White House Christmas Tree Delivery Highlights Value of U.S. Highways and Roads.

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.

Premature predictions of the decline of suburbia were very wrong.

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).

Transit Transformation Needed Now!

November 19th, 2017

COST Commentary: There has been a recent flurry of studies and articles regarding the failures of public transit, especially light rail. This posting contains several of these writings. The list below contains the current content of this posting. We may insert additions in the near future:

1. “The Coming Transit Apocalypse”, a CATO Institute ‘Policy Analysis’ by Randal O’Toole, 10-24-2017.

2. “LOS ANGELES TRANSIT RIDERSHIP LOSSES LEAD NATIONAL DECLINE” in ‘new geography’ by Wendell Cox, 11-15-2017.

3. “Denver has a coming transit apocalypse” in The Hill by Randal O’Toole, 11-1-2017

4. “Its the Last Stop on the Light Rail Gravy Train”, Wall Street Journal, by Randal O’Toole, 11-10-2017

5. “L.A.’s Dwindling transit ridership isn’t hard to fix. Make riding the bus cheaper and more convenient” by James E. Moore II and Thomas A. Rubin, L. A. Times Op-Ed, 7-20-2017

6. “Dallas Morning News Editorial,” 11-2-2017


8. The great transit rip-off, Orange County Register, by Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox, 8-27-2017

These are a few of many such recent publications regarding failures in almost every major transit system in the nation. The publications contain a broad, summary spectrum of exceptional, overwhelming analyses, data and conclusions that have been compiled by an array of the nation’s most experienced, preeminent experts in this field. This collection provides important messages which must be fully considered by all urban communities’ leaders and citizens when considering major influences to their greater-good and quality-of-life such as roadway congestion, mobility, safety, affordability, housing costs, environment, taxes and others.

The subjects of transportation, public transit, congestion and mobility are particularly vital to Austin and its future. Austin has struggled for many years to support its rapid population growth but has achieved very poor results by prioritizing transit and bicycles over private and shared vehicles which require roadways that also provide major improvements for bus transit. Austin’s solutions have been ineffective, resulting in increased congestion, reduced safety and degraded, higher cost, transit service, which is highly subsidized by taxpayers. Austin transit use has declined for 20 years and, in 2016, Austin had the largest transit ridership percentage decline of major metro ares in the nation. Austin also had the fewest total transit riders of 29 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. Chicago, Washington D.C., New York, and Los Angeles all had greater actual transit ridership declines than Austin’s total transit ridership. Los Angeles’ ridership decline of 113 million was almost 4 times Austin’s total ridership.

Austin’s long and accelerating decline in transit ridership has been accompanied by a continuing trend of increasing transit operating costs and cost per transit trip. This rising cost has been more than double inflation growth, requiring increasing taxpayer subsidies for each transit trip. Those few promoting increased light rail lack an understanding that light rial is totally outdated and is the most expensive and least effective of transit options for Austin. Light rail would serve fewer people, reduce safety, cost significantly more tax funds and increase congestion on roadways where 99% of all trips are taken.

Austin is currently on an ill-advised path of being guided by the ‘Imagine Austin’ plan and the premise that greater population density and reducing cars, by forcing citizens to use transit, will provide improved quality-of-life. All evidence indicates this path to be irresponsible because it has resulted in trends of increasing congestion and reducing affordability. This has resulted in many citizens being forced to leave Austin, creating a strong down-trend in public school enrollment which will dramatically decrease the number of schools. In spite of decreased quality-of-life for many citizens and forcing citizens, especially lower income, to leave Austin; the city council continues to pursue misguided policies and wasteful spending of taxpayer dollars which exacerbate problems and are not constructively addressing the greater-good of City citizens.

All of the outstanding and compelling work posted here by experienced, very knowledgeable authors, reaffirms the urgent need for Austin to accept the reality of past failures in effectively addressing transportation and mobility solutions and began an immediate, appropriate transformation of approaches and priorities based on proven, cost-effective solutions and the future of transportation’s rapidly changing technology, as outlined in the publications below and many more.

For me, a key, “bottom line” message in these publications is that Austin must establish the top priority purpose of transit as serving the needs of those citizens who have no transportation alternative. This also serves the greater-good of the total community. There are not enough resources in Austin to effectively meet this priority transit need and to also provide alternative transportation choices to the entire community, with the goal of reducing significant numbers of cars on roadways. This is not a viable strategy and, even if the resources existed, it would be a huge waste of tax dollars because this failed strategy has been confirmed by results in many cities. Today’s transit realities should inform and be a major consideration in Austin’s selection of a new head of Cap Metro, who will be hired in the next few months as the current President and CEO retires.
This initial posting, below, is an excellent, comprehensive analysis report, “The Coming Transit Apocalypse” by Randal O’Toole. Below is the Executive Summary, Introduction and Conclusion of a much longer paper filled with supporting details. The full paper, including referenced Notes below, can be accessed by clicking on the title, in color.

The Coming Transit Apocalypse
By Randal O’Toole, CATO Institute, Policy Analysis, October 24, 2017


With annual subsidies of $50 billion covering 76 percent of its costs, public transit may be the most heavily subsidized consumer-based industry in the country. Since 1970, the industry has received well over $1 trillion (adjusted for inflation) in subsidies, yet the number of transit trips taken by the average urban resident has declined from about 50 per year in 1970 to 39 per year today.

Total transit ridership, not just per capita, is declining today, having seen a 4.4 percent drop nationwide from 2014 to 2016 and a 3.0 percent drop in the first seven months of 2017 versus the same months of 2016. Many major transit systems have suffered catastrophic declines in the past few years: since 2009, for example, transit ridership has declined by 27 to 37 percent in the Bakersfield, Detroit, Fresno, Memphis, Richmond, Toledo, and Wichita urban areas.

Four trends that are likely to become even more pronounced in the future place the entire industry in jeopardy: low energy prices; growing maintenance backlogs, especially for rail transit systems; unfunded pension and health care obligations; and ride-hailing services.

The last is the most serious threat, as some predict that within five years those ride-hailing services will begin using driverless cars, which will reduce their fares to rates competitive with transit, but with far more convenient service. This makes it likely that outside of a few very dense areas, such as New York City, transit will be extinct by the year 2030, leaving behind a huge burden of debt and unfunded obligations to former transit employees.

Despite these trends, the transit industry’s main response is to seek greater subsidies to build, maintain, and operate transit, often relying on rail transit and similar modes that were obsolete many years ago and won’t be able to compete against driverless ride-hailing services. Instead, transit agencies should begin to prepare for an orderly phase-out of publicly funded transit services as affordable, shared driverless cars become available in the next decade. This means the industry should stop building new rail lines; replace most existing rail lines with buses as they wear out; pay down debts and unfunded obligations; and target any further subsidies to low-income people rather than continue a futile crusade to attract higher-income people out of their cars.


Across the nation, transit agencies are in financial trouble as ridership declines while costs rise. But these troubles merely foreshadow the real problems the transit industry will face in the next few years. It is quite likely that, outside of New York and possibly a handful of other cities, transit as we know it will go extinct within 15 years, and many transit agencies will leave behind a mountain of debt that
local taxpayers will be obligated to pay.

Public transit is quite possibly the most heavily subsidized consumer-based industry in the United States. Federal, state, and local subsidies approaching $50 billion a year cover 76 percent of the costs of transit services. It is also one of the most useless industries, as much of what it does could be done for less money through other means.

Led by the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), a $30 million-a-year organization that puts out a stream of reports and press releases promoting more subsidies for transit, the transit industry has persuaded many that public transit relieves congestion, saves energy, reduces pollution, is a vital part of urban economies, and helps low-income people. In fact, in the vast majority of urban areas in the United States, none of these things are true.

Lumbering transit buses and railcars not only do not relieve congestion, they often use more road space than the number of automobiles they take off the road. 1 They also use more energy and emit more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than the average car. 2 In most urban areas they carry so few people that transit could disappear tomorrow and almost no one would notice (see Table 1). As for low income people, studies have found that giving unemployed people access to a car will do far more to help them get and keep a job than providing subsidized transit. 3

In 2014, transit ridership reached 10.75 billion trips, its highest level since 1956. This is hardly a great achievement, however, as increased urban populations meant that annual transit trips per urban resident declined from 98 in 1956 to 42 in 2014. Yet the transit industry responded to this increased ridership by calling for more subsidies.

“The record ridership in 2014 is a clear message to Congress that the citizens of this country want expanded public transit services,” said APTA president Michael Melaniphy. “Congress needs to work together now to pass a long-term, well-funded surface transportation bill that invests in our country’s public transit infrastructure.” 4

From 2014 to 2016, nationwide ridership declined by 4.4 percent. While this may seem small, some urban areas have seen catastrophic losses in riders in the past few years. Since 2009, transit ridership has fallen by 37 percent in Wichita, 36 percent in Memphis, 31 percent in Sacramento and Richmond, 29 percent in Detroit, 28 percent in Bakersfield and Toledo, and 27 percent in Fresno. Transit systems in
Atlanta, Cincinnati, Los Angeles, Milwaukee, St. Louis, and Washington have all suffered double-digit declines since 2009. Moreover, data for the first seven months of 2017 suggest that declines are accelerating. 5

Although agencies in these urban areas may depend on fares to cover only 20 to 40 percent of their operating costs, a 10 to 35 percent drop in that share of funding still hurts. Today, transit agencies are furiously lobbying for more subsidies to make up for declining revenues from transit riders. In other words, agency responses to both increases and decreases in ridership are to ask for more subsidies.

In many cases, the agencies plan to use those subsidies in ways that will impose heavy costs on taxpayers for decades to come, including by borrowing money to build new transit lines or rehabilitate old ones. Instead, they should be attempting to find a dignified path towards shutting down their systems in ways that minimize disruptions to transit riders and costs to taxpayers.

COST Note: The body of this excellent report can be reached by clicking on the title of the report, above in color. This quote is included in the body of the paper: “Transit systems in Austin, Dallas–Ft. Worth, Houston, Kansas City, San Antonio, and San Jose only collect enough fares to cover around 10 to 15 percent of operating costs.”


It is not easy to accept that new technologies are replacing one’s core business, a prospect that is currently facing many retailers, such as Sears. Private companies such as RadioShack and Blockbuster Video have been able to wind down their operations without fuss, but owing to its self-perception as serving the public good, the transit industry continues to feel entitled to its $50 billion in annual subsidies. Instead of caving in to demands for more subsidies, elected officials and policymakers should begin to prepare for an orderly phaseout of publicly funded transit services as driverless cars become available in the next decade.

First, transit agencies should stop building rail transit. Buses made most rail transit obsolete nearly 90 years ago, which is why more than 1,000 American cities with streetcars replaced those rail lines with buses between 1910 and 1972. Cities and regions don’t need to be saddled with billions of dollars of debt from construction of new lines that, thanks to shared driverless cars, will end up carrying few riders.

Second, as existing rail lines wear out, transit agencies should replace them with buses. The costs of rehabilitating lines that have suffered from years of deferred maintenance is nearly as great as (if not greater than) the cost of building them in the first place. In most cases, even in such heavily used systems such as the Washington Metro, buses can provide equivalent service at a far lower cost. Unlike rail infrastructure, buses can be sold if and when shared driverless cars replace transit services, and driverless cars can use the same pavement used by buses today, so unlike rail, buses do not represent an irreversible commitment of resources. New York City is the one place where maintaining existing rail lines may make sense, but even there the use of electric buses in subway tunnels should be considered an alternative to spending billions on rehabilitating rail infrastructure.

Third, transit agencies that want to offer competitive services before driverless cars become available should plan express buses or bus rapid-transit lines that use lanes shared with other traffic. Dedicating existing lanes to buses increases congestion, while use of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) or high-occupancy toll lanes can allow buses to avoid congestion while providing congestion relief for everyone else. As previously noted, very few corridors in the United States generate enough transit riders to require dedicated bus lanes, and most of those places are already served by heavy-rail transit, such as in New York and a few other cities.

Fourth, transit agencies should make a priority of paying down their debts and unfunded pension and health care obligations. Agencies should not saddle future taxpayers with those obligations, especially if there is a real chance that existing transit systems will be completely replaced by shared driverless vehicles.

Fifth, instead of subsidizing all transit riders, transit agencies should target future subsidies to low-income people. Census data reveal that a higher percentage of people who earn more than $75,000 a year take transit than any other income class. 73 To the extent people believe that low-income people can benefit from transportation assistance, such assistance should be in the form of vouchers (similar to food stamps) that can be used with any transportation provider, from a ride-hailing service to an airline.

Transportation is a vital part of the American economy. Public transit, however, is not, especially outside of New York City, and shared driverless cars will make it even more redundant. Whether or not shared driverless cars will put transit agencies out of business in the next decade, those agencies should stop wasting money on expensive and noncompetitive transit services and focus on providing basic, cost-effective services for those who need transit the most, while putting their economic houses in order by reducing maintenance backlogs, debts, and unfunded obligations.
by Wendell Cox 11/15/2017

In recent days, two well placed commentaries have detailed the recent declines both in US transit ridership, and in particular, Los Angeles, where the decline is most severe. The Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole provided a broad analysis of US transit ridership in The Wall Street Journal and explained how emerging trends may be seriously eroding transit ridership and rendering new urban rail systems even less effective than they have been in the past (see: It’s the Last Stop on the Light-Rail Gravy Train). In a Los Angeles Times commentary, University of Southern California Professor James E. Moore and former top Los Angeles transit financial official Thomas A. Rubin described that area’s stunning transit ridership losses (see: L.A.’s dwindling transit ridership isn’t hard to fix: Make riding the bus cheaper and more convenient).

This article provides more details on the developing national transit ridership decline. Particular emphasis is placed on Los Angeles, which, although widely praised as “the next great transit city”, has sustained by far the greatest share of the loss.

Transit Ridership in Context

Transit ridership had reversed its nearly six decade trend from the middle 1990s to 2014, reaching a level of 10.8 million unlinked trips. An unlinked trip is a “boarding,” which is when a passenger enters a transit vehicle. A simple trip from point A to B on transit may have a single boarding, such as when only one vehicle is used, or more. For example, a single transit trip in which three buses are used counts as a “boarding” or an “unlinked trip.”

The all-time record had been set in 1946, when ridership reached double that level (23.5 billion) following World War II which sparked transit gain with gasoline and tire rationing. However, transit ridership has fallen each of the last three years. Federal Transit Administration data indicates that ridership for the year ended June 30, 2017 had fallen 4.7 percent, or nearly one-half billion annual rides.

The losses have been pervasive. Among the 41 urban areas with more than 1,000,000 residents, 35 experienced losses and six had gains.

Cities Losing the Most Riders

These significant losses were dominated by Los Angeles. Between 2014 and 2017, Los Angeles lost 113 million annual rides, 16.6 percent of its 2014 ridership. The Los Angeles ridership loss was hugely disproportionate to its share of national ridership. In 2014, Los Angeles carried 6.4 percent of the nation’s unlinked trips. Yet since that time, Los Angeles has posted 22.9 percent of the ridership decline, 3.6 times its share of ridership.

Los Angeles lost more riders than were attracted by the whole transit systems of metropolitan areas such as Portland, Baltimore, Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Only 10 urban areas had higher ridership in a year than the number of riders lost in Los Angeles. Indeed, Los Angeles fell to third in total ridership, with Chicago being restored to the second place, a position held by Los Angeles since the early 2000s. [COST Comment: Note in this referenced data, Austin’s transit ridership was 37.5 million in 2000 and is now less than 29 million or down approximately 24% while population has grown almost 70%.]

Other urban areas also lost riders, although no other area contributed more to the transit loss than Los Angeles. New York saw 14 percent of the decline, or 70 million riders. But this ridership decline of 1.6 percent, represented only one-tenth the 16.6 percent of Los Angeles losses.

Washington, dealing with what appears to have been insufficient attention to safety and infrastructure issues on its Metro, lost nearly as many riders as New York, 57 million. This is a 12.2 percent decline. Washington’s loss comprised 12 percent of the national total.

The other largest losers were Chicago (40 million, a loss of 6.3 percent), Miami (30 million, a loss of 17.9 percent), Philadelphia (23 million, a loss of 6.2 percent) and Boston (19 million, a loss of 4.5 percent).

Combined, these cities represented 23 percent of the total national loss. Approximately 21 percent of the loss was in the urban areas other than the eight identified above (Figure 1).

The largest ridership losses are shown in Figure 2. Figure 3 converts these 10 largest losses to percentages. It is notable that each of the losses was more than 6 percent over the year, with the exception of Boston and New
York, with by far the smallest loss.
Fig 1 Cox LA Article

Fig 2 Cox LA Article

Fig 3 Cox LA Article

Transit in Los Angeles: Where Rail, Not Riders Drive Policy

I personally played a role in establishing the Los Angeles rail system during my time on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission (see Los Angeles: Rail for Others). Since that time, a rail system of 6 radial routes (from downtown), one cross-town route (along the I-105 Freeway) and two exclusive busways have been opened. No larger US population center outside New York has seen such an improvement in high capacity transit. I and the others on LACTC expected that this system would substantially increase not only transit’s ridership but also its market share in Los Angeles. Yet, as Moore and Rubin put it:

“Metro’s current “annual boardings” — just under 400 million — represent a drop of almost 20% from the system’s 1985 peak, even though the county’s population has increased by nearly a fifth since then.” Further, all of this has cost more than $15 billion (inflation adjusted).

Astoundingly, this abject policy failure has gone largely unnoticed in the media and, according to Moore and Rubin, at least $500 million that could have been spent to lower fares and improve bus service has gone instead to expanding a rail. The system’s ineffectiveness can be measured in passengers lost per million dollars of expenditure.

Moore and Rubin remind readers that the low-fare program of 1982-1985 resulted in a 40 percent ridership increase, perhaps the most significant gain in modern US transit history. Moore and Rubin further show that after a federal court agreed with plaintiffs that Metro was expanding the rail system at the expense of the bus system, a 10-year agreement produced a ridership increase of 36 percent.

Transit is About People, not Trains

In its quest to become “the next great mass-transit city,” Los Angeles has headed off toward a “dead end.” A great mass-transit city does not become so because of its trains (or buses) — that requires riders. In Los Angeles, riders are increasingly in short supply.

In the final analysis, transit is justified by the extent to which it provides mobility to people, especially to those with insufficient resources to provide their own mobility throughout the metropolitan area. The key to transit is growing ridership and putting riders first (see: The Great Train Robbery).

Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy and demographics firm. He is a Senior Fellow of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism (US), Senior Fellow for Housing Affordability and Municipal Policy for the Frontier Centre for Public Policy (Canada), and a member of the Board of Advisors of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University (California). He is co-author of the “Demographia International Housing Affordability Survey” and author of “Demographia World Urban Areas” and “War on the Dream: How Anti-Sprawl Policy Threatens the Quality of Life.” He was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission, where he served with the leading city and county leadership as the only non-elected member. He served as a visiting professor at the Conservatoire National des Arts et Metiers, a national university in Paris.

Photograph: Los Angeles Metro Rail route map.
Denver has a coming transit apocalypse

By Randal O’Toole, Op-Ed in The Hill, November 1, 2017

In 2004, Denver’s Regional Transportation District (RTD) persuaded voters to pay billions of dollars in taxes to build a 19th century rail transit system for a 21st century urban area. Thirteen years later, this experiment is increasingly proving to be a failure.

Ridership on Denver’s new R and W light-rail lines is so low that RTD is reducing train frequencies. After more than a year of operating a rail line to the airport, the agency still hasn’t figured out how to make its automatic crossing gates work reliably, a problem private railroads solved more than 80 years ago.

Due to overruns that nearly doubled construction costs, RTD is unlikely to finish all of the lines promised to voters in 2004 without another tax increase. Those cost overruns have also harmed bus riders, who — instead of the enhanced bus service promised by RTD — saw service decline from 39 million bus-miles in 2004 to 36 million in 2015, with more cuts expected in the near future.

The number of Denver-area transit commuters has grown, but not enough to keep up with other modes of travel. According to the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey, the share of commuters taking transit to work in the Denver-Aurora urban area shrank from 5.4 percent in 2006, before any of the new lines opened, to 4.6 percent in 2016, when several new lines had opened and existing ones extended. Though congestion reduction was a major selling point to voters, the trains actually made congestion worse through frequent delays at grade crossings.

RTD’s ridership peaked three years ago, with the first eight months of 2017 seeing 5.1 percent fewer riders than the same time period in 2014. This reflects a national trend, as transit ridership is falling in every major urban area except Seattle.

This national decline appears to be due largely to a combination of low gasoline prices and ridesharing services. A recent survey found that one-third of Uber and Lyft riders would have taken transit if ridesharing were not available. If true, the rapid growth of these services explains nearly three-fourths of the 2016 decline in transit ridership.

Now that hydraulic fracturing has given the United States control over energy supplies, neither low gas prices nor ridesharing are going away anytime soon. In fact, the loss of transit riders to ridesharing services will rapidly accelerate as shared, driverless cars replace human-driving vehicles. Companies as diverse as Ford, Google, and Uber are racing to put driverless cars in our cities within five years that will be both more convenient and less costly than transit.

Why walk in the summer heat or winter cold to catch a bus or light rail when an app on your smart phone will bring a car to your door that will take you to your destination faster and for less money than a transit fare? Given the huge advantages of driverless ridesharing over transit, it is likely that, by 2030, most publicly subsidized mass transit outside of New York City will completely disappear and Denver’s multi-billion-dollar rail lines will be running empty or rusting away.

Despite these predictable trends, transit agencies in many other cities are making the same mistake as RTD by planning and building obsolete, infrastructure-heavy transit programs. Los Angeles Metro is planning to spend tens of billions on new light rail even though, to pay for rail, it has cut bus service, losing nearly four bus riders for every new light-rail rider gained since 2010.

Honolulu is building an ugly, elevated rail line that was supposed to cost less than $3 billion but now is estimated to cost at least three times that amount. Nashville is proposing a $6-billion light-rail system and Durham is talking about a $3.3-billion light-rail line.

Meanwhile, cities with older rail transit systems including Boston, Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, have allowed maintenance backlogs to grow to tens of billions of dollars, leaving their systems unreliable and even dangerous. No one ever tells voters that rail transit is not only expensive to build, it must be expensively rebuilt every thirty years, and few transit agencies budget for that reconstruction.

With the pending arrival of driverless ridesharing, RTD and other transit agencies should stop building new rail transit and start preparing to transition their operations. Instead of spending billions rehabilitating worn-out rail lines, cities like Boston and Washington should replace them with buses. All transit agencies should pay down their debts and unfunded pension obligations so as not to saddle future taxpayers with those obligations after transit disappears.

In fact, transit agencies should do these things anyway, as they make more economic sense than going deeper into debt building infrastructure agencies can’t afford to maintain. But the twin signals of declining ridership and rapid development of driverless cars makes it imperative that agencies adopt these policies now rather than wait until their customer base is almost completely gone.

Randal O’Toole (@antiplanner) directs the Transportation Policy Center at the Independence Institute (@i2idotorg), a free market think tank in Denver, and is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute in Washington, DC. He is author of The Coming Transit Apocalypse.
It’s the Last Stop on the Light-Rail Gravy Train

Mayors want new lines that won’t be ready for a decade. Commuters will be in driverless cars by then.

By Randal O’Toole, Wall Street Journal, Nov. 10, 2017

When it comes to mass transit, politicians never learn. Last month, Nashville Mayor Megan Berry announced a $5.2 billion proposal that involves building 26 miles of light rail and digging an expensive tunnel under the city’s downtown. Voters will be asked in May to approve a half-cent sales tax increase plus additions to hotel, car rental and business excise taxes to pay for the project.

San Antonio’s mayor, Ron Nirenberg, also wants to lay rail, even though his city’s voters blocked light-rail plans in 2000 and 2015. In 1933, San Antonio became the first major city in America to replace its streetcars with buses, which are faster, more flexible and cheaper to buy and operate. Nevertheless, Mr. Nirenberg has strongly supported rail construction on “high density corridors,” though he wants the transit agency to work out the specifics.

In the Tampa, Fla., area, transit planners are proposing a 35-mile light-rail line to St. Petersburg. They don’t know how to pay for it, especially since Tampa voters rejected a sales tax for light rail in 2010 and St. Petersburg voters rejected one in 2014.

These proposals are questionable at best and reckless at worst, given that transit ridership—including bus and what little rail these regions have—is down in all three jurisdictions. This is a nationwide trend: Data released this week by the Federal Transit Administration shows that ridership is falling in nearly every major urban area (with Seattle as a notable exception).

Some regions have seen catastrophic drops in ridership since 2010: 30% or more in Detroit, Sacramento and Memphis; 20% to 30% in Austin, Cleveland, Louisville, St. Louis and Virginia Beach-Norfolk ; and 15% to 20% in Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and Washington.

Adding rail service hasn’t helped. To pay for new light-rail lines that opened in 2012 and 2016, Los Angeles cut bus service. The city lost nearly four bus riders for every additional rail rider. Atlanta, Dallas, Sacramento and San Jose have seen similar results. The rail system in Portland, Ore., is often considered successful, but only 8% of commuters take transit of any kind to work. In 1980, before rail was constructed, buses alone were carrying 10% of commuters.

The main reason for this drop-off is that low gas prices and ride-sharing services have given people better options. Census data show that 96% of American workers live in households with at least one car, and anyone with a smartphone can summon an Uber or Lyft.

That said, transit ridership has been sliding for decades as jobs have become less highly concentrated in city centers. Since 1970, the number of transit trips taken per urban resident has fallen more than 20%. Outside the areas of New York, Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Washington, transit carries less than 1% of passenger travel. This belies the claim that mass transit is vital to urban economies.

Yet the subsides go on, seemingly forever. Since 1970, taxpayers have plowed more than $1.1 trillion (adjusted for inflation) into transit systems. Critics may reply that roads are also subsidized. But measured per passenger-mile, the subsidies for transit are more than 40 times as great as for driving.

The transit industry has compounded its problems by going heavily into debt, allowing unfunded pensions and health-care obligations to snowball, and failing to maintain the rail lines they already have. According to the Department of Transportation, the nationwide transit maintenance backlog is approaching $100 billion, causing exactly the problems you’d expect: derailments of New York City subways, slowdowns of Chicago’s elevated train, smoke in Washington metro tunnels, and other operational and safety issues. Even if all the money now spent on new construction were redirected to maintenance, according to the department, it would take 20 years to rehabilitate America’s rail transit systems.

Instead of spending billions on new rail lines, cities like Nashville, San Antonio and Tampa ought to use buses to move people faster, more safely, and for far less money. Rail is simply a bad investment.

That’s especially true given the bets being made by companies like Ford, Google and Uber on driverless cars. Some analysts predict that by the middle of the next decade, calling a driverless car will be as easy as hailing an Uber today. Why walk in the heat or cold for a bus or streetcar when you can hail a driverless car to your door for less money than the transit fare? Nashville’s first light-rail line won’t even open until 2026. By then, who’s going to want to use it?

Mr. O’Toole, a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, is the author of a new policy report “The Coming Transit Apocalypse.”

Appeared in the November 11, 2017, print edition.
L.A.’s Dwindling transit ridership isn’t hard to fix. Make riding the bus cheaper and more convenient

By James E. Moore II and Thomas A. Rubin, L.A. Times Op-Ed, July 20, 2017

The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership has been falling steadily since 2014, losing on average 69,000 daily riders each month. The most recent 12 months of data show a decrease of more than 10% compared with the same period three years ago, and Metro’s current “annual boardings” — just under 400 million — represent a drop of almost 20% from the system’s 1985 peak, even though the county’s population has increased by nearly a fifth since then.

It wouldn’t be difficult to turn these figures around, as Metro’s history shows: The transportation authority should stop focusing primarily on building new rail and use a fair share of its voter-supplied wealth to lower fares and improve the bus system.

The agency’s own data make both the problem and the solution clear.

Between 1982 and 1985, Metro ridership in L.A. exploded by 40%, jumping from 354.1 million to 497.2 million annual boardings. The reason was simple: The increase followed bus fare reductions, from 85 cents a ride to 50 cents. A minor share (20%) of funds generated by Proposition A in 1980 (the first of four ballot measures increasing sales taxes to support transportation) was used to subsidize the cost. Then as now, Metro riders tended to be low-income, some very low-income. Reducing their travel costs allowed them to travel more.

Los Angeles needs a transit system that focuses on proven strategies that work not just for a few Angelenos, but for all of us.

But in 1986, Metro ended the fare subsidy and shifted the funds to building rail lines, beginning with the Long Beach Blue Line, which opened in 1990. Total transit ridership proceeded to fall until the NAACP, the Bus Riders’ Union and others took Metro to federal court to protect bus service in 1994. Their argument was that the expansion of rail was coming at the expense of bus routes, bus frequency and bus riders, and it was disproportionately harming minorities, the elderly and the young. Metro settled, and the deal was enshrined in a 10-year consent decree starting in 1996.

The settlement allowed Metro to build all the rail it could afford, so long as specific bus service improvements were made too. Those improvements included reducing fares, increasing service on existing lines, establishing new lines, replacing old buses and keeping the fleet clean. Lo and behold, while the decree was in force L.A.’s transit ridership rose by 36%. When Metro was no longer bound by the settlement, it refocused its efforts almost exclusively on new rail projects. The quality of bus service began declining in almost every way measurable, and overall ridership again fell.

With the funds generated by the Measure R sales tax increases, voted on in 2008, and last year’s Measure M increases — which will provide $121 billion over the next 40 years — Metro has more than enough money to reinvigorate bus service. At a minimum, it should return to the program under the consent decree: building all the new rail it wants, as long as bus service is improved as well.

Our detailed analysis of Metro’s 2015 budget identified $573 million available for bus operations and improvements that was spent instead entirely on rail construction and debt service on funds borrowed to accelerate that construction. If just half of this $573 million from Metro’s much larger total budget was redirected to improve the bus system, rail construction would slow but Metro would likely see growth in total ridership. (It is impossible to do the same analysis on Metro’s 2016 budget: Its documentation has become less transparent.)

Metro’s rail-centric approach to transit persists, it appears, primarily because of the makeup of its board of directors. The board members are mostly elected officials. No board member specifically represents transit riders. It’s not surprising then that the board’s concerns seem to be less about the welfare of most Metro users and more about funding capital-intensive rail projects that serve particular constituents.

The Metro system now has 93 rail stops, with 18 under construction. It has 18,500 bus stops. Bus service will always predominate in L.A. If we expand and improve it, and reduce fares, transit ridership will increase again, quickly, better serving the low-income riders Metro has been mostly ignoring. Los Angeles needs a transit system that focuses on proven strategies that work not just for a few Angelenos, but for all of us.

James E. Moore II is a professor in USC’s Viterbi School of Engineering and Price School of Public Policy and director of USC’s Transportation Engineering Program.
Thomas A. Rubin is a consultant based in Oakland; he was the chief financial officer of the Southern California Rapid Transit District before it was merged into Metro.
After decades of rail expansion, it’s time for DART to think big, very big, on buses

By Dallas Morning News Editorial, 11-2-2017

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.

by Steven Polzin, in new geography, 08/10/2017

In the ever-trendy world of transportation planning people seem to be infatuated with discussions of first mile-last mile public transportation connections and intermodalism. Given all the attention, one would think that the traveling public is anxiously awaiting their next opportunity to transfer vehicles to complete their trip. Nothing can be further from the truth. People don’t aspire to transfer; they don’t aspire to experience an intermodal terminal. They almost always want to get door to door in the fastest, simplest, and most reliable fashion. Transferring between vehicles is a necessary inconvenience, not a virtue.

The concept of using multiple means of travel to complete a given trip is an outgrowth of the reality that different services and technologies offer the optimal means of travel for different contexts, which can result in trips that require transfers for the overall optimal means of travel. The most obvious example is traveling from, say Chicago to New York. Air travel is the time and cost superior means of carrying out the line-haul component of the trip. U.S. airlines, for example, routinely extract less than $.20 per passenger mile from travelers to transport them between airports while also saving them time and perhaps lodging and meal expenses. But jet aircraft will not pick you up at the door or delivered you to the entrance to your destination. Thus, transferring between modes at airports is a necessary and logical interface between air and surface modes. The opportunity to take advantage of the premium performance of air travel more than offsets the onerousness of navigating through airports and transferring between access and egress modes.

On other kinds of trips, the onerousness of transferring might not be as easily offset by the travel benefits of the line-haul or primary mode of travel. For many shorter urban trips, it becomes very challenging for the onerousness of a transfer to be offset by the benefits of using a combination of modes or vehicles to complete a trip. Travel modeling has long recognized the onerousness of transferring, thus quantitatively penalizing the need to transfer by calculating time spent transferring as two or more times more onerous than in-vehicle travel time. From a practical perspective, transferring introduces uncertainty into a trip. Your arrival at the transfer point is captive to the system schedules and you cannot necessarily minimize the transfer wait. The second vehicle introduces an additional chance to be impacted by unreliable service. For first-time trips, you need to figure out both the location of the destination and how to get to it. You may lose your seat or place and interrupt whatever you are doing during your travel. You might be exposed to weather or other risks, and you can’t use the time as productively as you might have had a transfer not been required.

If you do have to transfer, you want it to be as quick and convenient as possible. While basic amenities such as restrooms and convenience retail might be appreciated, the local traveler is most often interested in getting quickly to their destination and not turning the transfer experience into a retail opportunity or recreational outing. For longer distance intercity trips where the traveler may be captive to more lengthy waits between travel segments, additional retail and personal service accommodations might be appreciated to the extent that they don’t disadvantage other passengers by excessively increasing walk distances or causing other delays.

The vehicle travel to and from the transfer location should deviate from the optimal origin-destination travel path as little as possible. If one does have to suffer a transfer, they would much preferred that the point of transfer not dramatically impact the circuity of their travel.

The growing motivation for providing first mile-last mile connections derives from the logical desire to increase the accessibility to public transportation for more homes and destinations. A multitude of efforts in recent years have been carried out to quantify accessibility of residents and activities to public transit. Early work carried out by CUTR indicated that about half the homes in the America were within a half a mile of a transit route. A slightly higher share of employment locations were similarly within a half a mile of transit. More recently, sophisticated software tools have been developed to evaluate accessibility via transit, such as initiatives by the Brookings Institute and the University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory, as well as tools such as Transit Score. The collective message of these analyses indicate that, in general, access to transit both geographically and temporally is, on average, limited. Hence, folks are interested in improving first mile-last mile connections with the hopes of making transit more attractive and productive.

Historically, line-haul premium transit services provided feeder bus, park-and-ride, and kiss and ride (drop off) opportunities so that travelers could access these premium modes, most typically for longer-distance commute travel. More recently, additional means of access, including bikeshare, carshare, and transportation network company (TNC) connections (i.e., Uber, Lyft, etc.), are being deployed. Automated shuttles are being evaluated as yet another means of enhancing the appeal of line-haul premium travel modes. These concepts make sense in contexts where the line-haul mode is sufficiently attractive by virtue of its speed or cost advantages that the traveler is willing to incur the inconvenience, time cost, trip circuity, or other potential negative characteristics of incurring one or more transfers to complete a trip.

Better first mile-last mile connections work where they work. But where is that and what planning and service investments makes sense to enhance first mile-last mile connections? Individuals who use intermodal connections do it either because there is no viable alternative or because the disutility of transferring is more than made up for by being able to take advantage of the line-haul mode of travel. This is most possible in situations where the line-haul mode is superior to other travel options, typically meaning it is faster by virtue of fewer stops, exclusive guideway, signal priority, utilization of a higher performance travel path (freeway versus arterial), and that the transfer penalty is minimized most typically by having high-frequency service on the line-haul. Faster travel speed is typically only virtuous in instances where the distance of the trip is sufficient to accumulate enough marginal travel time advantage to offset the transfer induced delays. Thus, enhancing first mile-last mile connections has the greatest leverage for longer distance trips and premium services.

Over 60% of person trips according to the last National Household Travel Survey, are less than 5 miles in length, over 75% less than 10 miles in length. Many of the shorter trips are unlikely to be appealing as trips requiring first mile-last mile connections to travelers who have choices. Absent extremely high quality first mile-last mile connections, the circuity and delays likely to be introduced by a first mile-last mile connection(s), as opposed to a direct door-to-door single vehicle trip, are unlikely to make this arrangement attractive for travelers with choices. Such services could incentivize more trips or increase convenience by shortening walk access for travelers without personal vehicle options.

So what does this have to do with anything? Numerous communities are striving to leverage their transit investments and increase mobility for their populations by exploring additional first mile-last mile connections. Though well intentioned, first mile-last mile programs will be most successful if fully informed by an understanding of traveler behavior in general and market conditions in particular. Context has implications in terms of the magnitude of ridership response as a result of improved connections based on the geography of deployment and the trip pattern emanating to and from that geography. First mile-last mile connections are most likely to attract new travelers if they offer high-quality connections, support high performance modes, and serve sufficiently long trips such that the circuity and transfer disutility can be amortized over a longer line-haul premium service segments.

In addition, equity considerations may become an issue. Additional investments in first mile-last mile connections will have to be evaluated in the context of alternative investments in service and facility improvements. Additionally, attention needs to be paid to the question of who will benefit, both geographically and demographically, from various first mile-last mile connections. How much should be spent to coax travelers with personal or private sector mobility options to use public transportation, or should resources be directed to basic service improvements for those dependent on transit?

Experimentation and a learning curve are to be expected as new technologies, business models, and deployment strategies are deployed and experience accumulates. But it will be important to glean a well-informed sense of the public and user costs, travel impacts, and environmental, safety, and other impacts. The role of new technologies and service models in enhancing connections to public transportation is important, but like everything about public transit, it’s not so easy to make it work.

This piece first appeared on Planetizen.

Dr. Polzin is the director of mobility policy research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida and is responsible for coordinating the Center’s involvement in the University’s educational program. Dr. Polzin carries out research in mobility analysis, public transportation, travel behavior, planning process development, and transportation decision-making. Dr. Polzin is on the editorial board of the Journal of Public Transportation and serves on several Transportation Research Board and APTA Committees. He recently completed several years of service on the board of directors of the Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority (Tampa, Florida) and on the Hillsborough County Metropolitan Planning Organization board of directors. Dr. Polzin worked for transit agencies in Chicago (RTA), Cleveland (GCRTA), and Dallas (DART) before joining the University of South Florida in 1988. Dr. Polzin is a Civil Engineering with a BSCE from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, and master’s and Ph.D. degrees from Northwestern University.
The great transit rip-off

By JOEL KOTKIN and WENDELL COX | Orange County Register, August 27, 2017

Over the past decade, there has been a growing fixation among planners and developers alike for a return to the last century’s monocentric cities served by large-scale train systems. And, to be sure, in a handful of older urban regions, mass transit continues to play an important — and even vital — role in getting commuters to downtown jobs. Overall, a remarkable 40 percent of all transit commuting in the United States takes place in the New York metropolitan area — and just six municipalities make up 55 percent of all transit commuting destinations.

But here’s an overlooked fact: Transit now serves about the same number of riders as it did in 1907, when the urban population was barely 15 percent of what it is today. Most urban regions, such as Southern California, are nothing like New York — and they never will be. Downtown Los Angeles may be a better place in which to hang out and eat than in the past, but it sorely lacks the magnetic appeal of a place like Manhattan, or even downtown San Francisco. Manhattan, the world’s second-largest employment center, represents a little more than 20 percent of the New York metropolitan area’s employment. In Los Angeles, by contrast, the downtown area employs just 2 percent.

Transit is failing in Southern California

As we demonstrate in a new report for Chapman University, our urban form does not work well for conventional mass transit. Too many people go to too many locales to work, and, as housing prices have surged, many have moved farther way, which makes trains less practical, given the lack of a dominant job center. But in its desire to emulate places like New York, Los Angeles has spent some $15 billion trying to evolve into what some East Coast enthusiasts call the “next great transit city.”

The rail lines have earned Mayor Eric Garcetti almost endless plaudits from places like the New York Times. Yet, since 1990, transit’s work trip market share has dropped from 5.6 percent to 5.1 percent. MTA system ridership stands at least 15 percent below 1985 levels, when there was only bus service, and the population of Los Angeles County was about 20 percent lower. In some places, like Orange County, the fall has been even more precipitous, down 30 percent since 2008. It is no surprise, then, that, according to a recent USC study, the new lines have done little or nothing to lessen congestion.

This experience is not limited to L.A. Most of the 19 metropolitan areas with new mass transit rail systems — including big cities like Atlanta, Houston, Dallas and even Portland, Ore. — have experienced a decline in transit market share since the systems began operations.

Transit as social engineering

To achieve their transit goals, boosters in Southern California and other wannabe metros need to “elect a new people,” to paraphrase German Communist playwright Bertolt Brecht. Desperate to force commuters onto trains, they feel compelled to foster a dense, “pack and stack” housing pattern that they feel might better fit the needs of expanding transit agencies.

Virtually all housing development proposals are required to be “transit-oriented,” which seems bizarre, given the sector’s declining market share. Meanwhile, poor people get degraded local bus service and ever-higher gas prices to accommodate a supposed surge of wealthier potential transit riders. This won’t help them find jobs, either. In the Los Angeles metropolitan area, for a commute of 30 minutes or less, the average employee is within 60 times as many jobs by car as by transit.

Are there alternatives?

Rather than try to re-engineer the region, perhaps we should seek mobility solutions that can work. Building new rail lines — and, even more absurdly, trolleys, which average a pathetic 8 miles per hour — will do nothing to relieve traffic. More densification can be expected only to worsen congestion.

Arguably, the most promising step would be to encourage work at home. There are already more people working at home than transit riders in Southern California. Since 1990, home office use increased by eight times that of transit use, with virtually no public expenditure. Home-based workers, needless to say, do not receive subsidies.

Ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft, cited as a factor in the recent ridership declines in Los Angeles — and even New York — can also provide cost-effective solutions. Already, one local transit operator in suburban San Francisco has established a one-year pilot program to extend local transit service through ride-hailing, and canceled a lightly patronized bus route, reducing costs while providing quicker door-to-door service.

Furthermore, rapidly evolving autonomous technologies could speed up traffic along freeways. They may take time to gain widespread acceptance, but are likely to be in place well before the much-ballyhooed “build-out” of the Los Angeles rail system, which, in any case, cannot make transit commuting remotely competitive with the car, except, perhaps, for very few. Under any circumstance, autonomous technology seems likely to further weaken conventional transit.

Southern Californians need to demand transportation policies that accommodate them, not those that merely acquiesce to the urbanist fantasies of planners, politicians and developers. Decision-makers need to both embrace our geography and economic form and look for 21st-century solutions to 21st-century problems.

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).
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, a St. Louis-based public policy firm, and was appointed to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission.

Continued Major U.S. Transit Decline – First Quarter of 2017

July 22nd, 2017

COST Commentary: Below is a companion article to our previous posting: U.S. and Austin Transit Ridership Declined in 2016. As noted, the major reasons for this continuing decline are not going away. They will mostly lead to further declines and future technologies, such as driverless vehicles, will result in greater declines. Also, see COST posting “Austin & Texas Transit & Mobility Policies Are Failing – New Solutions Needed” for data on the long transit decline in Austin and other Texas cities. As shown in this article, many billions of tax dollars have been spent in vain and failure in attempting to change these declining transit trends which are occurring in a period of very rapid population growth.

Austin continues its ridership decline in the first quarter of 2017 with a bus/rail transit ridership decrease of 2.3%. The other major Texas cities also declined: Dallas lost 1.2% of its total bus/rail ridership, Houston was basically flat after a major revamping of its bus route system provided a slight bus ridership increase in 2016 and San Antonio lost 6.8% of its bus only transit system. This re-due of the Houston system has been quoted many times by shallow Austin folks as a great Houston transit success and Cap Metro has stated they expect great results from a similar upgrading approach. What none of them recognize or state is that Houston has 14% less bus/light rail transit ridership today than it had in 1999 when it had 44% fewer people. Only Austin’s reduction of 16% in transit ridership since 1999, with 71% fewer people, is greater than Houston’s percentage ridership decline.

The continuing transit declines in Austin, and most major cities across the nation, do not support the often heard remarks that Austin needs “mass transit.” As shown by a long history, there are zero U.S. cities, similar to Austin now or in the future, which are examples of mobility improvements by investing huge tax dollars to subsidize public transit. Another “political” comment often heard is that “We need it all – all modes and choices.” to improve mobility. Nothing could be further from the truth. Failing to understand the mobility needs of citizens and attempting to do it “all” will result in failing, wasting huge sums of tax dollars, degrading overall mobility and creating continuing declines in quality of life for all.

With continuing and long term evidence in Austin and all similar cities throughout the Nation, it is a tragedy that many local governments and transit agencies continue to pursue the same failed transit/mobility approaches. These outdated systems are not cost-effective and are do not improve mobility. An Albert Einstein quote is: “Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Worse, these local leaders try “social engineering” to change citizens decisions as to what mobility approaches are the best to meet their needs.

The use of limited tax dollars to improve the roadways will make a much greater positive, more cost-effective, impact on the vast majority of travel including private, shared, public transit, commercial, emergency, government and school vehicles. The current path of wasteful spending of huge tax funds to subsidize public transit and bicycle infrastructure will continue to increase roadway congestion and reduce safety, providing a lower quality of life for almost all citizens.

Transit’s Precipitous Decline

By Randal O’Toole, newgeography, Jul 2017

Transit ridership in the first quarter of 2017 was 3.1 percent less than the same quarter in 2016, according the American Public Transportation Association’s latest ridership report. The association released the report without a press release, instead issuing a release complaining about the House Appropriations bill reducing funding for transit.

The ridership report is devastating news for anyone who believes transit deserves more subsidies. Every heavy-rail system lost riders except the PATH trains between Newark and Manhattan and the Patco line between Camden and Philadelphia. Commuter rail did a little better, mainly because of the opening of Denver’s A line and trend-countering growth of riders on the Long Island Railroad. Most light-rail lines lost riders, though surprisingly many streetcar lines gained riders.

In most cases where light-rail ridership grew, it did so at the expense of bus ridership. Los Angeles Metro gained 1.66 million light-rail riders but lost 8.73 million bus riders, or more than five for every new light-rail rider. Between the two modes, Phoenix’s Valley Metro lost 23,100 riders; Charlotte 20,200 lost riders; and Dallas Area Rapid Transit lost 193,100 riders. Similarly, Orlando’s commuter trains gained 22,700 riders but buses lost 98,500.

Houston and Minneapolis-St. Paul lost bus riders but not quite as many as they gained in light-rail riders. Houston gained 192,100 light-rail riders but lost 154,200 bus riders. Minneapolis gained 337,000 light-rail riders but lost 270,000 bus riders. Only Seattle scored a large increase in light-rail riders (thanks to an expensive new line that opened March 16, 2016) without an offsetting decline in bus ridership.

Many individual transit agencies suffered particularly catastrophic declines. Broward County (Fort Lauderdale), which wants to build a $200 million streetcar line, lost 12.8 percent of its transit riders. San Jose’s VTA, the agency I’ve sometimes called the worst-managed transit agency in the country, lost 11.9 percent. Birminghan lost 9.8 percent; Cleveland lost 7.9 percent; and San Diego lost 6.2 percent. In San Francisco, Muni lost 6.4 percent, BART lost 5.6 percent, SamTrans lost 8.9 percent, AC Transit (Oakland) lost 0.8 percent, and Central and Eastern Contra Costa County lost more than 7.0 percent.

One factor contributing to the losses might be that 2016 was leap year, so its first quarter had 1.1 percent more days than 2017. But both quarters had exactly the same number of work days (62 or 64 depending on whether you count King’s Birthday and President’s Day as holidays or work days), so leap day counted for less than it might have.

Many of these losses are just a continuation of trends that began in 2009 or earlier. As the Antiplanner noted last month, several major transit agencies lost 25 to 35 percent of their riders between 2009 and 2016, and most of these continued to lose in 2017. Moreover, none of the factors that led to these declines–low fuel prices, high auto ownership rates, rising costs, increasing competition from ride-hailing services–are going away, and some are only going to get worse.

Since 1970s, the transit industry has received well over a trillion dollars in subsidies while seeing a 20 percent drop in the average number of rides urban resident take each year. All this should lead Congress and state legislatures to question why taxpayers ought to continue subsidizing this fast declining industry.

This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner.
Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in land use and transportation policy. He has written several books demonstrating the futility of government planning. Prior to working for Cato, he taught environmental economics at Yale, UC Berkeley, and Utah State University.

The Five Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture

July 11th, 2017

COST Commentary: Below is an article by the same name as this COST posting. This article was written more than 10 years ago, but is still on of the the most comprehensive short articles regarding the fallacies still being projected regarding the these myths. The five myths have only been reinforced by increasing evidence in the U.S. and around the world. First below is an edited summary of the article by one of the publishers. Second is the full article and third is the relevant comment by a reader which describes the authors recommended “10 steps to congestion relief.

This posting relates to the previous posting: Austin &amp: Texas Transit & Mobility Policies Are Failing – New Solutions Needed

February 1, 2007

Suburban sprawl and automobiles are rapidly acquiring a reputation as scourges of modern American society, say authors Ted Balaker and Sam Staley.
But of all the myths created by the anti-suburbs culture about sprawl and driving, a few deserve to be reconsidered:

• Americans are not addicted to driving, nor do Europeans have an enlightened culture about public transit — in the United States, automobiles account for about 88 percent of travel, in Europe, the figure is about 78 percent, and they are gaining on us.

• Public transit does not reduce traffic congestion; even if the nation’s transit system tripled in size and filled up with riders; according to Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution, it would not notably reduce rush-hour congestion, primarily because transit would continue to account for only a small percentage of commuting trips.


• Air quality is getting much better, not worse; since 1970 the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports a dramatic decrease in every major pollutant it measures, although driving is increasing by 1 percent to 3 percent each year, average vehicle emissions are dropping about 10 percent annually.

• Most people already live in developed areas, so it’s easy to get the impression that humans are paving over America, yet only 5.4 percent of U.S. land is developed, further, while house size has increased between 1970 and 2000, the average lot size shrank from 14,000 square feet to 10,000.

• Driving less will not help combat global warming; even if we reach all Kyoto requirements; Tom M.L. Wigley, chief scientist at the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research, calculates that the Earth would be only .07 degrees centigrade cooler by 2050.

Source: Ted Balaker and Sam Staley, “5 Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture,” Cantonrep.com, January 31, 2007.
The Five Myths About Suburbia and Our Car-Happy Culture

By Ted Balaker and Sam Staley
This article was published In January-February 2007 by a number of media outlets including the Washington Post, the Dallas Morning News, The Fresno Bee, The Reason Foundation and others.

They don’t rate up there with cancer and al-Qaeda — at least not yet — but suburban sprawl and automobiles are rapidly acquiring a reputation as scourges of modern American society. Sprawl, goes the typical indictment, devours open space, exacerbates global warming and causes pollution, social alienation and even obesity. And cars are the evil co-conspirator — the driving force, so to speak, behind sprawl.
Yet the anti-suburbs culture has also fostered many myths about sprawl and driving, a few of which deserve to be reconsidered:

1.Americans are addicted to driving.

Actually, Americans aren’t addicted to their cars any more than office workers are addicted to their computers. Both items are merely tools that allow people to accomplish tasks faster and more conveniently. The New York metropolitan area is home to the nation’s most extensive transit system, yet even there it takes transit riders about twice as long as drivers to get to work.

In 1930, the interstate highway system and the rise of suburbia were still decades away, and yet car ownership was already widespread, with three in four households having an automobile. Look at any U.S. city and the car is the dominant mode of travel.

Some claim that Europeans have developed an enlightened alternative. Americans return from London and Paris and tell their friends that everyone gets around by transit. But tourists tend to confine themselves to the central cities. Europeans may enjoy top-notch transit and endure gasoline that costs $5 per gallon, but in fact they don’t drive much less than we do. In the United States, automobiles account for about 88 percent of travel. In Europe, the figure is about 78 percent. And Europeans are gaining on us.

The key factor that affects driving habits isn’t population density, public transit availability, gasoline taxes or even different attitudes. It’s wealth. Europe and the United States are relatively wealthy, but American incomes are 15 to 40 percent higher than those in Western Europe. And as nations such as China and India become wealthier, the portion of their populations that drive cars will grow.

2.Public transit can reduce traffic congestion.

Transit has been on the slide for well more than half a century. Even though spending on public transportation has ballooned to more than seven times its 1960s levels, the percentage of people who use it to get to work fell 63 percent from 1960 to 2000 and now stands at just under 5 percent nationwide. Transit is also decreasing in Europe, down to 16 percent in 2000.

Like auto use, suburbanization is driven by wealth. Workers once left the fields to find better lives in the cities. Today more and more have decided that they can do so in the suburbs. Indeed, commuters are now increasingly likely to travel from one suburb to another or embark upon “reverse” commutes (from the city to the suburbs). Also, most American commuters (52 percent) do not go directly to and from work but stop along the way to pick up kids, drop off dry cleaning, buy a latte or complete some other errand.

We have to be realistic about what transit can accomplish. Suppose we could not only reverse transit’s long slide but also triple the size of the nation’s transit system and fill it with riders. Transportation guru Anthony Downs of the Brookings Institution notes that this enormous feat would be “extremely costly” and, even if it could be done, would not “notably reduce” rush-hour congestion, primarily because transit would continue to account for only a small percentage of commuting trips.

But public transit still has an important role. Millions of Americans rely on it as a primary means of transportation. Transit agencies should focus on serving those who need transit the most: the poor and the handicapped. They should also seek out the niches where they can be most useful, such as express bus service for commuters and high-volume local routes.

Many officials say we should reconfigure the landscape — pack people in more tightly — to make it fit better with a transit-oriented lifestyle. But that would mean increasing density in existing developments by bulldozing the low-density neighborhoods that countless families call home. Single-family houses, malls and shops would have to make way for a stacked-up style of living that most don’t want. And even then the best-case scenario would be replicating New York, where only one in four commuters uses mass transit.
3.We can cut air pollution only if we stop driving.

Polls often show that Americans think that air quality is deteriorating. Yet air is getting much cleaner. We miss it because, while we see more people and more cars, we easily overlook the success of air-quality legislation and new technologies. In April 2004, the Environmental Protection Agency reported that 474 counties in 31 states violated the Clean Air Act. But that doesn’t mean that the air is dirtier. The widely publicized failing air-quality grades were a result of the EPA’s adoption of tougher standards.

Air quality has been improving for a long time. More stringent regulations and better technology have allowed us to achieve what was previously unthinkable: driving more and getting cleaner. Since 1970, driving — total vehicle miles traveled — has increased 155 percent, and yet the EPA reports a dramatic decrease in every major pollutant it measures. Although driving is increasing by 1 to 3 percent each year, average vehicle emissions are dropping about 10 percent annually. Pollution will wane even more as motorists continue to replace older, dirtier cars with newer, cleaner models.

4.We’re paving over America.

How much of the United States is developed? Twenty-five percent? Fifty? Seventy-five? How about 5.4 percent? That’s the Census Bureau’s figure. And even much of that is not exactly crowded: The bureau says that an area is “developed” when it has 30 or more people per square mile.

But most people do live in developed areas, so it’s easy to get the impression that humans have trampled nature. One need only take a cross-country flight and look down, however, to realize that our nation is mostly open space. And there are signs that Mother Nature is gaining ground. After furious tree chopping during America’s early years, forests have made a comeback. The U.S. Forest Service notes that the “total area of forests has been fairly stable since about 1920.” Agricultural innovations have a lot to do with this. Farmers can raise more on less land.

Yes, American houses are getting bigger. From 1970 to 2000, the average size ballooned from 1,500 square feet to 2,260. But this hardly means we’re gobbling up ever more land. U.S. homeowners are using land more efficiently. Between 1970 and 2000, the average lot size shrank from 14,000 square feet to 10,000.

In truth, housing in this country takes up less space than most people realize. If the nation were divided into four-person households and each household had an acre, everyone would fit in an area half the size of Texas. The United States is not coming anywhere close to becoming an “Asphalt Nation,” to use the title of a book by Jane Holtz Kay.

5.We can’t deal with global warming unless we stop driving.

What should be done about global warming? The Kyoto Protocol seeks to get the world to agree to burn less fossil fuel and emit less carbon dioxide, and much of that involves driving less. But even disregarding the treaty’s economic costs, Kyoto’s environmental impact would be slight. Tom M.L. Wigley, chief scientist at the U.S. Center for Atmospheric Research, calculates that even if every nation met its obligation to reduce greenhouse gas, the Earth would be only .07 degrees centigrade cooler by 2050.

Wigley favors a much more stringent plan than Kyoto, but such restrictions would severely restrict economic growth, particularly in the developing world. Nations such as China and India were excluded from the Kyoto Protocol; yet if we’re serious about reversing global warming by driving less, the developing world will have to be included.

The United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change notes that during the 20th century the Earth’s temperature rose by 0.6 degrees centigrade and — depending on which of the many climate models turn out to be closest to reality — it expects the temperature to rise 1.4 to 5.8 degrees by 2100.

What does the IPCC think the effects of global warming may be? Flooding may increase. Infectious diseases may spread. Heat-related illness and death may increase. Yet as the IPCC notes repeatedly, the severity of such outcomes is enormously uncertain.

On the other hand, there’s great certainty regarding who would be hurt the most: poor people in developing nations, especially those who lack clean, piped water and are thus vulnerable to waterborne disease.

The IPCC points out that the quality of housing in those countries is important because simple measures such as adding screens to windows can help prevent diseases (including malaria, dengue and yellow fever) from entering homes. Fragile transportation systems can also frustrate disaster recovery efforts, as medical personnel are often unable to reach people trapped in flooded areas.

Two ways of dealing with global warming emerge. A more stringent version of Kyoto could be crafted to chase the unprecedented goal of trying to cool the atmosphere of the entire planet. Yet if such efforts resulted in lower economic growth, low-income populations in the United States and developing countries would be less able to protect themselves from the ill effects of extreme heat or other kinds of severe weather.

Alternatively, the focus could be on preventing the negative effects — the disease and death — that global warming might bring. Each year malaria kills 1 million to 3 million people, and one-third of the world’s population is infected with water- or soil-borne parasitic diseases. It may well be that dealing with global warming by building resilience against its possible effects is more productive — and more realistic — than trying to solve the problem by driving our automobiles less.


Ted Balaker and Sam Staley are coauthors of “The Road More Traveled: Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and What We Can Do About It” (Rowman & Littlefield).
One relevant comment to this article was:
The article appeared in the Dallas Morning News last week. The article also included Balaker and Staley’s “10 steps to congestion relief”

1. Add lanes
2. Public-private partnerships and toll lanes
3. Traffic signal optimization
4. Creative construction (eg tunnels)
5. Freeway ramp metering
6. One-way streets
7. Incident Management
8. Telecommuting
9. Parking reform
10. Improving intersections and access roads

I think it is safe to say that the evidence, in the US and Europe, shows that investments in mass transit just don’t reduce traffic, so it does not appear on the list.

Austin & Texas Transit & Mobility Policies Are Failing – New Solutions Needed

July 2nd, 2017

COST Commentary: Below are three charts with convincing data as to the huge degradation and failure of public transit in Austin, Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, the four major Texas cities. This is consistent with other major U.S. city regions, similar to these Texas city regions. Note: The term city in this posting includes the Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) for each city.

Below the charts is a confirming article by Joel Kotkin published in The Autonomous Future magazine relating national trends which confirm COST Commentary below.

This story will be extended in the near future. We thought it important to post this important key information now.

The first chart displays the total bus and light rail ridership in each of the four major Texas regions. As shown, the total bus and light rail ridership in 2016 is less than in 1999, 17 years ago. This was prior to the introduction of significant light rail which mostly occurred in the second half of this chart, primarily in Dallas with the longest light rail system in the nation and in Houston with much less rail. Austin has a small commuter rail with insignificant ridership included in the Austin data. San Antonio remains the most cost-effective system and has no rail transit.

The total 8% reduction in transit ridership occurs during a period when the average growth of the population of these cities was 47%. Austin was the poorest performing city in that its ridership reduction is 16%, double the average of the four cities, and Austin’s population growth of 71% was significantly greater than the other cities.

The second chart depicts the population trend of the four cities over this same time period. Growth continues to be very consistent.

The third chart shows the total ridership and total population of the four cities during the period.

These data present very poor performance of the cost and effectiveness of the past and current approach to public transit and mobility in general. These cities have spent many billions of dollars to increase public transit ridership and have all failed at the great expense of all taxpayers. Public transit has declined as an adequate mobility alternative for those who have no alternative and it serves few who do have an alternative. The wasted expenditure of billions of dollars has also decreased available funds needed to address true mobility improvements for the vast majority including private, shared, public transit, commercial, emergency, school, government, etc. vehicles which provide mobility encompassing about 99% of daily passenger miles in these regions.

As an example of Austin’s misguided mobility approach, the City proposed a second light light rail in 2014 which was touted to remove 10,000 cars from the highways and cost $1.4 billion. Both of these estimates are highly optimistic, likely fewer cars removed and much higher rail costs. As a comparison: Three major, recent road improvements, including MoPac, 290 East and 183A, have a combined cost (in current dollars) about the same as this 9.5 mile, dual track (19 track miles) rail. However, these improved roads create approximately 135 new toll and non-toll road lane miles and greatly relieve traffic on parallel, major existing lanes of almost 160 miles. This significantly improves the daily transportation/mobility of more than 500,000 people whether they choose the toll road/lanes or the non-tolled lanes/roadways. The capacity of these new road lanes provides the ability to better serve more than 700,000 daily travelers in the future and will be much greater capacity for the approaching driverless vehicle era. This is cost-effective mobility, resulting in greater quality-of-life for most.

Following the voters defeat of light rail in 2014, the Austin City Council presented voters a $720 million, so called, transportation bond referendum in 2016. This referendum was one of the most deceptive and destructive referendums in history. The City’s distortions and deceptions resulted in voters passing this largest transportation bond in Austin’s history. While presented to improve mobility, it is highly likely to degrade mobility and increase congestion for a majority of those affected by the bond. More than one-half of the bond’s funds are for projects which have a negative impact on motor vehicles using the streets. Several vehicle lanes will be removed in favor of increased, wider bicycle lanes and dedicated bus lanes to serve Austin’s declining transit ridership. In addition there are bicycle and pedestrian trails, and sidewalks which are disproportionately higher costs compared to the number of bike riders and pedestrians using them. The answer for the self-serving few seems to be: If we build much more, the use will increase. Meanwhile, all taxpayers highly subsidize these, mostly, non-mobility projects while reducing their own mobility on the roads.

Contrary to Cap Metro and Austin City rhetoric, public transit and congestion are not strongly related. The number of people using transit is so small, and reducing for 20 years, that it has almost no impact on road congestion. However, better roads, including the use of toll roads and “managed” toll lanes will significantly improve public transit, providing improved mobility to those without alternatives and those who chose to use transit as an alternative.

We are proud of the key role COST played in the voters’ defeat of the two rail referendums in 2000 and 2014, saving taxpayers billions of wasted dollars on long outdated technology and preventing even greater congestion. These ill-advised rail proposals by Austin and Cap Metro leaders were not overall transit or mobility improvements. There are no cities in the nation, similar to Austin, which provide a success example for these outdated rail systems. Perhaps the greatest failing of our mobility planners is to propose these rail “mass transit” approaches and ignore the reality of rapidly advancing transportation/mobility technology. The Uber/Lyft revolution and the introduction of driverless vehicles, by Google and others, is predicted by almost all to further reduce the use of public transit and increase the capacity of current roadways.

One of the key positive aspects of the light rail defeats is that is it has forced Capital Metro to to focus more of its resources on improving bus transit to increase mobility for a greater portion of citizens needing this alternative. Time will reveal their success. Disappointingly, Cap Metro has ignored evaluating Cellular Mass Transit (CMT) conceptsas a major step in Transit Efficiency and Cost-Effectiveness. CMT is a locally developed bus transit concept over more than 20 years and based on several of the most successful transit approaches implemented throughout the world.

CMT concepts would utilize the existing bus system better using a customer demand driven approach rather than a scheduled route system. CMT combines buses with vans and taxis to serve the entire community with 10 minute maximum wait times and twice as fast trip times which offer the possibility to dramatically increase ridership, resulting in reducing taxpayer subsidies. It can be implemented for a fraction of the capital and operating costs taxpayers will pay for any Light Rail system and for Cap Metro’s current overall systems approach. The CMT concept deserves serious consideration as a replacement for major portions of Austin’s/Cap Metro’s public transit system.

Sadly, major segments of our misguided transportation leadership have continued to promote mobility approaches which are contrary to citizens’ needs as reflected in their daily mobility decisions. The current ‘Draft Austin Street Design Guide’ reflects this fundamental disconnect with citizens with an obvious, shallow “social engineering” objective. Page 9 states Downtown is a Special District and that: “The model hierarchy is pedestrian first, then bicycle and transit, then vehicles.” This fourth priority for vehicles will continue to degrade downtown as a desirable destination for citizens and will degrade the quality-of-life for most. The priority mobility needs for downtown should be safety, ease of access and available, affordable parking. This is a strong characteristic of the Domain which already exceeds downtown Austin as a thriving commercial center.

Austin’s current ‘Imagine Austin,’ ‘draft Street Design Guide,’ ‘Code Next draft,’ etc.’ require extensive re-evaluations to support the greater-good of the entire city and its citizens’ needs and rights to better quality-of-life.

Why is mobility vital? Because better mobility is directly related to better quality-of-life as it has been for thousands of years. Citizens need and deserve this recognition in the design and implementation of mobility infrastructure. They do not need the extension of a long era of ill-contrived, social engineering intended to change people’s habits and decisions regarding their quality-of-life needs, including mobility. Citizens are far better judges of their needs than inexperienced elected officials and their hired hands who have allowed our mobility to continue to degrade so significantly.

Chart Population 2016


The Autonomous Future Magazine

The proportion of the labor force working from home continues to grow.

The Shape of Work to Come 2017
By Joel Kotkin

Expanding mass-transit systems is a pillar of green and “new urbanist” thinking, but with few exceptions, the idea of ever-larger numbers of people commuting into an urban core ignores a major shift in the labor economy: more people are working from home.

True, in a handful of large metropolitan regions—what we might call “legacy cities”—trains and buses remain essential. This is particularly true of New York, which accounts for a remarkable 43 percent of the nation’s mass-transit commuters, and of other venerable cities, such as San Francisco, Washington, Boston, Philadelphia, and Chicago. Together, these metros account for 56 percent of all mass-transit commuting. But for most of the rest of the country, transit use—despite often-massive infrastructure investment—has either stagnated or declined. Among the 21 metropolitan areas that have opened substantially new urban-rail systems since 1970, mass transit’s share of work trips has declined, on average, from 5.3 percent to 5 percent. During the same period, the drive-alone share of work trips, notes demographer Wendell Cox, has risen from 71.9 percent to 76.1 percent.

Meantime, the proportion of the labor force working from home continues to grow. In 1980, 2.3 percent of workers performed their duties primarily at home; by 2015, this figure had doubled to 4.6 percent, only slightly behind the proportion of people who commute via mass transit. In legacy core–metropolitan statistical areas (MSAs), the number of people working from home is nearly half that of those commuting by transit. In the 47 MSAs without legacy cores, according to the American Community Survey, the number of people working from home was nearly 250 percent higher than people going to work on trains or buses.

The areas with the thickest presence of telecommuters—including cities such as Austin, Raleigh-Durham, San Diego, Denver, and Seattle—tend to have the greatest concentration of tech-related industries, which function well with off-site workers. In San Jose, the epicenter of the nation’s tech industry, 4.6 percent of people work from home, exceeding the 3.4 percent who take mass transit. Other telecommuting hot spots include college towns like Boulder, where over 11.6 percent of workers work from home, and Berkeley, where the share is 10.6 percent.

Leading telecommuting centers tend to be home to many well-educated, older, and wealthy residents. Communities such as San Clemente, Newport Beach, and Encinitas in Southern California, as well as Boca Raton in Florida, all have telecommuting shares over 10 percent. Perhaps older, well-connected people are more inclined to avoid miserable commutes, given the chance to do so. As the American population skews older, the economy will likely see more workers making such choices.

Another important demographic force contributing to the work-from-home inclination is Americans’ continuing move to lower-density cities, which usually lack effective transit, and to the suburbs and exurbs—where 81 percent of job growth occurred between 2010 and 2014. While most metropolitan regions can be called “polycentric,” they are actually better described as “dispersed,” with central business districts (CBDs) and suburban centers (subcenters) now accounting for only a minority of employment. By 2000, more than three-quarters of all employment in metropolitan areas with populations higher than 1 million was outside CBDs and subcenters.

Home-based work could be the logical extension of this dispersal—and modern technologies, from ride-sharing services to automated cars, will probably accelerate the trend. A recent report by the global consulting firm Bain suggested that greater decentralization is likely in the coming decades. A 2015 National League of Cities report observes that traditional nine-to-five jobs are on the decline and that many white-collar jobs will involve office-sharing and telecommuting in the future. The report also predicts that more workers will act as “contractors,” taking on multiple positions at once.

Some see these developments as ominous, but greens and urbanists shouldn’t: telecommuting will, among other things, reduce pollution. It may be that the shift to home-based work will prove the ultimate in mixed use—albeit for workers in their pajamas.

Joel Kotkin is the presidential fellow in urban futures at Chapman University and executive director of the Center for Opportunity Urbanism.

Large Taxpayer Transit Subsidies Fail to Increase U.S. Ridership.

May 7th, 2017

COST Commentary: Austin area’s annual transit trips of about 17.4 million per person in the urban population is on the low end of regional trips in the U.S. Austin has well under one-half of the average trips/person in all U.S. Urban Areas which have a combined, near historical low, average annual transit trips of 41 per urban population in 2015.

The Austin Urban Area has been in a declining transit trip trend and is currently at an all-time low in transit trips per person and in actual total transit trips over the past 18 years. During this period the urban population has grown almost 50% and more than a billion tax dollars have been spent to increase transit ridership. Following implementation of the MetroRail ‘Red Line’ Commuter Rail, total transit ridership has continued to drop.

Dallas and Houston experiences are similar to Austin, but transit investment has been much higher in these two major Texas cities. They have spent many billions of tax dollars attempting to increase transit ridership including Dallas’ investment in the longest light rail system in the nation. Both cities have experienced declining transit ridership per urban area population and Houston experienced a major drop in total transit ridership when they implemented their first light rail line. Dallas has been essentially flat in transit ridership for many years while its population has grown significantly.

The article below was referenced by the ‘Georgia Public Policy Foundation’ with the following introductory paragraph:

Taken for a ride: Don’t buy the claims of record transit ridership, Randal O’Toole writes in NewGeography: “America’s urban population more than doubled between 1956 and 2014. Using the ridership number that really counts – trips per urban resident – 2014’s number was a near-record low of 41 trips per person.” Despite increasing, massive subsidies, the general ridership trend is downward. “To a large degree, this downward trend is because the subsidies have made transit agencies more responsive to politics than transit riders,” O’Toole points out.
by Randal OToole 05/03/2017 in NewGeography

In 2015, the American Public Transportation Association issued a press release whose headline claimed that transit ridership in 2014 achieved a new record. However, the story revealed that 2014 ridership was the highest since 1956. That’s no more a record than if it was the highest since 2013.

Chart for O'Toole Trips Article

The truth is that America’s urban population more than doubled between 1956 and 2014. Using the ridership number that really counts–trips per urban resident–2014’s number was a near-record low of 41 trips per person. The only time it was lower before 2014 was a few years in the mid-1990s, when ridership dropped to as low as 38 trips per person. The rate may fall to nearly that level in 2016.

When Congress passed the Urban Mass Transportation Act of 1964, Americans took an average of 62 transit trips per person. At that time, 82 percent of all transit systems were privately owned. Within a decade, nearly every major transit system and all but a handful of minor ones were “municipalized” and the subsidies began to flow. At first, the federal government provided only capital subsidies, but in 1974 it also provided operating subsidies.

By 1978, half of operating costs and, of course, all of the capital costs were subsidized. By the late 1980s, fares covered only a little more than a third of operating costs. With most money coming from taxpayers, transit agencies were more beholden to politicians than transit riders, and they became more interested in spending money to please political interests than in boosting transit ridership.

Since 1965, transit operating subsidies (adjusted for inflation to today’s dollars) total close to $800 billion. We don’t have accurate capital cost data from before 1992, but since then we’ve spent close to $400 billion on capital programs (which in the transit industry include maintenance), most of it on rail transit.

Thus, well over a trillion dollars in subsidies has resulted in transit ridership falling from 61 trips per urban resident in 1965 to 41 trips in 2015, and even less in 2016. The chart above shows that trips per urbanite have fluctuated since 1970, but those fluctuations are mainly in response to gasoline prices while the general trend is downward. To a large degree, this downward trend is because the subsidies have made transit agencies more responsive to politics than transit riders.

Advocates of industrial policy argue that government should pick growth industries and nurture them along to help maintain American preeminence in new technologies. Skeptics suggest that government is more likely to pick losers than winners. Transit is clearly one of those losers.

Most statistics in this post are from the American Public Transportation Association’s 2016 Public Transportation Fact Book data spreadsheet. Data for 2015 is from the National Transit Database. Urban population data are from the Census Bureau.
This piece first appeared on The Antiplanner
Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in land use and transportation policy. He has written several books demonstrating the futility of government planning. Prior to working for Cato, he taught environmental economics at Yale, UC Berkeley, and Utah State University.

U.S. and Austin Transit Ridership Declined in 2016

April 12th, 2017

COST Commentary:The Austin region was a leader in the decline of transit ridership throughout the United States, from 2015 to 2016. Austin declined in both rail and bus transit ridership with a total drop of more than 7%, about three times the average national decrease. Austin has been on an almost 20 year declining ridership trend while population has increased approximately 70%. Austin transit ridership has declined faster in recent years. The article below has more detail regarding the U.S. ridership decline.

Cap Metro and the City of Austin seem to be avoiding any attempt to provide plausible explanations as why they continue to spend hugely disproportionate levels of taxpayer funds for current and long term transit infrastructure to serve a declining number of riders. This policy is clearly to the detriment of improving roadways for drivers of private vehicles as well as commercial, government, emergency and transit vehicles. This long-term mismatch between the spending of tax funds and the mobility needs of citizens, as expressed by their choices of transportation, continues to increase roadway congestion with resultant degrading of our citizens’ quality-of-life.

The $720 million transportation bond passed by Austin voters last year has about two-thirds earmarked for transit, bicycle and walking infrastructure. It was deceptively presented as roadway “congestion relief,” but, it will increase congestion on its several central Austin “corridor” roadways, and surrounding areas, as it reduces driving lanes/capacity and increases transit, biking and walking infrastructure. Only about 20% of the bond package is designated to improve mobility and reduce congestion on a small number of roadways.

It is discouraging that our elected officials, mostly inexperienced in the leadership roles they are in, loose site of the fact that they are elected to serve the greater good of the overall community and not their own perceptions, ideologies and self interests. Their job is too provide the most effective support for citizens’ choices which are intelligently made to provide their desired quality-of-life. Priorities for taxpayer mobility funds should be based on this user demand. Providing “alternative” transportation under the policy that “we need it all” is irresponsible and unsustainable. There is not enough tax money in the region to do this and not enough users of “alternative transportation” to support such policies. The major purpose of transit should be to provide cost-effective mobility to those who have no alternative. Unfortunately, too many misguided and inexperienced transit and elected officials follow a path of attempting to “social engineer” changes in peoples desires and decisions because they believe they know how people should live, better than the people themselves. Wrong!!

A number of postings related to this article were posted on this COST web site prior to his article., including:

Driving Vehicle Miles Are Increasing: Walking, Bicycling and Transit Are Not Replacing Driving

Austin had Greatest Loss of U.S. Transit Transit Ridership in 2016

Austin Warning: Major U.S. Transit Systems Are Declining Rapidly

Why Americans don’t ride transit: Too Slow, Limited Destinations, Expensive, Weak Security, Cities Not Built For It.

Seattle is a great model of what NOT to do, but Austin is trying hard to repeat Seattle failures.

Austin’s Commuter Rail Is A Monument To Government Waste

Don’t Waste Money Subsidizing Outdated, Ineffective Light Rail

Light Rail is Obsolete and Ineffective in Addressing Austin’s Mobility Needs
COST Note: The data in the article below are for the 2016 full year.

Transit Ridership Down 2.3% in 2016

By Randall O’Toole, Posted: 10 Apr 2017, newgeography

With little fanfare, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released its fourth quarter 2016 ridership report last week. When ridership goes up, the lobby group usually issues a big press release ballyhooing the importance of transit (and transit subsidies). But 2016 ridership fell, so there was no press release.

The report showed that light-rail ridership grew by 3.4 percent, probably because of the opening of new light-rail lines such as Seattle, where the opening of the University line increased ridership by 60 percent. In the past, light-rail ridership has grown with the addition of new lines, but the number of passengers per mile of light rail has fallen, indicating diminishing returns to new rail construction.

Commuter-rail ridership grew by 1.6 percent, mostly due to growth in New York City. Trolley bus ridership grew by 1.8 percent, almost all of which was in San Francisco. Demand-response (paratransit) grew by 0.7 percent.

The two most important modes, however, both declined: heavy rail fell by 1.6% and buses by 4.1 percent. Since these two modes together carry 86 percent of transit riders, their decline swamped the growth in other modes. “Other,” which includes ferries, monorails, and people movers, also fell by 0.2 percent.

In some cases, the decline in bus ridership more than made up for increases in rail ridership. Phoenix light-rail ridership grew by 10.6 percent, but for every light-rail rider gained, Phoenix transit lost nearly four bus riders. Los Angeles light-rail ridership grew by 8.7 percent, but for every light-rail rider gained, Los Angeles lost nearly six bus riders. Ridership on Nashville’s Music City Star grew by 2.6 percent, but the city lost more than 30 bus riders for every new rail rider. Denver opened a new rail line to the airport but lost more than 1-1/2 bus riders for every rail rider gained. Charlotte lost more than 15 bus riders per new rail rider, while Portland lost nearly 2 bus riders per new light-rail rider.

Other major rail systems couldn’t even record gains. Washington’s Metrorail fell by 10.4 percent; Atlanta fell by 4.7 percent; and the biggest shock of all, New York City subways fell by 0.8 percent. Heavy-rail ridership also feel in in Baltimore (-13.2%), Chicago (-1.3%), Miami (-3.8%), and Philadelphia (-4.5%), among other places.

Ridership on Boston’s aging subway lines fell by 0.2 percent. As in Washington, the Boston subway is experiencing maintenance problems, including smoke in the tunnels. MBTA has ordered new rail cars, one of which was put on display this week. As columnist Teresa Hanafin noted on Tuesday in the Boston Globe:

“Governor Charlie Baker and state transpo and T officials tour the new Orange Line trains at noon in Medford. The new cars are terrific: They come equipped with sneakers that riders can borrow when the trains break down and they have to walk to the next station, paperbacks to read during the daily delays, hair dryers so riders can help T workers warm up the tracks during cold weather, tasers to ward off gropers, vomit bags, nose plugs, hand sanitizer, and cheese vending machines so riders can feed the rats. Isn’t technology great?”

Light-rail ridership declined in, among other places, Buffalo (-6.1%), Cleveland (-4.7%), Dallas (-1.7%), Minneapolis (-0.2%), Philadelphia (-6.0%), Pittsburgh (-4.3%), St. Louis (-4.6%), and Sacramento (-3.5%). Commuter-rail ridership fell in Albuquerque (-7.7%), Austin (-3.5%), Dallas-Ft. Worth (-6.1%), Los Angeles (-4.3%), Maryland (-1.9%), Miami (-1.6%), Orlando (-8.5%), and Philadelphia (-5.9%), among other places.

Salt Lake City has been getting more federal transit funding per capita than any other urban area, but the region seems to be losing its bet on light rail and commuter rail. Except for paratransit, every mode of transit in the region declined. The same thing happened in Dallas-Ft. Worth, which has built more light rail than any region in the country. Transit in San Jose, home of one of the nation’s worst-managed transit agencies, took a real nosedive, losing 10.0 percent of light-rail riders and 8.5 percent of bus riders.

Chart for O'Toole Article-JPG2

APTA will no doubt blame these declines on low gasoline prices. Prices for regular gasoline in 2016 averaged $2.14, about 12 percent less than 2015’s $2.43. Prices in 2016 were also less variable, which might have given people more confidence in driving. Perhaps more important, per capita incomes grew by 3.5 percent, which probably contributed more to near-record auto sales than low gas prices (though the low fuel prices influenced people’s choices of what vehicles to buy).

The transit industry bills itself as providing necessary transportation for low-income riders and alternative transportation for choice riders. Whether because of low gas prices, rising incomes, or growing shared-car services, low-income commuters are buying cars and higher-income travelers are making a choice not to use transit. In the face of these choices, transit agencies that want to spend hundreds of millions or billions on fixed-guideway transit, either rail or dedicated bus lanes, are wasting peoples’ money.

Randal O’Toole is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute specializing in land use and transportation policy. He has written several books demonstrating the futility of government planning. Prior to working for Cato, he taught environmental economics at Yale, UC Berkeley, and Utah State University.

Driving Vehicle Miles Are Increasing: Walking, Bicycling and Transit Are Not Replacing Driving

April 11th, 2017

COST Commentary: The article below addresses the myth that there is a behavioral change in younger people which indicates a shift away from car driving to increased walking, biking and transit. This behavioral change is promoted from time to time by anti-car factions as support for increasing walking, biking and transit infrastructure. However, in every case, the change is exaggerated and not supported by facts. The sad and true facts are that we in Austin are spending a far greater percentage of transportation funds on the minuscule contribution of walking, biking and transit than to the overwhelming chosen transportation choice of driving. This results in continuing increases to roadway congestion. At least 99% if our regions daily passenger miles are on the roads.

The Austin region has a 20 year trend of declining transit use during a period which experienced a 70% population growth. This is a very convincing “survey” of the choice of regional citizens. Yet, with this strong affirmation of citizens’ transportation preference, elected leaders of Austin have continued to focus a majority of transportation funds on declining modes, resulting in increasing congestion on roadways and decreasing the quality of life of the vast majority of citizens. This ill-advised policy is, and will continue, degrading the desirability of citizens to work in and travel to Central Austin.
The Surprising Revival of Vehicle Miles of Travel
by Robert W. Poole, Jr., Director of Transportation Policy, Reason Foundation, Published in “Surface Transportation Innovations”, Issue 162, April 2017.

The Federal Highway Administration in late February released its latest Traffic Volume Trends report, finding that vehicle miles of travel (VMT) increased 2.9% in 2016, to a near-record 3.2 trillion miles. Even more surprising, VMT per capita continued the uptrend that began in 2014. The 2016 figure is 10,065 miles per capita, just a bit less than the all-time high of 10, 117 mi./person recorded in 2004. Eno Transportation Weekly’s Jeff Davis reported (Feb. 20, 2017) that growth in VMT/person over the last three years has averaged 1.7% per year, which exceeds the 13-year trend (1992-2004) of 1.3% per year.

These results call into question the widely discussed notion, popularized by anti-car groups like the Public Interest Research Group (PIRG), that fundamental behavioral changes were at work, with an attitudinal shift away from car culture, especially among Millennials, and a shift from driving to biking and walking. I questioned that hypothesis at the time, and a recent study in the Journal of the American Planning Association bears me out.

In “The Driving Downturn,” Michael Manville, David King, and Michael Smart compare the evidence for the “peak car” explanation for the decline in VMT and VMT per capita (2004-2013) with the “economic” explanation—that the sharply increased cost of fuel and the impact of the Great Recession on employment—largely accounted for the VMT changes. They summarize their findings as follows:

“We find substantial evidence for the economic explanation. During the downturn, the cost of driving rose while median incomes fell. . . . Mass driving requires a mass middle class, but economic gains accrued largely to the most affluent. We find less evidence for ‘peak car.’ If Americans voluntarily drove less, they would likely use other modes more. However, despite heavy investment in bicycle infrastructure and public transportation in the 2000s, demand remained flat while driving fell.”

Their paper goes into details on their analysis, which I’m omitting here. But several of their findings on “little evidence of mode shift” are worth noting.

• Walking: They reviewed data showing that between 2002 and 2013 the share of Americans who walk regularly did not increase. Moreover, over 60% of walking trips were for exercise, recreation, or dog walking, which are not substitutes for driving.

• Biking: Bike trips per capita peaked in the 1970s, and between 2001 and 2009, biking’s share of all trips increased marginally, from 0.9% to 1.0%. Sales of bikes dropped, from 67 per thousand people in 2005 to 57 per thousand in 2014. And because most are short, few bike trips can replace driving.

• Transit: The supply of transit, as measured by vehicle hours of service, has tripled since 1970, and that expansion continued during the driving downturn. But this did not result in much additional ridership. Americans took 0.65 transit trips per person per week in 2012, up from 0.64 in 2004. And those numbers are little different from earlier years: 0.64 in 2000, 0.68 in 1990, 0.72 in 1980, and 0.68 in 1970.

But the most important comparison is provided not by rates but by absolute trip numbers. Manville et al. report that between 2004 and 2013, while highway passenger miles of travel decreased by 561 million, transit PMT increased by just 9.6 million. As they note, “The increase in transit cannot explain the drop in driving, particularly since more than 4 million of the increased transit PMT occurred in New York.”

Despite what all of these numbers show, I continue to read articles and hear presentations by transportation planners who are stuck in the “peak car” frame of reference, implying that their job going forward is to devote more resources to transit, biking, and walking and less to roads and highways. The facts clearly argue against that hypothesis; there are no “alternative facts” that justify making such plans.

Austin had Greatest Loss of U.S. Transit Transit Ridership in 2016

March 4th, 2017

Austin Reflects Failed Transportation Strategy

by Jim Skaggs, Coalition For Sustainable Transportation, March 4, 2017

The transit ridership data below are from the Seattle PI based on their “analysis of Federal Transit Administration data, and include annual trips (not necessarily riders, but single trips) and the percent change from 2015.”

Austin continued its almost 20 year declining trend in transit ridership as it had the greatest loss of ridership from 2015 to 2016 among 29 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. Austin’s ridership decline was 11.9%. The Austin region also had the lowest transit ridership of these 29 regions at 28.9 million rides. Austin’s ridership decline was more than 4 times its total commuter rail ridership which also declined in 2016, about the same percentage as total transit ridership declined. This again questions Cap Metro’s wisdom in currently spending almost $100 million tax dollars to upgrade Austin’s rail transit to encourage increased ridership.

Only four of the 29 regions recorded an increase in transit ridership: Seattle, with a 4.1% increase had the largest increase of these four cities. Seattle has substantially improved its bus routes and extended its one rail line, the most expensive rail (dollars per mile) ever opened in the U.S. Houston had the second largest ridership increase with a gain of 2.3%. This increase is primarily due to a major restructuring of its bus system to provide better service. However, Houston’s total transit ridership is still about 15% below its ridership level almost 20 years ago while its population has increased almost 50%. The other two cities with transit increases were Detroit and Milwaukee. Detroit is slowly recovering from one of the greatest, large city declines in U.S. history.

Along with Austin, both Dallas and San Antonio experienced ridership declines. Dallas has spent billions of taxpayer dollars to implement the longest light rail system in the U.S. Considering the actual rider numbers instead of single trips (ridership), Dallas ridership has been essentially flat for the past 20 years while its population has increased more than 40%. San Antonio is the only major Texas city without a rail line. San Antonio’s all bus transit system is far more cost effective than the other three cities’ transit systems. San Antonio’s transit system is funded with a 1/2 penny sales tax versus full penny transit sales tax in the other three major cities. San Antonio has significantly more rides per capita than the other three major Texas cities. This is another very informing, factual message which Austin is ignoring in its transit plans for the future. This and the current and rapidly approaching transportation technology render a major portion of Austin’s and Cap Metro’s transportation planning as totally obsolete. Many hundreds of millions, and likely billions, of taxpayer dollars will be wasted if Austin and Cap Metro continue with their current transportation path. The Austin $720 million transportation bond package which voters approved in 2016 has a major focus on using street lanes for dedicated transit and bicycle lanes. This will waste hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to encourage transit and support a small fraction of transportation needs while reducing mobility for 99% of Austin’s daily trips on the roadways. The result: major increases in Central Austin congestion, closing of many small businesses and degradation of overall safety.

On the national transportation scene, The slight gain in the New York transit ridership of 0.4% is greater than the loss in the 25 metro regions with less ridership. Therefore, one who wishes to distort the message, can report national transit ridership is up a little in 2016. Unfortunately, Austin is doubling-down on presenting the message that it can increase transit ridership and reduce roadway congestion. This cannot be done and will only lead to more wasteful spending of tax dollars which will deplete the availability of funds necessary to achieve real, sustainable mobility increases. Result: continued and increasing roadway congestion which will further reduce the desirability for citizens to travel in central Austin.

Cap Metro does have an opportunity to improve its Austin area bus route system and slightly improve overall transit service to reduce the decline in ridership. However, Cap Metro’s current goal to increase transit ridership by an estimated 40% with an expanded commuter rail and improved bus system is only a shallow dream similar to their long history of failed attempts to increase transit ridership. There are far better ways to improve transportation than for Cap Metro and the City of Austin to spend the planned several hundred million tax dollars to encourage additional transit ridership. This will only degrade overall mobility and quality of life.

©2007 Coalition On Sustainable Transportation