virtually all of these 10 million jobs will be eliminated within 10-15 years, and this list is by no means exhaustive.
But despite the job loss and wholesale destruction of industries, eliminating the needs for car ownership will yield over $1 trillion in additional disposable income – and that is going to usher in an era of unprecedented efficiency, innovation, and job creation.
A view of the future
Morgan Stanley estimates that a 90% reduction in crashes would save nearly 30,000 lives and prevent 2.12 million injuries annually. Driverless cars do not need to park – vehicles cruising the street looking for parking spots account for an astounding 30% of city traffic, not to mention that eliminating curbside parking adds two extra lanes of capacity to many city streets. Traffic will become nonexistent, saving each US commuter 38 hours every year – nearly a full work week. As parking lots and garages, car dealerships, and bus stations become obsolete, tens of millions of square feet of available prime real estate will spur explosive metropolitan development.
The environmental impact of autonomous cars has the potential to reverse the trend of global warming and drastically reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. Passenger cars, SUVs, pickup trucks, and minivans account for 17.6% of greenhouse gas emissions – a 90% reduction of vehicles in operation would reduce our overall emissions by 15.9%. As most autonomous cars are likely to be electric, we would virtually eliminate the 134 billion of gasoline used each year in the US alone. And while recycling 242 million vehicles will certainly require substantial resources, the surplus of raw materials will decrease the need for mining.
But perhaps most exciting for me are the coming inventions, discoveries, and creation of entire new industries that we cannot yet imagine.
I dream of the transportation cloud: near-instantly available, point-to-point travel. Ambulances that arrive to the scene within seconds. A vehicle-to-grid distributed power system. A merging of city and suburb as commuting becomes fast and painless. Dramatically improved mobility for the disabled. On-demand rental of nearly anything you can imagine. The end of the DMV!
It is exciting to be alive, isn’t it?
Note: Below is a Summary of the full Policy Analysis.
CATO Institute, POLICY ANALYSIS NO. 758
Policy Implications of Autonomous Vehicles
By Randal O’Toole, September 18, 2014
Partially autonomous vehicles that can take over some driving functions, such as steering and speed control, are on the market today. Highly autonomous vehicles that can drive themselves in most situations should be available for sale in less than a decade. Fully autonomous vehicles that won’t even have an option for a human driver will be available within a decade after that.
Such autonomous vehicles will transform the 21st century in the same way that mass-produced automobiles transformed the 20th. Auto travel will become safer. Congestion will decline if not disappear. People who can be productive rather than endure the stress of driving will look at travel in an entirely new way. Eventually, mobility will be available to everyone, not just those who have a driver’s license.
- Considering the technology available today and what experts think will be available in the near future, Congress and other policymakers should consider the following steps:
- Congress should stop funding expensive and obsolete rail transit projects, which will have no place in a future likely to be characterized by widespread sharing of self-driving cars.
- Congress should end the mandate for states and metropolitan planning organizations to write long-range transportation plans, as planners cannot predict the effects of autonomous vehicles and are likely to instead impose obsolete systems and designs on their regions.
- The National Highway Safety Traffic Commission should not mandate that vehicle-to-vehicle communications be installed in all new cars, as such devices will rapidly become obsolete, while voluntary devices in the form of smart phones that can use vehicle-to vehicle applications are already in use by more than half the adult population.
- State and local governments should focus on maintaining existing infrastructure and making cost-effective improvements, such as dynamic traffic signal coordination, to alleviate today’s safety and congestion problems. The best thing state and local transportation agencies can do to prepare the way for autonomous vehicles is to cooperate in the development and use of consistent road striping, sign, signal, and similar standards that can be read by autonomous vehicles.
- By reducing congestion, autonomous cars may lead to a revival of inner cities, but by reducing the cost of travel, they may also lead to more rapid exurbanization. Cities and states should not try to restrict either trend.
December 9th, 2014
COST Commentary: This article is about the study and conclusions of a respected, competent university professor regarding the impact of population density policies in Portland, Oregon. Portland is regarded by many as the MECA of modern light rail due to its early adoption and rapid implementation of modern light rail.
Portland’s congestion is about the same as Austin’s after Portland has spent billions of dollars on its light rail system. Portland’s unfunded liabilities are substantially greater than Austin’s due to its transit employees’ obligations. Portland’s general fund has suffered in numerous ways due to its development incentives which have negatively impacted its police, fire, emergency and other basic city services.
Portland’s land use regulations have resulted in housing costs which are 22% higher, while Hosehold income is 4% lower, than Austin’s resulting in the loss of 40% of Portland’s public school enrollment which peaked at approximately Austin’s current enrollment which started to decline three years ago.
There are no “models” of success in pursuing the path Austin is on regarding transportation and land use.
Expert: More density in Portland will drive up housing costs
Created on Tuesday, 02 December, 2014 06:00, written by Jim Redden
PSU real estate professor says Metro assumptions are flawed
Regional plans to increase density will drive up housing costs, burden the poor and cost local governments billions they do not have, according to a new study by a Portland State University real estate expert.
The study analyzes the 2014 Urban Growth Report released in September by Metro, the elected regional government. The report says cities within the region can accommodate all predicted residential growth during the next 20 years by increasing density.
“This report deserves special attention by citizens and professionals in the local business community because it distorts economic data and will lead the region to make decisions that will harm economic growth,” says the study, which was written by Gerard C.S. Mildner, academic director of PSU’s Center for Real Estate.
State law requires Metro to maintain a 20-year supply of buildable land within the growth boundary. The Metro Council must decide whether to expand it every five years or so, and the next decision is scheduled for 2015. The report was prepared by Metro staff to help guide the decision. The Metro Council will consider adopting it at 2 p.m. on Thursday, Dec. 4.
Mildner’s “Density at Any Costs,” the study is the first independent housing analysis of the Metro report. Many of its findings also apply to the draft comprehensive land-use plan update under consideration in Portland, which also envisions higher density. The study was posted on the center’s website on Monday.
The Metro report predicts a reversal of historic home building trends during the next 20 years, with most new housing being multifamily apartments and condominiums in urban centers and along transit corridors. But Mildner’s study says that reversing the housing mix would substantially increase housing costs in the Portland region in the next 20 years, making it the fourth most expensive metropolitan area in the country, just behind San Francisco, Washington, D.C., and San Diego. Portland is the 15th most expensive metropolitan area in the county, behind Phoenix, Chicago and Denver.
And, according to Mildner’s study, local governments would have to spend billions on subsidies and infrastructure improvements to support these new multifamily buildings, including development incentives and new mass transit lines.
But Metro spokesman Jim Middaugh dismisses Mildner as one of several “libertarian-minded activists” in the region working to repeal Oregon’s land-use planning laws. He says the region does not have enough available land to support even a 50/50 mix of single family homes and multifamily housing in the future.
“The kind of development Mildner and his supporters espouse would require adding a minimum of 4,000 acres to our UGB every six years,” Middaugh says. That’s the equivalent of a parking lot with more than a million spaces — an area three quarters the size of Forest Park. A million cars would form a bumper-to-bumper line from Portland, Oregon, to close to Portland, Maine.”
According to Middaugh, “Metro’s goal is to work with local cities and towns to make sure that wherever new growth happens, it’s well-planned, efficient for taxpayers and good for our local economy. That’s what voters in this region value. That’s what local cities are asking for. That is what Metro is doing.”
Mildner denies the accusations, saying he is only trying to understand the implications of Metro’s land-use planning decisions.
According to PSU, the Center for Real Estate was formed in 2004 as a partnership between the Schools of Urban Studies and Planning and Business Administration to manage the real estate programs at the university and serve as the link to the real estate community. Mildner has a B.A. in Public Affairs from the University of Chicago and a Ph.D. in Economics from New York University. His research is focused on the economics of local government, including growth management, rent control, municipal sports stadiums, housing markets, land-use regulation and urban transportation.
Mildner has written or co-written numerous papers raising questions about land-use planning policies like those in Oregon and the Portland area. He has consistently said government efforts to restrict where growth can occur frequently have unintended consequences, including higher housing costs and additional taxes required for mass transit systems to move urban dwellers around.
Metro planners prepared the Urban Growth Report to help guide the council’s growth boundary decisions. They are based in part on an in-house computer modeling program called Metroscope and an analysis of land-use plans adopted or under consideration by the cities within the boundary.
Mildner says he received several Metro staff briefings on the 2014 report while serving on a number of local land-use groups in his official capacity.
“Most of the business leaders were concerned about land availability for industrial supply. My expertise is housing policy and no one was looking at that section of the report. The more I looked at, the more I was appalled,” says Mildner.
Among other things, Mildner says the projected increase in multifamily housing will double rents during the next 20 years. That is partly because the taller buildings envisioned in the report are the most expensive to build.
This will be especially true in Portland, Mildner says, where the report predicts that 60.2 percent of all new residential construction will happen. According to the report, 92 percent of that construction will be multifamily housing — and 37.9 percent will be the same density as the Pearl District. That will require many of the new buildings to be more than five stories high, which require steel construction and underground parking.
“The amount of the increases in prices required by the Metroscope model is staggering … In terms of income inequality, the large projected increases in housing costs work greatly to the disadvantage of low-income households,” according to the study.
But Mildner’s study says the government housing subsidizes required to achieve such density levels are also staggering — almost $3 billion in developer incentives. They range from $10,000 per unit in Tigard to $50,000 per unit in central Portland.
“While the report says that there subsidies are, ‘based on existing programs,’ none of these programs are currently producing housing on this scale,” according to the study. “Moreover, nothing in the Urban Growth Report suggests where these subsidy dollars will come from.”
You can find Mildner’s report at: Milner’s Report.
December 8th, 2014
COST Commentary: The article below evaluates modern urban rail systems implemented in 23 U.S. cities over the past 40 years at a cost of more than $90 billion (2013 dollars), primarily taxpayer dollars. Its findings are depressing in that the rail systems have not relieved congestion as promised in almost every case. Many promises of increased affordability have also been unfulfilled.
Although Austin is in the group of cities, with rail implementations since 2000, experiencing a small growth in transit ridership percentage for work commuting, Austin alone, as also in Dallas and Houston, has experienced a decline in transit work commuting percentage. In fact, Austin has less total transit ridership today than 15 years ago. This total transit reduction in Austin must be a major consideration in determining the most effective use of Austin’s limited transportation dollars which are primarily taxpayer funds.
Almost 99.7 % of all Austin trips are on roadways. If cost-effective mobility is the primary criteria, then it is obvious where limited taxpayer funds must be spent: improving our roads. This serves the greater-good of all elements of the community: private, public transit, commercial, emergency, sharing, for hire and other government vehicles.
Spending huge proportions of limited transportation funds to serve a miniscule few is not responsible or sustainable and will degrade the mobility and quality-of-life for all.
The article below is by Wendell Cox who started many years ago as a major believer in the promises of public transit. Cox was a major supporter driver in the early implementation of rail in Los Angeles. He found, through difficult experience, rail did not live up to its promises. Cox has become on of the world’s most knowledgable experts in transportation and housing affordability. He uses sound, analytical analyses to address these issues instead of less informed assumptions, feelings and emotions which are used by so many.
EVALUATING URBAN RAIL
by Wendell Cox 12/05/2014 in newgeography.com
For more than 40 years, US cities have rushed to build new rail systems (indeed I was part of such an effort, see Los Angeles: Rail for Others). This article examines the trend in transit and driving alone work trip market share in 23 cities (metropolitan areas) that have built new rail systems that have represented material expansions of regional transit systems. These new rail systems include Metros (”heavy rail”), light rail (not streetcars) and commuter rail (suburban rail). The capital costs of these systems have been at least $90 billion (2013$), based on Thoreau Institute web site information.
A Policy Perspective
The perspective is that of a policy board member (which I was) and a belief that more transit (generally a good thing) is better than less. Thus, from the beginning of my career on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (LACTC), I was interested in obtaining the highest ridership possible within the constraints of available funding. As the LACTC considered building rail, a foremost objective was the hope for reduced traffic congestion, as we were assured by consultants that rail would attract drivers out of cars and reduce traffic congestion. To do this the rail system would need to reduce automobile travel.
The work trip market shares of 2013 (from the American Community Survey) are compared to those of the US Census immediately preceding the opening of the rail system, except where otherwise noted. This latest data is compared to work trip market shares for the Censuses preceding rail system openings, using current (2013) metropolitan area boundaries. This method favors transit, since metropolitan areas have grown spatially, and the more recently added areas (counties) would have had lower transit market shares in earlier censuses. The method also favors transit because in a growing metropolitan area (which excludes only Buffalo among the 23 cities) merely retaining transit work trip market share will generally not reduce traffic congestion, because highway traffic volumes tend to rise with population.
Transit Work Trip Market Shares
Overall, the average transit work trip market share in the 23 cities declined from 5.0 percent to 4.6 percent from the Census year preceding opening to 2013 (Figure 1).
• The cities with rail systems opening after the 2000 Census did by far the best. In 2000, these cities had an average transit work trip market share of 3.0 percent. By 2013, this had risen to an average of 3.4 percent. The cities in this category include Austin, Charlotte, Houston, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Nashville, Phoenix, and Seattle.
• The cities with rail systems opening after the 1990 Census experienced a modest decline in transit work trip market share, from 3.8 percent in 1990 to 3.7 percent in 2013. The cities in this category include Baltimore, Denver, Dallas-Fort Worth, Los Angeles, Riverside-San Bernardino, Salt Lake City, and St. Louis.
• The cities with rail systems opening after the 1980 census saw their transit work trip market shares decline more significantly, from 4.8 percent in 1980 to 3.9 percent in 2013. This category includes Buffalo, Miami, Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, and San Jose.
• The largest average transit work trip market share losses occurred in the cities with new rail systems that opened following the 1970 census. These metropolitan areas experienced a decline from 12.9 percent in 1970 to 11.1 percent in 2013. The new rail systems in this category were San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART), Washington’s Metrorail and Atlanta’s MARTA.
Driving Alone Work Trip Market Shares
Overall, the driving alone work trip market share rose from 72.3 percent to 76.0 percent (though complete data is not available for 1970), an increase of 3.7 percentage points (Figure 2). The driving alone work trip market share declined in only 4 of the 23 cities. In each of the decadal categories, the change in work trip market share was greater in driving alone than in transit (Figure 3).
• The cities opening new rail systems after the 2000 census did the best in curbing the drive alone market share, but still experienced a loss. On average, the drive alone work trip market share increased the least in the cities, from 77.1 percent in 2000 to 77.7 percent in 2013, a rise of 0.6 percent.
• The cities opening new rail systems after the 1990 census experienced an increase in the drive alone work trip market share from 75.2 percent in 1990 to 77.4 percent in 2013 for a loss of 2.2 percentage points.
• The cities opening a new rail systems after the 1980 census experienced an increase in the drive alone work trip market share from 69.3 percent in 1980 76.3 percent in 2013, for a loss of 7.0 percentage points.
• Comparable driving alone data was not obtained in the 1970 Census, which makes it impossible to directly compare the “before and after” Census work trip market share data for new rail systems opening during the 1970’s. However, each of the three new rail systems opened after the 1970 census added substantially to their ridership following the 1980 census (Note). Even so, the drive alone market share from 1980 was substantial, from 60.2 percent to 67.9 percent in 2013, an increase of 7.7 percentage points. The biggest drive alone gains were in Atlanta, which built MARTA and Washington, which built Metrorail. San Francisco, with its Bay Area Rapid Transit system (BART) experienced a smaller drive alone market share gain from 1980 to 2013 (Table).
Transit Alone Metropolitan Area Gains and Losses
Overall, the transit work trip market share declined in 13 of the 23 cities. Among the 10 cities with an increase, the change was less than one percentage point in all but two, Seattle and San Jose.
The strongest transit market share gain was in Seattle, at 2.3 percentage points (from 7.0 percent to 9.3 percent). However, most of Seattle’s transit market share gain was related to bus and ferry service, which accounted for 80 percent of the transit gain. San Jose had the second largest gain, at 1.1 percentage points (from 3.1 percent to 4.2 percent). Riverside-San Bernardino (0.8 percent to 1.5 percent) and Phoenix (1.9 percent to 2.6 percent) tied for third best transit market share increase, with 0.7 percentage point increases. Charlotte had the fifth strongest increase, rising 0.5 percentage points, from 1.2 percent to 1.7 percent.
The largest transit market share loss was in Atlanta, which fell from 7.3 percent in 1970 to 3.1 percent in 2013, a loss of more than one-half. Buffalo suffered the second largest loss, from 6.6 percent to 2.9 percent, a decline of 3.7 percentage points. Highly touted Portland experienced the third greatest transit market share loss out of the 23 cities, falling from 7.9 percent to 6.4 percent, a 1.5 percentage point loss. Washington had the fourth largest decline, falling from a 15.5 percent transit work trip market share to 14.2 percent, a loss of 1.3 percentage points. In Washington,much of the Metrorail ridership was diverted from bus services and car pools.
Baltimore (from 7.7 percent to 7.0 percent) and Dallas-Fort Worth (from 2.3 percent to 1.4 percent) tied for 5th largest decline, with a loss of 0.9 percentage points.
Drive Alone Metropolitan Area Gains and Losses
The largest drive alone gains were in Buffalo (15.3 percentage point gain from 1980) San Diego (12.0 percentage point gain from 1980), Washington (11.9 percentage point gain from 1980, due to the lack of 1970 data), Atlanta (9.4 percentage point gain from 1980, due to the lack of 1970 data), and Baltimore (6.2 percentage point gain from 1990).
The largest drive alone market share losses were in Seattle (1.9 percentage point loss), Charlotte (0.7 percentage point loss), Salt Lake City (0.5 percentage point loss), and Sacramento (0.2 percentage point loss) while Denver remained constant.
New Rail Systems: Successful Simply in Being Built
The overall transit work trip market shares in the 23 cities declined 0.4 percentage points. By comparison, in the same cities, driving alone increased by an average of 3.7 percentage points (Figure 4). These results are considerably more modest than the claims made by rail proponents. It is fair to say that the new rail systems have not changed how people travel in cities, despite costing at least $90 billion.
It might be expected that this laggard performance would dampen the ardor for rail. Yet, many public officials and civic boosters consider virtually any system that opens a success. Tom Rubin, former Chief Financial Officer of the Southern California Rapid Transit District (a predecessor to the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority) wryly suggests that for many political interests, the success of urban rail is demonstrated by its getting built.
Despite the unfortunate politics of transit, success requires carrying more passengers, as many as the available funding will permit. The test of urban rail is not how many people are on the trains, but how many drivers leave their cars at home to ride it.
Note: BART’s (California) ridership has more than tripled since 1980, while Washington Metrorail’s ridership is up approximately 40 percent. MARTA’s (Atlanta) ridership has increased substantially since 1980, with the first line having opened only in mid 1979.
This commentary is adapted from a presentation in November at an international transit conference in Shanghai.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.
Photo: Atlanta MARTA train by RTABus (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
November 15th, 2014
Transit takes twice as long as driving, but that delay is not an issue to some transit users, Randal O’Toole writes in his blog, The Antiplanner, article below. In that case, O’Toole suggests, self-driving cars will completely alter people’s perceptions of travel time. “If people who own self-driving cars are willing to travel 50 minutes to work, instead of just 25, it will quadruple their housing choices and completely change the shape of urban areas.”
Self Driving technology is advancing rapidly. At least four states have allowed a total of hundreds of thousands of test miles on their highways. Self-driving cars are projected to significantly increase the capacity of roadways, perhaps double today’s capacity, and to be much safer. Self driving will also significantly alter the use of expensive land such as in Central Business Districts (CBD) by reducing the need for large numbers of parking spaces as self driving vehicles can park remotely. In addition, transit use will experience major changes and the use of 19th century technology train transit will be greatly reduced. In total, mobility will be far more cost-effective.
Why Do Transit Commuters Take Longer to Get to Work Than Drivers?
by Randal O’Toole in his blog, The Antiplanner
Nationwide, the average worker spends 24.7 minutes, each way, traveling to and from work. People who drive alone spend 24.4 minutes; people who carpool spend 28.0 minutes; people who walk take 11.9 minutes; and people who take transit take 48.7 minutes.
In other words, people who take transit spend almost exactly twice as much time en route as people who drive alone. Why? The simple answer is that transit is slower. But this flies in the face of the idea that people have a travel-time budget that limits the total amount of time they are willing to spend traveling each day (or week).
Is the travel-time budget idea wrong? Or do people who take transit have different travel-time budgets than people who drive? Or is the travel-time budget different if, when you are traveling, you can relax and read your iPad or do something else entertaining than if you have to face the work and stresses of driving?
The travel-time budget notion implies that we arrange our lives so we won’t have to spend more time than we want getting to and from work. That means we choose our home location partly based on where we work and we accept jobs only within a certain distance from home (or move if the distance is too great). If a new technology, such as streetcars in the 1890s or automobiles in the 1910s and 1920s, increases our commute speeds, then the distance we are willing to travel can increase without increasing the time we spend en route.
The fact that transit takes twice as long, on average, than driving leads many to conclude that transit riders have less choice than auto drivers. Perhaps they are victims of racial or income discrimination in housing and forced to live farther from work than they would like. Perhaps they are one of two earners in a household that can only afford one car, and their home location is determined primarily by the work location of the other income earner.
To test this, we can look at data for individual urbanized areas. Average travel times to work can be calculated using tables B08136, Aggregate Travel Time to Work by Means of Transportation to Work, and C08301, Means of Transportation to Work, of the American Community Survey (ACS) for urbanized areas. The same tables are available for cities, states, and other geographic units, but urbanized areas are the best in this case as each urban area is something close to a single economic unit (at least, closer than any other geographic area).
Divide the aggregate travel times by the numbers of people using each mode to get the average times. Table B08136 only has driving alone, carpooling, transit, walking, and “other,” so we can’t break out bicycling. Table B08136 is also not available for some important urban areas, such as San Antonio, even going back to 2010. But the numbers are available for most other major (and many minor) urban areas. For this discussion, I’ll use 2013 data unless otherwise noted; the numbers don’t change much from year-to-year.
The first thing to note is that, where transit travel times average twice driving times on a nationwide basis, in the New York urban area transit times are just 76 percent more than times for people who drive alone. This isn’t because New York transit is so much faster than in the rest of the country; average transit travel times in New York are actually longer, at 50.3 minutes, than the national average of 48.7. Instead, it is because New York drive times are so much slower, at 28.6 minutes for driving alone (vs. 24.4 nationally). This isn’t necessarily because New York is more congested; instead, it is at least partly because it is a much larger urban area than most, so the data pick up more people who are willing to travel long distances to work.
New York also has a very high percentage of workers who live in households without cars: 23.8 percent vs. the national average of 4.5 percent. New York also has the highest share of transit commuters earning $75,000 or more per year (it’s 32.9 percent for New York state; unfortunately, these data, in table B08519, aren’t available for urbanized areas). In other words, a lot of people who take transit in the New York urban area could afford to own cars, but they take transit anyway despite the transit time penalty.
Based on these data, it is clear that people who lack choices and are forced to take transit despite the time penalty are only partly responsible for the time penalty. Instead, at least some of the penalty is probably because people who take transit don’t think their time is wasted and so don’t count it as a penalty.
Of course, transit supporters have been saying for years that this is an advantage of transit over driving. While this argument has failed to persuade many more people to ride transit, it does suggest that self-driving cars will completely alter people’s perceptions of travel time. If people who own self-driving cars are willing to travel 50 minutes to work, instead of just 25, it will quadruple their housing choices and completely change the shape of urban areas.
October 31st, 2014
COST Commentary: This is a very informative article related to the major negative impacts of policies which attempt to contain growth. These policies are variously called: “urban containment,” “smart growth,” “growth management,” and “livability.”
One often hears these land use policy terms regarding Austin’s long range plan: Imagine Austin. This plan promotes higher density and reduced “spreading” of the city. As noted in the article below, it is necessary to maintain a balance and recognize that higher density produces greater congestion and higher costs. This density, congestion and cost relationship is discussed throughout this site.
NEW ZEALAND SEEKS TO AVOID “GENERATION RENT”
by Wendell Cox 10/29/2014
The political leadership and others in New Zealand are talking about the consequences of its land use policies. Under the “urban containment” land use policy (also called by terms like “smart growth,” “growth management,” and “livability”) in effect in every urban area, house prices have doubled relative to incomes over the last 25 years. The principal causes have been the restrictions inherent in urban containment policy, such as making most suburban land off limits for housing development, (which raises its price, like rationing oil raises the price of gasoline), and requirements for upfront payment of large development impact fees (which can also be higher than they need to be). The association between urban containment policy and unaffordable housing is consistent with both with both economic theory and also considerable economic research. The title of a report by Paul Cheshire, Professor of Economic Geography at the London School of Economics best indicates the reality: “Urban Containment, Housing Affordability, Price Stability - Irreconcilable Goals.”
New Zealand Housing Unaffordability and Consequences
According to the 10th Annual Demographia Housing Affordability Survey, Auckland, the nation’s largest city is now the 7th least affordable out of 85 major metropolitan markets rated. Auckland’s median multiple (median house price divided by median household income) is 8.0, approaching triple the level that prevailed before the adoption of urban containment policy. The other largest cities, Christchurch and Wellington have seen house prices relative to incomes double since they have adopted urban containment policy (which were 3.0 or less). Obviously, when houses cost more than necessary, households have less discretionary income. This leads directly to two consequences with respect to affluence and poverty.
The first consequence of these policies is that households have less discretionary income (income after paying taxes and for necessities) to spend on other goods and services. Obviously this means a lower standard of living. This generally leads to a weaker economy, other things being equal, because households with less money are not able to purchase as much in goods and services as they would be able to afford if house prices had not been distorted.
The second consequence is greater poverty. When the price of housing rises, discretionary incomes can fall enough to force lower income households into poverty.
Land Use Policies Blamed for Poverty and Greater Inequality
Recently, Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Bill English said in an October 7 press conference that New Zealand’s land use policies have led to higher levels of poverty and increased inequality: “Inequality in New Zealand would have been improving had it not been for growing housing costs. So our planning processes have probably done more to increase income inequality and poverty in New Zealand than most other policies.” Finally, the Deputy Prime Minister noted that house price increases have impacted the lowest income households most.
Minister English had previously expressed concern about the extent to which land use policy had driven up house prices, in his preface to the 9th Annual Demographia Housing Affordability Survey: “It costs too much and takes too long to build a house in New Zealand. Land has been made artificially scarce by regulation that locks up land for development. This regulation has made land supply unresponsive to demand (see: “Unblocking Constipated Planning” in New Zealand”).
There was “pushback” on the Deputy Prime Ministers comments from the city of Auckland and the Green Party. Others saw it differently the well-read national blog, Whale Oil, however, opined that the Deputy Prime Minister “is onto something.” Whale Oil continued “The squealing in unison means English is putting the pressure in the right places.”
Housing Minister Nick Smith has decried the situation in Auckland: “We’ve got a rigid Metropolitan Urban Limit (urban growth boundary) prohibiting any new housing developments beyond the artificial line drawn 15 years ago.” At the same time, he said that resulting land cost increases had been more responsible for higher house prices than any other factor. Auckland accounts for approximately one-third of the nation’s population and has been growing rapidly, accounting for more than one-half of the nation’s population growth between the 2006 and 2013 censuses.
On the government’s website, the Housing Minister expressed the government’s interest in reforming the Resource Management Act, which governs land-use planning. “It is the price of land and sections that has gone up so rapidly in unaffordable housing markets like Auckland, and it is the Resource Management Act and how it is implemented that is largely responsible for this cost escalation. The new law allowing Special Housing Areas is a short-term fix but we must address the fundamental problem with the Resource Management Act if we are serious about long-term housing affordability.”
Business interests are also raising concerns.
The Property Council (similar in its advocacy function to the Urban Land Institute in the United States) has indicated support for the reforms.
Other business support comes from ANZ Bank New Zealand Chief Executive Officer David Hisco. In expressing concern noting that” “The elevator of economic progress in New Zealand has always been home ownership for everyone - right across the socioeconomic spectrum. But at the current pace of house price rises we risk creating a generation of disenfranchised, second class citizens – ‘Generation Rent.’” He continues: “The housing affordability issue is a housing supply issue, pure and simple. In 1974 there were 34,400 new homes built. Last year there were 15,000 - less than half. It’s no wonder houses doubled in price in under a decade in Auckland. The solution is simple – urgently build more houses. To do that in places like Auckland we need to build more suburbs and allow intensification in existing areas.”
In noting that the poor are the “biggest victims” of Auckland’s land use policies, Eric Crampton(on Kiwiblog) says that Auckland should be allowed “to build both upwards and outwards: which would be a great step in reducing child poverty.” Moreover, the Prime Minister, John Key, has expressed a particular interest in reducing child poverty.
Building upwards and outwards is not an option under the urban containment dictum favoring intensification and prohibiting green-field suburban development.
A similar connection between housing costs and high rates of poverty is indicated by California, which has the highest poverty rate, adjusted for housing costs, of all states as well as the District of Columbia. California’s major metropolitan markets have severely unaffordable housing costs, with a median multiple of 7.1. This is lower than Auckland (8.0), New Zealand’s one major metropolitan market, but higher than Australia’s (6.3). Dartmouth economist William Fischel and others have associated California’s high housing costs with its land use policies. Fischel further noted that before these policies were implemented, house prices were about the same in California as in the rest of the nation, which have since more than doubled relative to incomes.
New Zealand: Land Use Policy Leader
There is virtual consensus among the world’s governments that the standard of living should be improved and poverty eradicated. Yet, many governments have adopted land use policies that raise the price of housing, which has the inevitable effect of lowering standard of living and more poverty. New Zealand’s government is seeking to restore an appropriate policy balance.
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He was appointed to the Amtrak Reform Council to fill the unexpired term of Governor Christine Todd Whitman and has served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.
Photograph: Downtown Auckland (by author)
October 22nd, 2014
COST Commentary: The title of this posting is the title printed on the op-ed published in the Statesman, October 20, 2014. This is a very good Statesman created title. The title below is the one submitted and which is on the Statesman web site.
City’s light rail proposition manipulates voters
By Jim Skaggs - Special to the American-Statesman, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2014
Light rail is guided by a few Austin government and business leaders projecting a pretense of openness and transparency. Instead, concealment has prevailed. Objectivity was denied by avoiding unbiased evaluation of alternative solutions. Rail’s merits have been championed primarily by those with conflicted self-interests.
The City Council’s conditioning of the $600 million rail bonds on future council’s authorization of $400 million in roads, without voter approval, is schemed voter manipulation. The city’s proposed “roads” provide little congestion relief, being mostly studies, upgraded overpasses, an upgraded airport entrance and transportation center; many of the projects supporting rail. This reflects disdain and distrust of voters’ judgments about tax money priorities.
No real alternatives to rail were evaluated. City committees started with: Where should the downtown rail go? This ignores total transit ridership declines in Texas’ four largest cities, which are among the fastest growing in the U.S. Every proposed rail route over many years has been different. Austin is young and growing. This fixed transit, with highest cost and least flexibility, is not part of a solution.
The city states this is the “initial investment” with “much more to come.” Concealing rail’s longer term costs and tax impacts is unconscionable. This bond and road commitment will double Austin’s debt — tying the hands of a new 10-1 council and providing no bond flexibility for future needs.
The city, Capital Metro and Chamber of Commerce support rail with assertions of reducing congestion. Studies show no congestion relief because congestion will increase. Austin’s teaser, “10,000 cars off the road daily,” is contradicted by their statement that the train will attract 6,500 new, daily transit riders in 2030. Other riders shift from buses to train. If every new rider previously drove alone before riding the train, only 6,500 cars (30 days of new cars arrivals) would be off the road. More than 8 million daily, area trips in 2030 make this rail insignificant, except in cost.
This $1.4 billion ($147 million per mile) rail will cost much more, considering hidden costs such as the train overpasses and other rail costs disguised in the road plan. Also, average cost overruns, of early rail estimates, are 40 percent. Therefore, taxpayers will pay more than $500,000 for each new transit rider: An incredible tax waste for so few.
The train doesn’t improve congestion but causes significant congestion by removing two potential car lanes from busy streets and forming 4 miles of track “barrier,” parallel to Interstate 35, along the east side of downtown and the University of Texas. Vehicles crossing this track face delays every five minutes during peak hours.
This rail presents the most negative community impact in Austin’s history. Taxes will continue rising, congestion will increase with dwindling road improvements, overall transit will degrade with reduced bus service and affordability will continue to decline, leading to decreasing citizens’ quality of life.
Since 99.7 percent of today’s more than 6 million (8 million in 2030) daily people trips are on roads, the most cost-effective way of meeting citizen’s aspirations, and reducing congestion, is to develop comprehensive road systems, providing shared infrastructure supporting private, carpool/shared, public transit, commercial goods/services, emergency, school, and government vehicles.
Three road upgrade projects — 183 A, 290 East and MoPac Boulevard — will greatly improve daily trips for more than 500,000 people, sharing 113 new lane miles. This train is estimated to serve 6,500 new transit trips, an average of 4 to 5 miles in 2030 when these roadway corridors will serve 700,000 people, 100 times the train and with longer trips. Total cost of these roads is approximately equal the rail’s cost in today’s dollars. Citizens need much more of this efficiency.
Rail will not produce additional tax base. People come to Austin for jobs, not trains. The only train employment increases will be implementation and operations which taxpayers almost fully pay as they highly subsidize the few riders.
Please vote “no” on this manipulative, ineffective, city rail Proposition 1. The new 10-1 City Council will develop responsible approaches to address numerous citywide congestion areas. This is the only cost-effective solution to enhanced mobility and quality of life for all citizens. This also allows Cap Metro to focus its funds on needed regional transit improvements instead of wasting taxes on an ineffective train that will reduce overall transit service and increase fares, hurting those who need the most help.
Skaggs is founder of Citizens Against Rail Taxes (CART).
October 17th, 2014
COST Commentary: Thank you to ‘The Daily Texan.’ These article are examples of the wisdom of youth. They display some of the great, Texas common sense which is missing in so much of Austin’s rail rhetoric over the past 30 years. There are numerous “common sense” considerations which too many people have ignored in the emotionally charged campaign surrounding Austin’s bond proposition for the proposed light rail.
‘The Daily Texan’ is the only local newspaper to date to oppose Austin’s light rail as described in the article below. ‘The Daily Texan’ was also the only local newspaper to oppose Cap Metro’s proposed light rail which was defeated in 2000. Time has proven ‘The Daily Texan’ to be correct. Every time a light rail route has been proposed over the past 25 years, it has a different route. Hugely expensive, fixed rail transit for a rapidly growing area, with lower density, is not a responsible choice for flexible, cost effective transit to meet growing, changing needs. Rail has not lived-up to its promises in any city like Austin. In addition, rapidly advancing technology will further make outdated trains a totally irresponsible transit choice for cities like Austin today or 100 years from today.
There are two editorials from ‘The Daily Texan’ following this ‘COST Commentary.’
1. The truth is: Austin’s Light Rail proposition will increase congestion throughout the city; the reverse of the City’s sales pitch and “vision” of lower congestion. Austin’s plan of higher population density and constrained, congestion laden streets will hamper mobility and quality-of-life for all. None of the major Texas cities or other similar cities have reduced congestion with rail transit. Rail is the most expensive, with the highest tax subsidies, of any normal transit option. This results in degrading overall transit because communities cannot afford to build build enough fixed rail to reach large numbers of those needing daily transit to wide-ranging destinations.
2. The City states “We have to start somewhere” and this initial rail line is just the beginning of a network of rail. This initial and increasing tax “bite” is totally unaffordable and will accelerate the continuing departure of low and medium income citizens, resulting in substantial declines in public school enrollment and the closing of dozens of schools. Austin already has the fastest growing “cost-of-living” growth and the most “overpriced housing” of all the nation’s large cities. The rail strains affordability and does nothing for congestion.
3. The City states the light rail will remove 10,000 cars (this is really car trips) daily from the roads. (A two-way work commuter is 2 car trips). While this is a dubious claim, as shown by solid analysis, lets use it. The City also states there are 110 people and 70 cars per day moving to the Austin area. Each car has an average of 3 trips per day or about 200 total new trips arriving each day. Therefore, if the rail takes 10,000 car trips off the road, they will be replaced by new arriving car trips in 50 days and we are back where we started with traffic. This means $1.4 billion is proposed to be spent to delay traffic build-up by 50 days at a cost of $28 million per day. This is clearly not cost effective: We could pay 50 people to stay home or pay companies to allow 50 car drivers to work at home for 50 days. This would cost a lot less. But, it will be even less than 50 days of very small value because there will be more than 100 new cars arriving each day in 2030 when the train is “removing 10,000 cars per day”. Therefore, there will only be 33 days of traffic build-up delay at $42.4 million per day.
4. This rail bond and its interest will use up almost all bonding capacity for some time, and, taxes keep rising if the city continues to add rail lines as planned. Austin already has more than $8 billion in bond debt payback. This rail bond will completely ‘tie the hands’ of the new 10-1 council and prevent them from issuing needed bonds, for other city needs, during their entire term.
5. This proposition is not authorizing the $400 million for “roads.” The City plan is to authorize the roads without citizen’s voting. These road commitments are actually transfers of funds to TxDoT, which performs the work, and could be done anytime, with or without, this rail proposition. But, this would not create the illusion (some call it manipulation or blackmail) that the roads are tied to the voters’ rail authorization.
6. The true cost of the rail will very likely be more than $2 billon when the related costs are considered: Bond Interest of at least $200 million; about one-half of the $400 million road package is to support the light rail; and, overruns which must be paid by taxpayers. Average overruns for such projects are about 40% and are not covered by federal funds if Austin receives any at all.
7. This bond creates the biggest taxpayer gamble in Austin’s history. The federal government has a long line of other funding requests which are ahead of Austin and federal funding availability is very questionable. The City of Austin has no limitation on how much it can spend for planning, engineering, design, environmental, etc. prior to the receiving approval for matching federal funds several years in the future. If federal funds are denied, all Austin tax money spent to this date and as much as $70 million of the bond money spent during these several years will be wasted.
8. The exact cost of the trains annual operations are not known at this point. They have been roughly estimated, by the City, as $22 million. If their costs are as poorly estimated as the current train’s costs, this burden will put Capital Metro in a deep financial hole, resulting in cut-backs in bus service and higher fares; both of which primarily burden those who need daily transit and have no alternative.
The train’s supporters include the City Council, the Chamber of Commerce and the Real Estate Council of Austin. None of these organizations seeked or allowed alternative views to be presented by knowledgable professionals prior to approving resolutions to support these rail bonds. None of these organizations revealed the planned long term cost and tax implications for Austin citizens.
We have been here before. Let’s not forget what we learned. Many of today’s rail promises are eerily similar to the ones made about the current red line. The Red Line has achieved none of its major promises:
1. Rail ridership remains well below expectations and Cap Metro’s overall transit ridership has been stagnant for 15 years while the population has grown 56%. The Red Line rail did not change this trend as ridership is down this year and projected to be down next again next year. Stagnant transit ridership has existed in the U.S. for more than 50 years. The four major Texas cities are among the fastest growing major U.S. Cities, but, have less total transit ridership today than 15 years ago, before spending billions on rail transit.
2. The Red Line was advertised to reduce congestion but no one has noticed this. Most observe there are more people delayed in vehicles being stopped by the Red Line than there are riders on the train.
3. The Red Line cost twice as much as committed to voters. Cap Metro promised 2004 voters that the Red Line’s operating costs would be $2 million per year when it opened in 2007. It actually opened in 2010 and operating costs are now $14 million. Cap Metro reports this train costs about $20 per average passenger ride which is almost 5 times the cost of a bus passenger ride at about $4. This clearly indicates the system is highly subsidizing train riders who generally own cars and can afford to pay more and placing the financail burden on: 1. lower income citizens through higher bus fares, and, 2. on all taxpayers.
4. The Red Line was described as “environmentally friendly” but it would be less polluting if all the rail riders were in individual cars.
Summary: Let’s not make a huge mistake doing the same thing that a previous, much smaller mistake has taught us. The proposed light rail’s estimated, but dubious, ridership is only 6 times the Red Line commuter ridership. However the proposed light rail’s capital costs will be a minimum of 10 times the red line and, likely, much more with transparency and competent analyses.
We need mobility which cost-effectively serves the 99% of daily trips which are on our roads. The sharing of road infrastructure is the most cost-effective way to efficently serve the daily needs of private, public transit, shared, hired, emergency/public safety, commercial and other government vehicles. Passenger rail is the most expensive form of transit and cannot effectively serve the community’s multiple needs. We clearly cannot afford to provide this rail “alternative,” for so few, at the expense of achieving the needs and aspirations of all citizens for effective mobility. Trains will limit and constrain our mobility while degrading transit for those who need it the most. In human time, greater mobility has provided greater quality of life.
This November, vote no on Proposition 1 bond package
Published in ‘The Daily Texan’ (University of Texas), October 13, 2014
BY THE DAILY TEXAN EDITORIAL BOARD
Without a doubt, rail is a polarizing issue in Austin politics. On Tuesday, Student Government passed a resolution declaring support for Proposition 1, the Green Line urban rail and bond proposal. In July, given information and perspectives of the moment, this editorial board begrudgingly offered its endorsement for Project Connect’s urban rail plan. After further consideration and deliberation, it is only with sincere disappointment that this board must withhold our endorsement of Proposition 1, to be voted on this November.
While $600 million of the bond will go toward rail, $400 million of the bond is earmarked for road improvements. Perhaps an effort to shove a sub-par rail proposal down the public’s throat by enticing them with bundled road funds, the bundling of these two projects is unfortunate. Roads need improvement to alleviate traffic, and this disapproval of Proposition 1 should not be taken as disapproval of road improvement. Rather, the flaws of the urban rail plan outweigh the benefits of the linked road improvements.
There are two facts about public transportation that must be acknowledged before moving forward. First, the purpose of public mass transit, contrary to many pro-rail advertising campaigns, is not to ease congestion of personal vehicles. Public transportation provides an alternative to congestion, but it will never be the solution. Second, like public schools and municipal parks, public transportation is a necessary public service, not meant to be inherently profitable but sustainable enough to facilitate the everyday travel of a functioning community. With these two considerations, we must avoid auto-centric, capitalistic conversation regarding urban rail.
The route north of the river has caused the most controversy. While Project Connect, the plan’s creator, constantly touts the ‘data-driven’ plan, we question the metrics used in this designation. Project Connect used projected, as opposed to current, density data to drive its route proposal. Areas surrounding the Red Line have not seen this projected density growth that justified its creation, and we fear that, if passed, the Green Line will suffer a similar fate.
Capital Metro often references the “success” of the Red Line to boost confidence in voters that it can handle this new project. Though riders and Francine Pares, communications manager at Capital Metro, testify that at peak hours the Red Line is so full that there is standing room only, this is not a viable metric for measuring the real success of the line. Initial ridership projections of the Red Line estimated 3,000-4,000 riders per day growing to eventually 8,000-10,000 daily. In August, Pares said “more than 60,000 MetroRail trips are taken each month,” but keep in mind that a single person can make multiple trips in a day. This averages to around 2050 trips per day, less than initial estimates and nowhere close to projected growth. The fact that the Red Line has standing room only is a testament to the size of the vehicle rather than true demand. The “success” of the Red Line is dubious at best.
Furthermore, central corridor advocates overemphasized the risk of losing possible Federal Transit Administration funding, necessary for the current rail proposal, if they proposed a Lamar-Guadalupe route. They argue that because the city had just installed Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) using FTA funds on the same route, a request for funding on this route would be rejected. In addition to the explicit grant language containing provisions for future development funding along the BRT route disproving this claim, Scott Morris from Our Rail group provided a memo obtained from Capital Metro where an FTA representative is quoted saying the administration would consider funding for development along the BRT route should the city introduce new priorities.
With this new proposal, many look back nostalgically on the 2000 light rail proposal, thinking, “If only we had known!” This redesigned route of this current proposal is a reaction to the 2000 “rail fail,” attempting to address issues that led a narrow margin of 2,000 more people to vote “no” at the turn of the century. But Austin has changed, and this proposal has not adequately adapted. More people than ever understand the need for comprehensive public transportation improvements. It’s a curious fact, and a daunting omen, that so many rail advocates have come out against this rail plan. Though we support transit initiatives that will make our city livable and affordable, we oppose this proposal.
COST Commentary: We strongly support Mr. Smalley’s comments below regarding Austin’s current light rail proposition, its negative impact on the community and Cap Metro’s very poor Red Line rail performance, which has a cost per rider of $20 or 5 times a bus rider. However, we temper our views of the Houston light rail performance by noting that Houston’s overall transit ridership today is 20% below its ridership in a ‘bus only’ system before the first Houston light rail was implemented. This is while Houston’s population has grown 35% in the past 15 years. In Austin, Cap Metro’s Red Line rail implementation has been followed with a reduction in total transit ridership, which Cap Metro projects will further decline next year. This is while Austin’s area population has grown 56% in the past 15 years. All four major Texas cities are among the fastest growing in the nation and their total transit ridership has decreased in the past 15 years while spending billions on rail
Proposition 1 rail is expensive white elephant
BY CLAY SMALLEY In ‘The Daily Texan,’ October 9, 2014 at 10:53 am
In 2000, there was a ballot proposition for a light rail line in Austin. If the measure had passed the vote, Austin would have a robust light rail system running from downtown all the way out to 183 along the Drag and North Lamar Boulevard. It was, and still is, the most heavily traveled bus corridor in Austin, at the time carrying the 1L, 1M, 101 and bits and pieces of other routes that happened to pass by UT and downtown. And with good reason: The corridor has the highest population density and job density of any in the city. If built, the line would carry 40,000 passengers each day and cost $300 million — numbers very similar to the successful Houston MetroRail, which happened to begin construction the following year.
The 2000 vote in Austin, however, failed by a very thin margin — eight tenths of a percent. As a result, Capital Metro substituted the MetroRapid buses for the light rail, and built the completely separate Red Line commuter rail.
Fast forward to now — Project Connect, a partnership between the City of Austin, Cap Metro and other transit agencies, will be putting a questionable light rail plan to the vote in November. Phase One of the construction would consist of light rail starting at the Austin Convention Center downtown, running north along San Jacinto Boulevard and Trinity Street to pass by the east side of UT, then jogging over to Red River to the Hancock Center, crossing the existing Red Line with an expensive bridge or tunnel and following Airport Boulevard to the derelict Highland Mall.
This line would carry half the passengers per day that the 2000 proposal would. At a hefty price tag of $1.4 billion in taxpayer dollars, though, it’s not much more than a shiny, expensive version of the bus route 10, and it’s such an awful plan that even former Cap Metro transit planner Lyndon Henry is against it.
What happened? Why did Project Connect choose this route, instead of retrying the Guadalupe-Lamar route? While the 2000 vote failed, it still passed within the city limits of Austin, whose residents are the only ones voting on the bond initiative this time around. Has anything significantly changed about the city that makes this corridor better?
Smooth Ride, or Bumpy Start?
Let’s look at some real-life examples of light rail systems around the country. The aforementioned Houston MetroRail was planned as an upgrade to the most heavily traveled bus corridor and designed to be a backbone to the transit network of the city. The initial segment followed a near-straight line from downtown Houston to an outlying park-and-ride near the former Astroworld amusement park, tying together popular destinations and job centers such as the Texas Medical Center, the Museum District, Rice University, and the Reliant Stadium complex. This was the north-south axis of job density across the center of Houston. In other words, light rail just made sense there.
And it saw packed trains from Day One. By the end of 2004, the year the Houston MetroRail opened, it saw 33,000 boardings on a typical day. The line has since been extended on the opposite side of downtown, and two more lines are being built as I write. They plan on expanding the system even further to stitch together all the employment centers of the city as well as beefing up the bus system to serve all the Houstonians farther away from the rail system. For such a car-oriented city, Houston is doing a fantastic job of balancing out its modes of transportation.
But an equally car-oriented city, San Jose, has been struggling to make its light rail system work since its inception. In the late ‘80s, when everyone was scrambling to buy a Macintosh or a PC with Windows 3.0, the local governments of the booming Silicon Valley wanted to complement the growth with a light rail system. With the Santa Clara VTA’s bus network to build off of, they were taking a huge gamble. The plan they came up with was one linking the downtown of San Jose, some neighborhoods of single-family homes, and vast expanses of parking lot with small office buildings peppered throughout. They crossed their fingers, expecting the rail line to induce growth, with tightly-packed office buildings and homes replacing the scarcely populated parking lots, driveways and front yards. This was the only way the light rail system could score enough riders to keep it financially stable.
Today, the Santa Clara VTA Light Rail has failed to live up to its projections, carrying 30 percent fewer passengers at an operating cost 30 percent higher than the average light rail system in the United States. It costs taxpayers in the rest of the region $10 to subsidize every round trip, and less than 1 percent of the county’s residents even ride the trains regularly. It’s important to note: There is such a thing as bad light rail.
How does this compare with the plan here in Austin? If the 2000 Guadalupe-Lamar plan had passed, our city would have a light rail system similar to the one in Houston. It would serve all the existing walking-oriented parts of the city, including Downtown, UT, the Drag and West Campus as well as some other areas that would be more conducive to walking if they were given a little push, like the Triangle and the area around Lamar and Airport Boulevard. Trains would have been packed from the day the line opened.
And all it takes to make a San-Jose-style light rail line is to move a good line a mile east. The Project Connect line still passes through Downtown and UT but eschews state office buildings to instead serve downtown parking garages and follows San Jacinto Boulevard, an incredibly inconvenient route for the cash-cow West Campus riders. North of the University, Red River is full of low-density residential areas, with vociferous neighborhood associations that will fight tooth and nail to prevent the neighborhood from getting denser. The closest this line gets to a dense business district is near the HEB at Hancock Center, which is still an island in the middle of an ocean of parking lots. We shouldn’t put rail where we think density may be at some point in the future — rail should go where density already is.
The Consequences of Building the Wrong Route
“Won’t it take another ten to fifteen years for another light rail proposal to be put to a vote? Austin needs rail now to fix congestion!”
This is an argument I’ve unfortunately heard quite a lot. Despite what any politician says, public transit doesn’t do anything to relieve car congestion — it simply provides an alternative to it. Consider New York City: Driving around Manhattan is hell, and will likely be that way for the foreseeable future. But fortunately, there’s a cheap, quick way of getting around that is immune to car congestion, and that is the New York Subway. You may end up on a crowded train with your face in someone’s armpit for a while, but at least you’ll get to where you’re going on time.
The only way to reduce car congestion is to make it less convenient to drive. But few people want more toll roads or a higher gas taxes — unpopular ideas. So, Austin will see congestion for as long as people drive cars.
As for the lengthy waiting period, it isn’t as lengthy as it seems. It happened to be 14 years between this light rail proposal and the previous, but the average turnaround time is about 3.8 years - and grassroots organizations like AURA are working to make it even shorter. We shouldn’t rush into a bad, expensive plan if it won’t take us that long to wait for a good one.
So what if this rail line isn’t perfect? Why should we let the perfect be the enemy of the good? As it turns out, this rail route can’t even be considered good — it’s worse than building nothing. CapMetro’s Red Line commuter rail is running at full capacity, but still needs a whopping $18 subsidy for every boarding, or in other words, CapMetro loses $18 every time someone rides the Red Line. The commuter buses it replaced only needed a $3 subsidy for every boarding. So what did CapMetro do to compensate for this hefty loss? They diverted money from serving the bus system, resulting in route removals (anyone remember the Cameron Road and Wickersham Lane shuttles?) service cuts and fare hikes (or as Cap Metro calls it, fare restructuring).
This rail is something Austin can’t afford to screw up. No matter what, this proposition will only make transit worse if it passes. The resulting reduction in bus service will only encourage us, and everyone around us, to drive more - the exact opposite effect of what a transit project should do.
If you feel that cutting more bus routes will help Austin grow and develop, go ahead and vote “yes” on Proposition 1.
At least Austin will get a shiny choo-choo.
Smalley is a computer science senior from Katy and a member of Austinites for Urban Rail Action.