Don’t Waste Money Subsidizing Outdated, Ineffective Light Rail

July 24th, 2016

COST Commentary: the title of the article below is a terrific analogy. The short Forbes article and its referenced articles dispel many of the key myths regarding urban rail transit. The article summarizes the key attributes of the recent wave of U.S. light rail infatuations. The fallacies and contradictory characteristics of light rail promotions versus reality are well proven in many cities which have spend billions of dollars implementing light rail to discover what was already known, light rail is:

1. NOT RAPID TRANSIT – TRANSIT COMMUTING TAKES AN AVERAGE OF DOUBLE THE TIME A CAR TAKES TO MAKE A TRIP.
2. NOT HIGH CAPACITY – BUSES CAN ACTUALLY CARRY MORE PASSENGERS FOR SIGNIFICANTLY LESS COSTS.
3. NOT EFFECTIVE CONGESTION RELIEF – TRANSIT DOES NOT REDUCE CONGESTION AND TRAINS ARE CONGESTION CREATORS.
4. NOT COST-EFFECTIVE – RAIL IS THE LEAST COST-EFFECTIVE OF TRANSIT MODES AND WASTEFUL SPENDING ON HIGH COST RAIL DEGRADES OVERALL MOBILITY.
5. NOT A JOB CREATOR – THE FEW JOBS ARE HIGHLY SUBSIDIZED BY TAXPAYERS.
6. NOT FUNDED WITH “FREE” DOLLARS – U.S. GOVERNMENT HANDOUTS ARE NOT FREE.
7. NOT A SIGNIFICANT BENEFIT TO LOW-INCOME PEOPLE – RAIL INCREASES THEIR TAXES ALSO AND DOES NOT PROVIDE ACCESS TO ADEQUATE POVERTY REDUCING JOBS.
8. NOT COMPATIBLE WITH NEW TECHNOLOGY – CURRENT AND NEW MOBILITY TECHNOLOGY BEING RAPIDLY IMPLEMENTED IN CITIES WILL FURTHER OUT-DATE TRAINS.

In addition, light rail increases tax burdens for all taxpayers to subsidize a minuscule portion of citizens riding rail. Rail is subsidized 5-10 times bus transit. Rail provides little benefit to the vast majority and degrades their overall quality-of-life.
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Subsidizing Light Rail Is Like Subsidizing The Landline Telephone

by Scott Boyer, Contributor, May 24, 2016 in Forbes Magazine

What would happen if your city, in the name of progress, started giving poorer residents vouchers for landline telephones rather than smartphones? Or if, rather than stocking public libraries with computers, so that people could write emails, your city installed fax machines? You would consider these unnecessary expenditures on outdated technologies. Yet when it comes to public transit, many cities splurge on modes designed for a different time and place—namely light rail.

Rail transit, such as streetcars, widely spurred America’s urban growth during the industrial era, when automobiles hadn’t yet been invented, and settlement patterns were dense. There are still a handful of dense legacy cities—New York City, San Francisco, Boston, Chicago and Washington, DC—that wouldn’t function without passenger rail. But rail isn’t convenient or practical in sprawling cities, although many have built entire systems nonetheless.

The Dallas metro, where many of the main growth corridors are 20 or 30 miles apart, has the nation’s longest light rail system at 90 miles. The large desert known as Phoenix has a 26-mile line that largely runs past strip malls. Systems have been built in similarly-designed cities like Houston, Austin, Portland, Atlanta, Cleveland and St. Louis. Detroit, which suffers from just about every service failure imaginable, has nonetheless found the money—some of it federal—to build a streetcar along decrepit Woodward Avenue.

These projects have been championed by everyone from environmentalists, to urban density proponents, to business groups like the Chamber of Commerce, and for numerous reasons. Rail, it is thought, will get people out of cars and into transit; will spur infill growth; and will bring a “sense of place” to strategic corridors.

But it doesn’t seem to do any of this, a conclusion drawn by numerous analysts, most notably Randal O’Toole. For decades, he has written in books, blogs, and as a Cato Institute analyst about the fool’s errands of cities trying to reorient themselves around rail. They spend billions on building and maintaining systems, only to find that their cities largely function as they had before, via car use and fragmented development patterns.

For example, transit ridership rates don’t dramatically increase following rail construction, and sometimes they even decline. O’Toole believes the ridership declines result because rail strips funding from buses, which are cheaper and more flexible. As O’Toole notes about Los Angeles:

“The Southern California Rapid Transit District, ran buses for 92.6 million revenue miles in 1985. By 1995, to help pay for rail cost overruns, this had fallen to 78.9 million. Thanks to the court order in the NAACP case [to restore bus service in minority areas], this climbed back up to 92.9 million in 2006. But after the court order lapsed, it declined to 75.7 million in 2014. The riders gained on the multi-billion-dollar rail lines don’t come close to making up for this loss in bus service.”

Rail transit’s role as a catalyst for dense development is also highly questionable—some lines have seen little development go up around them, and experienced high vacancy rates in existing buildings. Others have enjoyed adjacent mid- and high-rise growth. But it’s hard to know, in the latter case, whether it was rail that spurred those developments, or some combination of government subsidies for developers, organic migration back into cities, land use deregulation to allow higher densities, or the construction of other nearby public amenities. San Antonio, for example, doesn’t have light rail, but in the last few years has extended its famed River Walk north and south of downtown. It is seeing more growth along that linear stretch of parkland than Houston (which also has a fast-growing core) has seen along practically every light rail stop.

And as I’ve noted while traveling cross-country, light rail lines haven’t proven to be particularly good place-makers. In the best-case scenarios, they are utilitarian pieces of infrastructure that present overheard wires, large concrete platforms, track entrapments for bicyclists, loud beeping noises, and grade-level crossing delays, making them about as charming as automobiles. In the worst-case scenarios—such as downtown Dallas’ West End—their platforms become gathering spots for loiterers and petty crooks. There have been countless cases, meanwhile, where cities have enhanced their streetscapes without rail.

Yet cities continue building light rail. Perhaps the worst aspect of such outdated infrastructure is that it gives planners a perceived silver-bullet answer—“build a monorail!”— rather than forcing them to really think about their cities’ mobility issues. They could be embracing new technologies–by bolstering their bus rapid transit networks using managed designated lanes; or by studying, subsidizing, or at very least allowing ridesharing platforms like Uber and Lyft; or by building better-timed streetlights, electronic congestion tolls, smart parking meters, and other modern traffic-flow solutions. Instead these officials, often backed by federal grants, are throwing money into a century-old transportation concept that is unfit for most U.S. cities. This is a lazy approach, and insofar as it perpetuates the congestion crisis, it undermines the urbanist cause, by making dense living less convenient. It’s time for transportation planners to emphasize the future over the past.

Scott Beyer is traveling the U.S. to write a book about reviving U.S. cities through Market Urbanism. His work is found atBigCitySparkplug.com

Light Rail is Obsolete and Ineffective in Addressing Austin’s Mobility Needs

July 16th, 2016

COST Commentary: The following posting was published to provide important observations, information and facts which are intended to address a recent flurry of public releases by the Central Austin Community Development Corporation (CACDC) and press coverage stimulated by these releases.

Most of those promoting rail are misguided by a lack of more detailed knowledge of the overall implications of rail transit in the context of today’s mobility needs, particularity considering current and rapidly advancing technology. Based on extensive experience, including two elections, we believe the vast majority of citizens who are provided key data and facts relative to rail transit will make decisions which enhance the overall greater-good of this great community and reject rail as ineffective, unaffordable and a major creator of congestion, degrading overall mobility. However, there are a small number of people who promote light rail from an ideological or self-interest perspective and do not place the greater-good of the community as a high priority. These folks often disregard facts and reality while presenting deceptive, distorted and unsupported views of rail transit.

Please see the COST posting at: http://www.costaustin.org/jskaggs/?p=4994 for more details on Cap Metro’s continue significant decline in transit ridership during 2016.
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Light Rail is Obsolete and Ineffective in Addressing Austin’s Mobility Needs
by Jim Skaggs, COST Web Site Posting, July 16, 2016

It is difficult to imagine anyone, with minimal evaluation, could suggest public transit, especially light rail, as an effective means to improve overall mobility and be a major contributor to relieving roadway congestion in Austin. The chart below is very revealing as to the daily mobility decisions made by citizens living in Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs) areas containing the largest Texas cities of Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin; where more than one-half of all Texans live.
TotalTransitRidership2-1999-2015
For the past 15 years, these four cities have poured many billions of taxpayer funds into buses and new light rail transit systems in an effort to increase transit ridership and reduce congestion. The dismal result is that there is less total public transit ridership today than there was in 1999 before any of these cities implemented significant light rail or commuter rail transit. Dallas is the only city with slightly more ridership today than 15 years ago. Dallas spent billions in tax funds to implement the longest light rail in the nation. Many of Dallas’ increased boardings (ridership) are due to transfers between bus and rail which do not increase overall individual full trips.

Dallas’ major rail expansion has resulted in canceling many bus routes, moving transit riders from cost-effective buses to much higher cost light rail. This means taxpayers pay significantly more to subsidize transit for the same number of one-way trips. Currently Dallas’ rail ridership is approaching 50% of the total with buses retaining a small lead. If just 10% of the rail and bus riders require one transfer for each of their two, going and returning, trips, it creates an approximately, additional 20,000 daily boardings. (Note: Every time a rider boards a bus or train, it counts as a boarding. For example: A single rider making one transfer going to and coming from work is recorded as 4 boardings (or riders) for the day. Transits agencies can only estimate the actual number of one-way transit trips. The chart above would reflect a much flatter graph for total Dallas transit ridership, the past 5 years, if it was based on total people using transit.

It is also revealing that Dallas, with it much larger light rail component, has the least cost-effective transit of the four cities and San Antonio, with buses only, is the most cost-effective.

A recent Article in D Magazine by Peter Simek contained the following regarding Dallas’ DART light rail:

“Light rail construction started in 1990 and continued steadily for 25 years, racing out along existing 19th-century rail right-of-ways to far-flung corners of the sprawling region. Today, with 90-plus miles of rail, the light rail system is the nation’s largest. It is also the nation’s most inefficient. In a peer-to-peer comparison study compiled by a Chicago-based transit agency, Dallas ranked at or near the bottom in terms of passenger trips, operating cost per mile, and fare recovery rate among 10 major U.S. cities. In terms of total miles ridden by passengers, the longest light rail system in the country came in dead last.”
Bold emphasis added.

This overall ridership decline of 5.6% has occurred in a period when all four of these Texas MSAs are among the fastest growing MSA populations in the U.S. The total population during this 15-year decline in transit ridership grew 44% as shown in the chart below. Austin’s MSA population increased 66% during this period, while its public transit ridership declined 9%.
4citiespopandridership (2)
Depressingly, for this same period, the cost per passenger mile for the average transit trip has grown much faster than inflation. Therefore, taxpayers’ in Austin are continuing to subsidize each transit rider’s trip on an increasing cost trend which is currently about 90%, including capital, of the real cost of the transit trip. Austin’s MetroRail is the least cost effective general transit mode, costing taxpayers more than 95% of each trip’s cost.

The Central Austin Community Development Corporation (CACDC) is the latest in a series of groups over the past 30 years which have promoted light rail. Each of these small groups has provided unsubstantiated, distorted and incorrect information regarding the cost, ridership and congestion impact of rail which has proven to be grossly understated in cost and over-stated in ridership. There is small probability this rail could be implemented for less than double their estimated cost and have more than one-half their CACDC’s estimated ridership. Their estimated ridership is more than 10 times the current Austin commuter rail ridership. And, the light rail would significantly increase congestion.

Comparing the ridership of this suggested CACDC rail line to the that of the nation’s heaviest used light rail in Boston is an absolute joke. The CACDC ridership estimate is based on the average weekday ridership of the light rail proposed in Austin’s 2000 election. This was hugely overstated based on major erroneous assumptions as proven with the passage of time.

Austin’s MetroRail commuter implementation cost at least three times the plan and its annual operating costs were more than 5 times Cap Metros pre-election promises in 2004.

CACDC has provided no discussion of the operating costs of the rail and of the required increased taxes to subsidize its actual small ridership. Taxpayers pay more than 90% of the cost of each riders trip on the current Austin MetroRail; meaning each average daily, week-day, round trip rider is subsidized an average of about $10,000 per year. This is more than 5 times the subsidy for bus riders which will be able to make the same trip from Leander in less time than the train when current roadway upgrades are completed.

All rail transit promotions have been accompanied by promises of reduced congestion which is specified as the number one negative community issue by the vast majority of local daily commuters. Rail promoters spend little time and thoughtful effort to address the congestion impact of rail transit. Austin’s 9.5 mile, $1.4 billion light rail plan, which was soundly defeated in the 2014 election, would have created the greatest, instant, continued major congestion increase in Austin’s history. All prior rail proposals would have resulted in major roadway congestion increases, degrading mobility for notably more people than it helped. Basically, public transit and roadway congestion are separate issues, except, improved roads, especially with managed lanes open to buses can significantly improve transit time.

Perhaps, the most damaging impact of wasteful spending on rail transit is that these funds could be allocated to alleviating real traffic congestion for the 99% of all passenger miles traveled daily on Austin roadways. In addition to eliminating wasteful spending, Austin’s outdated bus transit system must be restructured to better meet transit needs.

The greatest shortcoming in proposing 19th century rail technology for today’s mobility is a failure to recognize existing and rapidly advancing 21st century mobility technology. These current technologies will greatly render rail as obviously obsolete, unaffordable and ineffective to almost all citizens. With current and new technologies, we can expect transformational positive changes in mobility and land use which will improve the quality-of-life for all.

Austin’s long and abandoned road to implementing synchronized or “smart” traffic lights.

July 6th, 2016

COST Commentary: The recent KXAN article below addresses one of the most cost-effective ways to improve mobility, in cities similar to Austin, for all citizens. For the past 25 years, the City of Austin has advertised its objective to improve its signal lights’ timing/synchronization, with exiting technology, to upgrade the mobility of those using Austin’s roads. This is always one of the most cost effective ways to reduce citizens’ travel time and improve safety. However, many traffic lights and road intersections remain deficient in their timing and existing “smart” traffic light systems have not been implemented.

If one believed in conspiracy theories, you might conclude this ignoring of a foundation concept to improved mobility is purposeful and intended to discourage people from using private vehicles on the roads. This is consistent will numerous other transitions including conversion of one-way streets to two way and reducing car lanes in favor of wider sidewalks and protected bicycle lanes. All of these actions are increasing congestion and safety hazards resulting in discouraging citizens from driving in central Austin. And, guess what: The City’s actions are not resulting in more people entering the City center by riding public transit and bicycles.

Whatever the motivation in not effectively addressing Austin’s signal deficiencies, it is all part of Austin’s ineffective management of transportation programs and allocation of transportation funds to improve the overall mobility of citizens. Citizens continue to be constrained by City leadership and a transportation department which puts their perceived priorities ahead of citizens’ priorities. Elected officials and city employees do not seem to recognize they work for citizen taxpayers who pay their salaries and fund the mobility projects.
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City reexamines worst traffic signals in Austin
By Kate Weidaw, KXAN, Published: July 6, 2016

AUSTIN – A recent study by the city of Austin’s Transportation Department reveals nearly 60-percent of drivers say they are unhappy with the timing of traffic signals.

As a result, the city has hired an engineer whose sole job is to reconfigure the timing of traffic lights so drivers can keep moving. But it can be a tricky job.

“Folks always say can’t you just change the signal timing,” said Jim Dale, Austin Transportation Department Assistant Director. “One of the things I like to say with that is: if you’re going to give someone more green time that means someone else is getting more red time. So there is that balance. Yes, I can give you more green time, but that may be at the expense of a side street.”

Each month the Transportation Department reports they receive more than one thousand requests for maintenance on lights. One problem is the significant boost in the number of cars on the road.

“A lot of folks when they’re driving during the peak periods, there are just too many cars on the road,” said Dale. “The signals cannot process that amount of traffic when everyone is trying to get to downtown or get their kids to school or to their jobs on time.”

As a result of the findings from this recent study city engineers have a goal of evaluating at least one-third of the signals each year. The city currently maintains about 950 traffic signals. Those wishing to request an engineer to look at the timing of a signal can call 311.

The intersection at Rustic Rock Drive and Spicewood Springs Road is partially blamed for the death of a 14-year-old boy was hit and killed in northwest Austin earlier this month. Walk Austin, a coalition of community advocates, says part of the issue was the flashing yellow lights at the intersection where the teen was killed.
“Drivers do not always yield the right of way, and it is imperative that we provide safe crossing opportunities for our most vulnerable populations during the most dangerous hours of the day on our most dangerous roadways,” stated Walk Austin in a letter sent to the city.

Austin’s Cap Metro Transit Agency: Rapidly Loosing Ridership in Rapidly Increasing Population

July 4th, 2016

COST Commentary: Ben Wear, reporter for the Austin American-Statesman, “hits the nail on the head” with the article below regarding Cap Metro’s declining transit ridership. The decline is much longer than discussed in this article and the decline is now accelerating. Cap Metro’s total transit ridership today is less than it was in 1999 while the Austin area has experienced the fastest growing population of any U.S. region, or among the fastest growing, for many years. The cost of transit ridership has grown much faster than inflation, resulting in an increasing burden on taxpayers to subsidize transit ridership. This taxpayer cost is part of the rapidly increasing unaffordability of the Austin region.

Austin area light rail plans have been based on UT/student ridership being about one-third of total transit and rail ridership. Today UT ridership is less than one-half of this and declining. Planners did not responsibly project the future by a wide margin as discussed in the article below. This is the normal story of a relatively young, rapidly growing city. The future geographic structure of Austin, the living locations of UT students and technology driven transportation alternatives are a few of the major considerations which were ignored, misunderstood or poorly projected by transit transportation planners. In addition, Cap Metro and Austin city leaders did not adequately study, understand and consider transportation implications which were obvious in numerous cities similar to Austin.

The dynamics of Austin being a rapidly changing city with declining transit use and of transportation alternatives being rapidly transformed by technology are both compelling reasons that any “fixed rail” or “fixed corridor” transit approach is totally ineffective and not cost-effective to serve the greater good of Austin area citizens’ mobility needs of the future.

Austin’s declining transit ridership, with less ridership today than in 1999, is not unique. It is occurring in similar forms in Texas cities of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio as well as other similar cities in the U.S. Houston has lost major transit ridership since 1999 (before light rail) and Dallas transit ridership is up very slightly (7.3%) after spending billions of taxpayer dollars to build the longest light rail system in the nation. Much of the slight ridership increase in Dallas is due to transfers between the light rail and buses. The number of individual one-way trips is an even smaller increase. San Antonio, with a bus only and most cost-effective transit system of all major Texas cities, has also lost 9.4% of its transit system ridership from 2011 through 2015 and now has less transit ridership than in 1999.

Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin are among the fastest growing regional populations in the U.S. Future transportation plans must be responsibly evaluated and the most cost-effective alternatives chosen to meet the needs of citizens. Texas cities have a history of biased, self serving or incompetent transit and elected officials making mobility decisions which degrade the overall mobility of their communities. These officials seem to believe they know what is best for citizens and try to force fundamental changes in a large portion of people’s daily mobility decisions. This has not worked, and will not work, anywhere as people free to make decisions will make them in a way which best serves their needs and quality-of-life.

A major element to mobility failure in Austin has been the long habit of spending large, disproportionate shares of limited transportation funds to support mobility modes which are used by a minuscule portion of the citizens such as passenger rail systems and bicycles as well as poorly managed bus systems which are based on archaic, ineffective operational concepts. Citizens’ decisions in Austin, as in most similar cities, result in 98-99% of all daily passenger miles being traveled on roads and roads have received low funding priority in Austin for many years, as population has skyrocketed.

Austin’s allocation of transportation and transit funding, from all sources, requires a comprehensive review, evaluation and overhaul in order to meet citizens’ mobility and quality-of-life needs now and in the future. This process must be conducted by experienced, capable people and void of the ideological, political and biased motivations and decisions of the past.

Austin citizens should not support major transportation bond proposals without total transparency as to the detailed improvements projected for such bonds. At this point, the city has not released data which projects the improvements to be expected by committing to the proposed $720 million bond proposal for the November 2016 election.

Please see our later post with more details regarding declining transit in the four largest Texas cities.
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Wear: Pondering Cap Metro’s ridership plunge
By Ben Wear – American-Statesman Staff, Posted: 12:00 a.m. Sunday, July 3, 2016

Capital Metro is hemorrhaging bus riders.

Average daily ridership has fallen more than 20 percent in the past four years, from almost 130,000 boardings a day in 2012 to about 102,000 a day this spring. And that most recent figure was down 4.2 percent from the previous spring, meaning the bleeding has not slowed down.

And lest anyone think that all those former bus riders have moved to MetroRail, the agency’s commuter line to Leander, it is generating about 650 more rides a day now than in 2012. That covers about 2 percent of the loss in bus boardings.

The obvious questions: Why the plunge, and what is Cap Metro trying to do about it? The “why” part, naturally, has a lot of tentacles.

At a Cap Metro board meeting last week, the popular theory was that, in effect, the agency’s customers have been moving away. This is the so-called suburbanization of poverty argument, the idea that as Austin housing has become more expensive — rents and home prices in gentrifying areas — people who might have used the bus rather than a car are instead now living in Pflugerville or Hutto or Bastrop.

And demographic data from the U.S. Census, as the Statesman has reported, have shown decreasing poverty levels in Austin and increasing poverty levels in some of the city’s suburbs.

One problem with this theory: If you move out into Sprawlville, almost by definition that means you already had a car, or have to get one now. So there’s a bit of a logic problem there.

Nonetheless, Capital Metro has been engaged over the past year or two in trying to chase at least some of those riders. The agency has a service area of cities and other jurisdictions that voted years ago to join the Cap Metro fold and therefore impose a 1 percent sales tax that goes directly to the transit agency’s coffers.

A town that is not a member of Cap Metro — such as Round Rock, Pflugerville, Hutto, Buda, Kyle or Cedar Park — is not eligible for bus or rail service. But Cap Metro can reach separate agreements with such cities in which some of the federal money now going to the agency would instead go directly to those cities for transit needs. Then, if elected officials in those areas agree to throw in more of their tax dollars, Cap Metro could extend some bus service to them.

The agency and several cities are planning for such service, said Todd Hemingson, Cap Metro’s vice president of strategic planning and development. However, Hemingson said, “in the big scheme of things, it’s a very small ridership contribution.”
No, that 28,000 loss of boardings has to do with far more than people moving.

More competition

First of all, the University of Texas shuttle system has lost 17,000 daily boardings, half of it ridership in those four years.

UT pays Cap Metro about $6.4 million a year to provide the rides, and that figure has not grown nearly enough over the past decade to keep up with inflation of the agency’s cost of running the buses. The result is that Cap Metro has been trimming the service — five routes have been eliminated since 2012, and others have had route or frequency changes.

Beyond that, West Campus has gone vertical and dense with high-rise residential buildings catering to students, putting more and more of them within walking distance of class.

But Cap Metro has been hit with other external forces and suffered at least one significant self-inflicted wound.

With gas prices at 10-year lows, particularly taking into account inflation, taking the car has become an ever more painless option. People who rushed to Cap Metro’s web page and then bus stops during 2008’s summer of $4-a-gallon gas now have returned to their cars. And with unemployment hovering around 3 percent locally, more people can afford to get a car in the first place. Fare hikes in 2014 and 2015 didn’t help, but the decline has continued into 2016.

And now there is an explosion of transportation options, particularly for the younger and often financially comfortable people moving into the core of the city. While some of them might have taken the bus in the past, since June of 2014 they have been able to use ride-hailing services, such as Uber or Lyft — or any of the replacement companies that have popped up after those industry leaders chose to leave in May. Car2go short-term rental cars are more prevalent now, as are B-cycle stations.

How much effect have any of those had, individually? Hemingson can’t say.

Fewer routes, fewer riders

Then there’s the rapid bus problem. Capital Metro in the spring of 2012 was getting more than 17,000 boardings a day from its three routes plying the North Lamar Boulevard/South Congress Avenue corridor running up the spine of the city. In January 2014, the agency canceled two of those routes and added the No. 801, a somewhat faster and somewhat more expensive alternative on roughly the same route.

It hasn’t gone well.

As of this spring, the old No. 1 slower service had 5,733 boardings a day. The No. 801 was 5,676, for a combined 11,409 boardings a day, down a third over four years. The cheaper service comes by less often, and the more expensive service has fewer stops. That is a bad combo.

The other rapid bus corridor, with the old No. 3 and the No. 803 rapid bus, has seen an extra 2,000 boardings a day because there is actually more service now. But taken together, the two corridors are off 4,000 rides daily.

One thing that has worked is a move a year ago to more frequent service on five other routes. Those routes have seen an 1,800-boardings-a-day increase in the past year, perhaps offering a road map for future changes.

The agency is paying attention to all this, Hemingson said, and has consultants working on a plan — a transfusion, if you will. We’ll see if the doctoring works.

Expert: Lack of Infrastructure Can Bust Austin – More Roads Are Needed

June 20th, 2016

COST Commentary: This article is a brief description of a well known national “expert’s” opinion regarding the conflict between Austin’s real need for improved mobility and reduced congestion, with upgraded and expanded roads; and, the City leaders’ primary focus on ways to get people out of cars. Daily passenger miles traveled in Central Texas are 99% on roads, including private, transit, shared, commercial, government, school, emergency, etc.

COST agrees completely with the article’s conclusion that more roads are needed. New and improved roads should be the highest priority for allocation of transportation funds. Austin’s current transportation direction will significantly increase area congestion and degrade the downtown central core as a desirable destination for the vast majority of citizens. The City leaders’ approach to reduce congestion by getting people out of cars has no model of success.

Importantly, all future transportation planning should consider the impact of new technologies such as self-driving vehicles, enhanced “ride hailing” services, smart signalization, ramp metering and others. These will render current approaches to land use, parking, road lane capacity, public transit and others to be outdated in many cases. For example, “fixed” rail transit will be even more outdated than it already is and overall public transit will be require revamping.
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Mr. Boomtown: Austin needs more roads
by Michael Theis, Austin Business Journal, May 17, 2016

Professor and author Joel Kotkin, speaking, will be in San Marcos Thursday to deliver remarks at the Greater San Marcos Economic Outlook event hosted by the Greater San Marcos Partnership.

Joel Kotkin knows a boomtown when he sees one.

Kotkin, an urban studies fellow at Chapman University, has made a career for himself by trying to find out what does and does not make a city boom. Austin has been at or near the top of his annual list of America’s Next Boomtowns, published by Forbes magazine, for years now.

Thursday, he’ll be speaking at the 2016 Greater San Marcos Economic Outlook event in San Marcos, where growth along the Austin-San Antonio corridor has put immense development pressure on the area. Census numbers released in 2014 put San Marcos as the fastest-growing city in America in the fastest-growing county in America, Hays County.

“This tech corridor, this growth corridor, that has opened up between Austin and San Antonio has seen extreme job growth,” said Kotkin. “There is certainly an enormous amount of momentum in that part of Texas.”

Part of that, Kotkin said, is because cities in Texas can offer more bang for their residents’ bucks.

“If you look at coastal cities, you’re really going to have to accept a pretty significant downsizing in how much space you have, the ease of getting around, and you’re going to have to accept a much more limited set of options because the cost of living is so high,” said Kotkin. “The cities on the coast have become more exclusionary. The cities in Texas have become more inclusionary.”

But as Austin’s boom continues, many recognize it can’t last forever. So what makes boomtowns go bust?
Inadequate infrastructure is often the culprit, Kotkin said. In Austin — a city that cites traffic as its No. 1 threat — that usually manifests itself in the form of bad mobility options.

“Austin is obviously the big bottleneck” in the region, said Kotkin, who encourages more road investments in Austin. “I don’t know what fantasy world some of their leaders live in, but they think we can have a lot of growth and choke the roads.”

Austin city leaders, however, are focused largely on ways to get people out of cars. Telecommuting, flex schedules, denser development and an urban rail line are seen as the best ways to fight traffic by the majority at City Hall. The prevailing municipal mentality is that it’s too costly to build and maintain more roads — and the more roads that are built, the more cars will be attracted. The state, on the other hand, is taking the lead on major road projects in the area such as those in the works for MoPac Expressway and I-35.

Other boomtowns have fizzled due to a variety of problems. In the early 2000s, for instance, Las Vegas was the ultimate boomtown. But in the housing crisis it was quite vulnerable. Construction — simply building houses — was a huge driver for the Vegas economy.

“When that faded, those economies faded,” said Kotkin. “The boomtown of the 1950s was Detroit. We know what happened there. Silicon Valley has been through several boom and bust cycles.

“But what is interesting,” Kotkin added, “is since 2000, through the small recession and then the big recession, Texan cities have really outperformed other big cities around the country, both in terms of migration and in job growth.”

Michael Theis
Staff writer
Austin Business Journal

Austin Is not Learning From Failed Transportation Approaches In Many Other Cities

May 4th, 2016

COST Commentary: The article below describes California’s failed effort in its long, expensive attempt to reduce single occupancy vehicles for work commuting. Austin City leaders are following a very similar path and can expect similar failed results. The wasted effort and dollars could be used much more effectively to address Austin’s real transportation challenges. City leaders need to open their blinders and look at actual results such as those in California and numerous other locations.

It is obvious Austin in on the wrong path to serve the greater good of the vast majority of its citizens who continue to choose the superior benefits of single occupancy vehicle’s convenience, time savings, flexibility and destination needs; all providing citizens a greater quality of life. This chosen transportation mode will become even more cost effective and less congested as current and pending new transportation technologies continue to develop and enter public use. Major among these is the wave of self-driving vehicles which will provide all these same benefits plus they will be safer as they reduce human error which is the greatest cause of vehicle accidents and deaths.

It is amazing to us that Austin leaders have launched a “Year of Mobility” and are pursuing a Smart City Challenge from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which will award a $50 million grant to one of seven cities. Little in Austin’s actual history of mobility performance provides any evidence they have a clue as to a sound transportation approach. The 2014 proposed 9.5 mile, central City light rail is a recent example which was soundly defeated by voters whoseem to have a much better understanding of needs than the Austin’s City Transportation Department.
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MORE CALIFORNIAN’S CONTINUE TO DRIVE DESPITE POLICIES TO DISCOURAGE
by Wendell Cox 05/04/2016

“California Commuters Continue to Choose Single Occupant Vehicles,” according to a report by the California Center for Jobs and the Economy. The Center indicated:

“The recent release of the 2014 American Community Survey data provides an opportunity to gauge how California commuters have responded to this shifting policy. The data clearly reflects that even with the well-documented and rapidly rising costs of the state’s traffic congestion and costs associated with the deteriorating condition of the state’s roads, California workers continue to rely on single occupant vehicles for the primary mode of commuting. Moreover, their reliance on this mode of travel continues to grow both in absolute and relative terms.” (emphasis in original)

California has experienced substantial growth since 1980. There are approximately 7,000,000 more workers today than 35 years ago. The Census Bureau data shows that 83 percent of the new commuting has been by single-occupant automobile. Working at home accounted for 11 percent of the new commuting, while transit accounted for less than one half that figure, at 4.5 percent (Figure). In 1980, transit accounted for more than three times the volume as working at home. By 2014, the number of people working at home exceeded that of transit commuters.

Chart for California Commuting

The Center noted that state policies to discourage single-occupant commuting had been of little effect:

“The substantial investments in public transit, bike lanes, and other alternative modes have not produced major gains in commuter use. Instead, these investments appear to have simply shifted the choices made by commuters who already are committed to getting to work through modes other than single occupant vehicles. From 1980 to 2000, public transit use grew by 116,000 while “other” modes dropped by the same amount. From 1980 to 2005, public transit use grew by 121,000 while “other” modes dropped by 113,000. In the following years, 1/3 of the growth in public transit and “other” modes was offset by reductions in carpool use.”

The report credited impressive public transit gains in the San Francisco Bay Area, but went on to say that:

“even in the Bay Area, growth of public transit and the “other modes” has come largely from the shrinking relative use of carpooling.”
While improving transit ridership is a good thing, to the extent that it removes passengers from car pools, there is no gain in traffic, because the car and driver are still on the road.

The report laid considerable blame on the cost of houses in California:

“California, the growing body of land use, energy, CEQA, and other regulations affecting housing cost and supply has put both the cost of housing ownership and rents within traditional employment centers out of the reach of many households.”

California’s housing affordability is legendarily desperate. Since the imposition of strong land use regulations began in the early 1970s, the median house price has risen from three times (or less) times median household incomes in of the state’s metropolitan areas to over nine times today in the San Jose and San Francisco metropolitan areas, over eight times in the Los Angeles and San Diego areas and over five times in the Riverside-San Bernardino area (Inland Empire).

Perhaps the most important “take-away” from the report was that: “The current de facto policy of trying to reduce commuting by increasing congestion and its associated costs to commuters has to date not shown itself to be successful.” Simply stated, the vast majority of jobs and destinations in all of California’s urban areas are not accessible by transit in a reasonable time. The question for most California commuters is, for example, not whether to drive or take transit to work, but whether to go to work at all, since most jobs are not readily accessible except by car.

Minnesota and Austin Commuter Trains are Twins in Taxpayer Burdens

May 2nd, 2016

COST Commentary: The article below is about a 40 mile commuter rail in Minnesota. Its performance is very close to Austin’s 32 mile commuter rail to Leander. The bottom line message is that “It costs too much and Does too little.” These rail systems are a major burden on taxpayers and there are numerous, more cost-effective solutions for riders. A tiny percentage of taxpayers use the trains and the trains provide no benefit for the taxpayers who pay 80-90% of the operating costs and almost all of the capital (implementation) costs funded by the Federal Government and the Local Government.
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This Rail System Costs Taxpayers $22 Per Passenger

By Leah Jessen, a news reporter for The Daily Signal and graduate of The Heritage Foundation’s Young Leaders Program.

A Minnesota commuter rail line is costing taxpayers approximately $22 per passenger, per trip.

“When you’re subsidizing about 80 percent of every trip on the line, it’s a really big fiscal disaster,” Annette Meeks, Freedom Foundation of Minnesota CEO, told The Daily Signal.

The Minnesota Northstar rail opened for service in the fall of 2009, providing commute by train down the 40-mile stretch of railway that runs from downtown Minneapolis to Big Lake. The route cost taxpayers $320 million to build, half of which was funded with federal transportation dollars.

“Federal taxpayers have already paid $150 million for the construction costs of the Northstar Line in the form of New Starts’ grants,” Michael Sargent, a research associate in the Thomas A. Roe Institute for Economic Policy Studies at The Heritage Foundation, told The Daily Signal.

“Too often these grants incentivize cities to build expensive, inefficient rail systems that rarely live up to ridership expectations and leave taxpayers on the hook to cover exorbitant costs while existing infrastructure and more sensible alternatives are ignored,” Sargent said. “That certainly appears to be the case with the Northstar, which only covers a meager 15 percent of its operating costs through fares. Taxpayers have to pick up the other 85 percent of the tab, which doesn’t even include the cost of the tracks or the cars.”

The federal government has paid out $161.9 million for the rail line.

In 2014, passenger fares brought in approximately $2.3 million dollars, while rail line expenses totaled around $15.5 million, according to the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota. During the first full year in operation, 2010, the rail brought in about $2.5 million, but required about $16 million to run.

However, activists in Minnesota are not satisfied with the current rail route and want it expanded. The GRIP/ISAIAH faith-based social justice group is lobbyingfor an extension of the rail line from Big Lake to St. Cloud.

“We feel we deserve the option to not own a car,” Richard Gordon, a St. Cloud State University student, said, the St. Cloud Times reported. “I’ve never owned a car and I don’t plan to, so I need this train.”

The rail line was originally planned to go about 65 miles from the Twin Cities to St. Cloud as a commuter rail line, Meeks says. When applying for federal funding, the rail line did not meet the criteria to qualify for 50 percent of the costs to be funded through the New Starts program under the Bush administration, “because the ridership projections did not meet the Bush administration’s criteria,” she said. Thus, the line was shortened and ended at Big Lake in order to qualify for the federal funding.
Northstar ridership was 722,637 riders last year, up 1,423 riders—only around a 0.2 percent increase—from 2014, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Meeks told The Daily Signal that the daily ridership goals were predicted to be 3,400 riders. Daily ridership last year was around 2,500 riders.

“There were some of us who were strongly opposed to this from the get-go because there is not the population density along this line to ever meet their daily ridership goals,” Meeks said. “That means that it’s going to be heavily subsidized by people who will never set foot on this line.”
Taxpayers subsidized $21.43 per passenger, per trip in 2014. In 2010, taxpayers spent $22 per person, according to the Freedom Foundation of Minnesota.

“It never should have been built,” Meeks said.

She added: “After five years, if something doesn’t catch on, to me it’s just a bad experiment and you should stop experimenting with taxpayer dollars.”

A Northstar Corridor Development Authority study concluded that it would cost around $150 million to extend the rail line to St. Cloud, which is almost 30 miles away from Big Lake. The Minneapolis Star Tribune reported that preliminary capital costs for building the line would be around $40 to $50 million.

Currently, to connect by public transportation to the Twin Cities, St. Cloud residents can take a bus to Big Lake before connecting with the Northstar train.

“Expanding this costly system with more federal dollars is a bad deal for taxpayers and riders alike, especially when there are more cost-effective options—such as bus service—available to residents of the region,” Heritage’s Sargent said.

Constraining Growth Reduces Affordability

April 24th, 2016

COST Commentary: The article below further confirms messages in previous COST postings on this site: Cities/Regions with greater growth containment and burdensome development regulations have significantly larger home price increases. This results in unaffordability for many low and medium income citizens, reductions in families with children and reductions in public school enrollment. All of these trends are accelerating in Austin and will continue unless aggressive action is taken by city leaders.

Focusing more closely on the four largest Texas regions, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio experienced lower home prices (inflation adjusted) in 2010 than 30 years earlier in 1980. These regions have expanded greatly and have maintained responsible development regulations. In contrast, Austin, the fourth largest region, has experienced about a 20% increase in a sharp upward price trend starting around 1990 which has been accelerating in recent years. Recent house prices are 9% higher than last year and last year was 11% higher than the prior year. Austin has one of the fastest rising cost of living trends, primarily due to housing price increases. A significant portion of Austin’s price increases are due to regulations. Many of the Austin region political leaders have recognized and voiced great concern for Austin’s rapidly growing home prices and the major negative impact it is having on a significant portion of the population. However, many of the actions of these leaders are contrary to this concern and actually exacerbate the problem.
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The Wall Street Journal

Why the Great Divide Is Growing Between Affordable and Expensive U.S. Cities
By Laura Kusisto, Apr 18, 2016

Across the country, a divide is emerging between cities that are growing outward and remaining affordable and ones that are hemmed in by geography and onerous zoning codes and are becoming more and more expensive.

As a whole, U.S. cities are expanding as rapidly as they have throughout the last half-century. From the 1950s until the 2000s they have added about 10,000 square miles per decade, or an area roughly the size of Massachusetts, according to research by Issi Romem, chief economist at real-estate site BuildZoom, to be released Monday. But beneath the surface a divide is deepening.

On the one side are cities such as San Francisco, Boston, New York and Miami that have slowed their pace of expansion dramatically since the 1970s, in part as they have added layer upon layer of building regulations. On the other side are cities concentrated in the southeast and Texas, which have grown outward and seen much slower price growth.

Chart for Affordability

The developed residential area in Atlanta, for example, grew by 208% from 1980 to 2010 and real home values grew by 14%. In contrast, in the San Francisco-San Jose area, developed residential land grew by just 30%, while homes values grew by 188%.
The developed residential area in Raleigh, N.C., grew by 219% in the same period, while home values grew by 27%. In Seattle, the developed area grew by 69%, while home values grew by 119%.

Mr. Romem draws the distinction succinctly: expansive cities versus expensive cities.

“If you don’t let the city grow, you’re going to get prices going upward…and see the middle class being pushed out,” Mr. Romem said.
Mr. Romem’s research reads on its face like an argument for suburban sprawl, which has come under fire both for its environmental consequences and tendency to lead to oversupply that can lead home prices to crash.

Mr. Romem said ideally cities would relax regulations and build upward rather than outward. But, he said, promoting development on empty fields is more politically feasible than building apartment towers in single-family neighborhoods, and thus likely to ease affordability pressures more quickly.

Many of the more expensive cities are prevented from growing outward by natural barriers, such as oceans or mountains. Those cities are unlikely to grow significantly upward or outward in the next couple of decades, he said, and thus the price divide is likely to continue to widen.

That could be good news for cities such as Atlanta and Raleigh, N.C., that have long been overshadowed by more economically powerful legacy cities.

“These cities are growing more important because of having more population. They have become more viable places for certain types of firms to locate,” he said.

U.S. Transit Ridership is Falling

April 6th, 2016

COST Commentary: This short article about reductions in 2015 transit ridership compared to 2014 needs no commentary. Texas’ major cities are not mentioned because ridership changes are very small. Austin, Dallas and San Antonio were down slightly in ridership and Houston was up slightly. This “flat” ridership has been the trend of these Texas cities for many years. These cities/regions have been in the top 10 in population growth and transit use has been stagnant while billions of dollars have been spent to improve transit ridership. It is time for the central Texas region to focus on transportation infrastructure which will improve congestion for all. Transit has proven to have from negative to minuscule positive impact on congestion.
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Transit Ridership Falling

by Randal O’Toole, April 5, 2106 in blog The Antiplanner.

Transit ridership in 2015 was 1.26 percent less than in 2014, with bus ridership falling by nearly 3 percent. But transit advocates wanted to lead with good news, so Progressive Railroading‘s coverage is headlined, “rail ridership increased as overall public transit use dipped 1.3 percent.”

Why did rail ridership increase? In the case of heavy rail (subways and elevateds), the answer is that New York is enjoying its “largest jobs boom ever,” so subway ridership there grew by 14 million annual rides. Heavy rail as a whole grew by only 9 million annual rides, so take away New York and nationwide subway/elevated ridership declined. Among the big losers in heavy rail were Baltimore (-11%), San Juan (-15%), Los Angeles (-5%), and Washington DC (-4%). Of course, rail supporters in most of those cities still want to build more train lines.

For light rail, the answer is that Minneapolis-St. Paul opened its new Green line. This boosted the region’s light-rail ridership by 7 million rides, without which nationwide light-rail ridership would have declined by 5 million annual trips. Among the biggest losers were Baltimore (-15%), Cleveland (-6%), Los Angeles, and Sacramento (each -5%).

Commuter rail was flat, overall gaining just 20,000 riders for the entire year, which considering the total is 490 million is a 0.00 percent increase. Some of the biggest losers were Portland, Maine (-14%), Albuquerque (-12%), and Portland, Oregon (-8%).

Bus ridership declined in all but eight of the nation’s 42 largest bus systems. Ridership fell by 8.4% in Minneapolis-St. Paul, meaning most of the new light-rail riders there were former bus riders. Similarly, ridership in New York fell by 20 million rides, more than making up for that city’s growth in subway ridership. The only major city showing more than a 3 percent gain in bus ridership was rail-free Las Vegas, which saw a 7 percent increase.

Naturally, transit advocates will blame the decline on low fuel prices. But the drop also shows that Millennials and other Americans aren’t making some cultural transition from driving to transit. Instead, it remains true that American commuters and other urban travelers respond more to factors like employment rates and fuel prices than to heavy spending on new rail or other expensive transit projects.

Millennials Defy Predictions and Are Buying Homes in the Suburbs

March 28th, 2016

COST Commentary: Total driving is increasing as the economy improves slowly and population continues to increase ; and, millennials are buying homes in the suburbs, much to the dismay of planners who, in large part, predicted reduced automobile driving due to millennial preferences for living in city central core areas and favoring public transit. These predictions more poorly represent the future as they do not fully consider other elements of transportation’s paradigm shift such as massive increases in car sharing and driverless cars. Following are three articles: The first is an article published in March 2014, reflective of many planners, consultants and “believers” in their unfounded vision of millennials driving less, using transit and living in higher density; a myth spread widely in numerous articles and presentations. The next two are articles written just a year later which describe the myths and facts regarding millennials and their lifestyle preferences. As you will see, the myths of the first article and the facts of the next two articles present a very different picture.

The incorrect assumptions and predictions of millennial preferences provide the foundation for transportation policies of many transit agencies and city planners as well as a large number of elected officials. This disconnect with reality will waste billions of tax dollars on high-cost, ineffective transit, delaying their ability to effectively address growing congestion throughout most major cities, including Austin.
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Nielsen
MILLENNIALS PREFER CITIES TO SUBURBS, SUBWAYS TO DRIVEWAYS
CONSUMER | 03-04-2014

Millennials are the social generation, both online and in-person. As the founders of the social media movement, they’re never more than a few clicks away from friends and family. And offline, they prefer to live in dense, diverse urban villages where social interaction is just outside their front doors.

Breaking from previous generations’ ideals, this group’s “American Dream” is transitioning from the white picket fence in the suburbs to the historic brownstone stoop in the heart of the city. And their dreams have the power to affect cities and towns across the U.S. According to Nielsen’s recent Millennials – Breaking the Myths report, those aged 18-36 are 77 million strong, or 24 percent of the population—the same as Baby Boomers (between 49-67 years old). As Millennials continue to come of age and control an increasing share of the economy, understanding how their diversity and values play into their lifestyle and purchasing preferences will be essential to appeal to this generation of consumers.

A METROPOLITAN FEEL HAS A MILLENNIAL APPEAL

Millennials like having the world at their fingertips. With the resurgence of cities as centers of economic energy and vitality, a majority are opting to live in urban areas over the suburbs or rural communities. Sixty-two percent indicate they prefer to live in the type of mixed-use communities found in urban centers, where they can be close to shops, restaurants and offices. They are currently living in these urban areas at a higher rate than any other generation, and 40 percent say they would like to live in an urban area in the future. As a result, for the first time since the 1920s growth in U.S. cities outpaces growth outside of them.

The markets where Millennials are most highly concentrated reflect their desire to live in more socially conscious, creative environments. Austin, Texas has the highest concentration of this group—almost 1.2 times the national average—and fits the Millennial ideal, combining urban convenience with an exciting art and music scene. Within Austin, most Millennials are found near the city core and less in the suburban and rural areas. With the exception of Washington D.C., the top markets for Millennials are in the western portion of the country, unlike their Boomer counterparts who are mostly highly concentrated on the East Coast. And the growing young population in the Western U.S. will affect demand in these areas.
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Forbes / Leadership
by Travis Bradberry, MAR 6, 2015

Every Big Cliché about Millennials Is Wrong
As every new generation enters the workforce, it never ceases to amaze me how quickly their generation is labeled with “attributes” that are common to young people. These attributes tend to stick, and they quickly become inaccurate as the generation ages (assuming they were even accurate in the first place).

Nowhere is this more evident than with Millennials, who by 2020 will make up more than 50% of the US workforce.

That’s why it’s so great to see that IBM decided we should quit making assumptions, and they conducted a global study that aimed to uncover what Millennials are really all about.

Here’s what they found:

Myth 1: Millennials have unrealistic career goals.

Fact: As it turns out, Millennials are just like everyone else in the workplace. They’re after financial and job security, first and foremost. And who can blame them? That’s a big part of why we work in the first place. So don’t expect your younger workers to make unrealistic requests of you and your company.

Myth 2: Millennials expect endless praise because they were raised in a culture of “everyone gets a trophy.”

Fact: Not only are Millennials not after endless praise, their #1 preference in a boss is the same as Boomers. Both want a fair boss who freely shares information. As it turns out, it’s Gen Xers who believe that everyone involved in a successful project should be rewarded, and members of this generation are in their early 30s-50s. Sounds like they are the ones misappropriating their inadequacies onto younger workers.

Myth 3: Millennials are so addicted to technology that they lack boundaries between their work and private lives.

Fact: This one is quite the opposite. Millennials are actually much less likely to blur the boundaries between their work and personal lives because they’ve been raised with technology. Hence, they’ve been bred on the nuances that older workers fail to understand. In fact, they are 4X more likely than Boomers to keep their work and personal lives separate when it comes to technology. It’s the old dogs that are having trouble learning new tricks.

Myth 4: Millennials are afraid to make decisions for themselves.

Fact: Millennials are no more likely than Generation X to seek group consensus when making decisions. They simply aren’t as timid about making decisions as everyone thinks they are. And, contrary to the mistaken assumption that Millennials have a tendency to buck authority, more than 50% of them trust their company’s leadership to make decisions that are sound.

Myth 5: Millennials will quit if their job doesn’t fulfill their passions.

Fact: When it comes to changing jobs, Millennials are actually just like everybody else. The #1 reason they leave is for money. And just like Boomers and Generation X, Millennials are 2X more likely to leave a job for money than they are because it fails to fulfill their passions.

Bringing It All Together

You are making a grave mistake anytime you allow generational stereotypes to affect how you treat employees. Even worse, companies often make wholesale changes based upon what they assume younger workers want.

Just as we learned from the IBM study, there’s a tried and true method to ensure this never happens to you. Talk to your Millennials and find out what they want, because it’s likely a far cry from what you’d expect.

Note: The IBM
Travis co-wrote the bestselling book Emotional Intelligence 2.0 and co-founded TalentSmart.
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Bentley University
Why Millennials Are Moving to Suburbs and Smaller Cities
by April Lane, May 21, 2015

Some of the biggest myths about millennials and their lifestyle preferences are that they all want to be car-free in urban areas, with public transportation and car-sharing options, and they still can’t afford to get married or buy their own homes, single and renting or living at home. But it looks as though millennials are finally growing up, having kids, moving to the suburbs, and “becoming their parents,” even if they don’t know it yet — or have the choice.

A while back, Forbes reported in “Millennial Boomtowns: Where The Generation is Clustering (It’s Not Downtown” that the majority of millennials (those currently aged 20 to 29) aren’t living downtown, or even in the top 10 major cities, as many assume:

“Like most of America, the millennials are far more suburban, more dispersed and less privileged than what one sees on shows such as “Girls” or read about in accounts in the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. Reality is often more complex, and less immediately compelling, than the preferred media narrative. But understanding the actual geography of [millennials] may provide a first step to gaining wisdom about how to approach and understand this critically important generation.”

Competition for jobs from baby boomers reluctant to retire, being priced out of top urban metro areas by international investors, as we see here in Boston, and simply the freedom of telecommuting is giving millennials more expanded options, including living in suburbs and smaller cities where the cost of living is more accessible. Clickhole explores the plight of these ‘up-and-coming millennials, among those hit hardest by the sluggish economy, looking for the next affordable, undiscovered city to settle in,’ which we explored in more depth in our 2015 Millennial Predictions and list of The New Best Cities for Millennials.

What’s most surprising to many is which cities have seen the largest increases in their millennial populations, and how young people choose where to live, recently explored by both Yahoo! news and US News & World Report.

“It is dogma among greens, urban pundits, planners and developers that the under 30 crowd doesn’t like what Grist called ‘sprawling car dependent cities,” Joel Kotkin writes for Forbes. “Too bad no one told most millennials. What [actually] emerges…is a picture of a millennial America that does not much mirror the one suggested in most accounts. The metro areas with the highest percentages of millennials tend, for the most part, to be not dense big cities but either college towns — Austin, Texas; Columbus, Ohio, for example — or Sun Belt cities.”

Cities like Charlotte, NC have seen their fair share of millennial transplants, and the Charlotte Observer reports that despite their preference for mass transit, millennials are embracing cars as a tradeoff to the lower overhead and higher quality of life available in these smaller cities. Millennials — also known as Generation Y — accounted for 27 percent of new car sales in the U.S. last year, up from 18 percent in 2010, according to J.D. Power & Associates. They’ve zoomed past Gen X to become the second-largest group of new car buyers after their boomer parents. Millennials are starting to find jobs and relocating to the suburbs and smaller cities, where public transport is spotty.

“The millennial generation is a diverse bunch, but there are a few common threads that tie them together,” writes Nicole Schreck for US News. “Millennials often value experiences and look at their lives in a different way than previous generations did — and they’re certainly not afraid to shake things up. In fact, according to a recent Rent.com survey of 1,000 U.S. renters ages 18 to 34, nearly half say they moved to a city other than the one they grew up in.”

Those experiences include not waiting any longer to become parents due to the “suspended adulthood” that has plagued their generation, and the Washington Post recently debated what will happen to cities when millennials have kids and the suburbs beckon.

“Previous generations mostly moved to the suburbs, and there is evidence that many millennials also want to live in suburban single-family homes, even if they live in cities right now. Picket fence and all. But in urban planning circles, there is a burgeoning movement to figure out how to better accommodate young families before they depart.”

One thing is for certain as millennials reach parenthood: For investors, their money is on the ‘Burbs, according to Business Insider.

“Especially in the older millennials, we’re seeing a move towards more traditional patterns, just on a delayed time frame,” said Sarah House, an economist at Wells Fargo. “A generation that’s been stereotyped as urban, single, and aghast at the idea of a car-based life in the suburbs is starting to age, prompting fund managers to bet on companies that should benefit if the U.S. birth rate reverses a six-year slump. With 4.3 million millennials turning 30 this year and the number set to jump to 4.6 million by 2020, there will soon be more adults in their early 30s than at any other time in U.S. history, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data.”

April Lane is a freelance writer.

Learn more about Bentley’s PreparedU Project, which examines challenges facing millennial workers, the companies that employ them and the colleges and universities that prepare them.


©2007 Coalition On Sustainable Transportation