Nate Silver thinks he knows transit, and doesn’t
Over at Five Thirty Eight, Nate Silver takes a swing at the Brookings study that I highlighted the other day. I wrote a rather lengthy response because Silver is just so off the mark that I responded (late at night, when I was tired, so I sound like an idiot) and I’ll respond here:
Given how little Silver knows about transit and transportation, the declaration that the Brookings study “”asks the wrong question” is way off the mark. There are a lot of mode choice studies in the world that have already asked the questions that Silver seems to think are the right and important ones. Just because he hasn’t read these studies doesn’t mean these questions haven’t already been asked and answered–a lot. Nor does it mean that Brookings was wrong for not replicating the hundreds of mode choice studies already out there. So the question “do people have a choice?” Is VERY well mined in the research. The subsidiary question “What are the characteristics of those choices” is also thoroughly mined.
And all of these studies find pretty much what Silver is banging on about–that NYC and these other regional big systems come out well in terms of individual mode choice. It’s just that Brookings is also right–the world doesn’t need another study that finds that lots of people in New York take public transit. We already know that.
Instead, what Brookings is trying to get at is the geographic supply of jobs and transit. They are looking for supply CONSTRAINTS, NOT demand. And that’s worth looking at. The question they ask is:assuming you have residential access to transit (a subset of the population), and you’d like to take it, could you feasibly get to a job? That’s a good question because it hasn’t been answered as much, and the answers give us some clues as to why transit is often less popular as a commute mode than it might be.
Nowhere in their report does it say that Modesto transit is “better” than NYC. Instead, the interpretation is, simply, that a higher percentage of people who have transit can get to a higher percentage of area jobs. With a measure of jobs and transit coverage like this, geographically small regions are BOUND to rank better than larger ones, which is unfortunate, but hardly impossible to interpret within the context of existing transit research.
God, people. Does EVERY study about transit have to WET ITS PANTS about NYC/SF/Boston to tell us a piece of the puzzle about transit service quality? How’s about if everybody who studies transit starts off each manuscript with:
New York City is the bestest of the bestest. Except for Tokyo, which kicks its ass. But New York is really best. Best best best. Nothing better in the whole land. Best, I tell you, BEST!
Now may I ask a question about public transit where the answer isn’t New York? Because there are other places in the world that aren’t New York, and transit is meant to work there, too.