October 8th, 2019
COST Commentary: The paper below by Randal O’Toole is an excellent summary of U.S. rail transit, beginning as an early, effective transit mode in Boston in 1838 (19th Century) and ending today as rail transit has become outdated and obsolete as a transit mode in the 21st Century. This is particularly important as Austin and Cap Metro consider the future role of of transit in Austin by their ‘Project Connect’ collaboration. The outdated rail and new technologies that exists now and that are moving rapidly into transportation/mobility considerations will dramatically change the future of human mobility. This all seems to have been given little attention/consideration by the ‘Project Connect’ plans which are being developed between the City and Capital Metro.
I recommend careful reading of the paper below which is only 13 typed pages, including references. It encapsulates the strong basis for eliminating rail and dedicated transit lanes as alternatives to address Austin’s future mobility challenges. It can be all summarized in the question: Why should all taxpayers highly subsidize the use of public transit serving less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled, which includes an increasing percentage of higher paid riders. If one truly analyzes and considers this, along with the horrible, resulting tax burden which will limit opportunities for future generations, there is no way the eventual proposed 2020 transit bond will be approved by voters in Austin.
Total U.S. Public transit ridership has declined 6.9% in the past three years and is about equal to ridership in 2005, 13 years ago. This is somewhat similar to the transit ridership in the 4 major Texas Cities (see next earlier post): All four cities had less transit ridership than in 1999, nineteen years ago. This is a profound statement made by almost all citizens throughout the Nation: They have chosen not to ride public transit because it does not meet their mobility needs. Limiting trips to public transit’s access creates a degraded quality-of-life and limits citizen’s access to the region’s opportunities.
Please consider this posting and the ‘Cost Commentary’content in more recent, previous postings listed below:
Austin’s Major 2020 Transit Bond and “2018 Census Data Show Transit in Decline”
Facts and Data Evaluation of Austin’s Proposed Transit System Indicates Continuing Death Spiral
Austin & Cap Metro’s New Transit Plans Will Result in Huge Wasteful Cost Impacts On All Taxpayers and Increasing Congestion, Reducing Quality-Of-Life For All Citizens
Transit declines as people rapidly increase car ownership
Why Cities Are Abandoning Light Rail Transit In Major Public Transit Decline
Mass Transit is collapsing everywhere
New Austin & Cap Metro Transit Plan will waste billions of taxpayer dollars and totally fail.
There are many prior postings on the COST web site: www.costaustin.org
We will continue to expand content regarding this critical transportation issue. I got extra energy from the this 13 page summary. The number 13 is my “lucky” number, adopted at age 11 in Burnet, Texas after winning a cake-walk. It was also my uniform number in high school; Football Captain, All City, All Conference and third team place in Washington State.
Six Problems with Rail Transit and Six Myths of Rail Transit
by Randal O’Toole, January 4, 2017
Rail transit has long had a presence in American cities. The first commuter trains served the suburbs of Boston in 1838. The first successful electric streetcar opened in Montgomery, Alabama, in 1886. Chicago opened the first electric elevated train in 1895, while New York opened the first electric heavy-rail subway line in 1904. Electric-powered commuter trains date to 1906.
Through the mid-20th century, private transit companies served the vast majority of American cities. After World War II, these companies operated profitable, if declining, businesses in the face of rising automobile ownership. A handicap was that transit companies were considered public utilities and highly regulated. They had to seek government permission for route changes, fare increases, and other service changes. By 1950, buses were recognized as a less expensive, more flexible, and safer transit mode than streetcars or most other types of rail transit.
The beginning of the end for private transit came in 1964 with the Urban Mass Transit Act. The act promised federal capital grants to public agencies that took over private transit companies. Within a decade, the private transit industry was virtually wiped out, replaced almost completely by tax-subsidized public agencies.
Today, city governments that are frustrated with automobiles and congestion are turning to the 19th century technology of rail transit for relief. But pumping subsidies into rail transit is based on a nostalgic view of the past, and it is not economically or environmentally sound. It will not solve America’s congestion woes.
The Department of Transportation’s Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has an annual budget of $12 billion, most which is spent on subsidies to state and local governments.(1) Through these subsidies and related regulations, federal policymakers play a major role in shaping urban transportation choices.
Transit funding is not a proper function of the federal government, and it distorts state and local decision-making. Federal funding encourages state and local governments to pursue high-cost and less-efficient transportation solutions — in particular, rail transit. Outside of a few hyper-dense cities in the world, rail transit is a luxury for the few paid for by everyone. Commuter trains and subways may be necessary to keep Manhattan moving, but that does not mean that the rest of the nation should subsidize them. Outside of New York City, rail transit makes little economic sense.
The federal government should end its transit subsidies, and American cities should focus on finding economically sound and consumer-driven approaches to easing congestion. Policymakers at all levels should work to revive private transit options for cities, and they should allow consumers to make transportation choices in a neutral and competitive market environment.
History of Urban Transit
Early urban transit ventures were privately financed. However, because many of these ventures used public rights-of-way, companies often had to obtain franchises from city councils. But other than rights-of-way, transit companies received no subsidies or other public support through the end of the 19th century.
The first popular public transit was the omnibus, a horse-drawn wagon with seats for passengers.(2) New York City saw its first omnibus in 1827. Then came the horse-drawn railcar in the 1830s, which would be used in more than 500 American cities. In the same decade, the first steam-powered commuter trains started carrying suburban workers into Boston. The first successful elevated transit line was built in New York in 1871.
Electric streetcars arrived on the scene in the late 1880s. They were much more efficient than previous forms of travel and would be adopted by more than 1,000 American cities and towns. Other innovations included interurban rail lines, electric-powered elevated rail lines, and subway lines, which were first installed in New York City in 1904.
Until this point, urban transit was privately financed and unsubsidized. All this innovation to improve convenience and reduce costs came from private entrepreneurs. But soon after the turn of the century, governments began to intrude. Government-owned streetcar lines were opened in Bismarck, North Dakota, and Monroe, Louisiana. And New York City took over the previously private Staten Island Ferry.
Private transit companies faced several financial difficulties. Many streetcar lines were built by real-estate developers to attract people to their housing projects. A developer would subdivide land on the city fringe, build a streetcar line from the development to downtown, and sell lots and homes. The profits on the real-estate development paid for the capital cost of the streetcar line. Transit fares covered only the operating cost. That worked fine for a few decades; but when the time came to replace the streetcars, rails, and other equipment, the companies often lacked the capital.
One way to raise funds was to increase fares. But governments regulated fares, and proposals to raise fares were regularly rejected by city councils and public utility commissions. This left many transit companies with aging streetcar fleets in precarious financial positions.
Progressive-era politicians saw the public takeover of transit companies as a solution. San Francisco was the first major city to operate its own streetcars starting in 1912. New York City started operating and acquiring subway lines in 1932. In 1938, Chicago obtained the first federal grants to support construction of a publicly owned rail line.
In cities where transit remained private, electric power companies often worked to consolidate streetcar lines under one owner. That gave rise to concerns about monopoly. In 1935 Congress ordered power companies to divest their transit operations. Since transit was already struggling due to the rise of the automobile and the Depression, this mandate put many companies on the brink of bankruptcy.
One solution was to convert streetcar systems to bus systems, which did not require as much infrastructure. Of the hundreds of American cities served by streetcars in 1910, at least 230 either went out of business or converted to buses by the end of 1929. Another 300 converted during the 1930s, and then 100 more in the 1940s.(3)
Fifty American cities still had streetcars in 1949. But by 1967, only Boston, Cleveland, El Paso, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and San Francisco still had streetcars, while New York and Chicago were the only other cities to still have other forms of rail transit. The conversions from rail to buses were made for efficiency reasons, not monopolistic reasons, as often claimed.(4)
By the early 1960s, all the rail transit systems except one had been taken over by public agencies, but the vast majority of bus systems were still private. That changed quickly when Congress started to make capital grants available to public agencies — but not private companies — that operated or acquired transit systems. Within a decade, all but a handful of transit systems were taken over by tax-subsidized public agencies.
Congress did not pass the Urban Mass Transit Act of 1964 in order to provide mobility to low-income families who could not afford cars. Rather, Congress was reacting to proposals by various railroads to discontinue interstate commuter trains serving Boston, Chicago, New York, and Philadelphia.(5) At the time, these four urban areas plus San Francisco had the only commuter trains in America. Urban leaders argued that the commuter trains were essential to maintaining jobs in downtown areas.
The Urban Mass Transit Act was designed to provide federal support for interstate commuter trains. But politics quickly broadened that mission to providing federal support to mass transit in every state and metropolitan area. Since then, about $160 billion has been spent on federal rail subsidies, and the result has been a monument to the folly of federal intervention into a properly local and private activity.
Six Problems with Rail Transit
The most important thing to understand about rail transit is that it is very expensive. The Government Accountability Office has shown, for example, that buses running on arterial streets can provide service as fast and frequently as light rail at a lower operating cost and for about two percent of the capital cost.(6) Outside of a few very dense places such as Manhattan, Tokyo, and Hong Kong, there is little that trains can do that buses cannot do faster, better, more flexibly, and at a lower cost.
The typical light-rail project today costs about $160 million per route mile, although one project in Seattle cost well over $600 million per mile. Heavy rail typically costs about twice as much as light rail: A recent extension of the Washington Metrorail system cost almost $300 million per mile, for example. Commuter-rail typically costs $5 to $10 million per mile.
Freeways typically cost much less than rail.(7) The Fort Bend Tollway Authority built a four-lane freeway on the outskirts of Houston, complete with interchanges and over- and underpasses, for $2.4 million per lane mile. The Colorado Department of Transportation widened Interstate 25 through the heart of Denver, which required numerous overpasses, at a cost of $19 million per lane mile. Urban freeways cost more than suburban ones, but counting urban and suburban areas together, the average cost is less than $10 million per lane mile.
Rail advocates claim that rail lines can move as many people as several freeway lanes, but to make that claim they use a double standard: comparing full railcars with the average occupancy of commuter automobiles. In fact, like automobiles, the average transit vehicle carries far fewer people than its capacity. Most rail cars and buses carried an average of less than one-sixth of their capacity in 2014.(8) Even sport utility vehicles do better than that.
When calculated using full automobiles and full trains, a single freeway lane can move more people per hour than most light-rail lines, while four freeway lanes can move more people than most subway or elevated lines. When calculated using automobiles and trains with average occupancy rates, a single freeway lane moves several times as many people as a light-rail line, and two freeway lanes move more people than the busiest subway lines in the United States.(9)
2. Cost Overruns
Rail transit projects are notorious for cost overruns. According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), federally subsidized rail projects built between 1980 and 2015 had overruns averaging 50 percent.(10) Moreover, there has been no tendency for estimates to improve, as overruns since 2010 have been greater than in previous decades. By comparison, a study by Danish planning professor Bent Flyvbjerg found that overruns for North American highway projects averaged just 8 percent.(11)
Here are some examples of over-budget rail projects:
• In 1998, Phoenix proposed building a 13-mile light-rail line for $390 million, or $30 million per mile.(12) Completed in 2008, the final cost of the 19.6-mile line was $1.41 billion, or $72 million per mile.(13)
• In 2000, Charlotte, North Carolina, estimated that a light-rail line would cost $331 million.(14) The final cost turned out to be $427 million.(15)
• In 2004, the first 12-mile leg of the Dulles rail project in Virginia was projected to cost $1.5 billion.(16) The final cost when completed was $2.9 billion.(17)
• In 2004, Denver’s Regional Transit District persuaded voters to support a $4.7 billion rail transit system. The later estimate was that the system will cost 68 percent more at $7.9 billion.(18)
While cost projections are not an exact science, Flyvbjerg believes that persistent underestimates of rail construction costs result from “strategic misrepresentation, that is, lying.”(19) Planners deliberately lowball estimates in order to gain project approval. Once the project is approved, they develop more realistic estimates, add expensive bells and whistles, and respond to political pressures to lengthen the proposed project.
Many of the original estimates for transit projects are made by consulting firms that expect to receive contracts for engineering and construction later on. As such, these firms have an incentive to make projections that will gain approval, both by underestimating the costs and overestimating the benefits.
In one example of strategic misrepresentation, Parsons Brinkerhoff (now known as PB) compared a proposal to bring rail transit to Madison, Wisconsin, with improvements to bus service. To its dismay, the company found that bus improvements alone attracted more riders than bus improvements combined with rail transit. Later, PB admitted that it crippled the bus alternative, making it appear that rail transit was needed to boost transit ridership.(20) When the government agency that hired PB presented the results to the public, it never mentioned the bus alternative at all, making it appear that rail transit was the only way to attract people to transit.(21)
Despite the record of cost overruns, transit agencies often claim that they finish their projects “on budget.” For example, after adjusting for inflation, Denver’s Southwest light-rail line cost 28 percent more than its original estimate.(22) The city’s Southeast light-rail line went 59 percent over its original estimate.(23) Yet Denver’s Regional Transit District insisted that both projects were “on budget,” based on the deceptive notion that project costs matched the final budgeted amounts — not the earlier and lower estimates.(24)
Transit agencies generally go heavy into debt to fund rail projects by issuing long-term bonds. But the costs do not end when the bonds are paid off: rail lines must be completely replaced, rebuilt, or rehabilitated about every 30 years. Except for the right-of-way, everything — cars, tracks, roadbed, stations, electrical facilities — must be replaced or upgraded.
The first Washington, D.C., Metrorail line opened in 1976. In 2002, just 26 years later, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority estimated that it needed $12.2 billion — roughly the cost of constructing the original system — to rehabilitate the system.(25) It did not find this money, so the system has suffered frequent breakdowns and service delays.(26) In 2009, an accident due to maintenance failures killed nine people. In 2015, smoke in a subway tunnel caused by maintenance failures killed one more. Although the Metro delayed many trains to undertake maintenance work in 2016, the agency now says that it needs $25 billion to completely restore the system over the next 10 years.(27)
The heavy rail transit systems in Chicago, San Francisco, Boston, and New York also face fiscal crises from high rehabilitation costs. Rehabilitating light-rail lines is also expensive. The first modern light-rail lines, including those in Buffalo, Portland, Sacramento, and San Diego, are now about three decades old and will need major work. Nationwide, the FTA says that urban transit systems have a deferred maintenance backlog of $86 billion.(28)
Rehabilitation costs do not increase the capacities of transit systems, and thus should be considered maintenance costs. But the FTA allows transit agencies to count rehabilitation as a capital cost. The significance is that when rail advocates claim, as they often do, that rail lines cost less to operate and maintain than buses, they are ignoring these long-term maintenance costs.
Many of the same agencies that cannot afford to maintain their existing systems are nonetheless embarking on expansions. New York’s MTA is spending $16.8 billion building an eight-mile Second Avenue Subway. Washington’s Metro is spending $6.8 billion building a rail extension to Dulles airport. San Francisco’s BART is planning to spend more than $6 billion for a line to San Jose. Boston is spending $2.3 billion extending light rail to Medford, Massachusetts. Chicago is extending several of its commuter-rail lines.
The disconnect between planning and budgetary reality has become typical of rail-transit agencies. Rail transit fares do not come close to paying the operating costs of systems, much less the costs of line rehabilitation or new rail construction. If transit agencies cannot afford to maintain their existing lines, it makes no sense for them to build new ones.
To justify spending billions of taxpayer dollars on rail, advocates often claim that middle-class automobile owners will not ride a bus. In fact, transit ridership is more sensitive to frequency and speed than to whether the vehicles run on rubber tires or steel wheels. “When quantifiable service characteristics such as travel time and cost are equal,” say researchers, “there is no evident preference for rail travel over bus.”(29)
The real problem is what happens to overall transit system ridership when agencies face soaring costs and must choose between keeping the trains or buses running. Having built rail, many agencies feel compelled to cut more efficient bus service, which in turn causes overall transit ridership to stagnate or drop.
In the late 1970s, Atlanta began building a heavy-rail system. By 1985 it had 25 route miles and ridership had grown to 155 million trips per year. Since then, the Atlanta urban area population has doubled, rail miles have also doubled, yet ridership has fallen somewhat. In 2014, it was just 137 million. While rail ridership has grown, that growth has been at the expense of bus ridership.(30)
In the early 1980s, Los Angeles maintained low bus fares, and between 1982 and 1985 ridership grew by more than a third. Then it built rail transit, which suffered huge cost overruns. In response, the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) raised bus fares and cut service, leading to a 17 percent drop in bus ridership by 1995. The NAACP sued, arguing that the agency was cutting service to minority neighborhoods in order to finance rail lines to white middle-class neighborhoods. The court ordered the MTA to restore bus service for 10 years, forcing it to curtail its rail plans. Bus ridership rebounded to above its 1985, pre-rail level, while rail ridership stagnated. As soon as the court order expired, MTA cut bus service and started building new rail lines, and ridership has fallen again.
When St. Louis opened its first light-rail line in 1993, it was hailed as a great success because system ridership, which had shrunk by nearly 40 percent in the previous decade, started growing again. But when St. Louis opened a second line in 2001, doubling the length of the rail system, rail ridership remained flat and bus ridership declined. By 2007, total system ridership was no greater than it had been in 1998.
As of 2003, about half of the urban areas with rail transit had ridership declines compared to the mid-1980s. The remaining areas enjoyed increases in ridership, but at rates slower than increases in driving and, in most cases, slower than population growth.(31)
Many areas with bus-only transit systems did far better. From 1983 to 2013, ridership on bus transit systems in Austin, Charlotte, Houston, Las Vegas, Louisville, and Raleigh-Durham all grew as fast, or faster, than automobile driving. The 2010 census revealed that the number of commuters taking transit to work in urban areas with rail transit declined overall, while the number in bus-only urban areas increased.(32)
5. Land Use
Buses are flexible and can be easily rerouted when travel patterns change. Rail lines take years to build and are much harder to re-rout. While bus systems can respond to rider demand, rail systems must generate their own demand. This leads transit agencies to promote intrusive land-use regulations that mandate or subsidize high-density developments close to rail stations, so-called transit-oriented development.
Instead of customizing transit systems to serve American cities as they exist today, transit agencies want to rebuild the cities to suit the kind of transit service the agencies want to provide. There are many problems with this aspiration, not least of which is the fact that transit carries less than 5 percent of travel in all American urban areas except New York, and it seems absurd to design cities around such little-used transportation systems.
Another problem is that land-use policies have, at best, marginal effects on people’s transportation choices. Transportation technologies do influence land uses: cities built before 1890, when most people walked for most of their travel, were much denser than cities built between 1890 and 1930, when streetcars were popular. Those cities, in turn, were denser than cities built after World War II, when autos were dominant. But this process is not reversible: building cities to pre-auto or pre-streetcar designs will not lead people to significantly reduce their driving.
According to Robert Cervero, an enthusiast of transit-oriented development, such developments do increase transit ridership, but this is “due to residential self-selection — i.e., a life-style preference for transit-oriented living.”(33) In other words, people who prefer transit over driving choose to live in such areas, but that does not mean that the urban design has influenced their travel habits.
Also, the market for transit-oriented development is very limited: surveys find that four out of five Americans would prefer to live in single-family, detached houses than townhouses, condominiums, or apartments.(34) Once the one-in-five demand for multifamily is met, cities like Portland and Denver have had to resort to huge subsidies to entice developers to build more high-density developments, and the evidence indicates that the people who live in those developments drive just as much as people elsewhere.
Rail transit is often described as “high-capacity transit.” Yet its capacity is not that high in reality. Heavy-rail lines, such as subways, are the highest capacity transit. If people jam in tightly, the “crush capacity” of a heavy-rail car is about 180 people. An eight-car heavy-rail train can therefore carry about 1,440 people. If rail systems can manage to move one train every minute — and only a few American rail lines can support such traffic — the line can move 86,400 people per hour. This is how rail advocates are able to claim that a rail line can move as many people as several freeway lanes. The capacities of other forms of rail transit are much lower.
However, few places really need such high-capacity transit. People look at the freeway during rush hour and think, “If only we had a rail line, all those people could ride.” But the reality is that all the people in those cars have different origins and destinations. They may all be in this freeway corridor now, but a rail line will only serve a tiny number of them because most do not both live and work near a rail station.
What cities really need is flexible-capacity transit: transit capable of moving large numbers of people where needed while also economically moving small numbers where demand is lower. Rail transit, with its very high fixed costs, cannot qualify. Rail-transit agencies try to provide flexible capacities by having buses feed into rail stations, but transit agencies lose riders every time they ask people to change vehicles.
Buses can provide flexible-capacity transit. They can run on city streets in the suburbs where demand is low, move to high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes where demand is higher, and if demand warrants, use exclusive bus lanes. While the capacity of exclusive bus lanes may not be quite as high as heavy rail, buses, unlike the trains, can easily start from different origins and diverge to different destinations, allowing more people to make their transit journeys without transfers.
This means that light rail and commuter rail really make no sense anywhere. Cities that need low-, moderate-, or high-capacity transit can meet those needs with buses. Only areas that need ultra-high-capacity transit might need to consider heavy rail, and outside of New York City no place in the United States truly needs such high capacities.
Six Myths of Rail Transit
Rail transit is not cost-efficient, and it generally fails to attract significantly more riders than improvements in bus service. Yet rail advocates have many other arguments for why cities should build rail transit systems. Here are six popular, but erroneous, reasons that are often given for building rail lines — six myths of rail transit.
1. Economic Development
Rail advocates say that rail transit stimulates economic development. They often point to a streetcar line built in downtown Portland, Oregon, that supposedly stimulated $1.5 billion worth of new development. In fact, much of that development was subsidized with hundreds of millions of dollars of tax-increment financing and other developer subsidies. It is not likely that the streetcar alone would have generated the developments without the subsidies.
Does any rail transit stimulate new development? In the mid-1990s, the FTA asked this question of Robert Cervero, who is a strong proponent of transit-oriented developments, and Samuel Seskin, who works for Parsons Brinkerhoff, the consulting firm that has had a hand in many major rail transit projects over the decades. Despite their bias in favor of rail transit, the authors found that “urban rail transit investments rarely ‘create’ new growth,” and at best, it may “redistribute growth that would have taken place without the investment.”(35)
In other words, rail transit is at best a zero-sum game benefiting some property owners at the expense of others. The property owners who mainly benefit are those who own land downtown because most rail systems are hub-and-spoke systems that focus on downtown. That explains some of the political calculus behind rail: downtown property owners benefit a lot, so they lobby for rail. Other property owners each lose a little, so they have little incentive to lobby against it.
2. People Will Not Ride Buses
Rail advocates claim that buses will not entice middle-class automobile drivers out of their cars, but that rail can. In reality, improvements in bus service can attract as many new transit riders as rail construction — and at a far lower cost.
A survey found that the median income of Washington, D.C., Metrorail riders was 47 percent higher than Metrobus riders, and that 98 percent of rail riders owned an automobile compared with only 80 percent of bus riders.(36) For those who want to get middle-class commuters out of their cars, this is a Pyrrhic victory, considering that the fossil-fuel-generated electricity used to power the Metrorail system emits more carbon dioxide per passenger mile than the average SUV. Meanwhile bus riders have faced repeated service cuts so that the transit agency can keep the trains running.(37)
In the late 1990s, the San Francisco Bay Area Metropolitan Transportation Commission — which spends two-thirds of the region’s transportation funds on transit systems which carry only four percent of the region’s passenger travel — was considering where to invest.(38) One possible project was an extension of BART trains to San Jose, a line so expensive that taxpayers would spend nearly $100 per trip. Another project was improved bus service in Richmond, a city with a heavy population of low-income minorities. Bus improvements, planners estimated, would cost just 75 cents per trip.(39) The commission decided to support the rail line and not the bus improvements. In the commission’s judgment, spending $100 to attract one high-tech worker onto a train was more important than spending the $100 to attract 133 low-income workers onto buses.
A factor behind such decisions is that middle-income individuals are more likely to vote than lower-income individuals. Getting voters to support the idea of transit as a daily necessity — rather than something used only by those who cannot afford cars — is part of the rail agenda. Thus, the goal is not so much to get a large number of people out of their cars, but to get enough people out of their cars to create some middle-class transit dependency and generate support for transit funding.
3. Rails Avoid Congestion
Rail advocates say that an advantage of rail is that it is not slowed by congestion, as are cars and buses. But that begs the question why a small number of people deserve a heavily subsidized transit system allowing them to avoid congestion, while everyone else who is paying the subsidies for rail has to sit in traffic.
More importantly, the premise that we need rail because buses cannot avoid congestion is incorrect. Most major urban freeway systems have high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes or high-occupancy toll (HOT) lanes. HOT lane tolls are adjusted to ensure that the lanes do not become congested. An urban area with a network of HOV or HOT lanes as a part of every freeway could allow buses to avoid congestion throughout the region.
Such HOV or HOT lanes cost less than rail lines, and the congestion relief they provide benefits everyone. Bus riders benefit because buses traveling at freeway speeds go faster than light rail (which averages about 20 miles per hour) or heavy-rail trains (which generally average no more than 40 miles per hour). The car drivers using HOV or HOT lanes benefit because they also avoid congestion. People who do not use the lanes also benefit: HOT lanes built parallel to a freeway in southern California draw a third of the traffic off the freeway.
In general, rail transit costs more to build and operate and does less to relieve congestion than new HOV or HOT lanes with bus rapid transit. With a well-designed highway system, buses can not only avoid congestion as well as trains, they can do so at a far lower cost and be put into service almost immediately instead of after a decade of planning and construction.
4. Political Equity
Rail advocates sometimes say, “Let’s build one line and see how it works.” But then the construction of one line often creates political momentum for additional lines. Every urban community wants a share of federal rail dollars, no matter how poorly rail might actually serve their community. The federal grant-in-aid system creates major distortions in urban transportation decisions — cities are steered into less efficient transit choices.
Consider the transportation improvements in a corridor between downtown Denver and Denver International Airport in the 1990s. A study showed that rail transit would cost more to build and operate and less to relieve congestion than new freeway or HOV lanes.(40) Nonetheless, planners picked rail transit.
Suburbs in the Denver area agreed to support the Regional Transit District’s multibillion-dollar rail plan if all the rail lines were built at once. Suburban officials realized that the plan would probably suffer major cost overruns (as proved to be the case) and that whatever line was last on the schedule would probably never be built. In response to the cost overruns, the transit agency proposed to build just four of the six planned lines — a proposal that was naturally rejected by officials from the suburbs whose lines would be left out.(41)
Rail advocates have applied the equity argument to neighborhoods as well as cities. San Francisco is spending $1.6 billion on a 1.7-mile transit tunnel as a part of a project to extend light rail to the Bayshore neighborhood.(42) According to the FTA, Bayshore transit ridership is already very high, but a main reason for building this line is “to achieve a goal of equity with other communities currently served by rail.”(43) By the FTA’s reasoning, if one neighborhood is served by an unaffordable transit line, equity demands that every other neighborhood get equally unaffordable service.
5. It Works in Europe
Americans visit Europe and ride the London subway, the Paris metro, or trams in Italy, and come home wishing the United States had more such transit systems. However, the United States is not Europe: our population densities are lower, and our incomes are higher, so fewer people are likely to ride transit even in dense areas.
Also note that rail transit in Europe is not necessarily efficient. As of 2007, at least 150 European urban areas had some form of rail transit, compared with 30 in the United States.(44) Europe spends several times more money subsidizing those rail lines than the United States spends on transit.(45)
European rail lines may be convenient for tourists, but the average European rarely uses them. In 2004, the average American traveled 87 miles on rail transit; the average European just 101 miles.(46) This difference hardly commends Europe as an example of successful rail transit. Moreover, the share of European travel on rail transit declined from 1.4 percent in 1980 to 1.1 percent in 2000. Meanwhile, the share of European travel using automobiles increased from 76.4 to 78.3 percent.(47)
6. Protecting the Environment
Many people take it for granted that rail transit is good for the environment. The reality is that rail transit uses about as much energy and emits about as much pollution per passenger mile as automobiles. Most transit systems are actually brown compared with the latest cars. The Washington Metro rail system, for example, uses more energy per passenger mile than the average car, and generating electricity to power the system emits more greenhouse gases than the average sports utility vehicle.(48) To the extent that rail transit might save any energy at all, the financial cost of getting a few people to ride trains and drive less is huge.
People who sincerely want to save energy and reduce pollution should focus on making automobiles more environmentally friendly, not on trying to get people to ride rail transit. Economist Charles Lave called this the “Law of Large Proportions,” meaning “the biggest components matter most.”(49) In other words, Americans travel 60 times as many passenger miles in urban areas by automobile as by transit, so a small investment in reducing the environmental effects of automobiles will go much further than a large investment in transit.
Private Transit Solutions
Reforms should remove federal subsidies and related regulations from the transit equation. Federal intervention creates numerous perverse incentives for state and local governments, including:
• Cities are encouraged to build inefficient rail lines because more than half of all federal funds are dedicated to rail transit.
• Transit agencies are encouraged to find the most expensive transit solutions because federal rail construction funds are an open bucket — first-come, first-served.
• Innovative solutions are by-passed, and high costs are guaranteed because of the requirement that transit agencies obtain the approval of their unions to be eligible for federal grants.
• Local transit agencies have strong incentives to claim success with their projects no matter how badly they fail because of the requirement that agencies must refund federal grants if projects are cancelled.
• Federal rules impose a transit planning process that is biased in favor of higher-cost transit projects, and the process allows agencies to systematically low-ball cost estimates and overstate potential ridership.
• Federal subsidies have been mainly directed to capital costs of local transit, not operating costs. That has led to agencies to favor expensive rail over less expensive buses and favor larger buses when smaller ones would do the job.
• Federal regulations distort the flow of funding to the most efficient solutions, such as rules that tie the distribution of transportation funds to air quality planning.
These factors and others have promoted less efficient transportation solutions than would have been favored without federal intervention. I have discussed these problems elsewhere at length.(50)
If we removed the federal government from the picture, state and local governments would rethink their urban transit financing. One issue is that the average American transit agency gets only a third of its operating funds, and none of its capital funds, from fares. This means that transit officials are less interested in increasing transit ridership than they are in persuading politicians and taxpayers to give them more money. Increased ridership is actually a burden on transit systems: even though transit vehicles are, on average, only one-sixth full, they tend to be fullest during rush hour, when new riders are most likely to use transit.
Today’s government-owned rail transit systems make no financial or transportation sense. They only work because few people use them and everyone else subsidizes them. Because rail transit costs at least four times as much, per passenger mile, as driving, it means that if everyone rode today’s rail systems instead of automobiles, cities would go bankrupt trying to keep the systems running.
Yet urban transit does not have to be expensive, and it does not even have to be subsidized. The United States has several completely unsubsidized transit systems that work very well. One is the Atlantic City Jitney Association, whose members own their own buses and operate routes scheduled by the association.(51) Rides are $2.25 each and cover all major attractions in the city. Unlike most government-owned transit systems, the jitneys operate 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and receive no subsidies from any government agency. Such jitney service is illegal in most other American cities because it would compete against government monopoly transit agencies.
Another unsubsidized transit system is the públicos, or public cars, of San Juan, Puerto Rico. Públicos are independently owned and operated buses that typically seat 12 to 15 passengers. At least six companies operate públicos and they provide both urban and intercity service. Fares vary depending on the length of the ride, but in 2014 they averaged less than $1.50. Although públicos compete against a public bus system and a recently built heavy-rail line (whose cost rose from a projected $1.0 billion to $2.2 billion), the públicos carry more riders each year than the public buses and trains combined.(52)
A third unsubsidized transit system is the NY Waterway ferries, which connect multiple points in New Jersey and Manhattan. Founded in 1986 by Arthur Imperatore, NY Waterway offers a service that none of the government transit agencies in the region thought to provide.(53) Passengers arriving in New York City can take NY Waterway buses to and from various points in Manhattan at no extra charge. Although the company accepted a federal subsidy in 2001 to temporarily replace subway service between New Jersey and the World Trade Center after 9/11, it is otherwise funded entirely out of fares.(54)
Public transit agencies encourage people to believe that if their subsidies disappeared, people without cars would lack any mobility. In fact, private transit would spring up to take the place of government transit, and it would be superior to government transit. It would be more likely to offer door-to-door service, operate during more hours of the day, and provide more limited or nonstop services to popular destinations.
American taxpayers can no longer afford costly and inefficient government transit systems, particularly rail transit systems. Federal subsidies ought to be
eliminated and local governments should open transit to private and entrepreneurial solutions to relieving congestion.
Randal O’Toole (@antiplanner) is director of the Transportation Policy Center at the Independence Institute (@i2idotorg), a free market think tank in Denver, and a senior fellow with the Cato Institute (@CatoInstitute) in Washington, D.C. He is author of the book, “Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need” and many hundreds of previous books, Policy Papers and articles.
1 Budget of the U.S. Government, Fiscal Year 2017, Analytical Perspectives (Washington: Government Printing Office, 2016), Table 29-1.
2 A timeline of early transit history is in 2015 Public Transportation Fact Book(Washington: American Public Transportation Association, 2015), p. 51.
3 “List of Streetcar Systems in the United States,” Wikipedia, tinyurl.com/7za8zb. Accessed December 2016.
4 Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2009), p. 137.
5 George M. Smerk, The Federal Role in Urban Mass Transportation (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University, 1991), pp. 60–61.
6 Government Accountability Office, “Mass Transit: Bus Transit Shows Promise,” GAO-01-984, September 2001, p. 4.
7 Examples from Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2009), p. 60.
8 Calculated by dividing passenger miles by vehicle revenue miles from data in 2014 National Transit Database (Washington: Federal Transit Administration, 2016).
9 Passenger miles per track mile calculated from data in 2014 National Transit Database (Washington: Federal Transit Administration, 2016). Passenger miles per freeway lane mile calculated from data in “Highway Statistics 2014,” U.S. Department of Transportation, www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2014, Table HM-72. Freeway occupancies assumed to average 1.67 people per vehicle as estimated in Summary of Travel Trends: 2009 National Household Travel Survey (Washington: U.S. Department of Transportation, June 2011), Table 16.
10 For a summary of the data and links to the FTA reports, see Randal O’Toole, “Rail Transit Cost Overruns,” The Antiplanner, January 19, 2015. And see Randal O’Toole and Michelangelo Landgrave, “Rails and Reauthorization,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 772, April 21, 2015.
11 Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Søren Buhl, “Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?” Journal of the American Planning Association 68, no. 3 (2002): 285.
12 “Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail” (Washington: Federal Transit Administration, 1998), tinyurl.com/837vda.
13 “Central Phoenix/East Valley Light Rail” (Washington: Federal Transit Administration, 2004), p. 1, tinyurl.com/9vsa2o.
14 “South Corridor LRT” (Washington: Federal Transit Administration, 2000), tinyurl.com/7rcxwq.
15 “South Corridor LRT” (Washington: Federal Transit Administration, 2005), tinyurl.com/8x6dwd.
16 Federal Transit Administration, “Baseline Report on Major Project Monitoring of the Dulles Corridor Metrorail Project,” July 27, 2007, Table 1.
17 Paul Duggan and Lori Aratani, “At Last, the Silver Line Is Ready; Metro Says Passenger Service Will Start July 26,” Washington Post, June 23, 2014.
18 “Summary of Changes to FasTracks Program: Attachment 1” (Denver, CO: Regional Transportation District, 2008), p. 2, tinyurl.com/4kodgc.
19 Bent Flyvbjerg, Mette Skamris Holm, and Søren Buhl, “Underestimating Costs in Public Works Projects: Error or Lie?” Journal of the American Planning Association 68, no. 3 (2002).
20 Parsons Brinckerhoff, Transportation Alternatives Analysis for the Dane County/Greater Madison Metropolitan Area (Madison, WI: Transport 2020, 2002), pp. 7-6, 10-2, and 10-22.
21 Transport 2020, Transport 2020 Oversight Advisory Committee (OAC) Summary Report(Madison, WI: Transport 2020, 2002), p. 21.
22 Booz Allen Hamilton, Managing Capital Costs of Major Federally Funded Public Transportation Projects (Washington: Transportation Research Board, 2005), p. 55.
23 Final Report: Southeast Corridor Major Investment Study (Denver, CO: Colorado Department of Transportation, 1997), p. 4-24.
24 “A Message from RTD General Manager, Cal Marsella” (Denver, CO: Regional Transit District, 2005).
25 “America’s Transit System Stands at the Precipice of a Fiscal and Service Crisis” (Washington: Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority, 2004), p. 1.
26 Lyndsey Layton and Jo Becker, “Efforts to Repair Aging System Compound Metro’s Problems,” Washington Post, June 5, 2005. And see Lena H. Sun and Joe Holley, “Aging Equipment Blamed in Metro Incidents,” Washington Post, August 28, 2007.
27 Max Smith, “Metro Needs $25 Billion for Basics — And That’s if Everything’s Been Properly Taken Care Of,” WTOP News, November 29, 2016.
28 Statement of Carolyn Flowers, Acting Administrator, Federal Transit Administration, before the U.S. House of Representatives, Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, Subcommittee on Highways and Transit, May 24, 2016.
29 Moshe Ben-Akiva and Takayuki Morikawa, “Comparing Ridership Attraction of Rail and Bus,” Transport Policy Journal 9, no. 2 (2002).
30 All ridership numbers are from the National Transit Database, Federal Transit Administration, various years, www.transit.dot.gov/ntd.
31 Randal O’Toole, “Rail Disasters 2005,” American Dream Coalition, June 2005, p. 6.
32 American Community Survey 2010 (Washington: Census Bureau, 2013), Table B08301. And see 2000 Census of Population and Housing (Washington: Census Bureau, 2002), Table QT-P23.
33 Robert Cervero, “Transit Oriented Development’s Ridership Bonus: A Product of Self-Selection and Public Policies,” University of California Transportation Center, Berkeley, 2006, p. 1.
34 National Association of Realtors, “The 2011 Community Preference Survey,” March 2011.
35 Robert Cervero and Samuel Seskin, An Evaluation of the Relationship between Transit and Urban Form (Washington: Transportation Research Board, 1995), p. 3.
36 Kytja Weir, “Survey: Metrorail Users More Affluent, Better Educated,” Washington Examiner, May 17, 2009.
37 For example, see Kytja Weir, “Area Bus Riders Face Service Cuts,” Washington Examiner, March 31, 2009.
38 Metropolitan Transportation Commission, Final Transportation 2030 Plan (Oakland, CA: MTC, 2005), p. 35.
39 Bob Egelko, “Inequity in Funding Discriminates against AC Transit Riders, Plaintiffs Claim in Suit,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 20, 2005.
40 Kimley-Horn & Associates, East Corridor Major Investment Study Final Report (Denver, CO: Denver Regional Council of Governments, 1997), pp. 37–39.
41 FasTracks Annual Program Evaluation Summary: 2008 (Denver, CO: Regional Transportation District, 2008), p. 3.
42 “Third Avenue Light Rail Phase 2 — Central Subway, San Francisco,” Federal Transit Administration, 2012, pp. 1–2.
43 “Bayshore Corridor,” Federal Transit Administration, 1996.
44 Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2010), p. 77.
45 Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2010), p. 77.
46 Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2010), p. 77.
47 Key Facts and Figures about the European Union (Brussels: European Union, 2004), p. 52.
48 Randal O’Toole, “Does Rail Transit Save Energy or Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 615, April 14, 2008, pp. 4, 8.
49 Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2010), p. 78.
50 Randal O’Toole, “A Desire Named Streetcar,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis no. 559, January 5, 2006.
52 Randal O’Toole, Gridlock (Washington: Cato Institute, 2010), p. 80.
53 N. R. Kleinfield, “Trucker Turned Builder: Arthur E. Imperatore; Creating Shangri-La on the Hudson,” New York Times, January 4, 1987.
54 Sascha Brodsky, “Many Routes to Ferry King’s Success,” Downtown Express, July 17, 2002.
October 2nd, 2019
COST Commentary: This excellent, factual report by Randal O’Toole again reflects the perilous trend which U.S. public transit is in. This census report and the recent American Public Transportation Association ridership report for the first half of 2019 reflect a continuing overall decline in total transit ridership comprised of declines in both bus and rail modes. As O’Toole’s article indicates, there are other important trends including the taxpayers’ increasing subsidy of higher income people which are the fastest growing segment of transit ridership. Low income ridership is declining faster than transits overall decline.
In each of Texas’s four major cities (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin), the ridership in 2018 was less than it was in 1999, nineteen years earlier. These cities spent many billions on both bus and mostly rail to increase public transit ridership during this period. Transit leaderships’ answer always seems to be: “We just need to add a little more transit to improve transportation and reduce congestion.” All of these attempts have failed miserably. This is a period when population increased 6.6 million people, more that 50%. And, the result: Transit has not reduced congestion and, in many cases, has increased congestion. Transit provides less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled in the region, but Austin and Cap Metro are on a path to spend 90% of the transportation funds on transit. This will substantially degrade the quality of life for those making 99+% of the passenger mile trips, on the roadways, to serve less than 1% on public transit dedicated lanes. The chart below shows the 19 year history of transit ridership in the four major Texas Cities.
The second chart sums the 4 cities’ increasing populations and relates it to the transit ridership decline over 19 years. Critical to taxpayers paying for this ineffective transit, Capital Metro’s transit operating expenses are out-of-control, increasing more than 250% over the past 16 years, in a decreasing transit ridership trend. One of the major cost increases is the Commuter Rail (Red Line) operating expenses which are now more than 10 times Cap Metro’s $2 million projection for the first year of operations. The rails low ridership and increasing, high cost have are not a responsible solution to traffic congestion and effective mobility.
This single transit performance story of all major Texas cities wastefully spending billions of taxpayers funds, for no appreciable overall benefit, should persuade almost all citizens that the current Austin path to a major voter referendum in 2020 to fund massive, long-term spending for transit is ridiculous and a heavy, unnecessary burden for future generations of Austin citizens. The Billion Dollars, plus, wasted Austin taxpayer funds, spent on the “wood burning” electricity generation plant, will pale in comparison with the wasting of many billions on this transit plan. For thousands of year, there has been a direct relationship between human mobility and quality-of-life. This Austin/Cap Metro plan will return citizens to limited, constrained mobility and a lower quality-of-life with reduced ability to access Austin’s many opportunities. It will not reduce congestion and will prevent Billions of taxpayer dollars from being thoughtfully used to address real solutions and needs in numerous segments of the community. Let’s move forward, applying the vast majority of our taxpayers’ transportation funds to address, real, positive, cost-effective solutions which recognize the future reality.
Those leading this current transit path in Austin are also totally blinded to the fact that current and new technology moving rapidly into operation will dramatically change and further reduce transit’s role in future mobility. Many cities have confirmed that rail transit has been obsolete for some time. On a downward trend, U.S. Light Rail ridership declined 3% last year and Heavy Rail declined 2.6%.
Austin’s Capital Metro adopted one of the most DISHONEST and DECEPTIVE scenarios ever put forth by public officials in Austin: In mid-2018, Cap Metro opened an updated and remodeled bus transit route, designed to improve transit ridership. Then, in mid-2019, Cap Metro and the media “broadly” announced that transit ridership had increased 4.4% (based on published ‘American Public Transportation Association’ data) over mid-2017 to mid-2018 ridership, the year prior to the route update opening in mid-2018. They DID NOT OPENLY DISCLOSE the fact that they had implemented free transit rides for K-12 students, just after they opened the new route structure in mid-2018. Ridership for these students was almost 7% (over 2 million rides) for the year, from mid-2018 to mid-2019. THEREFORE, THE INCREASED TRANSIT RIDERSHIP WAS NOT DUE TO THE ROUTE RESTRUCTURING BUT TO THE FREE STUDENT RIDERS. If you subtract the free student riders, the ridership declined about 1 million paying riders (almost 3%) since the new routes were introduced in mid-2018. Therefore, the declining ridership trend of the past 20 years has continued in 2019. Many of the K-12 students who rode transit, free, were riding public transit instead of their school bus. So, not many cars were removed from the road, as implied by Cap Metro. Did they waste millions of taxpayer dollars, spent in the restructure and free ridership to deceive citizens?
The current, Project Connect (joint Austin City and Cap Metro activity) transit plan is obsolete, ineffective inconvenient, inequitable and irresponsibly expensive for all taxpayers, even though it will serve less than 1% of the area’s passenger miles traveled. In many ways this plan is a 19th century solution for a 21st century problem. It brings back the 2000 election slogan which defeated a very poor rail plan: “COSTS TOO MUCH – DOES TOO LITTLE.” The proposed bond in the 2020 election will probably be for a Billion Plus dollars and will be only the starting segment of Project Connect’s overall master plan which will cost many Billions of dollars in future years. There have been no projections of the total plan’s costs and schedule. There are no budgets in the City or in Cap Metro to fund this plan. The plan will require major tax increases. These Billions of taxpayer dollars will highly subsidize transit riders, less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled, increase congestion and significantly degrade the mobility of those making 99+% of the daily passenger miles on the roadways. This is even more inequitable considering the national trend discussed in the article below: Low income transit ridership is declining and higher income segments are increasing in an overall declining ridership trend. Why are all taxpayers highly subsidizing a small very segment of higher income people to ride transit?
Project Connect’s plan will eliminate/limit critical options for future generations and lower their quality of life.
We will continue to expand this commentary.
2018 Census Data Show Transit in Decline
by Randal O’Toole in The Antiplanner, October 1, 2019
The Census Bureau released data from the 2018 American Community Survey last week, and the big news is its finding that income inequality has worsened. America’s transit agencies contributed to that problem as they continue to build expensive transit systems into wealthy suburbs while they cut service to low-income neighborhoods.
As a result, people who earned less than $25,000 a year were 6 percent less likely to commute to work by transit in 2018 than people in the same income class in 2010, while people who earned $65,000 a year or more were 7 percent more likely to commute by transit. Moreover, the median income of transit commuters rose above the median income of people who commute in single-occupancy automobiles for the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping track of this information in 1960.
Transit’s real growth market is among higher income people. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of people commuting by transit who earned less than $25,000 a year declined by nearly 383,000, while the number who earned more increased by more than 1.2 million. Just from 2017 to 2018, the number who earned less than $35,000 a year declined by 199,000, while the number who earned more increased by 153,000, 121,000 of whom earned more than $75,000 a year.
Some might say that transit is going where its customers are; since people of all income classes are increasing auto ownership rates, transit is going after higher-income people whose jobs tend to be more centrally located. A cynic would respond that transit is seeking to attract the support of the politically powerful and so is going after wealthy riders. Either way, the real question becomes: why should taxpayers in general support transit systems that are mainly used by the wealthy who can afford to pay for their own transportation?
Journey to Work
Nationwide, the percentages of commuters who drove alone, carpooled, took transit, walked, or bicycled to work in 2018 changed only slightly from 2017, most moving by no more than a tenth of a percent. Even from 2010 the changes are small. Transit’s share of commuting, for example, went from 5.17 percent in 2010 to 5.27 percent in 2017 back down to 5.20 percent in 2018. More worrisome for the transit industry is that the actual number of transit commuters declined nationwide from 2017 as the low-income commuters leaving transit outnumbered high-income commuters taking up transit.
The 2018 survey reported 1.8 million more people working than in 2017. Of those additional workers, 1.2 million drove alone to work while 298,000 carpooled. Transit riders declined by nearly 23,000, but all of that decline was bus riders, which declined by 58,000. Light rail and heavy rail grew by 3,500 while commuter rail grew by 19,000. This doesn’t mean that cities are better off building rail than improving bus transit, as many regions with rail transit saw overall declines in transit commuting.
These urban areas saw at least a 10 percent decline in transit’s share of commuting; that is, if transit’s 2017 share was 10 percent, its 2018 share was 9 percent or less. Source: ACS table B08130 for 2017 and 2018. Data for Salt Lake in this and other charts include Ogden and Provo-Orem as these urban areas have a unified transit system.
Cycling declined by 15,000 and walking fell by 28,000. The number of people working at home rose above the number of transit commuters for the first time in 2017. The former increased another 257,000 in 2018, which means there were 8 percent more people working at home than commuting by transit.
The number of transit commuters in these major urban areas, as well as many more, actually declined between 2017 and 2018. Source: ACS table B08130.
Changes were more significant in certain urban areas. From 2017 to 2018, the share of commuters taking transit declined from 3.5 percent to 2.9 percent in the San Diego urban area, from 5.0 to 4.4 percent in the Denver urban area, from 8.7 to 7.6 percent in the Baltimore urban area, and from 5.3 to 4.3 percent in the San Jose urban area. On the other hand, they increased from 10.3 to 11.3 percent in Philadelphia, 15.7 to 16.2 percent in DC, and 11.7 to 12.4 in the Seattle urban areas. These were exceptions; transit’s share declined in most urban areas, but by smaller amounts than in San Diego and the others mentioned here.
From 2017 to 2018, the actual number of transit commuters declined in about half of the urban areas for which 2018 data are available. These are ominous numbers for the transit industry.
Commuting and Income
Transit commuters’ median income exceeded the median income of all workers for the first time in 2017 and exceeded the median income of drive-alone commuters for the first time in 2018. Source: ACS table B08121 for 2010, 2017, 2018.
The median income of transit commuters in the San Jose urban area is nearly $74,000, compared with just $62,000 for the region as a whole. The median incomes of transit commuters were also above the medians for all workers in the Boston, Chicago, San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle, and Washington urban areas. While transit incomes remain less than those for all workers in most states and urban areas, nationally the median for transit commuters is 6 percent greater than for all workers.
Ever since the Census Bureau began asking people for their incomes and commuting habits in 1960, the median incomes of transit commuters have been lower than those of all workers in general and people who drive alone in particular. That changed in 2017, when transit incomes rose above that of all workers but remained below those who drive alone. In 2018, for the first time, transit incomes are higher than all other groups of commuters. Only people who work at home have higher median incomes than transit commuters.
Low-income transit commuters are declining while high-income commuters are increasing. Source: ACS table B08121.
Less than 21 percent of the nation’s workers earn more than $75,000 a year. But more than 27 percent of the nation’s transit commuters are in this income class. Nearly half of all San Jose transit commuters earn more than $75,000 a year compared with 44 percent of all San Jose workers. People earning more than $75,000 are also disproportionately likely to ride transit in Boston, Chicago, and New York, in each of which they make up about a third of transit commuters. In contrast, transit is still used mainly by lower income people and people earning more than $75,000 make up less than 10 percent of transit commuters in urban areas such as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and San Antonio.
Commuting and Vehicles Available
The share of American workers who live in households with no vehicles increased very slightly, from 4.25 percent in 2017 to 4.26 percent in 2018. Most of the increase was in the states of Pennsylvania and Washington. The increase in three-car households was much greater, from 34.9 percent in 2017 to 35.3 percent in 2018, and such households increased in number in 38 states.
People with jobs who live in households with no cars were nevertheless more likely to commute to work by driving alone than by taking transit in these large urban areas. Source: ACS table B08141.
Transit didn’t benefit much from the growth of vehicle-less households as the share of commuters in such households who took transit to work declined from 41.1 percent in 2017 to 40.3 percent in 2018. Not only did the percent decline, the actual number declined. As of 2018, commuters who live in carless households were more likely to drive alone to work (perhaps in employer-supplied cars) than to take transit in 38 of the 50 states as well as in such major urban areas as Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and Miami. The differences were particularly stark in some smaller urban areas including Indianapolis, Orlando, and Salt Lake/Ogden/Provo. This is not a great testament to the transit systems in those regions.
The differences between driving alone and transit commuting for people in households with no cars are even more stark in these medium-sized urban areas despite (or because of) the fact that several have some form of rail transit. Source: ACS table B08141.
Commuting and Race
Nationwide, Hispanics are twice as likely and blacks are three times more likely to commute by transit as non-Hispanic whites. Notwithstanding the fact that high-income commuters are most likely to ride transit in some areas, whites are less likely to commute by transit than blacks almost everywhere, the main exceptions being San Juan and El Paso. The high rate of black transit commuting may be because a disproportionate share of blacks still live in inner cities where transit service is most intense.
Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to drive alone than other groups, Latinos are more likely to carpool than other groups, and blacks are more likely to ride transit than other groups. Source: ACS tables B08105B, B08105H, and B08105I.
Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to ride transit than Hispanics in a few more areas, including Chicago, Cincinnati, and Omaha urban areas, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties in California, and several New Jersey counties. This is probably due to the income effect.
The share of blacks driving alone to work is increasing while the share riding transit is decreasing. Source: ACS table B08105B.
Although minorities are slightly less likely to drive and more likely to ride transit than non-Hispanic whites, they are catching up. The share of blacks and Hispanics driving alone to work is steadily increasing while the share riding transit is decreasing.
Commuting and Age
A persistent story is that young people are driving less. A comparison of commute habits by age in 2018 with the same data from 2005 shows that there have been some changes, but they are small.
Driving alone to work has declined in every age class below 60, but only by about 1 percent. The difference wasn’t captured by transit; instead, it was mainly due to an increase in people working at home. This increase was much smaller in the over 60 age classes (which already had the highest rate of people working at home), which helps explain why driving didn’t decline in those classes. People who want to discourage driving to work should focus on finding ways to increase the number of people working at home rather than spending billions on transit.
This shows the differences in how people commuted in 2005 vs. 2018. In other words, if 80 percent of people drove alone in 2005 and 79 percent in 2018, this chart would show a –1 percent. Source: AC table B08101.
Commute Travel Times
A recent report argued that commuting is a major burden and getting worse, so employers need to ease this burden on their employees by encouraging them to use transit. But travel times in 2018 were not significantly different than they were 20 years ago, while the real burden is on transit riders who have to spend almost twice as much time, on average, as people who drive alone. The only place where this isn’t true is Manhattan; even residents of Brooklyn and Queens who commute by transit spend far more time than those who commute by driving.
Transit commute times average 96 percent more than driving alone. Source: Calculated from ACS table B08136 and B08301.
The 2018 American Community Survey data confirms what the data from the National Transit Database has been saying: the outlook for the transit industry is dire. While early indications were that ride hailing was mainly taking non-commuting customers from transit, the 2018 ACS data show that transit commuting is declining as both percentages of all commuters and in actual numbers.
Moreover, this decline appears to be mainly among low-income commuters. The desire to help such commuters is one of the main arguments the industry uses to justify the huge subsidies it receives from taxpayers. Yet today any given transit rider is more likely to earn more than $50,000 a year than under $25,000 a year.
Transit agencies would like taxpayers to believe that they are on a moral crusade to help the poor, save the planet, and generate economic growth. In fact, as I’ve shown elsewhere, in all but a handful of regions transit uses more energy and emits more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than driving an SUV, while the growth-stimulating effects of transit are largely a figment of transit officials’ imaginations. The 2018 American Community Survey data show that transit is also of diminishing importance to low-income people.
Most of the tables below include data for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urban areas. For 2018, the Census Bureau proudly introduced a new web site for downloading data, but unfortunately it does not include an “All urban areas” option. I tried to check of all 437 urban areas one-by-one, but this made the system slow down and seem to freeze. So some the 2018 tables include only the top 50 or 60 urban areas. I’ll update the tables after the Census Bureau fixes this flaw. The tables below include the raw data I downloaded from the Census Bureau and some simple calculations such as the percentages of each mode of transportation.
• B08301: Means of transportation to work for 2010, 2017, and 2018
• B08121: Median income by means of transportation to work for 2010, 2017, and 2018
• B08119: Means of transportation to work by income class for 2010, 2017, and 2018
• B08141: Means of transportation to work by vehicles in household for 2017 and 2018
• B08105B, I, and H: Means of transportation to work in 2017 for blacks, Latinos, and non-Hispanic whites. For 2018, I combined the means of transportation to work for blacks, Latinos, and non-Hispanic whites into one file. Blacks are in rows 1 to 1584, non-Hispanic whites are in rows 1486 to 3168, and Latinos are in rows 3169 to 4752. For comparison, I put the percentages side-by-side in columns K through P for blacks, Q through V for non-Hispanic whites, and W through AB for Latinos.
• B08101: Means of transportation to work by age for 2005 and 2018
• B08136: Aggregate travel times by means of transportation to work for 2018
Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, is a land-use and transportation policy analyst and author of Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traﬃc and What to Do About It.
May 21st, 2019
How Vital Is Transit In Your Region? Part 1: Census Data
Transportation Policy Brief Number 4, by Randal O’Toole in The Antiplanner blog, May 21, 2019
Transit ridership is plummeting almost everywhere, yet officials in many cities are still devising hugely expensive plans for transit projects. One such city is Austin, whose leaders are talking about spending between $6 billion and $10.5 billion on new transit lines (and the final cost always ends up being more than the projections).
The need for these plans is contradicted by the rapid decline in transit ridership in Austin. Using Austin as an example, this policy brief will show how people in any urban area can use census data to find out just how important transit is to their region and whether it makes sense to spend a lot more money on transit. This is the first of two briefs on this subject; the next one will look at Department of Transportation data.
Since 2005, the Census Bureau has sent an annual questionnaire to about 3.5 million households a year asking, among other things, how those who have jobs in those households get to work. Known as the American Community Survey, these data can be downloaded for just about any geographic area — state, county, city, metropolitan area, urban area, congressional district, or zip code. Since the results are based on a sample, the Census Bureau does not publish data for small geographic areas because the margin of error is too high.
Data from every year from 2005 to 2017 can be downloaded from the American FactFinder web site. However, starting in July, the agency is transitioning to a new web site called data.census.gov. To avoid having to explain how to use a web site that will disappear in a few months, and to save you time using that site, I’ve already downloaded all of the tables that will be mentioned in this brief and posted them, with some enhancements such as calculations of percentages, for you to use.
The first question is how many people in the Austin urban area commute to work by transit and whether that number is growing or shrinking. This can be answered with table B08103, “means of transportation to work.” I’ve downloaded these data for the nation, states, counties, cities (or, in Census Bureau nomenclature, “places”), and urbanized areas and put them in one file for 2017 and, for comparison, a second file for 2007.
“Urbanized areas,” by the way, include all of the urbanized land in and around cities such as Austin, while “metropolitan areas” include all of the land, both urban and rural, in the counties surrounding such cities. I prefer to use urbanized areas since most people in rural areas aren’t going to have access to transit. However, the Census Bureau remaps urbanized areas with each decennial census, so the data from 2007 and 2017 aren’t based on exactly the same land area.
Transit’s Share of Commuting
The 2007 survey found that the Austin urban area (which is on row 684 of the spreadsheet) had about 560,000
workers in 2007, growing to nearly 890,000 by 2017 (row 736). That much growth shouldn’t be surprising because, on a percentage basis, Austin has been the fastest growing major urban area in America.
Of those employees, the 2007 survey found that about 22,000 of them (4.0 percent) usually took transit to work. Despite the nearly 60 percent growth in the total number of workers in the region, the number com- muting by transit shrank to well under 20,000, or just 2.2 percent, by 2017.
Even that number is probably considerably more than the number of people who actually take transit to work on any given workday. According to a 2017 Department of Transportation survey (see p. 78), people who say they “usually” take transit to work actually take transit only about 71 percent of the time while people who say they usually drive to work in fact drive almost all of the time. Correcting for this would require reducing transit’s numbers by almost 25 percent. I’m going to ignore this for the rest of this brief, as the adjustment factors may vary by state and region, but it’s likely that the American Community Survey probably overstates the number of people who commute by transit on any given workday.
Transit Commuting by Income
The American Community Survey also provides information on who rides transit to work. According to table B08119 for 2017, most Austin-area transit riders have low incomes, but their numbers are declining. Since 2007, the number of transit commuters earning under $35,000 a year declined by nearly a third while the number earning more than $50,000 a year nearly tripled.
Austin-area workers who earned less than $50,000 a year were significantly less likely to ride transit in 2017 than in 2007, while those who earned more than $50,000 a year were more likely to ride transit. People who earned more than $75,000 a year were twice as likely to commute by transit in 2017 as in 2007.
Though the number of high-income transit commuters is small—fewer than 7,500 transit commuters in
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of Austin-area transit commuters declined in every income bracket below $35,000, and grew in every bracket above $35,000.
2017 earned more than $35,000 a year—that is the only growth market for Austin transit. As a result, according to table B08121, the median income of transit riders grew by 85 percent between 2007 and 2017, while the median income of the region as a whole grew by only 49 percent.
Transit’s Share by Race
The American Community Survey also breaks down commute habits by race. According to table B08105B, the share of black workers commuting by transit declined from 7.7 percent in 2007 to 4.9 percent in 2017, while the share of non-Hispanic white workers commuting by transit declined from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 1.8 percent in 2017. The biggest change was among Latino workers, whose transit commute share declined from 5.1 percent in 2007 to 1.8 percent in 2017.
Between 2007 and 2017, the share of commuters who relied on transit declined for blacks and whites, but the decline was particularly large for Latinos. In this chart, “white” refers to non-Hispanic whites.
Latino commuting underwent another startling change: a decline in carpooling from 24.4 percent in 2007 to 14.6 percent in 2017. This contributed to an in- crease in the drive-alone share of Latino commuting from 65.1 percent in 2007 to 80.4 percent in 2017. It seems likely that Latinos significantly increased their motor vehicle ownership rates during this period
The Growth of Three-Car Households
While it isn’t broken down by race, table B08141 indicates that the share of Austin-area workers who live in households with no vehicles declined from 3.2 percent in 2007 to 2.7 percent in 2017, while the share who lived in households with three or more vehicles grew from 22.4 percent in 2007 to 29.2 percent in 2017.
Table B08141 also reveals that, as of 2017, little more than a quarter — 26.3 percent — of the people who live in households with no vehicles commuted by transit. This is down from 41.8 percent in 2007. People without cars were almost twice as likely to commute by automobile than by transit in 2017.
Curiously, more people who live in households without cars — 40.0 percent — commuted by driving alone
The number and share of Austin-area workers who live in households with three or more vehicles significantly grew between 2007 and 2017 while the share with no vehicles declined. This left fewer people than ever dependent on transit to get to work.
to work than by transit. How do they drive alone if they don’t have a car? Probably they use an employer-supplied vehicle.
In sum, American Community Survey data show that transit has become all but irrelevant for commuters in the Austin urban area. Less than 5 percent of black workers and less than 2 percent of both Latino and non-Latino white workers commute by transit. The number of low-income workers who rely on transit is rapidly shrinking, while transit’s only real growth market is among high-income workers who don’t need to have their commutes subsidized.
Growing automobile ownership is a likely explanation for transit’s decline. Yet, Transit no longer even works well for most commuters who don’t own cars.
The next policy brief will show how Department of Transportation data can be used to assess the value of transit in Austin and other urban areas. I’ll then make some recommendations for improving Austin’s transit system without spending $6 billion to $10.5 billion.
The Antiplanner, Randal O’Toole, is a transportation policy analyst and author of Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It as well as a review of Austin’s 2014 light-rail transit plan. The header photo on page 1 shows Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge.
Summary of Downloadable Tables
B08301: Commute to Work 2007 2017
B08119: Commute by Income 2007 2017
B08121: Median Income by Mode 2007 2017
B08105B:Commute, Blacks 2007 2017
B08105L:Commute, Latinos 2007 2017
B08105H:Commute, Non-H. Whites 2007 2017
B08141: Commute by vehicles in H.H. 2007 2017
Transportation Policy Brief #3 http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=16036
Transit Death Spiral: 1st Quarter Riders Down 2.6%
By The Antiplanner | May 14, 2019 | Policy brief, Transportation
Nationwide transit ridership in the first quarter of 2019 was 2.6 percent below the same quarter in 2018, according to data released by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) last week. Transit’s most recent downward spiral began in 2014, and ridership over the twelve months prior to March 31 was 8.6 percent below the same twelve months four years ago.
Ridership is declining for all major forms of transit travel. First quarter bus ridership was 2.1 percent below 2018 while first quarter rail ridership declined by 3.2 percent. Commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, and streetcars all lost riders.
Since transit agencies depend on fare revenues to cover part of their operating costs, declining ridership can force them to cut service or raise fares, either of which is likely to lose them more riders. This is known in the industry as the “transit death spiral,” and even major agencies such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) are worried about it.
The FTA data show that first quarter ridership had fallen in all but twelve of the nation’s fifty largest urban areas. It even fell in Seattle, the one urban area that has, up until 2019, consistently shown ridership growth.
Ridership over the past four years has declined in every state except Washington.
Thanks to Seattle’s previous ridership growth, Washington is the only state that saw more transit riders in the year prior to April 2019 than the same period four years ago. To understand why ridership in Seattle was growing, it is first necessary to look at where ridership has declined the most.
Decentralization of Older Cities
Although the nationwide ridership decline began in 2014, in many places it has been declining for far longer. A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed that the number of riders carried by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has declined by 73 percent since 1980.
Cleveland has lost nearly three-fourths of its transit riders since 1980.
Cleveland is not the only urban area to have seen such massive declines. Based on 1982 data, the earliest that are available from the FTA, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee have all seen declines fo 40 to 70 percent since that year. What all of these urban areas have in common is a massive decentralization of people and jobs from their cores to their suburbs.
At the end of World War II, many of these central cities had dense populations with high levels of multifamily housing. Since 1950, these cities have lost large numbers of people even as most of their urban areas have grown. This represents a preference for single-family housing, but it also was accompanied by a decline of the importance of downtown job centers. Since most transit systems are hub-and-spoke systems focused on downtown, they work for bringing commuters into downtown but not for commuters who work elsewhere.
For example, census data compiled by Wendell Cox shows that, as of 2010, 57 percent of downtown Chicago workers took transit to work. But the area around O’Hare Airport has 210,000 jobs — more than all but seven downtowns in the United States — and only 5.5 percent of those commuters took transit to work.
This shows the change in central city populations from 1980 to 2010 and the change in ridership from 1982 to 2018.
The chart above compares the change in central city populations from 1980 to 2010 with the change in ridership from 1982 to 2018. While the correlation isn’t perfect, it shows that suburbanization has reduced ridership.
Downtown Jobs Key to Ridership
Many people presume that transit ridership has something to do with population densities. But the correlation between urban area densities and transit’s share of commuting is only about 0.4 (where 1 is perfectly correlated and 0 is no correlation). However, the correlation between the number of downtown jobs and transit’s share of commuting is nearly 0.9. As Wendell Cox frequently says, “transit is about downtown.”
New York is not shown on this chart, but it is very close to the trend line with 1.9 million downtown jobs (including midtown Manhattan) and 30 percent transit commute share.
As of 2010, only six downtowns in the United States had more than 240,000 jobs: New York (1.9 million), Chicago (500,000), Washington (380,000), San Francisco (300,000), Boston (242,000), and Philadelphia (240,000). Not coincidentally, those were also the only six urban areas where transit carried more than 10 percent of commuters to work.
Seattle’s ridership has grown because of a huge increase in jobs in its downtown, growing from 216,100 jobs in 2010 to 301,000 jobs in 2018. Seattle may be the only major city in the United States that has more than half its jobs downtown.
At 0.97, the correlation between downtown jobs and transit’s share of commuting in the Seattle urban area is nearly perfect.
As it happens, downtown Seattle reached 240,000 jobs in 2013, the same year transit’s share of Seattle-area commuting reached 10 percent. Over the last decade, the correlation between the number of downtown Seattle jobs and transit’s share of Seattle-area commuting is a remarkable 97 percent.
This doesn’t mean that any urban area can increase transit’s share of commuting to more than 10 percent by attracting more than 240,000 jobs downtown. For one thing, few urban areas are in a position to reach 240,000 downtown jobs. As of 2010, downtown Atlanta and Houston were closest at around 170,000 jobs. Downtown Los Angeles was under 140,000; and downtown Denver 120,000. Other downtowns were under 100,000 jobs.
Even if they could pack more jobs into their downtowns, the share of downtown commuters in those urban areas who are taking transit to work is too low to make much of a difference: around 20 percent in Denver and Los Angeles and 14 percent in Atlanta and Houston, while Seattle’s was closer to 40 percent in 2010.
Seattle’s downtown grew because Amazon and Microsoft decided to move many of their office workers from suburban Bellevue and Redmond into downtown. If any government policy played a role in those decisions, it was the urban-growth boundary that has pushed prices of suburban real estate, making downtown relatively more competitive. But that same policy has increased traffic congestion and made housing far less affordable than it was a few years ago, which in turn has increased homelessness.
Per Capita Ridership Falling
Many urban areas haven’t seen the decentralization experienced by Chicago, Cleveland, and other older cities because they were never very centralized in the first place. Many Sunbelt regions have seen their populations grow primarily after World War II, which high auto ownership rates allowed most people to live in low-density neighborhoods and jobs were similarly decentralized.
Many of these urban areas have seen their long-term ridership grow, but this is often due solely to population growth, while their per capita ridership has often massively declined. In 1985, Atlanta transit carried 83 trips per urban area resident; by 2017, this had fallen to 26. The Miami urban area (including Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach) saw per capita ridership fall from 49 to 22 trips per year.
Even some of the biggest transit regions have seen per capita ridership decline. Chicago dropped from 110 trips per resident in 1985 to 68 in 2017; Washington from 102 to 82; Boston from 106 to 87; Philadelphia from 92 to 62; and San Francisco-Oakland from 121 to 108. Nationally, per capita ridership was 36 trips per urban resident in 2018, the lowest ever recorded, and 2019 is on its way to being lower still.
New York Growth Hid Losses Elsewhere
The one major exception to the per capita ridership trend is the New York urban area, where ridership grew from 201 trips per resident in 1985 to 223 in 2017. In the 1980s, New York City was mismanaged and losing people and jobs. Improvements made by the Giuliani administration in the 1990s reduced crime and made the city and its transit system more attractive.
More recently, New York City’s recovery from the September 11, 2001 terror strike has contributed to transit ridership growth which obscured declines in many other parts of the nation. In 1993, transit in the New York urban area carried just under one-third of all transit rides in the nation. Since then, New York transit ridership has grown by 73 percent, while transit in the rest of the nation has grown by only 7 percent (which, considering population growth, represents a 21 percent decline in per capita ridership outside of New York). As a result, as of 2018, transit in the New York area carried nearly 44 percent of all transit riders in the nation.
Even New York, of course, wasn’t immune to the effects of ride-hailing on transit ridership. New York-area ridership peaked in 2014 and has dropped about 4 percent since then. But even without ride-hailing, New York ridership was not likely to grow at the rates it had been enjoying before 2014.
Last week, the Alliance for Downtown New York reported that job numbers in lower Manhattan have recovered to their pre-9/11 levels. With an 11 percent vacancy rate in lower Manhattan office buildings, there is still room for a little growth, but once that is filled up, job growth in downtown New York will slow.
Thus, the outlook for transit is dimmer than ever. While the transit industry would like people to believe that the most important goal of government land-use, tax, and transportation policies is to get people to ride transit more, there is really no reason why that should be so. The one factor that can increase transit ridership is to significantly increase downtown jobs. Cities have few tools to do that and even if they could do that, the negative side effects — congestion, high real estate prices, and homelessness — outweigh the benefits.
The ridership data posted by the FTA last week shows monthly ridership for every month from January 2002 through March 2019 by transit agency and mode of transit. For those who wish to explore these data further, I’ve posted an enhanced spreadsheet that totals the monthly data into annual data in columns HI through HZ, and provides totals for major modes in rows 2142 through 2149, transit agencies in rows 2153 through 3151, and the nation’s 200 largest urban areas in rows 3153 through 3351.
September 29th, 2018
Cost Commentary: Austin and Cap Metro transit plans being developed by “Project Connect” are based on reducing current car lanes on major roadways to provided dedicated transit lanes. This ill-conceived plan would result is some of the most devastating negative impacts, in history, on Austin citizens’ quality-of-life and living costs.
This COST posting is the latest of many prior postings regarding the decline of transit’s effectiveness, the decline of transit ridership and the resulting increasing burden on taxpayers in Austin and throughout the country
The article below is focused on recent data regarding one significant aspect of the rapid decline in transit ridership. Previous posting discuss other aspects of the decline more thoroughly. Shrinking transit share: In 2017 for the first time the number of people who regularly work from home (7.9 million) exceeded riders of public transit systems (7.6 million). This jibes with a separate Census report that showed the numbers of people who worked from home at least one day a week rose 4.2 million between 1997 and 2010. Source: CBS News.
As shown in the article below, transit ridership has been relatively flat since 2006 whereas ‘workers usually working from home’ has been continuously increasing and passed transit ridership with a strong serge from 2015 while transit declined since 2015.
This reducing transit trend is expected to continue. Transit is being further reduced by a variety of rental and ride-hailing modes. This trend will also continue and will be accelerated by the entry of driver-less vehicles.
As noted, perhaps the greatest cause of transit ridership decline is increasing car ownership. This is clearly the preferred transportation mode by the vast majority of travelers as it provides greater quality-of-life with convenient, versatile, time saving transportation to go where you want to go, when you wish to go. See COST’s previous postings: 1. Transit declines as people rapidly increase car ownership, 2. Why Cities Are Abandoning Light Rail Transit In Major Public Transit Decline, and 3. Mass Transit is collapsing everywhere.
Austin is totally in-tune with the overall U.S. Working from home is a much greater percentage of the work force than that using transit. In Austin, transit is in 5th place as a travel-to-work mode: 1. Drive Alone, 2. Car Pool, 3. Work from Home, 4. All Other (walking, bicycle, taxi/ride hailing, and 5. Public Transit.
Fully considering current broad-based national transportation trends, new and rapidly advancing technologies, citizen’s strongly demonstrated transportation preferences/choices, taxpayers’ burden and safety; it is irresponsible for Austin elected officials and Capital Metro to continue the current transportation approach. This approach is designed to support the distant past and will continue to increase congestion with significant travel delays. This will result is reduced quality-of-life, increased safety risks and higher costs for all citizens.
More Americans Now Telecommute Than Take Public Transportation to Work
BY MIKE MACIAG | SEPTEMBER 21, 2018 in GOVERNING, The States and Localities, Infrastructure and Environment
Driving remains the predominant form of commuting. But for the first time, the next most common is working from home.
A growing number of American workers are abandoning their commutes.
The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau published last week show that approximately 8 million workers primarily work from home. That makes telework now second behind only driving as the most common means of getting to work, exceeding public transportation for the first time.
Last year, an estimated 5.2 percent of workers in the American Community Survey reported that they usually telecommute, a figure that’s climbed in recent surveys. Meanwhile, the share of employees taking public transportation declined slightly to 5 percent and has remained mostly flat over the longer term.
The number of Americans telecommuting at least occasionally is much larger than what’s depicted in the federal data. That’s because the Census survey asks respondents to report how they “usually” go to work, meaning those working from home only a day or two each week aren’t counted. A 2016 Gallup survey found that 43 percent of employees spent at least some time working remotely.
Several factors contribute to this increase in telecommuting.
For one, some companies are encouraging employees to telework. Advances in technology have also made working remotely more practical than before. And tech-oriented areas of the economy support jobs more ideal for telecommuting than manufacturing, brick-and-mortar retail and other major industries where recent employment gains haven’t been as strong.
Those working from home at the highest rate — 11.7 percent — in the Census survey were classified as professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services workers. Other industries where telework is about as common include finance, insurance, real estate, agriculture and the information sector.
As one might expect, self-employed individuals are the mostly likely to work from their homes, with about 24 percent doing so last year. But they’re not driving the expansion of telecommuting. According to Census survey, there are fewer self-employed teleworkers who own unincorporated businesses than a decade ago, partially because the self-employed make up a smaller share (5.9 percent) of the overall workforce.
Instead, it’s employees of private companies who are pushing up telework numbers. According to the latest estimates, 4.3 percent of all private wage and salary workers usually worked from home last year, up from 2.7 percent a decade prior.
Additionally, older workers are significantly more likely to telework than younger age groups. The Census estimates indicate that 7 percent of workers age 60 to 64 worked from home, as well as 10.3 percent of those age 65 and over last year.
Meanwhile, several factors are suppressing public transportation ridership.
Perhaps what’s most to blame is an increase in car ownership. A recent study in Southern California concluded that increased vehicle access was the single most significant factor contributing to diminished transit use. Nationally, data suggests more adults living in poverty now have access to cars.
Other reasons often cited include the proliferation of ride-hailing services, lower gas prices and higher trip fares for some transit systems.
In the first quarter of this year, total transit passenger trips were down 3.9 percent from 2017, according to the American Public Transportation Association’s most recent ridership report, finding declines for all modes except for commuter rail.
Bus systems across the country have experienced particularly noticeable drops. The Maryland Transit Administration, Miami-Dade Transit Agency and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority all reported year-over-year declines in bus passenger trips exceeding 10 percent in the first quarter. Many agencies have responded in recent years by reconfiguring bus routes and launching initiatives aimed at addressing inefficiencies in service.
Driving alone remains the predominant form of commuting. Just over three-quarters of employed workers reported driving to work in the 2017 Census survey, essentially unchanged from a decade ago.
Metro Area Telework Data
The prevalence of teleworking in a region largely reflects workforce demographics and types of industries doing business locally. The Census Bureau measures numbers of workers “usually” working from home, shown for each region below. (Note that data was not reported all years for some smaller metro areas.)
August 23rd, 2018
Cars Crush Transit
February 5, 2018 By Gary Galles, in California Political Review
The Los Angeles Times has recently reported that public transit agencies “have watched their ridership numbers fall off a cliff over the last five years,” with multi-year decreases in mass transit use by up to 25%. And a new UCLA Institute of Transportation study has found that increasing car ownership is the prime factor for the dive in usage.
As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh.”
Southern California residents bought 4 times as many cars per person in the fifteen years after the turn of the century, compared to the decade before. That substantial jump in automobile ownership caused the share of Southern California households without access to a car to fall by 30%, and 42% for immigrant households. As one of the study’s authors, Michael Manville, put it, “That exploding level of new automobile ownership is largely incompatible with a lot of transit ridership.” In other words, once a household has access to a car, they almost universally prefer driving to mass transit.
This patronage plunge threatens transit agencies. Typical responses echo Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, who said, “We need to take this study as an opportunity to figure out how we make transit work better for us.” In other words, we should ignore increasing access to automobiles and overwhelming revealed preferences for driving over mass transit, and find new ways to fill bus and train seats.
Many things are already in motion to solve transit agency’s problems. For instance, in 2015, Los Angeles began a 20-year plan to remove auto lanes for bus and protected bike lanes, as well as pedestrian enhancements, diverting transportation funds raised from drivers and heightening congestion for the vast majority who planners already know will continue to drive (it would have doubled the number of heavily congested–graded F–intersections to 36% during evening rush).
Such less than effective attempts to cut driving (and bail out transit agencies) by creating gridlock purgatory suggest we ask a largely ignored question. Why do planners’ attempts to force residents into walking, cycling and mass transit, supposedly improving their quality of life, attract so few away from driving?
The reason is simple–cars are vastly superior to alternatives for the vast majority of individuals and circumstances.
Automobiles have far greater and more flexible passenger- and cargo-carrying capacities than transit. They allow direct, point-to-point service, unlike transit. They allow self-scheduling rather than requiring advance planning. They save time, especially time spent waiting, which surveys find transit riders find far more onerous. They have far better multi-stop trip capability (which is why restrictions on auto use punish working mothers most). They offer a safer, more comfortable, more controllable environment, from the seats to the temperature to the music to the company.
Those massive advantages explain why even substantial new restrictions on automobiles or improvements in alternatives leave driving the vastly dominant choice. They also reveal that policies which will punish the vast majority for whom driving remains far superior cannot effectively serve all residents’ interests.
The superiority of automobiles doesn’t stop at the obvious, either. They expand workers’ access to jobs and educational opportunities, increase productivity and incomes, improve purchasing choices, lower consumer prices and widen social options. Trying to inconvenience people out of their cars also undermines those major benefits.
Cars’ allow decreased commuting times if not hamstrung, providing workers access to far more potential jobs and training possibilities. That improves worker-employer matches, with expanded productivity raising workers’ incomes as well as benefitting employers. One study found that 10 percent faster travel raised worker productivity by 3 percent, and increasing from 3 mph walking speed to 30 mph driving is a 900 percent increase. In a similar vein, a Harvard analysis found that for those lacking high-school diplomas, owning a car increased monthly earnings by $1,100.
Cars are also the only practical way to assemble enough widely dispersed potential customers to sustain large stores with affordable, diverse offerings. “Automobility” also sharply expands access to social opportunities.
Attempting to force people out of cars and onto transit recycles earlier failures and harms the vast majority of citizens.
As Randal O’Toole noted:
Anyone who prefers not to drive can find neighborhoods…where they can walk to stores that offer a limited selection of high-priced goods, enjoy limited recreation and social opportunities, and take slow public transit vehicles to some but not all regional employment centers, the same as many Americans did in 1920. But the automobile provides people with far more benefits and opportunities than they could ever have without it.
Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, part the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network, and a research associate of the Independent Institute. His books include “Apostle of Peace” (2013); “Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies” (2014); and “Lines of Liberty” (2016).
June 21st, 2018
COST Commentary: The article below is an excellent summary regarding many cities’ reasons for abandoning light rail as a responsible mode of public transit. As I post this article, a major headline article in the Austin American Statesman is “Action on light rail put off.” I sincerely hope the reason is that Cap Metro and the City of Austin have better understood the major deficiencies of light rail as a solution to Austin’s future transportation/mobility needs. All the reasons below and others expressed in previous COST postings are based on facts and actual results throughout the U.S. There are zero, successful role models of cities similar to Austin, or Austin 100 years from today, experiencing successful implementations of light rail. It is a huge waste of taxpayer funds and an ineffective transit mode; resulting in worsening affordability and congestion. See the previous News Article posting on this web site:
New Austin & Cap Metro Transit Plan will waste billions of taxpayer dollars and totally fail
The light rail plans suggested by Cap Metro and the City have been based on a false perception of the future. In fact, the plans have been based on a return to the past use of transit which does not exist today nor will it return. Our future mobility plans must be based on the rapidly changing future, driven by technology innovations and the reality that many aspects of the future are very different than the past. One major example is: The past was based on transit being a wheel and spoke configuration bringing people from the outlying areas to the city’s core where the vast majority of the jobs were. Today, less than 10% of most cities employment is in the core and 90% is in the surrounding metropolitan area. This trend can be seen clearly in the Austin area, including the Domain and other Domain-like developments in process.
COST strongly agrees with the article below and reaffirms it would be a major mistake to implement light rail in Austin. Again, the previous posting summarizes many of COST’s views and contains editorials by the Dallas Morning News which indicates their concurrence with many of these views based on Dallas’ many years of light rail experience in developing the longest light rail route in the nation.
Cities Rethink Rail, Amidst Transit Slump
By Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason Foundation, Surface Transportation Innovations, May 2018
Cities across the country that were planning on constructing light rail and streetcar lines are delaying or cancelling those projects and building bus transit projects instead. Last month, Nashville residents rejected a $5.2 billion light rail-centric plan by almost two to one. Tampa leaders, who have fought for rail for decades only to be defeated, are embracing a high-quality, cost-effective BRT vision for the region. Metro Atlanta is developing a region-wide transit plan focused on bus, not rail. Finally, Fort Lauderdale has cancelled an expensive, unneeded streetcar project.
There are a number of reasons why cities are choosing bus over rail. First, bus is significantly cheaper than rail. A BRT project is typically 1/3 to 1/9 the cost of a similar light rail project. In a recent round of FTA grants the median price of a light rail project was $575.7 million while the median price of a BRT project was $36.1 million. While BRT and light rail have similar operating costs, light rail has higher maintenance costs. Fort Lauderdale was planning to build a streetcar maintenance facility for its streetcar. New buses can be maintained in existing city/county garages.
BRT projects can be implemented more quickly, typically in two to four years. The average for light rail projects is seven years. BRT also offers flexibility. As metro area development patterns change, BRT service can be adjusted. Commute patterns in most U.S. cities have changed over the last 50 years. BRT service can be customized for changing needs.
Despite the lower cost, BRT has many of the same economic benefits as rail. Recent studies from Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the Center for Urban Transportation Research note that per dollar of transit investment and under similar conditions, BRT leverages more transit-oriented development than light rail. Transit researchers speculated that light rail might lead to more TOD due to its perceived “permanence,” but research has proven that not to be the case.
About the only reason to build a light rail line is the “sexiness” factor. Put simply, rail is sexy and buses are not. But what riders really care about is the quality of the service, and in this regard perceptions of bus and rail are much closer together. Graham Curie of the University of Monash found that systems with better services including higher frequency and integrated ticketing attracted more ridership. As a result, a high-quality bus service with a 10-minute headway (a bus every 10 minutes) will be preferred over a light rail line with a 20-minute headway. In another study, David Hensher and Corrine Mulley showed potential riders a BRT and a rail transit network covering the same geographic area. After researchers identified the service attributes that riders preferred and focused on those components, participants had no preference between the BRT and light rail networks.
These results suggest that transit users start with a perception of rail and bus in their mind, in which bus offers slow, unreliable service and rail offers fast, consistent service. Riders are actually mode-neutral; what they want is the best overall service. As long as BRT provides that service, they are generally happy with BRT.
As discussed above, one of the major advantages of BRT is its flexibility. And given current and future changes in transit service, that flexibility is key. Overall transit ridership has been decreasing for the past two years. Comparing March 2018 numbers with March 2017 numbers, every major urban area the size of Charlotte, NC or larger lost transit riders. Even Seattle, which had so far not experienced declines, lost riders. Further, every transit mode lost ridership—not just buses but rail systems as well. In the last 12 months, nationwide bus ridership declined 6.3%, light rail ridership declined 5.7%, heavy rail ridership declined 5.3% and commuter rail ridership declined 3.3%.
There are many factors behind the drop, particularly a growing economy and the role of ride-hailing services. But the continued drop in ridership month after month for several years has gotten so bad that the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) wrote a policy paper examining the problem. For an association paper, the document is fairly objective. APTA admits transit agencies have actual competition for ridership from transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. The paper suggests that dedicated bus lanes, which makes sense in transit corridors with very high frequency service, will grow bus ridership. APTA argues that transit systems should create a loyalty program because that is the “type of engagement” that appeals to millennials. The paper also discusses the role of land use and the development of low-income housing and community services in suburban and rural areas that are not traditionally well suited to transit.
While helpful, I would have liked more from the APTA report. What it does not acknowledge is that TNCs and automated vehicles are going to fundamentally change transit service. Transit agencies can start changing and adapting or risk becoming irrelevant. For example, transit agencies should be partnering with Uber, Lyft and private micro-transit services such as Chariot not just for first-mile and last-mile rides but for transit service in low-density suburbs and exurbs. These partnerships are complicated and may take years to fine-tune. Kansas City’s partnership with Bridj was ultimately unsuccessful. But that does not mean other regions should not experiment to find out what works. Transit agencies need to be transitioning to mobility agencies in which they are not operating transit service but managing services operated by public and private entities.
The APTA report uses a somewhat arbitrary 2000 to 2017 timeframe to claim that rail ridership is up. But for the timeframe that matters the most— 2017-2018—ridership is down significantly. Further, even in areas where rail ridership is up, that is largely because rail lines have replaced bus lines. If you eliminate five bus lines and add a rail line, rail ridership had better increase. But in most of those areas, the increase in rail ridership was less than the decrease in bus ridership. All modes of transit are struggling, and honesty is needed to solve the problem.
May 14th, 2018
COST Commentary: The op-ed directly below these comments is perhaps the most concise description to-date of the reality of mass transit. This version was published in ‘The Hill’: Mass Transit is collapsing everywhere by Randal O’Toole. Similar versions have been published elsewhere. The article’s conclusions are based on a firm foundation of facts which are rarely used by those promoting the use of billions of tax dollars for light rail transit, often mislabeled as “mass transit.”
This is a very timely subject for Austin. Rumblings from the already proven, incompetent Project Connect are indicating a possible new Austin light rail election by about 2020. Project connect was created by the cozy relationship between Capital Metro and the City (three City Council members are on the Capital Metro Board). The developing plan seems to be building to another attempt to use distortion and deception to seduce voters to approve the wasteful spending of billions of dollars to implement ineffective, extremely high cost and outdated light rail transit. This would have the totally opposite effect of the promised reduced congestion with the real result being major increases in congestion throughout the Austin area.
Perhaps the most compelling fact for Austin area citizens is that Austin’s transit ridership is on a 20 year declining trend, highlighted by a huge drop in ridership of 19.5% from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018, ending March 31, 2018. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the Nation and it’s population growth during this period has been more than 70% and most new trips are in cars. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are also top growing cities in the U.S. and their combined transit ridership is less than 20 years ago after spending billions of dollars to increase transit ridership in a period which their average population grew about 70%.
This transit performance should send a strong message regarding citizens’ mobility choices which best serve their needs and quality-of-life. Austin had the largest percentage transit ridership drop of any region in a quarter which the top 38 U.S. Metro areas all lost transit ridership and overall ridership dropped in all major forms of transit, rail and bus. The national drop in transit ridership is summarized by a blog article in The Antiplanner by Randal O’Toole which is the third article below this message and discusses the drop in U.S. ridership from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018.
There are no models of light rail transit success for cities similar to Austin or the projected Austin, 100 years from now. Every fact, including the vast majority of citizens’ every day decisions, points to Austin’s reality that acceptable, cost-effective mobility improvements can only be effectively achieved by improving our major roadways which serve 99% of the regions passengers miles each day. Roadway improvements also improve public transit, commercial, emergency and shared vehicles. A recent op-ed in the Statesman by Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty emphasizes this point and others.
The awareness of the facts above and in the articles referenced and below make it completely irresponsible for the City and Capital Metro to waste millions of dollars to prepare for a new light rail election. Cap Metro is asking the City for $15 million dollars to combine with Capital Metro’s $5 million to do early engineering and environmental work for potential light rail lines. This appears to be a deceptive way to spend light rail money prior to a vote and avoid/violate the state law that Austin’s light rail must be approved by voters. So, this would be an irresponsible action indicating strong disregard and lack of respect for citizens of the Austin region.
The second article below is also by Randal O’Toole, titled: Why We Need to Stop Subsidizing Public Transit. It is a “big picture” summary view of the massive federal, state and local taxpayer transit subsidies which are spent for little benefit and much of it is directed to rail transit which which has been obsolete for more than 80 years.
AUSTIN IS ON A PATH TO DEGRADE MOBILITY AND QUALITY-OF-LIFE FOR ALL CITIZENS WITH INCREASING CONGESTION, DEGRADING AFFORDABILITY, REDUCING SAFETY AND CONTINUING GENTRIFICATION WITH MAJOR REDUCTIONS IN PUBLIC SCHOOL ENROLLMENT. CITY COUNCIL SHOULD ABANDON THIS SELF-SERVING, DISHONEST, DECEPTIVE AND DESTRUCTIVE PATH AND ESTABLISH A COMPLETE NEW APPROACH FOR MOBILITY IN AUSTIN; BY QUALIFIED PEOPLE WHO TRULY UNDERSTAND THE FUTURE AND IT’s IMPLICATIONS AS WE SERVE THE TRUE DESIRES OF THE VAST MAJORITY OF CITIZENS.
Mass transit is collapsing everywhere
BY RANDAL O’TOOLE, OPINION CONTRIBUTOR, The Hill — 05/13/18
THE VIEWS EXPRESSED BY CONTRIBUTORS ARE THEIR OWN AND NOT THE VIEW OF THE HILL
Nationwide transit ridership in March 2018 was 5.9 percent below March 2017, according to the latest data published by the Federal Transit Administration. Following three years of steady declines, these numbers present a dire picture of the nation’s transit industry.
Ridership declined in all of the nation’s 38 largest urban areas (and the 39th, Providence, gained only 0.1 percent new riders). Transit systems in Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Tampa-St. Petersburg all suffered double-digit declines, with Austin losing 19.5 percent and Charlotte 15.4 percent despite being two of the fastest growing urban areas in the nation.
Data from 2017 showed that ridership in Seattle and Houston grew from 2016, providing hope to transit advocates that other regions could reverse ridership declines if they emulated the examples of those two cities. But transit systems in both Seattle and Houston lost riders in March 2017.
A recent article in Bloomberg claimed that the decline in ridership “is confined to buses,” implying that cities can reverse the decline by building expensive rail transit systems. But that wasn’t even true when the article was written (it admitted that heavy-rail ridership was declining), and the March data show all major forms of transit are declining: buses, commuter rail, light rail, and heavy rail.
Cities that have spent billions of dollars on rail transit have not been immune from the decline. Charlotte won new rail riders by opening a new light-rail line in March, but it lost 2.5 bus riders for every rail rider gained. Denver also lost about 2.5 bus riders for every new rail rider. Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake, and several other regions lost both rail and bus riders.
Denver-area voters agreed in 2004 to spend billions building new rail transit lines, and the region has opened several lines since then. Yet by 2016 transit carried only about 10,000 more of the urban area’s commuters to work than it did in 2000, while nearly 280,000 more commuters drove to work.
Transit apologists offer many excuses for ridership declines, such as low gas prices and crumbling infrastructure. But gas prices were 10 percent higher in March 2018 than March 2017 and ridership is declining even in areas with brand-new transit infrastructure.
The fundamental problem is that big-box transit — moving people in 60-passenger buses, 450-passenger light-rail trains or 1,500-passenger heavy-rail or commuter-rail trains — no longer works in American cities. Such transit made sense a century ago when most jobs were in downtowns surrounded by dense residential areas. But today only New York City comes close to looking like that.
Modern urban areas have far more jobs scattered across the suburbs than concentrated in downtowns. Job location is only one of many factors people consider when deciding where to live. The result is jobs, residences, retail, schools, and other activity centers are widely dispersed.
The number of transit trips taken by the average urban resident declined from nearly 300 in 1918 to about 60 in 1964, when Congress began offering federal subsidies to transit. Since then, federal, state, and local governments have spent more than $1.1 trillion on transit subsidies, yet trips per urban resident have fallen to about 38 in 2017.
Here’s a stark reality: according to table B08141 of the 2016 American Community Survey, just 4.3 percent of American workers live in households without cars — and 58 percent of them don’t rely on transit to get to work. Transit doesn’t even work for people who don’t have cars, much less is it able to compete for the business of most of those who do.
Some propose to redesign American cities to serve obsolete transit systems: forcing more jobs downtown, building high-density transit-oriented developments in transit corridors, and turning highway and street lanes into dedicated bus lanes. Yet huge changes in urban form are needed to get a small change in transit usage, and the benefits are trivial. Transit isn’t particularly green, using more energy and producing more greenhouse gases, per passenger mile, than the average car.
Seattle has done the most to reshape itself into an early twentieth-century city. Draconian land-use policies and tax subsidies increased the city’s population density by 25 percent since 2000 and increased the number of downtown jobs from 215,000 in 2010 to 281,000 in 2017. These policies came at a terrible price: housing is no longer affordable and traffic is practically gridlocked. The urban area gained 58,000 transit commuters since 2000, but it also gained 190,000 auto commuters.
It is time to stop thinking that transit is somehow morally superior to driving and that it deserves the $50 billion in subsidies that it receives each year. Ending the subsidies would lead to a variety of private transit alternatives where people will use them and allow cities to concentrate on relieving congestion and making roads safer and cleaner for everyone else.
Randal O’Toole (@antiplanner) is director of the Transportation Policy Center at the Independence Institute (@i2idotorg), a free market think tank in Denver, and a senior fellow with the Cato Institute (@CatoInstitute) in Washington, D.C. He is author of the forthcoming book, Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need.
Why We Need to Stop Subsidizing Public Transit
It’s obsolete and costs taxpayers billions, yet its ridership and productivity continue to decline.
BY: Randal O’Toole | May 7, 2018 in Governing
Public transit cost federal, state and local taxpayers more than $50 billion in 2016 — nearly $5 in subsidies every time someone boarded a transit vehicle. Yet transit ridership has been declining since 2014, and although some might attribute this to telework or a general decline in the reliability of transit services, it’s thanks in large part to the success of competitors such as Uber, Lyft and Chariot.
This has led many to wring their hands over the future of public transit. In fact, we should be happy to see it go as it is obsolete, needlessly expensive and provides no significant environmental or social benefits.
A little over 50 years ago, urban transit was mostly private and mostly profitable. But in 1964, in the face of declining ridership and concerns about the industry’s long-term financial viability, Congress offered federal subsidies to cities and states that took over private transit companies. Within a decade, all but a handful of transit companies had been “municipalized.”
Those subsidies, along with those provided by states and local governments, failed to boost ridership or stabilize the industry. What followed instead was a dramatic decline in transit’s productivity by any measure. The number of annual riders carried per transit employee has dropped by more than 50 percent, according to data from the American Public Transit Association. Operating and capital costs have grown more than twice as fast as fare revenues.
Adjusted for inflation, the same data show that subsidies to transit by all levels of government have totaled well over $1.1 trillion since 1964, but these subsidies haven’t benefitted either cities or transit riders. In 1964, the average urban resident took more than 60 transit trips a year. Preliminary data for 2017 indicate that this has fallen to 37 trips per year, the lowest level in recorded history.
Subsidy supporters say transit helps low-income people get to work, but census data show that only about 4 percent of American workers live in households that lack cars, and a majority of them don’t commute by transit. Nor are claims that transit saves energy and reduces pollution true. In 2016, transit used about 10 percent more energy per passenger mile than the average car and only slightly less than the average light truck. Both transit and cars emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases per passenger mile. People who care about energy or climate change would do better to drive a plug-in hybrid than to take transit.
The latest argument for transit is that it promotes economic development. While some studies have found that heavily used transit lines can influence property values, research published by the Federal Transit Administration has shown that this is a zero-sum game: Higher property values in one part of a city are balanced by lower values elsewhere. Not only does transit not promote overall economic growth, the high taxes required to subsidize transit may actually slow growth down. Data from more than 300 urban areas show that the regions that grew fastest in the 2000s were ones that had spent the least on transit in the 1990s, while the regions that spent the most on transit in the 1990s were among those that grew the slowest in the 2000s.
Now that ride hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft and private bus companies such as Chariot are providing increasingly affordable alternatives to public transit, it is time to think about phasing out the subsidies. That means, first, that transit agencies should stop spending money on new rail transit lines that few people will ride.
Rail transit was rendered obsolete more than 80 years ago when manufacturers had perfected buses that were less expensive to buy, operate and maintain than rail cars. Contrary to claims that light rail is “high-capacity transit,” buses have much higher potential capacities: The New York-New Jersey Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane, for example, moves more people per hour than almost any rail line in the world, and far more than any light-rail line.
Next, transit agencies should pay down the debts they incurred building previous rail lines, as well as their unfunded pension and retiree health-care obligations. Finally, they should offer transit franchises to private companies, as the United Kingdom has done. At least until driverless cars make buses obsolete, private companies can provide bus services at a profit in many urban areas. A private company might also be able to operate the New York subway at a profit, but most other rail lines should be scrapped.
To be fair, we should end subsidies to highways as well, though those subsidies are much smaller — 1.5 cents per passenger mile vs. nearly 90 cents for transit. Subsidies make transportation providers, whether public or private, more responsive to politicians than to transportation users. Politicians are likely to build bridges to nowhere or expensive, low-capacity rail lines, while user-fee-driven agencies will focus on maintenance and cost-effective congestion relief to keep customers happy.
The great experiment of socializing public transit has failed. Instead of trying to rescue transit, we should stop subsidizing it, saving taxpayers’ tens of billions of dollars a year. There are better ways to improve urban transportation.
March Transit Ridership Drops 5.9%
by Randal O’Toole in Antiplanner blog, May7,2018
Some have blamed declining transit ridership on low gas prices, but gasoline was about 10 percent more expensive in March 2018 than March 2017, yet March transit ridership was 5.9 percent less than in the same month in 2017. To be fair, March had one fewer work day in 2018 than in 2017, which could account for some of the decline, but January had one more work day in 2018 than 2017, and ridership still declined.
The Federal Transit Administration released March ridership numbers over the weekend. As usual, the Antiplanner has supplemented the raw numbers with a spreadsheet that totals ridership by years (2002-2018) in columns GW through HM; by major modes in rows 2116 through 2122; by transit agency in rows 2131-3129; and by the 200 largest urbanized areas in rows 3131 through 3330.
Previous releases showed that transit has been declining in nearly all major urban areas except Seattle and, in some recent months, Houston. March’s numbers are even more dire, as ridership declined in all of the top 38 urbanized areas including Houston and Seattle. Of the top 50 urban areas, ridership grew only in Providence (by a mere 0.1 percent), Nashville (by a respectable 8.2 percent), Hartford (8.1 percent), and Raleigh (by 3.5 percent).
But elsewhere the returns are grim. Seattle’s light-rail ridership grew by 6.5 percent and commuter rail grew a more modest 0.5 percent. But this growth wasn’t enough to make up for the decline in bus ridership, so overall ridership fell by 0.5 percent. Ridership in Houston, the other major region sometimes considered to be an exception, fell by 2.9 percent.
Still, many other transit systems would be happy to have a mere 0.5 percent — or even a 2.9 percent — decline. New York ridership fell 4.5%, Los Angeles by 9.6%, Miami by 10.9%, and Philadelphia by 12.5%. Other big losers were Boston at -11.8%; San Diego at -15.7%; Tampa-St. Petersburg & St. Louis were both -10.1%; Austin -19.5%; and Charlotte -15.4%. Charlotte opened a new light-rail extension on March 15 and gained 46 percent more light-rail riders, but the loss in bus ridership more than made up the difference. Cleveland, Memphis, and New Orleans are also among the double-digit losers.
Contrary to claims that only buses are losing and rail is at least holding its own, all major modes of transit lost riders in March. Buses lost 6.3%; light rail 5.7%; heavy rail 5.3%; and commuter rail 3.3%. Despite recent openings of several streetcar lines, streetcars lost 14.2 percent and lines that the FTA classifies as “hybrid rail,” including rail lines in Austin, Portland, and a few other cities, lost 11.6 percent.
Transit defenders frequently rely on obsolete data to justify claims that ridership declines aren’t “that bad” or are only affecting a portion of the industry. But these data, the most recent available on a nationwide basis, show that no city or transit agency is truly immune from the rot that is afflicting the nation’s socialized transit systems.
April 7th, 2018
COST Commentary: Below this commentary is a depiction of the most recent Austin & Capital Metro transit plan which is now being shared with the public. Its presentations have strongly suggested that several of the defined transit routes are very likely to be designated as light rail. The ‘picture’ below is further explained on the Project Connect web site. Project Connect is a joint Cap Metro and Austin City activity to define Austin’s future transit plan. It is primarily populated and advised by those who are strong light rail advocates. Many of them have been promoting light rail for a very long time. It is interesting that each time Cap Metro and the City have proposed light rail since the voters defeat of light rail in 2000, they have proposed a very different light rail route and system. Since light rail is very expensive to install and modify the route, it seems there is a lack of stability in their suggested need. It is very true that Austin is a young city and does not really know what it will be when it “grows up.” Whatever it is, light rail will not be a factor.
The history of rail elections in Austin, early plans leading to a possible next election and funding implications are summarized in an Austin American-Statesman newspaper article by Ben Wear posted on April 6 and published in the paper on April 8 with the front page title of: Ready For Rail?
“Is Austin finally ready for light rail? The answer may come in 2020.”
It is a very good, factual and balanced article for this information.
COST, including its predecessor organization, was a major opposition organization during the 2000 Cap Metro and the 2014 Austin City elections in which light rail was defeated. COST’s summary position was that these Light Rails: would cost billions of taxpayer dollars to serve a miniscule percentage of Austin area citizens; would not decrease congestion as promoted, but would further increase congestion; would not improve the environment, but would degrade it; would degrade overall transit by using major funds for a small portion of transit ridership which would degrade the backbone bus system; and, would waste billions of dollars which could be effectively used for the public’s greater-good to improve roadways which serve 99% of Austin’s daily passenger miles including the transit bus system.
COST did not mount a formal, registered campaign in the 2004 commuter rail election which Cap Metro won. This was a COST strategic decision based on the much lower cost of the Commuter which was to use existing tracks, minimizing the loss of Road capacity. COST concluded the Commuter rail would be one of the least expensive ways to demonstrate to citizens that rail is not an effective transit solution. The Commuter did have major cost overruns of several hundred percent, but has proven all of the negatives described in the light rail discussion above and below. The commuter requires a major subsidy for each rider, several times bus subsidies. It causes more pollution per rider than cars and the travel time for commuters is not efficient. Considering all elements, the Commuter Rail creates a net increase in congestion.
The current Austin area transit plan shown below has many of the major flaws which the previous light rail plans contained. This web site has a long list of previous postings which address these flaws. In summary:
1. Light rail costs too much and does too little, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on transit which does not well serve those who need transit the most, those without alternatives. (See the Dallas Morning News editorials below)
2. Light rail and dedicated bus lanes will significantly increase congestion in the central Austin area as it will require eliminating road capacity used by cars and other vehicles, both private and commercial. This will also hamper ride hailing (Uber, Lyft, etc.) services which are growing rapidly throughout the Nation.
3. The present transportation plan does not recognize rapidly advancing technologies including driverless vehicles and ride hailing (Uber, Lyft, etc.). These and other mobility advances will create alternatives which are much more flexible with more rapid response in meeting riders’ location and destination needs at costs which are competitive with train transit’s costs.
4. The draft transportation plan indicates little knowledge of the long trend in changing work locations. This plan is the traditional “spoke and wheel” configuration which transit started with in the 1800’s. Transit was designed to transport people from their homes to the major jobs locations in the City core. This is now totally outdated. Today, the average large city has less than 10% of the regional workforce in the city’s central core. Austin has slightly more than 10% if you count the state workers and UT employees which are near the core. Austin’s proposed transit plan is recreating the past with a “spoke and wheel design which would severely limit access to available jobs in the region for those who must use transit. (See the Dallas editorials below)
5. There are no large city transit models which confirm the validity of this Austin plan. The Dallas and Houston regions are about 100 years ahead of Austin’s population and they are evaluated by Inrix Corporation as being much more congested than Austin. Their billions for light rail have not measurably changed their congestion and the use of public transit has been declining with their very large population growths.
6. The rail ridership in a city like Austin does not improve the environment. Austin’s air quality has never exceeded Federal standards. Austin’s, and most cities’ low transit ridership degrades air quality.
7. Austin’s transit ridership has been on a long-term declining trend of almost 20 years while its regional population has grown about 70%. Why would we allocate billions of precious tax dollars to the least cost-effective transit mode (rail) with the hope that the trend, which reflects citizens’ choices as to best way to serve their desired quality-of-life, might change. This is not responsible!
8. Austin’s funding of light rail is being planned on the basis that a major portion will come from the Federal Government. This is not the case today and is not expected to be for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the costs for local citizens would be double that assumed in the transportation plan, many billions more.
9. The increased congestion due to dedication of current car lanes to serve buses or trains only would have a major negative impact on road construction and thousands of small businesses.
10. Creating the additional congestion would also degrade safety for travelers.
11. Austin affordability is a top issue today and in the future. Austin is one of the fastest growing cost-of-living major cities in the Nation and housing cost is a major driver of these increases. The result is driving many lower income citizens, a large percentage of transit riders, beyond the bounds of transit service and they are forced to find alternatives. This is one of the top reasons Austin’s transit ridership is falling and has been in this trend for many years. This also shows-up in a rapid drop in public school enrollment as families leave the unaffordable area. Ineffective light rail will not address this and its high costs will further increase the cost-of-living. Portland created a similar unaffordability environment starting in the 1970s and its school enrollment dropped about 45%, closing dozens of schools. Austin seems to be charging down the path to reach Portland’s unaffordable level by the wasteful spending of billions of dollars on Light Rail
12. One of the most serious rail transit problems today is that older systems in several cities including such cities as Washington DC, New York City, Chicago, and even newer cities with older Light Rail systems such as Portland, are facing the need for many billions of dollars due to long neglected maintenance and worn out systems. These cities are experiencing very unreliable transit and many riders are abandoning public transit. The maintenance and capital replacement costs have not been appropriately planned in rail transit and there is often no source of funding. The U.S. government will not play a significant role in meeting these needs which cost as much or more than the original capital expenditures to install the rail systems.
There is a previous posting on this site which includes a paper addressing the issue of transit’s future in more detail. The posting is:Transit Transformation Needed Now!
This posting contains the Executive Summary, Introduction and Conclusion of the paper. The full paper can be accessed here:
The Coming Transit Apocalypse
The bottom line to this posting and many others on the COSTAustin.org web site is that Light Rail transit is failing to meet its committed performance in many cities. By the time Austin would vote on rail in 2020 and implement a major portion of its suggested rail lines in about 2030, as described in the above Statesman article, the light rail would be obviously outdated and known as the greatest waste of billions of dollars of taxpayer money in Austin’s history. We must prevent this irrational disaster and burden which would be placed on future generations. Our limited tax dollars must be directed to those cost-effective transportation needs which have already been firmly identified by citizens’ choices and are compatible with current and future technology advances. Light Rail is not the answer.
There are three articles posted below. The first two are Dallas Morning News editorial columns with strong criticism for Dallas’ continuing transit path of adding additional light rail capacity. This is somewhat remarkable because this newspaper was very supportive of light rail in the 1990’s when the transit agency, DART, began rail implementation. Dallas has now spent several billion dollars to implement the longest light rail system in the nation, about 100 miles. As the editorials reflect, the community is becoming more aware that the promoted benefits of light rail are very problematical and rail is producing overall negative impacts. The third article is from the Washington Post addressing the nationwide reduction in transit ridership.
DART ridership is falling, and it will keep falling until focus shifts to bus service
Dallas Morning News Editorial, March 16, 2018
Two important facts explain much about the crisis of confidence Dallas Area Rapid Transit confronts as it drives into its 35th year. Population in its 13-city service area keeps going up, and yet year after year, the total number of riders who board its buses, trains and vans keeps going down.
The agency desperately needs a course-correction, and we’re relieved to see new board members from Dallas regularly insist on service improvements. But a DART report issued Tuesday makes clear current reforms are unlikely to be sufficient.
On Tuesday, DART made its annual disclosure to creditors. Bondholders will find little to fret about, but another set of investors, the taxpayers in 13 cities who have spent billions to sustain DART, should look twice at dispiriting revelations about ridership. (See our July, 2017 special report on how DART has failed the riders who need it most, the working poor.)
DART attracted fewer riders last year than the year before, and there’s little reason to believe this year will be any different, despite rising populations and a thriving economy where jobs are plentiful.
It’s tempting to excuse this poor report on the fact that cities outside DART’s 13-city service area are growing even faster than those within it. Or because jobs, too, are increasingly being located in Dallas’ outer suburbs.
But that’s nonsense. DART’s own cities are growing, too. The census estimated that the service area added more than 160,000 new residents between 2011 and 2016. And yet, ridership across almost every mode dropped.
Tuesday’s report updated the ridership picture with 2017 numbers. Last year, DART’s fleet of buses provided 32 million trips, down by more than 5 million trips in 2014.
In truth, bus ridership has been falling for years, largely because DART has aggressively re-jiggered its routes to funnel more riders onto its growing network of trains. Tuesday’s report shows how little success that strategy has had.
The 30.1 million light rail rides DART provided last year were only a slight bump from the 29.5 million it provided in 2014.
That means that the loss in bus ridership was nearly nine times greater than the gain in rail ridership.
That’s no way to run a transit agency.
Some headwinds against DART are outside its control. But what it can do is increase the service it provides for residents within its boundaries. The most effective way to do that, and the approach that will target riders who need DART most, is to expand its bus system.
But by how much? How soon? And at what costs in terms of delay or reduced ambitions for rail?
We can’t know, and neither can DART, until it develops a bus plan that rivals in scope what it already plans to spend on the suburban Cotton Belt line and a second, underground line in downtown Dallas.
These projects are worthy. But they should be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis that compares them to a similarly scaled investment in bus service.
Otherwise, bus plans will keep fighting for scraps as a rail-dominated transit system continues to shed riders like so much exhaust.
After decades of rail expansion, it’s time for DART to think big, very big on buses
Dallas Morning News Editorial, November 2, 2017
For months now, the chorus of criticism coming from the Dallas City Council aimed at Dallas Area Rapid Transit has been growing louder. The regional agency says it’s listening, but we are skeptical.
If it is listening, DART president Gary Thomas and his cadre of well-paid executives don’t seem to understand what they are hearing.
DART, a nearly $800 million-a-year operation with more than 4,000 employees serving Dallas and 12 smaller cities, is failing the riders who need it most. And it has been for years.
Who are these riders? They are low-income workers and others who use transit because they can’t afford to drive. For these workers, many of whom live here in Dallas, an available bus ride or train trip is the difference between earning a paycheck and not.
In Dallas, the poorest of these workers — full-time, year-round workers who are nevertheless in poverty — are twice as likely to use DART than other workers. When they do, they endure commutes that are 50 percent longer.
And yet these riders are the lucky ones. A study shared with the Dallas City Council last week showed that at least 96 percent of jobs in the region are out of reasonable reach for fully 65 percent of Dallas’ transit-dependent population.
No wonder so many poor workers remain poor, shut out of potentially better jobs just because they can’t get to them. And no wonder bus ridership at DART has fallen steadily for years.
What’s needed at DART is a massive reorganization of its resources. Thomas has repeatedly promised that the agency will boost bus spending by $14 million and is adding more than 40 new coaches by 2019.
Great, but that’s a pittance. It’s almost laughably out of scale with the scope of the problem.
Over the next 35 years, DART plans to spend several billion dollars on an east-west commuter rail line connecting Plano to Addison and onto the airport. Meanwhile, Dallas is determined to double the cost for a second downtown Dallas rail line by insisting it be buried underground, even though doing so won’t add riders.
Every one of those sales tax dollars could be spent, instead, on creating a bus system that works not just for workers in Dallas but for suburban commuters, too.
We already have the longest light-rail network in America. Why not hit the pause button on rail long enough to at least study what a 10-figure investment in buses over the next 30 or 35 years might look like?
We have no idea, because no such study has ever been done. Not because no one has thought of it — but because there has never been the political will to prioritize buses. Given how great the need is, shouldn’t that change?
Of course it should. But it won’t happen if the Dallas City Council and other member cities can’t get on board with the idea that DART must better serve the riders who need it most.
Falling transit ridership poses an ’emergency’ for cities, experts fear
Washington Post, 3-20-2018
Transit ridership fell in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. last year, including each of the seven cities that serve the majority of riders, with losses largely stemming from buses, but punctuated by reliability issues on systems like Metro, according to an annual overview of public transit usage.
The analysis by the New York-based TransitCenter advocacy group, using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Transit Database, raises alarm about the state of “legacy” public transit systems in the Northeast and Midwest and rising vehicle ownership and car-based commuting in cities nationwide.
Researchers concluded that factors such as lower fuel costs, increased teleworking, higher car ownership and the rise of alternatives such as Uber and Lyft are pulling people oﬀ trains and buses at record levels.
The data also showed 2017 was the lowest year of overall transit ridership since 2005, according to TransitCenter, and bus ridership alone fell 5 percent.
“I think it needs to be considered an emergency,” said Jarrett Walker, a transit planner who served as a consultant on a top-down bus network
redesign to curb cratering ridership in Houston. “When we don’t share space eﬃciently we get in each other’s way. And that is a problem for the livelihood, the viability, the livability and the economy of a city. … It means more traﬃc, more congestion.”
Polzin described what he called a “tough political sell” for agencies faced with decreasing ridership.
“Ridership declines, and then fare revenue declines, and then you have to cut service which means ridership declines more,” he said. “So folks get nervous about the cyclical nature of the decline because of lost fare revenue. But they also undermine kind of the public will to invest additional subsidy dollars and service as well. It’s very hard to go to your government and say ‘my ridership is down 10 percent, and I need more money to subsidize 10 percent less riders.’”
Planners warn that cities simply do not have the capacity to handle a wholesale shift to other modes — whether today’s version of ride-hailing, driving or eventual ride sharing through autonomous vehicles. Those alternatives, Walker said, are no match for “the basic geometry problem that only transit can solve — which is to move large numbers of people through a city in very little space.”
However, some researchers said declining ridership is not always indicative of transit’s failures.
Los Angeles-area transit agencies have seen dramatic bus ridership declines since the mid-2000s, with overall bus ridership falling about 30 percent over the course of a decade, according to the TransitCenter analysis.
Michael Manville, an assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles co-authored a January 2018 study that found many of the losses could be attributed to increased car ownership, particularly among low-income and immigrant populations, who were in a better position to aﬀord cars following the Great Recession.
“I think it puts transportation planners in a bit of an unusual position … if in fact the reason for that departure is low-income people are doing better, getti ng the ability to move around like everyone else, it’s hard to say that what we should do is get them to remove themselves from their cars and back on trains and buses,” Manville said. “Transit systems should deliver quality service to low-income people. But low-income people do not owe us a transit system.”
(Researchers also pointed out the increased ease of obtaining a car, through factors such as subprime auto loans.)
Walker warned of the future the trends could portend.
“That can’t just be a free market conversation of transit losing ridership, that’s ﬁne, let the best mode win,” he said. “City governments have an urgent imperative to do what’s necessary to make it attractive for people to use modes that use space eﬃciently.”
Metro’s and other systems’ reliability issues have hit low-income riders hardest, and now those systems are having a tough time winning them back in the face of increasing alternatives, advocates say.
Kristen Jeﬀers, founder and editor of The Black Urbanist blog, said riders are leaving because of declining service and the increased availability of other options to ﬁll the gaps.
“Now that you have a car or a bike or a scooter on an app in your hand, and it’s right there — in a lot of major cities, why not use that? “ Jeﬀers said. “Now you don’t have the indignity of being stuck on the side of the road for a bus that never comes.”
She said transit systems need to regain trust through community outreach and going out of their way to cater to riders who might previously not have had a choice.
“Treating the bus like a prestige system,” she said, similar to their treatment of heavy rail systems in the past.
Metro is pondering a wholesale redesign of its bus system, with a study “to examine travel patterns, customer demand, technology opportunities and how to most cost-eﬀectively deliver Metrobus service to riders,” according to agency spokeswoman Sherri Ly. The agency has yet to award a contract for the study, she said.
Meanwhile another West Coast city, Seattle, is viewed as the model for how transit agencies can recoup ridership in an era of population growth, an improving economy and rapid technological change — in part because of the popularity of buses. The city’s bus ridership has steadily grown from 92 million to 119 million trips over 16 years, the TransitCenter analysis shows. Meanwhile light-rail ridership has ballooned amid expansions, to 32 million trips last year.
The city, which has some of the worst traﬃc congestion in the country, hosts about 45,000 Amazon employees and had added 60,000 workers to its center city core since 2010, according to Andrew Glass-Hastings, director of transit and mobility for the Seattle Department of Transportation.
Meanwhile Seattle voters have approved three high-dollar, transit-friendly initiatives that in the eyes of public oﬃcials have paid dividends and will continue to boost ridership: a $50 million annual funding boost to bus service, a billion-dollar bus rapid transit expansion and a $54-billion light- rail expansion plan that would build 62 miles of light-rail in a project that will extend into the 2030s. The improved bus service has meant the build- out of priority bus lanes and higher frequencies, with buses coming every four to six minutes, Glass-Hastings says. The state also requires large employers to enact programs that encourage alternatives to workers driving alone to work, resulting in commuter-beneﬁt programs.
The lesson, says Glass-Hastings: “You can’t neglect your transit system for decades, have it be in disrepair and expect people to continue to use it, especially in a day and age when alternatives are so readily available.”
The Washington, D.C. region, like many transit-centric cities, is a major player in the battle for Amazon’s second headquarters, which brings the promise of about 50,000 jobs. Glass-Hastings said H2Q could be a coup for whichever city lands it. About 95 percent of workers to the new Center City jobs commute by a mode other than driving alone, he said, and in Amazon’s case its workers’ transit costs are company-covered.
But there was a message for cities in Amazon’s preference of Seattle, he said:
“You can’t just drop 50,000 people in sort of a transit desert and expect them to seek out the bus.”
November 27th, 2017
COST Commentary: This is a wonderful American Thanksgiving and Christmas Story. The truck driver is expressing his joy and thankfulness for the opportunity to drive the White House Christmas tree from the western forest, across the country to the White House.
Embodied in his proud expression is the message of how important trucking and the highways and roadways they travel on are to almost every aspect of our lives. It seems sometimes our inexperienced, dreaming planners and leaders focus on getting cars off roads and lose site of the many other benefits of effective highways and roads, in addition to private vehicles, including shared, transit, emergency, business service and delivery, school, government,etc vehicles. Roadways carry 99% of the region’s daily trips. Without them, quality of life would be dramatically degraded: trips would take much longer, even if possible; public transit would be substantially degraded; access to regular and emergency care would be constrained; school access would be more difficult; normal shopping would take much more time and everyday goods would cost much more; Business services and delivery would cost significantly more; Emergency vehicles’ slower response would save less property and fewer lives.
Quality of Life and mobility have been directly related for thousands of years. One of the strong pillars of our great country is the superior national roadway system and mobility capability developed by the United States, starting in the late 1950’s. It has continually expanded and improved to serve and advance citizens’ quality-of-life. A major element of this system is described by this professional truck driver.
I’m the truck driver delivering America’s Christmas tree to the US Capitol – and I couldn’t be prouder
By Larry Speakermeier, Fox News, November 26, 2017
The U.S. Capitol Christmas tree against the early morning sky Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013. This year’s tree is due to be delivered Monday, Nov. 27, 2017. (AP2013)
I’m one of 3.5 million professional truck drivers on America’s roads working to safely deliver the goods that keep our lives and economy moving, but on my latest trip, my truck is longer and heavier than usual and I couldn’t be prouder. With a 79-foot-tall Engelmann Spruce in tow, I’m the driver who’s been safely traveling across the country to deliver this year’s Christmas tree to the U.S. Capitol.
I’ve been hauling for 49 years through 49 states and am proud to say I’ve traveled 3.5-million accident-free miles. But this is the proudest job I’ve had so far in my career. For over 50 years, a Christmas tree has been put on display at the Capitol each holiday season, and this year, I’ve been proud to be a part of it, along with Whitewood Transport, who was selected from over 500,000 trucking companies in the U.S. to haul the 2017 tree to Washington.
On November 13th, I departed Montana for a two-week adventure to make the 3,460-mile journey from the Kootenai National Forest to our nation’s capital. Day after day, I’ve been rolling across the country, with stops in Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia and Virginia, where thousands of people have gathered to take part in this annual and festive journey.
I am grateful and proud of my job. Trucking really moves America. The industry provides one out of every 16 jobs. Some may be surprised to know that 80 percent of our communities in America rely solely on trucking for the delivery of their goods that keeps us running. The trucking industry also makes investments to improve safety and protect the environment, providing billions of dollars to develop the most modern trucks to keep us all safe, which is our highest priority.
For me, the best part about trucking is being able to see America. As I travel from one corner of our country to another, I have been inspired at how the nation’s Christmas tree is truly “the people’s tree.”
For me, the best part about trucking is being able to see America. Most jobs don’t offer that opportunity. Luckily, on this journey, I’ve had the privilege to provide thousands of people across several states the opportunity to view the beautiful spruce tree before it makes its arrival to Washington. As I travel from one corner of our country to another, I have been inspired at how the nation’s Christmas tree is truly “the people’s tree.” As I reach Washington and anticipate the lights that will shine from the grand holiday tree onto the lawn of the U.S. Capitol, I am reminded of the true value that trucking provides to America as well as the unique and special opportunities it provides. This season, the holiday gifts under the tree, the sweaters on your back and the food on the kitchen table wouldn’t be possible without trucking. I am proud to help deliver the holidays.
Larry Spiekermeier is a professional truck driver with Whitewood Transport in Plains, Montana.
November 27th, 2017
COST Commentary: The article dispels earlier predictions by numerous “experts” that people were moving to the cities and suburbia was destined to become abandoned slums. The urban core of central cities of Metropolitan regions have grown very little since 2010 and the entire “inner ring” of these cities has grown about 10%. The remaining 90% of regional growth is in suburban or exurban areas.
This article confirms, contrary to Austin’s long-range plan, “Imagine Austin” and it derivative development code, “CodeNEXT,” that there are many significant positive features of “sprawl” and living in the suburbs. Affordability is a very important characteristic of suburbia as many people are forced to abandon homes in central city areas because of rapidly increasing home prices/rents and property taxes.
Austin’s goal should not be to design its development codes and transportation infrastructure to eliminate sprawl. In fact, cost-of-living in the suburbs deceases further with the near-term introduction of electrified driverless vehicles. This serves to improve the entire region and part of that improvement is reduced roadway congestion.
The trends in this article are also very important to all major transportation decisions today and in the near future. Effective road systems will be essential for urban travel including public transit, public transit will be totally transformed and urban rail systems will be even more obsolete than they are today.
The future of America’s suburbs looks infinite
By Joel Kotkin and Alan M. Berger | Orange County Register, PUBLISHED: November 18, 2017| UPDATED: November 19, 2017
Just a decade ago, in the midst of the financial crisis, suburbia’s future seemed perilous, with experts claiming that many suburban tracks were about to become “the next slums.” The head of the Department of Housing and Urban Development proclaimed that “sprawl” was now doomed, and people were “headed back to the city.”
This story reflected strong revivals of many core cities, and deep-seated pain in many suburban markets. Yet today, less than a decade later, as we argue in the new book that we co-edited, “Infinite Suburbia,” the periphery remains the dominant, and fastest growing, part of the American landscape.
This is not just occurring in the United States. In many other countries, as NYU’s Solly Angel has pointed out, growth inevitably means “spreading out” toward the periphery, with lower densities, where housing is often cheaper, and, in many cases, families find a better option than those presented by even the most dynamic core cities.
Reality check: What the numbers say
Less than a decade since the housing crisis, notes demographer Wendell Cox, barely 1.3 percent of metropolitan regions live in the urban cores we associate with places like New York City, Boston, Washington or San Francisco.
Counting the inner ring communities built largely before 1950, the urban total rises to some 15 percent, leaving the vast majority of the population out in the periphery. More important still, the suburban areas have continued to grow faster than the more inner-city areas. Since 2010, the urban core has accounted for .8 percent of all population growth and the entire inner ring roughly 10 percent; all other growth has occurred in suburban and exurban areas.
Much of this has been driven by migration patterns. In 2016, core counties lost roughly over 300,000 net domestic migrants while outlying areas gained roughly 250,000. Increasingly, millennials seek out single-family homes; rather than the predicted glut of such homes, there’s a severe shortage. Geographer Ali Modarres notes that minorities, the primary drivers of American population growth in the new century, now live in suburbs. The immigrant-rich San Gabriel Valley, the Inland Empire, Orange County and their analogues elsewhere, Modarres suggests, now represents “the quintessential urban form” for the 21st century.
Where the action is
Some maintain that as they have become more diverse, suburbs have become the largest geography for poverty. This is indeed true, and unsurprising, given the hugely larger share of population in suburbs, but poverty rates in suburbs remain roughly half those in core cities.
Overall, what suburbia dominates is the geography of the middle class. All but four of top 20 large counties with the highest percentage of households earning over $75,000 annually are suburban, according to research by Chapman University’s Erika Nicole Orejola. One reason: Most job growth takes place in the periphery. Even with the higher job density of downtowns, the urban core and its adjacent areas account for less than one-fifth of all jobs, and since 2010 this pattern has persisted.
Some urban cores, such as Manhattan and San Francisco, dominate many high-wage sectors, notably media and finance, but much tech growth remains clustered in low density regions, whether in Silicon Valley, Raleigh-Durham, north Austin or Orange County. Urban theorist Richard Florida has found that suburbs generate the bulk of patents; in fact, three-quarters come from areas with less 3,500 people per square mile, less than half the density associated with urban centers.
The final argument
Those who wish to demean suburbia often claim that suburban living is more unhealthful than living closer to the urban core. But the County Health Rankings project reveals that residents in suburban metro counties enjoy lower rates of premature death (years of potential life lost before age 75) than those who live in other types of counties, including urban ones, and a better health-related quality of life. Moreover, lower density development allows suburbs to save cities from themselves by providing the ecosystem services for cleaner air, water storage and absorption, and solar energy production high density cities are ill-suited to provide.
Suburbs, being spread out and largely car-based, are often attacked as being disproportionate creators of greenhouse gases linked the climate change. However, research being done for the first time on the household scale suggests that urban cores and exurbs may produce more GHG than suburban areas. This will certainly be the case when electrified autonomous cars hit mass market. Autonomous intersections alone could produce an estimated 20 to 50 percent less carbon dioxide, because there would be fewer idling cars and jack-rabbit starts, suggests Remi Tachet des Combes, a mathematician who created robot-intersection models while at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
New technology, as well as the growth of work at home, can create the basis for more sustainable suburbs, and, if estimates from the consulting firm Bain are correct, enough momentum that by 2025, more people will live in exurbs than in the urban core. Ultimately the future of suburbia need not be as dismal as the critics suggest, but one that forms a critical, even preeminent, part of the nation’s evolving urban tapestry.
Joel Kotkin is the R.C. Hobbs Presidential Fellow in Urban Futures at Chapman University in Orange and executive director of the Houston-based Center for Opportunity Urbanism (www.opportunityurbanism.org). Alan M. Berger is co-director of the MIT Leventhal Center for Advanced Urbanism and co-editor of Infinite Suburbia (Princeton Architectural Press).