Austin’s Major 2020 Transit Bond and “2018 Census Data Show Transit in Decline”

October 2nd, 2019

COST Commentary: This excellent, factual report by Randal O’Toole again reflects the perilous trend which U.S. public transit is in. This census report and the recent American Public Transportation Association ridership report for the first half of 2019 reflect a continuing overall decline in total transit ridership comprised of declines in both bus and rail modes. As O’Toole’s article indicates, there are other important trends including the taxpayers’ increasing subsidy of higher income people which are the fastest growing segment of transit ridership. Low income ridership is declining faster than transits overall decline.

In each of Texas’s four major cities (Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin), the ridership in 2018 was less than it was in 1999, twenty years earlier. These cities spent almost $25 Billion (1992-2017, adjusted to 2017 dollars) on capital for buses and mostly light rails to increase public transit ridership during this period. As noted, transit ridership has declined in every major Texas city. This is a total failure and wasted $25 Billion of taxpayer funds. Transit leaderships’ answer always seems to be: “We just need to add a little more transit to improve transportation and reduce congestion.” All of these attempts have failed miserably. This is a period when total population increased 6.6 million people, more that 50%. And, the result: Transit has not reduced congestion and, in many cases, has increased congestion. Transit provides less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled in the Austin region, but Austin and Cap Metro are on a path to spend 90% of the transportation funds on transit. This will substantially degrade the quality of life for those making 99+% of the daily passenger mile trips, on the roadways, to serve much less than 1% on public transit dedicated lanes. Taxpayers will pay the huge burden of highly subsidizing the development and operations of this transit to serve less than 1% of the trip miles. The chart below shows the 20 year history of transit ridership in the four major Texas Cities. Note, Austin has the lowest ridership and has lost the highest percentage (20%) of the four cities. Dallas has the longest light rail in the Nation and has 3.5 times the Austin population, but only slightly more than 2 times the Austin ridership. Therefore, Austin’s per-capita ridership is approaching 2 times Dallas’s which has spent 10 times the transit dollars spent by Austin. From 1992 to 2017 Dallas spent $12.6 Billion on transit capital (excluding operating costs) and Austin spent $1.2 Billion on capital. The total ridership, per-capita, for the four cities is down almost 43% in the past 20 years. This is a compelling story regarding citizens’ rejections of a public transit choice for their mobility needs.
4 Texas Cities Ridership_Page_1
The second chart sums the 4 cities’ increasing populations and relates it to the transit ridership decline over 20 years. Critical to taxpayers paying for this ineffective transit, Capital Metro’s transit operating expenses are out-of-control, increasing more than 250% over the past 16 years, in a decreasing transit ridership trend. One of the major cost increases is the Commuter Rail (Red Line) operating expenses which are now more than 10 times Cap Metro’s $2 million projection for the first year of operations. This rail has never achieved projected ridership levels and is declining. This rails low ridership and increasing, high cost are not a responsible solution to traffic congestion and effective mobility. Taxpayers’subsidize about $40 dollars average for each rider. This would pay for a new car for each rider or an Uber ride.
4 Cities Total Population & Ridership_Page_1
This single transit performance story of all major Texas cities wastefully spending billions of taxpayers funds, for no appreciable overall benefit, should persuade almost all citizens that the current Austin path to a major voter referendum in 2020 to fund massive, long-term spending for transit is ridiculous and a heavy, unnecessary burden for future generations of Austin citizens. The Billion Dollars, plus, wasted Austin taxpayer funds, spent on the “wood burning” electricity generation plant, will pale in comparison with the wasting of many billions on this transit plan. For thousands of year, there has been a direct relationship between human mobility and quality-of-life. This Austin/Cap Metro plan will return citizens to limited, constrained mobility and a lower quality-of-life with reduced ability to access Austin’s many opportunities and offerings. It will not reduce congestion and will prevent Billions of taxpayer dollars from being thoughtfully used to address real solutions and needs in numerous segments of the community. Let’s move forward, applying the vast majority of our taxpayers’ transportation funds to address, real, positive, cost-effective solutions which recognize the future reality.

Those leading this current transit path in Austin are also totally blinded to the fact that current and new technology moving rapidly into operation will dramatically change and further reduce transit’s role in future mobility. Many cities have confirmed that rail transit has been obsolete for some time. On a downward trend, U.S. Light Rail ridership declined 3% last year and Heavy Rail declined 2.6%.

Austin’s Capital Metro adopted one of the most DISHONEST and DECEPTIVE scenarios ever put forth by public officials in Austin: In mid-2018, Cap Metro opened an updated and remodeled bus transit route, designed to improve transit ridership. Then, in mid-2019, Cap Metro and the media “broadly” announced that transit ridership had increased 4.4% (based on published ‘American Public Transportation Association’ data) over mid-2017 to mid-2018 ridership, the year prior to the route update opening in mid-2018. They DID NOT OPENLY DISCLOSE the fact that they had implemented free transit rides for K-12 students, just after they opened the new route structure in mid-2018. Ridership for these students was almost 7% (over 2 million rides) for the year, from mid-2018 to mid-2019. THEREFORE, THE INCREASED TRANSIT RIDERSHIP WAS NOT DUE TO THE ROUTE RESTRUCTURING BUT TO THE FREE STUDENT RIDERS. If you subtract the free student riders, the ridership declined about 1 million paying riders (almost 3%) since the new routes were introduced in mid-2018. Therefore, the declining ridership trend of the past 20 years has continued in 2019. Many of the K-12 students who rode transit, free, were riding public transit instead of their school bus. So, not many cars were removed from the road, as implied by Cap Metro. Did they waste millions of taxpayer dollars, spent in the restructure and free ridership to deceive citizens?

The current, Project Connect (joint Austin City and Cap Metro activity) transit plan is obsolete, ineffective inconvenient, inequitable and irresponsibly expensive for all taxpayers. It will serve less than 1% of the area’s passenger miles traveled. In many ways this plan is a 19th century solution for a 21st century problem. It brings back the 2000 election slogan which defeated a very poor rail plan: “COSTS TOO MUCH – DOES TOO LITTLE.” The proposed bond in the 2020 election will probably be from one to several Billion dollars and will be only the starting segment of Project Connect’s overall master plan which will cost about $30 billion over future years. Cap Metro and the City have never revealed the projections of the total plan’s costs and schedule. There are no budgets in the City or in Cap Metro to fund this plan. The plan will be primarily funded by major property tax increases. These Billions of taxpayer dollars will highly subsidize transit riders, less than 1% of the passenger miles traveled, increase congestion and significantly degrade the mobility of those making 99+% of the daily passenger miles on the roadways. This is even more inequitable considering the national trend discussed in the article below: Low income transit ridership is declining and higher income segments are increasing in an overall declining ridership trend. Why are all taxpayers highly subsidizing a small very segment of higher income people to ride transit?

Project Connect’s plan will eliminate/limit critical options for future generations and lower their quality of life.

We will continue to expand this commentary.

2018 Census Data Show Transit in Decline

by Randal O’Toole in The Antiplanner, October 1, 2019

The Census Bureau released data from the 2018 American Community Survey last week, and the big news is its finding that income inequality has worsened. America’s transit agencies contributed to that problem as they continue to build expensive transit systems into wealthy suburbs while they cut service to low-income neighborhoods.

As a result, people who earned less than $25,000 a year were 6 percent less likely to commute to work by transit in 2018 than people in the same income class in 2010, while people who earned $65,000 a year or more were 7 percent more likely to commute by transit. Moreover, the median income of transit commuters rose above the median income of people who commute in single-occupancy automobiles for the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping track of this information in 1960.

Transit’s real growth market is among higher income people. Between 2010 and 2018, the number of people commuting by transit who earned less than $25,000 a year declined by nearly 383,000, while the number who earned more increased by more than 1.2 million. Just from 2017 to 2018, the number who earned less than $35,000 a year declined by 199,000, while the number who earned more increased by 153,000, 121,000 of whom earned more than $75,000 a year.
Some might say that transit is going where its customers are; since people of all income classes are increasing auto ownership rates, transit is going after higher-income people whose jobs tend to be more centrally located. A cynic would respond that transit is seeking to attract the support of the politically powerful and so is going after wealthy riders. Either way, the real question becomes: why should taxpayers in general support transit systems that are mainly used by the wealthy who can afford to pay for their own transportation?

Journey to Work

Nationwide, the percentages of commuters who drove alone, carpooled, took transit, walked, or bicycled to work in 2018 changed only slightly from 2017, most moving by no more than a tenth of a percent. Even from 2010 the changes are small. Transit’s share of commuting, for example, went from 5.17 percent in 2010 to 5.27 percent in 2017 back down to 5.20 percent in 2018. More worrisome for the transit industry is that the actual number of transit commuters declined nationwide from 2017 as the low-income commuters leaving transit outnumbered high-income commuters taking up transit.
The 2018 survey reported 1.8 million more people working than in 2017. Of those additional workers, 1.2 million drove alone to work while 298,000 carpooled. Transit riders declined by nearly 23,000, but all of that decline was bus riders, which declined by 58,000. Light rail and heavy rail grew by 3,500 while commuter rail grew by 19,000. This doesn’t mean that cities are better off building rail than improving bus transit, as many regions with rail transit saw overall declines in transit commuting.
Chart 1 JPEG
These urban areas saw at least a 10 percent decline in transit’s share of commuting; that is, if transit’s 2017 share was 10 percent, its 2018 share was 9 percent or less. Source: ACS table B08130 for 2017 and 2018. Data for Salt Lake in this and other charts include Ogden and Provo-Orem as these urban areas have a unified transit system.

Cycling declined by 15,000 and walking fell by 28,000. The number of people working at home rose above the number of transit commuters for the first time in 2017. The former increased another 257,000 in 2018, which means there were 8 percent more people working at home than commuting by transit.
Chart 2 JPEG
The number of transit commuters in these major urban areas, as well as many more, actually declined between 2017 and 2018. Source: ACS table B08130.

Changes were more significant in certain urban areas. From 2017 to 2018, the share of commuters taking transit declined from 3.5 percent to 2.9 percent in the San Diego urban area, from 5.0 to 4.4 percent in the Denver urban area, from 8.7 to 7.6 percent in the Baltimore urban area, and from 5.3 to 4.3 percent in the San Jose urban area. On the other hand, they increased from 10.3 to 11.3 percent in Philadelphia, 15.7 to 16.2 percent in DC, and 11.7 to 12.4 in the Seattle urban areas. These were exceptions; transit’s share declined in most urban areas, but by smaller amounts than in San Diego and the others mentioned here.

From 2017 to 2018, the actual number of transit commuters declined in about half of the urban areas for which 2018 data are available. These are ominous numbers for the transit industry.
Commuting and Income
Chart 3 JPEG
Transit commuters’ median income exceeded the median income of all workers for the first time in 2017 and exceeded the median income of drive-alone commuters for the first time in 2018. Source: ACS table B08121 for 2010, 2017, 2018.

The median income of transit commuters in the San Jose urban area is nearly $74,000, compared with just $62,000 for the region as a whole. The median incomes of transit commuters were also above the medians for all workers in the Boston, Chicago, San Francisco-Oakland, Seattle, and Washington urban areas. While transit incomes remain less than those for all workers in most states and urban areas, nationally the median for transit commuters is 6 percent greater than for all workers.

Ever since the Census Bureau began asking people for their incomes and commuting habits in 1960, the median incomes of transit commuters have been lower than those of all workers in general and people who drive alone in particular. That changed in 2017, when transit incomes rose above that of all workers but remained below those who drive alone. In 2018, for the first time, transit incomes are higher than all other groups of commuters. Only people who work at home have higher median incomes than transit commuters.
Chart 4 JPEG
Low-income transit commuters are declining while high-income commuters are increasing. Source: ACS table B08121.

Less than 21 percent of the nation’s workers earn more than $75,000 a year. But more than 27 percent of the nation’s transit commuters are in this income class. Nearly half of all San Jose transit commuters earn more than $75,000 a year compared with 44 percent of all San Jose workers. People earning more than $75,000 are also disproportionately likely to ride transit in Boston, Chicago, and New York, in each of which they make up about a third of transit commuters. In contrast, transit is still used mainly by lower income people and people earning more than $75,000 make up less than 10 percent of transit commuters in urban areas such as Cleveland, Indianapolis, Kansas City, and San Antonio.

Commuting and Vehicles Available

The share of American workers who live in households with no vehicles increased very slightly, from 4.25 percent in 2017 to 4.26 percent in 2018. Most of the increase was in the states of Pennsylvania and Washington. The increase in three-car households was much greater, from 34.9 percent in 2017 to 35.3 percent in 2018, and such households increased in number in 38 states.
Chart 5 JPEG
People with jobs who live in households with no cars were nevertheless more likely to commute to work by driving alone than by taking transit in these large urban areas. Source: ACS table B08141.

Transit didn’t benefit much from the growth of vehicle-less households as the share of commuters in such households who took transit to work declined from 41.1 percent in 2017 to 40.3 percent in 2018. Not only did the percent decline, the actual number declined. As of 2018, commuters who live in carless households were more likely to drive alone to work (perhaps in employer-supplied cars) than to take transit in 38 of the 50 states as well as in such major urban areas as Dallas-Ft. Worth, Houston, and Miami. The differences were particularly stark in some smaller urban areas including Indianapolis, Orlando, and Salt Lake/Ogden/Provo. This is not a great testament to the transit systems in those regions.
Chart 6 JPEG
The differences between driving alone and transit commuting for people in households with no cars are even more stark in these medium-sized urban areas despite (or because of) the fact that several have some form of rail transit. Source: ACS table B08141.

Commuting and Race

Nationwide, Hispanics are twice as likely and blacks are three times more likely to commute by transit as non-Hispanic whites. Notwithstanding the fact that high-income commuters are most likely to ride transit in some areas, whites are less likely to commute by transit than blacks almost everywhere, the main exceptions being San Juan and El Paso. The high rate of black transit commuting may be because a disproportionate share of blacks still live in inner cities where transit service is most intense.
Chart 7 JPEG
Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to drive alone than other groups, Latinos are more likely to carpool than other groups, and blacks are more likely to ride transit than other groups. Source: ACS tables B08105B, B08105H, and B08105I.

Non-Hispanic whites are more likely to ride transit than Hispanics in a few more areas, including Chicago, Cincinnati, and Omaha urban areas, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Clara counties in California, and several New Jersey counties. This is probably due to the income effect.
Chart 8 JPEG
The share of blacks driving alone to work is increasing while the share riding transit is decreasing. Source: ACS table B08105B.

Although minorities are slightly less likely to drive and more likely to ride transit than non-Hispanic whites, they are catching up. The share of blacks and Hispanics driving alone to work is steadily increasing while the share riding transit is decreasing.

Commuting and Age

A persistent story is that young people are driving less. A comparison of commute habits by age in 2018 with the same data from 2005 shows that there have been some changes, but they are small.

Driving alone to work has declined in every age class below 60, but only by about 1 percent. The difference wasn’t captured by transit; instead, it was mainly due to an increase in people working at home. This increase was much smaller in the over 60 age classes (which already had the highest rate of people working at home), which helps explain why driving didn’t decline in those classes. People who want to discourage driving to work should focus on finding ways to increase the number of people working at home rather than spending billions on transit.
Chart 9 JPEG
This shows the differences in how people commuted in 2005 vs. 2018. In other words, if 80 percent of people drove alone in 2005 and 79 percent in 2018, this chart would show a –1 percent. Source: AC table B08101.

Commute Travel Times

A recent report argued that commuting is a major burden and getting worse, so employers need to ease this burden on their employees by encouraging them to use transit. But travel times in 2018 were not significantly different than they were 20 years ago, while the real burden is on transit riders who have to spend almost twice as much time, on average, as people who drive alone. The only place where this isn’t true is Manhattan; even residents of Brooklyn and Queens who commute by transit spend far more time than those who commute by driving.
Chart 10 JPEG
Transit commute times average 96 percent more than driving alone. Source: Calculated from ACS table B08136 and B08301.


The 2018 American Community Survey data confirms what the data from the National Transit Database has been saying: the outlook for the transit industry is dire. While early indications were that ride hailing was mainly taking non-commuting customers from transit, the 2018 ACS data show that transit commuting is declining as both percentages of all commuters and in actual numbers.

Moreover, this decline appears to be mainly among low-income commuters. The desire to help such commuters is one of the main arguments the industry uses to justify the huge subsidies it receives from taxpayers. Yet today any given transit rider is more likely to earn more than $50,000 a year than under $25,000 a year.
Transit agencies would like taxpayers to believe that they are on a moral crusade to help the poor, save the planet, and generate economic growth. In fact, as I’ve shown elsewhere, in all but a handful of regions transit uses more energy and emits more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than driving an SUV, while the growth-stimulating effects of transit are largely a figment of transit officials’ imaginations. The 2018 American Community Survey data show that transit is also of diminishing importance to low-income people.

Data Sources

Most of the tables below include data for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urban areas. For 2018, the Census Bureau proudly introduced a new web site for downloading data, but unfortunately it does not include an “All urban areas” option. I tried to check of all 437 urban areas one-by-one, but this made the system slow down and seem to freeze. So some the 2018 tables include only the top 50 or 60 urban areas. I’ll update the tables after the Census Bureau fixes this flaw. The tables below include the raw data I downloaded from the Census Bureau and some simple calculations such as the percentages of each mode of transportation.

• B08301: Means of transportation to work for 2010, 2017, and 2018
• B08121: Median income by means of transportation to work for 2010, 2017, and 2018
• B08119: Means of transportation to work by income class for 2010, 2017, and 2018
• B08141: Means of transportation to work by vehicles in household for 2017 and 2018
• B08105B, I, and H: Means of transportation to work in 2017 for blacks, Latinos, and non-Hispanic whites. For 2018, I combined the means of transportation to work for blacks, Latinos, and non-Hispanic whites into one file. Blacks are in rows 1 to 1584, non-Hispanic whites are in rows 1486 to 3168, and Latinos are in rows 3169 to 4752. For comparison, I put the percentages side-by-side in columns K through P for blacks, Q through V for non-Hispanic whites, and W through AB for Latinos.
• B08101: Means of transportation to work by age for 2005 and 2018
• B08136: Aggregate travel times by means of transportation to work for 2018
Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, is a land-use and transportation policy analyst and author of Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It.

Facts and Data Evaluation of Austin’s Proposed Transit System Indicates Continuing Death Spiral

May 21st, 2019

How Vital Is Transit In Your Region? Part 1: Census Data

Transportation Policy Brief Number 4, by Randal O’Toole in The Antiplanner blog, May 21, 2019

Transit ridership is plummeting almost everywhere, yet officials in many cities are still devising hugely expensive plans for transit projects. One such city is Austin, whose leaders are talking about spending between $6 billion and $10.5 billion on new transit lines (and the final cost always ends up being more than the projections).

The need for these plans is contradicted by the rapid decline in transit ridership in Austin. Using Austin as an example, this policy brief will show how people in any urban area can use census data to find out just how important transit is to their region and whether it makes sense to spend a lot more money on transit. This is the first of two briefs on this subject; the next one will look at Department of Transportation data.

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Since 2005, the Census Bureau has sent an annual questionnaire to about 3.5 million households a year asking, among other things, how those who have jobs in those households get to work. Known as the American Community Survey, these data can be downloaded for just about any geographic area — state, county, city, metropolitan area, urban area, congressional district, or zip code. Since the results are based on a sample, the Census Bureau does not publish data for small geographic areas because the margin of error is too high.

Data from every year from 2005 to 2017 can be downloaded from the American FactFinder web site. However, starting in July, the agency is transitioning to a new web site called To avoid having to explain how to use a web site that will disappear in a few months, and to save you time using that site, I’ve already downloaded all of the tables that will be mentioned in this brief and posted them, with some enhancements such as calculations of percentages, for you to use.

The first question is how many people in the Austin urban area commute to work by transit and whether that number is growing or shrinking. This can be answered with table B08103, “means of transportation to work.” I’ve downloaded these data for the nation, states, counties, cities (or, in Census Bureau nomenclature, “places”), and urbanized areas and put them in one file for 2017 and, for comparison, a second file for 2007.

“Urbanized areas,” by the way, include all of the urbanized land in and around cities such as Austin, while “metropolitan areas” include all of the land, both urban and rural, in the counties surrounding such cities. I prefer to use urbanized areas since most people in rural areas aren’t going to have access to transit. However, the Census Bureau remaps urbanized areas with each decennial census, so the data from 2007 and 2017 aren’t based on exactly the same land area.

Transit’s Share of Commuting
The 2007 survey found that the Austin urban area (which is on row 684 of the spreadsheet) had about 560,000

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workers in 2007, growing to nearly 890,000 by 2017 (row 736). That much growth shouldn’t be surprising because, on a percentage basis, Austin has been the fastest growing major urban area in America.

Of those employees, the 2007 survey found that about 22,000 of them (4.0 percent) usually took transit to work. Despite the nearly 60 percent growth in the total number of workers in the region, the number com- muting by transit shrank to well under 20,000, or just 2.2 percent, by 2017.

Even that number is probably considerably more than the number of people who actually take transit to work on any given workday. According to a 2017 Department of Transportation survey (see p. 78), people who say they “usually” take transit to work actually take transit only about 71 percent of the time while people who say they usually drive to work in fact drive almost all of the time. Correcting for this would require reducing transit’s numbers by almost 25 percent. I’m going to ignore this for the rest of this brief, as the adjustment factors may vary by state and region, but it’s likely that the American Community Survey probably overstates the number of people who commute by transit on any given workday.

Transit Commuting by Income
The American Community Survey also provides information on who rides transit to work. According to table B08119 for 2017, most Austin-area transit riders have low incomes, but their numbers are declining. Since 2007, the number of transit commuters earning under $35,000 a year declined by nearly a third while the number earning more than $50,000 a year nearly tripled.

Austin-area workers who earned less than $50,000 a year were significantly less likely to ride transit in 2017 than in 2007, while those who earned more than $50,000 a year were more likely to ride transit. People who earned more than $75,000 a year were twice as likely to commute by transit in 2017 as in 2007.

Though the number of high-income transit commuters is small—fewer than 7,500 transit commuters in

Randal - Part 1 Austin TransitA-3
Between 2007 and 2017, the number of Austin-area transit commuters declined in every income bracket below $35,000, and grew in every bracket above $35,000.

2017 earned more than $35,000 a year—that is the only growth market for Austin transit. As a result, according to table B08121, the median income of transit riders grew by 85 percent between 2007 and 2017, while the median income of the region as a whole grew by only 49 percent.

Transit’s Share by Race
The American Community Survey also breaks down commute habits by race. According to table B08105B, the share of black workers commuting by transit declined from 7.7 percent in 2007 to 4.9 percent in 2017, while the share of non-Hispanic white workers commuting by transit declined from 2.6 percent in 2007 to 1.8 percent in 2017. The biggest change was among Latino workers, whose transit commute share declined from 5.1 percent in 2007 to 1.8 percent in 2017.
Randal - Part 1 Austin Transit Jpeg_Page_2Abc
Between 2007 and 2017, the share of commuters who relied on transit declined for blacks and whites, but the decline was particularly large for Latinos. In this chart, “white” refers to non-Hispanic whites.

Latino commuting underwent another startling change: a decline in carpooling from 24.4 percent in 2007 to 14.6 percent in 2017. This contributed to an in- crease in the drive-alone share of Latino commuting from 65.1 percent in 2007 to 80.4 percent in 2017. It seems likely that Latinos significantly increased their motor vehicle ownership rates during this period

The Growth of Three-Car Households
While it isn’t broken down by race, table B08141 indicates that the share of Austin-area workers who live in households with no vehicles declined from 3.2 percent in 2007 to 2.7 percent in 2017, while the share who lived in households with three or more vehicles grew from 22.4 percent in 2007 to 29.2 percent in 2017.

Table B08141 also reveals that, as of 2017, little more than a quarter — 26.3 percent — of the people who live in households with no vehicles commuted by transit. This is down from 41.8 percent in 2007. People without cars were almost twice as likely to commute by automobile than by transit in 2017.

Curiously, more people who live in households without cars — 40.0 percent — commuted by driving alone
The number and share of Austin-area workers who live in households with three or more vehicles significantly grew between 2007 and 2017 while the share with no vehicles declined. This left fewer people than ever dependent on transit to get to work.

to work than by transit. How do they drive alone if they don’t have a car? Probably they use an employer-supplied vehicle.
In sum, American Community Survey data show that transit has become all but irrelevant for commuters in the Austin urban area. Less than 5 percent of black workers and less than 2 percent of both Latino and non-Latino white workers commute by transit. The number of low-income workers who rely on transit is rapidly shrinking, while transit’s only real growth market is among high-income workers who don’t need to have their commutes subsidized.

Growing automobile ownership is a likely explanation for transit’s decline. Yet, Transit no longer even works well for most commuters who don’t own cars.
The next policy brief will show how Department of Transportation data can be used to assess the value of transit in Austin and other urban areas. I’ll then make some recommendations for improving Austin’s transit system without spending $6 billion to $10.5 billion.

The Antiplanner, Randal O’Toole, is a transportation policy analyst and author of Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It as well as a review of Austin’s 2014 light-rail transit plan. The header photo on page 1 shows Austin’s Congress Avenue Bridge.
Summary of Downloadable Tables
B08301: Commute to Work 2007 2017
B08119: Commute by Income 2007 2017
B08121: Median Income by Mode 2007 2017
B08105B:Commute, Blacks 2007 2017
B08105L:Commute, Latinos 2007 2017
B08105H:Commute, Non-H. Whites 2007 2017
B08141: Commute by vehicles in H.H. 2007 2017

Transportation Policy Brief #3
Transit Death Spiral: 1st Quarter Riders Down 2.6%
By The Antiplanner | May 14, 2019 | Policy brief, Transportation

Nationwide transit ridership in the first quarter of 2019 was 2.6 percent below the same quarter in 2018, according to data released by the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) last week. Transit’s most recent downward spiral began in 2014, and ridership over the twelve months prior to March 31 was 8.6 percent below the same twelve months four years ago.

Ridership is declining for all major forms of transit travel. First quarter bus ridership was 2.1 percent below 2018 while first quarter rail ridership declined by 3.2 percent. Commuter rail, light rail, heavy rail, and streetcars all lost riders.

Since transit agencies depend on fare revenues to cover part of their operating costs, declining ridership can force them to cut service or raise fares, either of which is likely to lose them more riders. This is known in the industry as the “transit death spiral,” and even major agencies such as the Bay Area Rapid Transit District (BART) are worried about it.

The FTA data show that first quarter ridership had fallen in all but twelve of the nation’s fifty largest urban areas. It even fell in Seattle, the one urban area that has, up until 2019, consistently shown ridership growth.

Ridership over the past four years has declined in every state except Washington.
Thanks to Seattle’s previous ridership growth, Washington is the only state that saw more transit riders in the year prior to April 2019 than the same period four years ago. To understand why ridership in Seattle was growing, it is first necessary to look at where ridership has declined the most.

Decentralization of Older Cities
Although the nationwide ridership decline began in 2014, in many places it has been declining for far longer. A recent article in the Cleveland Plain Dealer showed that the number of riders carried by the Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has declined by 73 percent since 1980.

Cleveland has lost nearly three-fourths of its transit riders since 1980.

Cleveland is not the only urban area to have seen such massive declines. Based on 1982 data, the earliest that are available from the FTA, Detroit, St. Louis, Cincinnati, and Milwaukee have all seen declines fo 40 to 70 percent since that year. What all of these urban areas have in common is a massive decentralization of people and jobs from their cores to their suburbs.

At the end of World War II, many of these central cities had dense populations with high levels of multifamily housing. Since 1950, these cities have lost large numbers of people even as most of their urban areas have grown. This represents a preference for single-family housing, but it also was accompanied by a decline of the importance of downtown job centers. Since most transit systems are hub-and-spoke systems focused on downtown, they work for bringing commuters into downtown but not for commuters who work elsewhere.

For example, census data compiled by Wendell Cox shows that, as of 2010, 57 percent of downtown Chicago workers took transit to work. But the area around O’Hare Airport has 210,000 jobs — more than all but seven downtowns in the United States — and only 5.5 percent of those commuters took transit to work.

This shows the change in central city populations from 1980 to 2010 and the change in ridership from 1982 to 2018.

The chart above compares the change in central city populations from 1980 to 2010 with the change in ridership from 1982 to 2018. While the correlation isn’t perfect, it shows that suburbanization has reduced ridership.

Downtown Jobs Key to Ridership
Many people presume that transit ridership has something to do with population densities. But the correlation between urban area densities and transit’s share of commuting is only about 0.4 (where 1 is perfectly correlated and 0 is no correlation). However, the correlation between the number of downtown jobs and transit’s share of commuting is nearly 0.9. As Wendell Cox frequently says, “transit is about downtown.”

New York is not shown on this chart, but it is very close to the trend line with 1.9 million downtown jobs (including midtown Manhattan) and 30 percent transit commute share.

As of 2010, only six downtowns in the United States had more than 240,000 jobs: New York (1.9 million), Chicago (500,000), Washington (380,000), San Francisco (300,000), Boston (242,000), and Philadelphia (240,000). Not coincidentally, those were also the only six urban areas where transit carried more than 10 percent of commuters to work.

Seattle’s ridership has grown because of a huge increase in jobs in its downtown, growing from 216,100 jobs in 2010 to 301,000 jobs in 2018. Seattle may be the only major city in the United States that has more than half its jobs downtown.

At 0.97, the correlation between downtown jobs and transit’s share of commuting in the Seattle urban area is nearly perfect.

As it happens, downtown Seattle reached 240,000 jobs in 2013, the same year transit’s share of Seattle-area commuting reached 10 percent. Over the last decade, the correlation between the number of downtown Seattle jobs and transit’s share of Seattle-area commuting is a remarkable 97 percent.

This doesn’t mean that any urban area can increase transit’s share of commuting to more than 10 percent by attracting more than 240,000 jobs downtown. For one thing, few urban areas are in a position to reach 240,000 downtown jobs. As of 2010, downtown Atlanta and Houston were closest at around 170,000 jobs. Downtown Los Angeles was under 140,000; and downtown Denver 120,000. Other downtowns were under 100,000 jobs.

Even if they could pack more jobs into their downtowns, the share of downtown commuters in those urban areas who are taking transit to work is too low to make much of a difference: around 20 percent in Denver and Los Angeles and 14 percent in Atlanta and Houston, while Seattle’s was closer to 40 percent in 2010.
Seattle’s downtown grew because Amazon and Microsoft decided to move many of their office workers from suburban Bellevue and Redmond into downtown. If any government policy played a role in those decisions, it was the urban-growth boundary that has pushed prices of suburban real estate, making downtown relatively more competitive. But that same policy has increased traffic congestion and made housing far less affordable than it was a few years ago, which in turn has increased homelessness.

Per Capita Ridership Falling
Many urban areas haven’t seen the decentralization experienced by Chicago, Cleveland, and other older cities because they were never very centralized in the first place. Many Sunbelt regions have seen their populations grow primarily after World War II, which high auto ownership rates allowed most people to live in low-density neighborhoods and jobs were similarly decentralized.
Many of these urban areas have seen their long-term ridership grow, but this is often due solely to population growth, while their per capita ridership has often massively declined. In 1985, Atlanta transit carried 83 trips per urban area resident; by 2017, this had fallen to 26. The Miami urban area (including Ft. Lauderdale and West Palm Beach) saw per capita ridership fall from 49 to 22 trips per year.

Even some of the biggest transit regions have seen per capita ridership decline. Chicago dropped from 110 trips per resident in 1985 to 68 in 2017; Washington from 102 to 82; Boston from 106 to 87; Philadelphia from 92 to 62; and San Francisco-Oakland from 121 to 108. Nationally, per capita ridership was 36 trips per urban resident in 2018, the lowest ever recorded, and 2019 is on its way to being lower still.

New York Growth Hid Losses Elsewhere
The one major exception to the per capita ridership trend is the New York urban area, where ridership grew from 201 trips per resident in 1985 to 223 in 2017. In the 1980s, New York City was mismanaged and losing people and jobs. Improvements made by the Giuliani administration in the 1990s reduced crime and made the city and its transit system more attractive.

More recently, New York City’s recovery from the September 11, 2001 terror strike has contributed to transit ridership growth which obscured declines in many other parts of the nation. In 1993, transit in the New York urban area carried just under one-third of all transit rides in the nation. Since then, New York transit ridership has grown by 73 percent, while transit in the rest of the nation has grown by only 7 percent (which, considering population growth, represents a 21 percent decline in per capita ridership outside of New York). As a result, as of 2018, transit in the New York area carried nearly 44 percent of all transit riders in the nation.

Even New York, of course, wasn’t immune to the effects of ride-hailing on transit ridership. New York-area ridership peaked in 2014 and has dropped about 4 percent since then. But even without ride-hailing, New York ridership was not likely to grow at the rates it had been enjoying before 2014.

Last week, the Alliance for Downtown New York reported that job numbers in lower Manhattan have recovered to their pre-9/11 levels. With an 11 percent vacancy rate in lower Manhattan office buildings, there is still room for a little growth, but once that is filled up, job growth in downtown New York will slow.

Thus, the outlook for transit is dimmer than ever. While the transit industry would like people to believe that the most important goal of government land-use, tax, and transportation policies is to get people to ride transit more, there is really no reason why that should be so. The one factor that can increase transit ridership is to significantly increase downtown jobs. Cities have few tools to do that and even if they could do that, the negative side effects — congestion, high real estate prices, and homelessness — outweigh the benefits.

The ridership data posted by the FTA last week shows monthly ridership for every month from January 2002 through March 2019 by transit agency and mode of transit. For those who wish to explore these data further, I’ve posted an enhanced spreadsheet that totals the monthly data into annual data in columns HI through HZ, and provides totals for major modes in rows 2142 through 2149, transit agencies in rows 2153 through 3151, and the nation’s 200 largest urban areas in rows 3153 through 3351.

Austin & Cap Metro’s New Transit Plans Will Result in Huge Wasteful Cost Impacts On All Taxpayers and Increasing Congestion, Reducing Quality-Of-Life For All Citizens

September 29th, 2018

Cost Commentary: Austin and Cap Metro transit plans being developed by “Project Connect” are based on reducing current car lanes on major roadways to provided dedicated transit lanes. This ill-conceived plan would result is some of the most devastating negative impacts, in history, on Austin citizens’ quality-of-life and living costs.

This COST posting is the latest of many prior postings regarding the decline of transit’s effectiveness, the decline of transit ridership and the resulting increasing burden on taxpayers in Austin and throughout the country

The article below is focused on recent data regarding one significant aspect of the rapid decline in transit ridership. Previous posting discuss other aspects of the decline more thoroughly. Shrinking transit share: In 2017 for the first time the number of people who regularly work from home (7.9 million) exceeded riders of public transit systems (7.6 million). This jibes with a separate Census report that showed the numbers of people who worked from home at least one day a week rose 4.2 million between 1997 and 2010. Source: CBS News.

As shown in the article below, transit ridership has been relatively flat since 2006 whereas ‘workers usually working from home’ has been continuously increasing and passed transit ridership with a strong serge from 2015 while transit declined since 2015.

This reducing transit trend is expected to continue. Transit is being further reduced by a variety of rental and ride-hailing modes. This trend will also continue and will be accelerated by the entry of driver-less vehicles.

As noted, perhaps the greatest cause of transit ridership decline is increasing car ownership. This is clearly the preferred transportation mode by the vast majority of travelers as it provides greater quality-of-life with convenient, versatile, time saving transportation to go where you want to go, when you wish to go. See COST’s previous postings: 1. Transit declines as people rapidly increase car ownership, 2. Why Cities Are Abandoning Light Rail Transit In Major Public Transit Decline, and 3. Mass Transit is collapsing everywhere.

Austin is totally in-tune with the overall U.S. Working from home is a much greater percentage of the work force than that using transit. In Austin, transit is in 5th place as a travel-to-work mode: 1. Drive Alone, 2. Car Pool, 3. Work from Home, 4. All Other (walking, bicycle, taxi/ride hailing, and 5. Public Transit.

Fully considering current broad-based national transportation trends, new and rapidly advancing technologies, citizen’s strongly demonstrated transportation preferences/choices, taxpayers’ burden and safety; it is irresponsible for Austin elected officials and Capital Metro to continue the current transportation approach. This approach is designed to support the distant past and will continue to increase congestion with significant travel delays. This will result is reduced quality-of-life, increased safety risks and higher costs for all citizens.

More Americans Now Telecommute Than Take Public Transportation to Work

BY MIKE MACIAG | SEPTEMBER 21, 2018 in GOVERNING, The States and Localities, Infrastructure and Environment

Driving remains the predominant form of commuting. But for the first time, the next most common is working from home.

A growing number of American workers are abandoning their commutes.

The latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau published last week show that approximately 8 million workers primarily work from home. That makes telework now second behind only driving as the most common means of getting to work, exceeding public transportation for the first time.

Last year, an estimated 5.2 percent of workers in the American Community Survey reported that they usually telecommute, a figure that’s climbed in recent surveys. Meanwhile, the share of employees taking public transportation declined slightly to 5 percent and has remained mostly flat over the longer term.

The number of Americans telecommuting at least occasionally is much larger than what’s depicted in the federal data. That’s because the Census survey asks respondents to report how they “usually” go to work, meaning those working from home only a day or two each week aren’t counted. A 2016 Gallup survey found that 43 percent of employees spent at least some time working remotely.

Jpeg Graph for Transit-Work from Home

Several factors contribute to this increase in telecommuting.

For one, some companies are encouraging employees to telework. Advances in technology have also made working remotely more practical than before. And tech-oriented areas of the economy support jobs more ideal for telecommuting than manufacturing, brick-and-mortar retail and other major industries where recent employment gains haven’t been as strong.

Those working from home at the highest rate — 11.7 percent — in the Census survey were classified as professional, scientific, management, administrative and waste management services workers. Other industries where telework is about as common include finance, insurance, real estate, agriculture and the information sector.

Chart of cities work from home

As one might expect, self-employed individuals are the mostly likely to work from their homes, with about 24 percent doing so last year. But they’re not driving the expansion of telecommuting. According to Census survey, there are fewer self-employed teleworkers who own unincorporated businesses than a decade ago, partially because the self-employed make up a smaller share (5.9 percent) of the overall workforce.

Instead, it’s employees of private companies who are pushing up telework numbers. According to the latest estimates, 4.3 percent of all private wage and salary workers usually worked from home last year, up from 2.7 percent a decade prior.

Additionally, older workers are significantly more likely to telework than younger age groups. The Census estimates indicate that 7 percent of workers age 60 to 64 worked from home, as well as 10.3 percent of those age 65 and over last year.

Meanwhile, several factors are suppressing public transportation ridership.

Perhaps what’s most to blame is an increase in car ownership. A recent study in Southern California concluded that increased vehicle access was the single most significant factor contributing to diminished transit use. Nationally, data suggests more adults living in poverty now have access to cars.

Other reasons often cited include the proliferation of ride-hailing services, lower gas prices and higher trip fares for some transit systems.

In the first quarter of this year, total transit passenger trips were down 3.9 percent from 2017, according to the American Public Transportation Association’s most recent ridership report, finding declines for all modes except for commuter rail.

Bus systems across the country have experienced particularly noticeable drops. The Maryland Transit Administration, Miami-Dade Transit Agency and Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority all reported year-over-year declines in bus passenger trips exceeding 10 percent in the first quarter. Many agencies have responded in recent years by reconfiguring bus routes and launching initiatives aimed at addressing inefficiencies in service.

Driving alone remains the predominant form of commuting. Just over three-quarters of employed workers reported driving to work in the 2017 Census survey, essentially unchanged from a decade ago.

Metro Area Telework Data

The prevalence of teleworking in a region largely reflects workforce demographics and types of industries doing business locally. The Census Bureau measures numbers of workers “usually” working from home, shown for each region below. (Note that data was not reported all years for some smaller metro areas.)

Transit declines as people rapidly increase car ownership

August 23rd, 2018

Cars Crush Transit

February 5, 2018 By Gary Galles, in California Political Review

The Los Angeles Times has recently reported that public transit agencies “have watched their ridership numbers fall off a cliff over the last five years,” with multi-year decreases in mass transit use by up to 25%. And a new UCLA Institute of Transportation study has found that increasing car ownership is the prime factor for the dive in usage.
As Homer Simpson would say, “Doh.”

Southern California residents bought 4 times as many cars per person in the fifteen years after the turn of the century, compared to the decade before. That substantial jump in automobile ownership caused the share of Southern California households without access to a car to fall by 30%, and 42% for immigrant households. As one of the study’s authors, Michael Manville, put it, “That exploding level of new automobile ownership is largely incompatible with a lot of transit ridership.” In other words, once a household has access to a car, they almost universally prefer driving to mass transit.

This patronage plunge threatens transit agencies. Typical responses echo Hasan Ikhrata, executive director of the Southern California Association of Governments, who said, “We need to take this study as an opportunity to figure out how we make transit work better for us.” In other words, we should ignore increasing access to automobiles and overwhelming revealed preferences for driving over mass transit, and find new ways to fill bus and train seats.
Many things are already in motion to solve transit agency’s problems. For instance, in 2015, Los Angeles began a 20-year plan to remove auto lanes for bus and protected bike lanes, as well as pedestrian enhancements, diverting transportation funds raised from drivers and heightening congestion for the vast majority who planners already know will continue to drive (it would have doubled the number of heavily congested–graded F–intersections to 36% during evening rush).

Such less than effective attempts to cut driving (and bail out transit agencies) by creating gridlock purgatory suggest we ask a largely ignored question. Why do planners’ attempts to force residents into walking, cycling and mass transit, supposedly improving their quality of life, attract so few away from driving?

The reason is simple–cars are vastly superior to alternatives for the vast majority of individuals and circumstances.
Automobiles have far greater and more flexible passenger- and cargo-carrying capacities than transit. They allow direct, point-to-point service, unlike transit. They allow self-scheduling rather than requiring advance planning. They save time, especially time spent waiting, which surveys find transit riders find far more onerous. They have far better multi-stop trip capability (which is why restrictions on auto use punish working mothers most). They offer a safer, more comfortable, more controllable environment, from the seats to the temperature to the music to the company.
Those massive advantages explain why even substantial new restrictions on automobiles or improvements in alternatives leave driving the vastly dominant choice. They also reveal that policies which will punish the vast majority for whom driving remains far superior cannot effectively serve all residents’ interests.

The superiority of automobiles doesn’t stop at the obvious, either. They expand workers’ access to jobs and educational opportunities, increase productivity and incomes, improve purchasing choices, lower consumer prices and widen social options. Trying to inconvenience people out of their cars also undermines those major benefits.
Cars’ allow decreased commuting times if not hamstrung, providing workers access to far more potential jobs and training possibilities. That improves worker-employer matches, with expanded productivity raising workers’ incomes as well as benefitting employers. One study found that 10 percent faster travel raised worker productivity by 3 percent, and increasing from 3 mph walking speed to 30 mph driving is a 900 percent increase. In a similar vein, a Harvard analysis found that for those lacking high-school diplomas, owning a car increased monthly earnings by $1,100.

Cars are also the only practical way to assemble enough widely dispersed potential customers to sustain large stores with affordable, diverse offerings. “Automobility” also sharply expands access to social opportunities.
Attempting to force people out of cars and onto transit recycles earlier failures and harms the vast majority of citizens.

As Randal O’Toole noted:

Anyone who prefers not to drive can find neighborhoods…where they can walk to stores that offer a limited selection of high-priced goods, enjoy limited recreation and social opportunities, and take slow public transit vehicles to some but not all regional employment centers, the same as many Americans did in 1920. But the automobile provides people with far more benefits and opportunities than they could ever have without it.

Gary Galles is a Professor of Economics at Pepperdine University, an adjunct scholar at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, part the Foundation for Economic Education faculty network, and a research associate of the Independent Institute. His books include “Apostle of Peace” (2013); “Faulty Premises, Faulty Policies” (2014); and “Lines of Liberty” (2016).

Why Cities Are Abandoning Light Rail Transit In Major Public Transit Decline

June 21st, 2018

COST Commentary: The article below is an excellent summary regarding many cities’ reasons for abandoning light rail as a responsible mode of public transit. As I post this article, a major headline article in the Austin American Statesman is “Action on light rail put off.” I sincerely hope the reason is that Cap Metro and the City of Austin have better understood the major deficiencies of light rail as a solution to Austin’s future transportation/mobility needs. All the reasons below and others expressed in previous COST postings are based on facts and actual results throughout the U.S. There are zero, successful role models of cities similar to Austin, or Austin 100 years from today, experiencing successful implementations of light rail. It is a huge waste of taxpayer funds and an ineffective transit mode; resulting in worsening affordability and congestion. See the previous News Article posting on this web site:

New Austin & Cap Metro Transit Plan will waste billions of taxpayer dollars and totally fail

The light rail plans suggested by Cap Metro and the City have been based on a false perception of the future. In fact, the plans have been based on a return to the past use of transit which does not exist today nor will it return. Our future mobility plans must be based on the rapidly changing future, driven by technology innovations and the reality that many aspects of the future are very different than the past. One major example is: The past was based on transit being a wheel and spoke configuration bringing people from the outlying areas to the city’s core where the vast majority of the jobs were. Today, less than 10% of most cities employment is in the core and 90% is in the surrounding metropolitan area. This trend can be seen clearly in the Austin area, including the Domain and other Domain-like developments in process.

COST strongly agrees with the article below and reaffirms it would be a major mistake to implement light rail in Austin. Again, the previous posting summarizes many of COST’s views and contains editorials by the Dallas Morning News which indicates their concurrence with many of these views based on Dallas’ many years of light rail experience in developing the longest light rail route in the nation.
Cities Rethink Rail, Amidst Transit Slump

By Baruch Feigenbaum, Reason Foundation, Surface Transportation Innovations, May 2018

Cities across the country that were planning on constructing light rail and streetcar lines are delaying or cancelling those projects and building bus transit projects instead. Last month, Nashville residents rejected a $5.2 billion light rail-centric plan by almost two to one. Tampa leaders, who have fought for rail for decades only to be defeated, are embracing a high-quality, cost-effective BRT vision for the region. Metro Atlanta is developing a region-wide transit plan focused on bus, not rail. Finally, Fort Lauderdale has cancelled an expensive, unneeded streetcar project.

There are a number of reasons why cities are choosing bus over rail. First, bus is significantly cheaper than rail. A BRT project is typically 1/3 to 1/9 the cost of a similar light rail project. In a recent round of FTA grants the median price of a light rail project was $575.7 million while the median price of a BRT project was $36.1 million. While BRT and light rail have similar operating costs, light rail has higher maintenance costs. Fort Lauderdale was planning to build a streetcar maintenance facility for its streetcar. New buses can be maintained in existing city/county garages.

BRT projects can be implemented more quickly, typically in two to four years. The average for light rail projects is seven years. BRT also offers flexibility. As metro area development patterns change, BRT service can be adjusted. Commute patterns in most U.S. cities have changed over the last 50 years. BRT service can be customized for changing needs.

Despite the lower cost, BRT has many of the same economic benefits as rail. Recent studies from Institute for Transportation and Development Policy and the Center for Urban Transportation Research note that per dollar of transit investment and under similar conditions, BRT leverages more transit-oriented development than light rail. Transit researchers speculated that light rail might lead to more TOD due to its perceived “permanence,” but research has proven that not to be the case.

About the only reason to build a light rail line is the “sexiness” factor. Put simply, rail is sexy and buses are not. But what riders really care about is the quality of the service, and in this regard perceptions of bus and rail are much closer together. Graham Curie of the University of Monash found that systems with better services including higher frequency and integrated ticketing attracted more ridership. As a result, a high-quality bus service with a 10-minute headway (a bus every 10 minutes) will be preferred over a light rail line with a 20-minute headway. In another study, David Hensher and Corrine Mulley showed potential riders a BRT and a rail transit network covering the same geographic area. After researchers identified the service attributes that riders preferred and focused on those components, participants had no preference between the BRT and light rail networks.

These results suggest that transit users start with a perception of rail and bus in their mind, in which bus offers slow, unreliable service and rail offers fast, consistent service. Riders are actually mode-neutral; what they want is the best overall service. As long as BRT provides that service, they are generally happy with BRT.

As discussed above, one of the major advantages of BRT is its flexibility. And given current and future changes in transit service, that flexibility is key. Overall transit ridership has been decreasing for the past two years. Comparing March 2018 numbers with March 2017 numbers, every major urban area the size of Charlotte, NC or larger lost transit riders. Even Seattle, which had so far not experienced declines, lost riders. Further, every transit mode lost ridership—not just buses but rail systems as well. In the last 12 months, nationwide bus ridership declined 6.3%, light rail ridership declined 5.7%, heavy rail ridership declined 5.3% and commuter rail ridership declined 3.3%.

There are many factors behind the drop, particularly a growing economy and the role of ride-hailing services. But the continued drop in ridership month after month for several years has gotten so bad that the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) wrote a policy paper examining the problem. For an association paper, the document is fairly objective. APTA admits transit agencies have actual competition for ridership from transportation network companies (TNCs) such as Uber and Lyft. The paper suggests that dedicated bus lanes, which makes sense in transit corridors with very high frequency service, will grow bus ridership. APTA argues that transit systems should create a loyalty program because that is the “type of engagement” that appeals to millennials. The paper also discusses the role of land use and the development of low-income housing and community services in suburban and rural areas that are not traditionally well suited to transit.

While helpful, I would have liked more from the APTA report. What it does not acknowledge is that TNCs and automated vehicles are going to fundamentally change transit service. Transit agencies can start changing and adapting or risk becoming irrelevant. For example, transit agencies should be partnering with Uber, Lyft and private micro-transit services such as Chariot not just for first-mile and last-mile rides but for transit service in low-density suburbs and exurbs. These partnerships are complicated and may take years to fine-tune. Kansas City’s partnership with Bridj was ultimately unsuccessful. But that does not mean other regions should not experiment to find out what works. Transit agencies need to be transitioning to mobility agencies in which they are not operating transit service but managing services operated by public and private entities.
The APTA report uses a somewhat arbitrary 2000 to 2017 timeframe to claim that rail ridership is up. But for the timeframe that matters the most— 2017-2018—ridership is down significantly. Further, even in areas where rail ridership is up, that is largely because rail lines have replaced bus lines. If you eliminate five bus lines and add a rail line, rail ridership had better increase. But in most of those areas, the increase in rail ridership was less than the decrease in bus ridership. All modes of transit are struggling, and honesty is needed to solve the problem.

Mass Transit is collapsing everywhere

May 14th, 2018

COST Commentary: The op-ed directly below these comments is perhaps the most concise description to-date of the reality of mass transit. This version was published in ‘The Hill’: Mass Transit is collapsing everywhere by Randal O’Toole. Similar versions have been published elsewhere. The article’s conclusions are based on a firm foundation of facts which are rarely used by those promoting the use of billions of tax dollars for light rail transit, often mislabeled as “mass transit.”

This is a very timely subject for Austin. Rumblings from the already proven, incompetent Project Connect are indicating a possible new Austin light rail election by about 2020. Project connect was created by the cozy relationship between Capital Metro and the City (three City Council members are on the Capital Metro Board). The developing plan seems to be building to another attempt to use distortion and deception to seduce voters to approve the wasteful spending of billions of dollars to implement ineffective, extremely high cost and outdated light rail transit. This would have the totally opposite effect of the promised reduced congestion with the real result being major increases in congestion throughout the Austin area.

Perhaps the most compelling fact for Austin area citizens is that Austin’s transit ridership is on a 20 year declining trend, highlighted by a huge drop in ridership of 19.5% from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018, ending March 31, 2018. Austin is one of the fastest growing cities in the Nation and it’s population growth during this period has been more than 70% and most new trips are in cars. Dallas, Houston and San Antonio are also top growing cities in the U.S. and their combined transit ridership is less than 20 years ago after spending billions of dollars to increase transit ridership in a period which their average population grew about 70%.

This transit performance should send a strong message regarding citizens’ mobility choices which best serve their needs and quality-of-life. Austin had the largest percentage transit ridership drop of any region in a quarter which the top 38 U.S. Metro areas all lost transit ridership and overall ridership dropped in all major forms of transit, rail and bus. The national drop in transit ridership is summarized by a blog article in The Antiplanner by Randal O’Toole which is the third article below this message and discusses the drop in U.S. ridership from the first quarter of 2017 to the first quarter of 2018.

There are no models of light rail transit success for cities similar to Austin or the projected Austin, 100 years from now. Every fact, including the vast majority of citizens’ every day decisions, points to Austin’s reality that acceptable, cost-effective mobility improvements can only be effectively achieved by improving our major roadways which serve 99% of the regions passengers miles each day. Roadway improvements also improve public transit, commercial, emergency and shared vehicles. A recent op-ed in the Statesman by Travis County Commissioner Gerald Daugherty emphasizes this point and others.

The awareness of the facts above and in the articles referenced and below make it completely irresponsible for the City and Capital Metro to waste millions of dollars to prepare for a new light rail election. Cap Metro is asking the City for $15 million dollars to combine with Capital Metro’s $5 million to do early engineering and environmental work for potential light rail lines. This appears to be a deceptive way to spend light rail money prior to a vote and avoid/violate the state law that Austin’s light rail must be approved by voters. So, this would be an irresponsible action indicating strong disregard and lack of respect for citizens of the Austin region.

The second article below is also by Randal O’Toole, titled: Why We Need to Stop Subsidizing Public Transit. It is a “big picture” summary view of the massive federal, state and local taxpayer transit subsidies which are spent for little benefit and much of it is directed to rail transit which which has been obsolete for more than 80 years.


Mass transit is collapsing everywhere


Nationwide transit ridership in March 2018 was 5.9 percent below March 2017, according to the latest data published by the Federal Transit Administration. Following three years of steady declines, these numbers present a dire picture of the nation’s transit industry.

Ridership declined in all of the nation’s 38 largest urban areas (and the 39th, Providence, gained only 0.1 percent new riders). Transit systems in Austin, Boston, Charlotte, Cleveland, Miami, Milwaukee, Philadelphia, San Diego, and Tampa-St. Petersburg all suffered double-digit declines, with Austin losing 19.5 percent and Charlotte 15.4 percent despite being two of the fastest growing urban areas in the nation.

Data from 2017 showed that ridership in Seattle and Houston grew from 2016, providing hope to transit advocates that other regions could reverse ridership declines if they emulated the examples of those two cities. But transit systems in both Seattle and Houston lost riders in March 2017.

A recent article in Bloomberg claimed that the decline in ridership “is confined to buses,” implying that cities can reverse the decline by building expensive rail transit systems. But that wasn’t even true when the article was written (it admitted that heavy-rail ridership was declining), and the March data show all major forms of transit are declining: buses, commuter rail, light rail, and heavy rail.

Cities that have spent billions of dollars on rail transit have not been immune from the decline. Charlotte won new rail riders by opening a new light-rail line in March, but it lost 2.5 bus riders for every rail rider gained. Denver also lost about 2.5 bus riders for every new rail rider. Dallas, Los Angeles, Salt Lake, and several other regions lost both rail and bus riders.

Denver-area voters agreed in 2004 to spend billions building new rail transit lines, and the region has opened several lines since then. Yet by 2016 transit carried only about 10,000 more of the urban area’s commuters to work than it did in 2000, while nearly 280,000 more commuters drove to work.

Transit apologists offer many excuses for ridership declines, such as low gas prices and crumbling infrastructure. But gas prices were 10 percent higher in March 2018 than March 2017 and ridership is declining even in areas with brand-new transit infrastructure.

The fundamental problem is that big-box transit — moving people in 60-passenger buses, 450-passenger light-rail trains or 1,500-passenger heavy-rail or commuter-rail trains — no longer works in American cities. Such transit made sense a century ago when most jobs were in downtowns surrounded by dense residential areas. But today only New York City comes close to looking like that.

Modern urban areas have far more jobs scattered across the suburbs than concentrated in downtowns. Job location is only one of many factors people consider when deciding where to live. The result is jobs, residences, retail, schools, and other activity centers are widely dispersed.

The number of transit trips taken by the average urban resident declined from nearly 300 in 1918 to about 60 in 1964, when Congress began offering federal subsidies to transit. Since then, federal, state, and local governments have spent more than $1.1 trillion on transit subsidies, yet trips per urban resident have fallen to about 38 in 2017.

Here’s a stark reality: according to table B08141 of the 2016 American Community Survey, just 4.3 percent of American workers live in households without cars — and 58 percent of them don’t rely on transit to get to work. Transit doesn’t even work for people who don’t have cars, much less is it able to compete for the business of most of those who do.

Some propose to redesign American cities to serve obsolete transit systems: forcing more jobs downtown, building high-density transit-oriented developments in transit corridors, and turning highway and street lanes into dedicated bus lanes. Yet huge changes in urban form are needed to get a small change in transit usage, and the benefits are trivial. Transit isn’t particularly green, using more energy and producing more greenhouse gases, per passenger mile, than the average car.

Seattle has done the most to reshape itself into an early twentieth-century city. Draconian land-use policies and tax subsidies increased the city’s population density by 25 percent since 2000 and increased the number of downtown jobs from 215,000 in 2010 to 281,000 in 2017. These policies came at a terrible price: housing is no longer affordable and traffic is practically gridlocked. The urban area gained 58,000 transit commuters since 2000, but it also gained 190,000 auto commuters.

It is time to stop thinking that transit is somehow morally superior to driving and that it deserves the $50 billion in subsidies that it receives each year. Ending the subsidies would lead to a variety of private transit alternatives where people will use them and allow cities to concentrate on relieving congestion and making roads safer and cleaner for everyone else.

Randal O’Toole (@antiplanner) is director of the Transportation Policy Center at the Independence Institute (@i2idotorg), a free market think tank in Denver, and a senior fellow with the Cato Institute (@CatoInstitute) in Washington, D.C. He is author of the forthcoming book, Romance of the Rails: Why the Passenger Trains We Love Are Not the Transportation We Need.

Why We Need to Stop Subsidizing Public Transit

It’s obsolete and costs taxpayers billions, yet its ridership and productivity continue to decline.

BY: Randal O’Toole | May 7, 2018 in Governing
Public transit cost federal, state and local taxpayers more than $50 billion in 2016 — nearly $5 in subsidies every time someone boarded a transit vehicle. Yet transit ridership has been declining since 2014, and although some might attribute this to telework or a general decline in the reliability of transit services, it’s thanks in large part to the success of competitors such as Uber, Lyft and Chariot.

This has led many to wring their hands over the future of public transit. In fact, we should be happy to see it go as it is obsolete, needlessly expensive and provides no significant environmental or social benefits.

A little over 50 years ago, urban transit was mostly private and mostly profitable. But in 1964, in the face of declining ridership and concerns about the industry’s long-term financial viability, Congress offered federal subsidies to cities and states that took over private transit companies. Within a decade, all but a handful of transit companies had been “municipalized.”

Those subsidies, along with those provided by states and local governments, failed to boost ridership or stabilize the industry. What followed instead was a dramatic decline in transit’s productivity by any measure. The number of annual riders carried per transit employee has dropped by more than 50 percent, according to data from the American Public Transit Association. Operating and capital costs have grown more than twice as fast as fare revenues.

Adjusted for inflation, the same data show that subsidies to transit by all levels of government have totaled well over $1.1 trillion since 1964, but these subsidies haven’t benefitted either cities or transit riders. In 1964, the average urban resident took more than 60 transit trips a year. Preliminary data for 2017 indicate that this has fallen to 37 trips per year, the lowest level in recorded history.

Subsidy supporters say transit helps low-income people get to work, but census data show that only about 4 percent of American workers live in households that lack cars, and a majority of them don’t commute by transit. Nor are claims that transit saves energy and reduces pollution true. In 2016, transit used about 10 percent more energy per passenger mile than the average car and only slightly less than the average light truck. Both transit and cars emit about the same amount of greenhouse gases per passenger mile. People who care about energy or climate change would do better to drive a plug-in hybrid than to take transit.

The latest argument for transit is that it promotes economic development. While some studies have found that heavily used transit lines can influence property values, research published by the Federal Transit Administration has shown that this is a zero-sum game: Higher property values in one part of a city are balanced by lower values elsewhere. Not only does transit not promote overall economic growth, the high taxes required to subsidize transit may actually slow growth down. Data from more than 300 urban areas show that the regions that grew fastest in the 2000s were ones that had spent the least on transit in the 1990s, while the regions that spent the most on transit in the 1990s were among those that grew the slowest in the 2000s.

Now that ride hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft and private bus companies such as Chariot are providing increasingly affordable alternatives to public transit, it is time to think about phasing out the subsidies. That means, first, that transit agencies should stop spending money on new rail transit lines that few people will ride.

Rail transit was rendered obsolete more than 80 years ago when manufacturers had perfected buses that were less expensive to buy, operate and maintain than rail cars. Contrary to claims that light rail is “high-capacity transit,” buses have much higher potential capacities: The New York-New Jersey Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane, for example, moves more people per hour than almost any rail line in the world, and far more than any light-rail line.

Next, transit agencies should pay down the debts they incurred building previous rail lines, as well as their unfunded pension and retiree health-care obligations. Finally, they should offer transit franchises to private companies, as the United Kingdom has done. At least until driverless cars make buses obsolete, private companies can provide bus services at a profit in many urban areas. A private company might also be able to operate the New York subway at a profit, but most other rail lines should be scrapped.

To be fair, we should end subsidies to highways as well, though those subsidies are much smaller — 1.5 cents per passenger mile vs. nearly 90 cents for transit. Subsidies make transportation providers, whether public or private, more responsive to politicians than to transportation users. Politicians are likely to build bridges to nowhere or expensive, low-capacity rail lines, while user-fee-driven agencies will focus on maintenance and cost-effective congestion relief to keep customers happy.
The great experiment of socializing public transit has failed. Instead of trying to rescue transit, we should stop subsidizing it, saving taxpayers’ tens of billions of dollars a year. There are better ways to improve urban transportation.

March Transit Ridership Drops 5.9%

by Randal O’Toole in Antiplanner blog, May7,2018

Some have blamed declining transit ridership on low gas prices, but gasoline was about 10 percent more expensive in March 2018 than March 2017, yet March transit ridership was 5.9 percent less than in the same month in 2017. To be fair, March had one fewer work day in 2018 than in 2017, which could account for some of the decline, but January had one more work day in 2018 than 2017, and ridership still declined.

The Federal Transit Administration released March ridership numbers over the weekend. As usual, the Antiplanner has supplemented the raw numbers with a spreadsheet that totals ridership by years (2002-2018) in columns GW through HM; by major modes in rows 2116 through 2122; by transit agency in rows 2131-3129; and by the 200 largest urbanized areas in rows 3131 through 3330.

Previous releases showed that transit has been declining in nearly all major urban areas except Seattle and, in some recent months, Houston. March’s numbers are even more dire, as ridership declined in all of the top 38 urbanized areas including Houston and Seattle. Of the top 50 urban areas, ridership grew only in Providence (by a mere 0.1 percent), Nashville (by a respectable 8.2 percent), Hartford (8.1 percent), and Raleigh (by 3.5 percent).

But elsewhere the returns are grim. Seattle’s light-rail ridership grew by 6.5 percent and commuter rail grew a more modest 0.5 percent. But this growth wasn’t enough to make up for the decline in bus ridership, so overall ridership fell by 0.5 percent. Ridership in Houston, the other major region sometimes considered to be an exception, fell by 2.9 percent.

Still, many other transit systems would be happy to have a mere 0.5 percent — or even a 2.9 percent — decline. New York ridership fell 4.5%, Los Angeles by 9.6%, Miami by 10.9%, and Philadelphia by 12.5%. Other big losers were Boston at -11.8%; San Diego at -15.7%; Tampa-St. Petersburg & St. Louis were both -10.1%; Austin -19.5%; and Charlotte -15.4%. Charlotte opened a new light-rail extension on March 15 and gained 46 percent more light-rail riders, but the loss in bus ridership more than made up the difference. Cleveland, Memphis, and New Orleans are also among the double-digit losers.

Contrary to claims that only buses are losing and rail is at least holding its own, all major modes of transit lost riders in March. Buses lost 6.3%; light rail 5.7%; heavy rail 5.3%; and commuter rail 3.3%. Despite recent openings of several streetcar lines, streetcars lost 14.2 percent and lines that the FTA classifies as “hybrid rail,” including rail lines in Austin, Portland, and a few other cities, lost 11.6 percent.

Transit defenders frequently rely on obsolete data to justify claims that ridership declines aren’t “that bad” or are only affecting a portion of the industry. But these data, the most recent available on a nationwide basis, show that no city or transit agency is truly immune from the rot that is afflicting the nation’s socialized transit systems.

New Austin & Cap Metro Transit Plan will waste billions of taxpayer dollars and totally fail.

April 7th, 2018

COST Commentary: Below this commentary is a depiction of the most recent Austin & Capital Metro transit plan which is now being shared with the public. Its presentations have strongly suggested that several of the defined transit routes are very likely to be designated as light rail. The ‘picture’ below is further explained on the Project Connect web site. Project Connect is a joint Cap Metro and Austin City activity to define Austin’s future transit plan. It is primarily populated and advised by those who are strong light rail advocates. Many of them have been promoting light rail for a very long time. It is interesting that each time Cap Metro and the City have proposed light rail since the voters defeat of light rail in 2000, they have proposed a very different light rail route and system. Since light rail is very expensive to install and modify the route, it seems there is a lack of stability in their suggested need. It is very true that Austin is a young city and does not really know what it will be when it “grows up.” Whatever it is, light rail will not be a factor.

The history of rail elections in Austin, early plans leading to a possible next election and funding implications are summarized in an Austin American-Statesman newspaper article by Ben Wear posted on April 6 and published in the paper on April 8 with the front page title of: Ready For Rail?
Is Austin finally ready for light rail? The answer may come in 2020.
It is a very good, factual and balanced article for this information.

COST, including its predecessor organization, was a major opposition organization during the 2000 Cap Metro and the 2014 Austin City elections in which light rail was defeated. COST’s summary position was that these Light Rails: would cost billions of taxpayer dollars to serve a miniscule percentage of Austin area citizens; would not decrease congestion as promoted, but would further increase congestion; would not improve the environment, but would degrade it; would degrade overall transit by using major funds for a small portion of transit ridership which would degrade the backbone bus system; and, would waste billions of dollars which could be effectively used for the public’s greater-good to improve roadways which serve 99% of Austin’s daily passenger miles including the transit bus system.

COST did not mount a formal, registered campaign in the 2004 commuter rail election which Cap Metro won. This was a COST strategic decision based on the much lower cost of the Commuter which was to use existing tracks, minimizing the loss of Road capacity. COST concluded the Commuter rail would be one of the least expensive ways to demonstrate to citizens that rail is not an effective transit solution. The Commuter did have major cost overruns of several hundred percent, but has proven all of the negatives described in the light rail discussion above and below. The commuter requires a major subsidy for each rider, several times bus subsidies. It causes more pollution per rider than cars and the travel time for commuters is not efficient. Considering all elements, the Commuter Rail creates a net increase in congestion.

The current Austin area transit plan shown below has many of the major flaws which the previous light rail plans contained. This web site has a long list of previous postings which address these flaws. In summary:

1. Light rail costs too much and does too little, wasting billions of taxpayer dollars on transit which does not well serve those who need transit the most, those without alternatives. (See the Dallas Morning News editorials below)

2. Light rail and dedicated bus lanes will significantly increase congestion in the central Austin area as it will require eliminating road capacity used by cars and other vehicles, both private and commercial. This will also hamper ride hailing (Uber, Lyft, etc.) services which are growing rapidly throughout the Nation.

3. The present transportation plan does not recognize rapidly advancing technologies including driverless vehicles and ride hailing (Uber, Lyft, etc.). These and other mobility advances will create alternatives which are much more flexible with more rapid response in meeting riders’ location and destination needs at costs which are competitive with train transit’s costs.

4. The draft transportation plan indicates little knowledge of the long trend in changing work locations. This plan is the traditional “spoke and wheel” configuration which transit started with in the 1800’s. Transit was designed to transport people from their homes to the major jobs locations in the City core. This is now totally outdated. Today, the average large city has less than 10% of the regional workforce in the city’s central core. Austin has slightly more than 10% if you count the state workers and UT employees which are near the core. Austin’s proposed transit plan is recreating the past with a “spoke and wheel design which would severely limit access to available jobs in the region for those who must use transit. (See the Dallas editorials below)

5. There are no large city transit models which confirm the validity of this Austin plan. The Dallas and Houston regions are about 100 years ahead of Austin’s population and they are evaluated by Inrix Corporation as being much more congested than Austin. Their billions for light rail have not measurably changed their congestion and the use of public transit has been declining with their very large population growths.

6. The rail ridership in a city like Austin does not improve the environment. Austin’s air quality has never exceeded Federal standards. Austin’s, and most cities’ low transit ridership degrades air quality.

7. Austin’s transit ridership has been on a long-term declining trend of almost 20 years while its regional population has grown about 70%. Why would we allocate billions of precious tax dollars to the least cost-effective transit mode (rail) with the hope that the trend, which reflects citizens’ choices as to best way to serve their desired quality-of-life, might change. This is not responsible!

8. Austin’s funding of light rail is being planned on the basis that a major portion will come from the Federal Government. This is not the case today and is not expected to be for the foreseeable future. Therefore, the costs for local citizens would be double that assumed in the transportation plan, many billions more.

9. The increased congestion due to dedication of current car lanes to serve buses or trains only would have a major negative impact on road construction and thousands of small businesses.

10. Creating the additional congestion would also degrade safety for travelers.

11. Austin affordability is a top issue today and in the future. Austin is one of the fastest growing cost-of-living major cities in the Nation and housing cost is a major driver of these increases. The result is driving many lower income citizens, a large percentage of transit riders, beyond the bounds of transit service and they are forced to find alternatives. This is one of the top reasons Austin’s transit ridership is falling and has been in this trend for many years. This also shows-up in a rapid drop in public school enrollment as families leave the unaffordable area. Ineffective light rail will not address this and its high costs will further increase the cost-of-living. Portland created a similar unaffordability environment starting in the 1970s and its school enrollment dropped about 45%, closing dozens of schools. Austin seems to be charging down the path to reach Portland’s unaffordable level by the wasteful spending of billions of dollars on Light Rail

12. One of the most serious rail transit problems today is that older systems in several cities including such cities as Washington DC, New York City, Chicago, and even newer cities with older Light Rail systems such as Portland, are facing the need for many billions of dollars due to long neglected maintenance and worn out systems. These cities are experiencing very unreliable transit and many riders are abandoning public transit. The maintenance and capital replacement costs have not been appropriately planned in rail transit and there is often no source of funding. The U.S. government will not play a significant role in meeting these needs which cost as much or more than the original capital expenditures to install the rail systems.

There is a previous posting on this site which includes a paper addressing the issue of transit’s future in more detail. The posting is:Transit Transformation Needed Now!
This posting contains the Executive Summary, Introduction and Conclusion of the paper. The full paper can be accessed here:
The Coming Transit Apocalypse

The bottom line to this posting and many others on the web site is that Light Rail transit is failing to meet its committed performance in many cities. By the time Austin would vote on rail in 2020 and implement a major portion of its suggested rail lines in about 2030, as described in the above Statesman article, the light rail would be obviously outdated and known as the greatest waste of billions of dollars of taxpayer money in Austin’s history. We must prevent this irrational disaster and burden which would be placed on future generations. Our limited tax dollars must be directed to those cost-effective transportation needs which have already been firmly identified by citizens’ choices and are compatible with current and future technology advances. Light Rail is not the answer.


Austin Transit Map


There are three articles posted below. The first two are Dallas Morning News editorial columns with strong criticism for Dallas’ continuing transit path of adding additional light rail capacity. This is somewhat remarkable because this newspaper was very supportive of light rail in the 1990’s when the transit agency, DART, began rail implementation. Dallas has now spent several billion dollars to implement the longest light rail system in the nation, about 100 miles. As the editorials reflect, the community is becoming more aware that the promoted benefits of light rail are very problematical and rail is producing overall negative impacts. The third article is from the Washington Post addressing the nationwide reduction in transit ridership.

DART ridership is falling, and it will keep falling until focus shifts to bus service
Dallas Morning News Editorial, March 16, 2018

Two important facts explain much about the crisis of confidence Dallas Area Rapid Transit confronts as it drives into its 35th year. Population in its 13-city service area keeps going up, and yet year after year, the total number of riders who board its buses, trains and vans keeps going down.

The agency desperately needs a course-correction, and we’re relieved to see new board members from Dallas regularly insist on service improvements. But a DART report issued Tuesday makes clear current reforms are unlikely to be sufficient.

On Tuesday, DART made its annual disclosure to creditors. Bondholders will find little to fret about, but another set of investors, the taxpayers in 13 cities who have spent billions to sustain DART, should look twice at dispiriting revelations about ridership. (See our July, 2017 special report on how DART has failed the riders who need it most, the working poor.)

DART attracted fewer riders last year than the year before, and there’s little reason to believe this year will be any different, despite rising populations and a thriving economy where jobs are plentiful.

It’s tempting to excuse this poor report on the fact that cities outside DART’s 13-city service area are growing even faster than those within it. Or because jobs, too, are increasingly being located in Dallas’ outer suburbs.

But that’s nonsense. DART’s own cities are growing, too. The census estimated that the service area added more than 160,000 new residents between 2011 and 2016. And yet, ridership across almost every mode dropped.

Tuesday’s report updated the ridership picture with 2017 numbers. Last year, DART’s fleet of buses provided 32 million trips, down by more than 5 million trips in 2014.

In truth, bus ridership has been falling for years, largely because DART has aggressively re-jiggered its routes to funnel more riders onto its growing network of trains. Tuesday’s report shows how little success that strategy has had.

The 30.1 million light rail rides DART provided last year were only a slight bump from the 29.5 million it provided in 2014.

That means that the loss in bus ridership was nearly nine times greater than the gain in rail ridership.

That’s no way to run a transit agency.

Some headwinds against DART are outside its control. But what it can do is increase the service it provides for residents within its boundaries. The most effective way to do that, and the approach that will target riders who need DART most, is to expand its bus system.

But by how much? How soon? And at what costs in terms of delay or reduced ambitions for rail?

We can’t know, and neither can DART, until it develops a bus plan that rivals in scope what it already plans to spend on the suburban Cotton Belt line and a second, underground line in downtown Dallas.

These projects are worthy. But they should be subjected to a cost-benefit analysis that compares them to a similarly scaled investment in bus service.

Otherwise, bus plans will keep fighting for scraps as a rail-dominated transit system continues to shed riders like so much exhaust.

After decades of rail expansion, it’s time for DART to think big, very big on buses
Dallas Morning News Editorial, November 2, 2017

For months now, the chorus of criticism coming from the Dallas City Council aimed at Dallas Area Rapid Transit has been growing louder. The regional agency says it’s listening, but we are skeptical.

If it is listening, DART president Gary Thomas and his cadre of well-paid executives don’t seem to understand what they are hearing.

DART, a nearly $800 million-a-year operation with more than 4,000 employees serving Dallas and 12 smaller cities, is failing the riders who need it most. And it has been for years.

Who are these riders? They are low-income workers and others who use transit because they can’t afford to drive. For these workers, many of whom live here in Dallas, an available bus ride or train trip is the difference between earning a paycheck and not.

In Dallas, the poorest of these workers — full-time, year-round workers who are nevertheless in poverty — are twice as likely to use DART than other workers. When they do, they endure commutes that are 50 percent longer.

And yet these riders are the lucky ones. A study shared with the Dallas City Council last week showed that at least 96 percent of jobs in the region are out of reasonable reach for fully 65 percent of Dallas’ transit-dependent population.

No wonder so many poor workers remain poor, shut out of potentially better jobs just because they can’t get to them. And no wonder bus ridership at DART has fallen steadily for years.

What’s needed at DART is a massive reorganization of its resources. Thomas has repeatedly promised that the agency will boost bus spending by $14 million and is adding more than 40 new coaches by 2019.

Great, but that’s a pittance. It’s almost laughably out of scale with the scope of the problem.

Over the next 35 years, DART plans to spend several billion dollars on an east-west commuter rail line connecting Plano to Addison and onto the airport. Meanwhile, Dallas is determined to double the cost for a second downtown Dallas rail line by insisting it be buried underground, even though doing so won’t add riders.

Every one of those sales tax dollars could be spent, instead, on creating a bus system that works not just for workers in Dallas but for suburban commuters, too.

We already have the longest light-rail network in America. Why not hit the pause button on rail long enough to at least study what a 10-figure investment in buses over the next 30 or 35 years might look like?

We have no idea, because no such study has ever been done. Not because no one has thought of it — but because there has never been the political will to prioritize buses. Given how great the need is, shouldn’t that change?

Of course it should. But it won’t happen if the Dallas City Council and other member cities can’t get on board with the idea that DART must better serve the riders who need it most.

Falling transit ridership poses an ’emergency’ for cities, experts fear
Washington Post, 3-20-2018

Transit ridership fell in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas in the U.S. last year, including each of the seven cities that serve the majority of riders, with losses largely stemming from buses, but punctuated by reliability issues on systems like Metro, according to an annual overview of public transit usage.

The analysis by the New York-based TransitCenter advocacy group, using data from the U.S. Department of Transportation’s National Transit Database, raises alarm about the state of “legacy” public transit systems in the Northeast and Midwest and rising vehicle ownership and car-based commuting in cities nationwide.

Researchers concluded that factors such as lower fuel costs, increased teleworking, higher car ownership and the rise of alternatives such as Uber and Lyft are pulling people off trains and buses at record levels.

The data also showed 2017 was the lowest year of overall transit ridership since 2005, according to TransitCenter, and bus ridership alone fell 5 percent.

“I think it needs to be considered an emergency,” said Jarrett Walker, a transit planner who served as a consultant on a top-down bus network

redesign to curb cratering ridership in Houston. “When we don’t share space efficiently we get in each other’s way. And that is a problem for the livelihood, the viability, the livability and the economy of a city. … It means more traffic, more congestion.”

Polzin described what he called a “tough political sell” for agencies faced with decreasing ridership.

“Ridership declines, and then fare revenue declines, and then you have to cut service which means ridership declines more,” he said. “So folks get nervous about the cyclical nature of the decline because of lost fare revenue. But they also undermine kind of the public will to invest additional subsidy dollars and service as well. It’s very hard to go to your government and say ‘my ridership is down 10 percent, and I need more money to subsidize 10 percent less riders.’”

Planners warn that cities simply do not have the capacity to handle a wholesale shift to other modes — whether today’s version of ride-hailing, driving or eventual ride sharing through autonomous vehicles. Those alternatives, Walker said, are no match for “the basic geometry problem that only transit can solve — which is to move large numbers of people through a city in very little space.”
However, some researchers said declining ridership is not always indicative of transit’s failures.

Los Angeles-area transit agencies have seen dramatic bus ridership declines since the mid-2000s, with overall bus ridership falling about 30 percent over the course of a decade, according to the TransitCenter analysis.

Michael Manville, an assistant professor of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles co-authored a January 2018 study that found many of the losses could be attributed to increased car ownership, particularly among low-income and immigrant populations, who were in a better position to afford cars following the Great Recession.

“I think it puts transportation planners in a bit of an unusual position … if in fact the reason for that departure is low-income people are doing better, getti ng the ability to move around like everyone else, it’s hard to say that what we should do is get them to remove themselves from their cars and back on trains and buses,” Manville said. “Transit systems should deliver quality service to low-income people. But low-income people do not owe us a transit system.”
(Researchers also pointed out the increased ease of obtaining a car, through factors such as subprime auto loans.)

Walker warned of the future the trends could portend.

“That can’t just be a free market conversation of transit losing ridership, that’s fine, let the best mode win,” he said. “City governments have an urgent imperative to do what’s necessary to make it attractive for people to use modes that use space efficiently.”

Metro’s and other systems’ reliability issues have hit low-income riders hardest, and now those systems are having a tough time winning them back in the face of increasing alternatives, advocates say.

Kristen Jeffers, founder and editor of The Black Urbanist blog, said riders are leaving because of declining service and the increased availability of other options to fill the gaps.

“Now that you have a car or a bike or a scooter on an app in your hand, and it’s right there — in a lot of major cities, why not use that? “ Jeffers said. “Now you don’t have the indignity of being stuck on the side of the road for a bus that never comes.”
She said transit systems need to regain trust through community outreach and going out of their way to cater to riders who might previously not have had a choice.

“Treating the bus like a prestige system,” she said, similar to their treatment of heavy rail systems in the past.

Metro is pondering a wholesale redesign of its bus system, with a study “to examine travel patterns, customer demand, technology opportunities and how to most cost-effectively deliver Metrobus service to riders,” according to agency spokeswoman Sherri Ly. The agency has yet to award a contract for the study, she said.

Meanwhile another West Coast city, Seattle, is viewed as the model for how transit agencies can recoup ridership in an era of population growth, an improving economy and rapid technological change — in part because of the popularity of buses. The city’s bus ridership has steadily grown from 92 million to 119 million trips over 16 years, the TransitCenter analysis shows. Meanwhile light-rail ridership has ballooned amid expansions, to 32 million trips last year.

The city, which has some of the worst traffic congestion in the country, hosts about 45,000 Amazon employees and had added 60,000 workers to its center city core since 2010, according to Andrew Glass-Hastings, director of transit and mobility for the Seattle Department of Transportation.

Meanwhile Seattle voters have approved three high-dollar, transit-friendly initiatives that in the eyes of public officials have paid dividends and will continue to boost ridership: a $50 million annual funding boost to bus service, a billion-dollar bus rapid transit expansion and a $54-billion light- rail expansion plan that would build 62 miles of light-rail in a project that will extend into the 2030s. The improved bus service has meant the build- out of priority bus lanes and higher frequencies, with buses coming every four to six minutes, Glass-Hastings says. The state also requires large employers to enact programs that encourage alternatives to workers driving alone to work, resulting in commuter-benefit programs.

The lesson, says Glass-Hastings: “You can’t neglect your transit system for decades, have it be in disrepair and expect people to continue to use it, especially in a day and age when alternatives are so readily available.”

The Washington, D.C. region, like many transit-centric cities, is a major player in the battle for Amazon’s second headquarters, which brings the promise of about 50,000 jobs. Glass-Hastings said H2Q could be a coup for whichever city lands it. About 95 percent of workers to the new Center City jobs commute by a mode other than driving alone, he said, and in Amazon’s case its workers’ transit costs are company-covered.

But there was a message for cities in Amazon’s preference of Seattle, he said:

“You can’t just drop 50,000 people in sort of a transit desert and expect them to seek out the bus.”

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 ( 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 (
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.

©2007 Coalition On Sustainable Transportation