The BBC ran a story yesterday that Mayor Ken Livingstone promised to drop fares on Transport London by 5 percent by October 2012 if he is elected.
Boris Johnson, by contrast, has said that he will stick to the existing formula for raising fares, which is the retail price index plus 2 percent.
So that formula says it all; it’s a policy-level move to shift more of the burden onto the users themselves.
Sure enough, that’s what the Beeb’s numbers suggest, showing that users are covering about 54 percent of TCL’s costs–certainly not bad by any measure to US operators.
The other part of the story I don’t quite understand–they’re arguing over a surplus, which is not a word I’m used to seeing in transit finance, and I can’t quite figure out if there is an actual surplus or there isn’t–or there was, but central government austerity measures meant the agency used that surplus already.
What do you think of the approach? At least with a formula, transit riders would know what kind of fare increases to budget for, as I think US austerity measures are likely to pull back on federal support for transit very hard.
Ok, so the answer to the question I pose is, inevitably: we haven’t spent enough on transit yet. However, the mode choice numbers in a report this morning from the American Community Survey discourage and, since I don’t take being discouraged very well, infuriate.
Let’s take a look at some of the graphics:
Blargh! WHAT? WE’RE TALKING FIVE DECADES OF TRANSIT INVESTMENT AND THE MODE SHARE AND COUNTS HAVEN’T CHANGED HARDLY AT ALL? WHA? WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT?! “Wah wah wah I don’t liiiiiiiiiike buses. I neeeeeeeed light rail plunked down all over hell and gone just like Europe. THEN I’ll stop driving.”
We’ve done our part. We’ve built rail line after rail line after rail line. We’ve been condemning sprawl since the 1980s, advocating for denser residential patterns since roughly the same time. Living in the suburbs in our popular media is treated as the moral equivalent of being fat or smoking. DAVID FREAKING BYRNE IS WRITING ABOUT HOW COOL IT IS TO BIKE IN CITIES FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD. We’ve romanticized places like New York and Portland. WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE, PEOPLE?
With mode shares, the percentage taking transit masks the fact that more people are taking transit in 2009 than in 1960, but still. In reality, this time period reflects a changing geographic distribution of the US population where, yes, people left the precious central city for the suburbs (something that doesn’t seem to have hurt NYC-NJ transit one little bit, BTW), but people also left rural areas for metropolitan areas. These numbers should be shifting simply by virtue of that phenomenon.
So that graphic shows the commute counts. Maybe commutes just aren’t shifting and we’d see a different story from 1960 to 2010 if we had leisure travel here.
So transit operators should advocate for open borders because immigrants are good customers.
This last one may be too hard to see. The report is freely available (until the Republicans decide to shut down the Census), so go look at the report.
Thirty years ago in public transit, there was NYC, and then there was everybody else. Today, apparently, it’s still NYC and everybody else.
I don’t see happy things ahead in terms of changing these numbers, especially with big systems like BART reducing frequencies, even with higher gas prices.
Blargh. Bad way to start my day.
I live 4 miles from downtown. I went to dinner downtown with some of my colleagues. I turned down a ride as nobody was going in my direction.
I left my cell phone in the office. This was a terrible tragedy.
Went to Union Station, got on the purple line, went from Union Station to Wilshire/Western. I got off, waited 30 minutes for Metro Rapid bus.
Onboard, the changable message sign does not flash the next stop. No, it flashes super-useful information, like the date.
The bus driver, who is supposed to verbally announce the stops, doesn’t. I miss Crenshaw and Wilshire and finally realize this when I see La Brea pass. Damn! I pull the cord. It’s an express, so it finally lets me off at Fairfax.
Now, in theory, that’s my fault. But having the date instead of the next stop is truly useless in every possible regard. Oh, there’s the date. How splendid. I can now write checks on the bus and be sure I have used the proper date.
I get out and cross the street to get on a Metro 720 bus eastbound. I wait 20 minutes for that.
I ask the driver as I get on: “Do you stop at Wilshire and Crenshaw?” “Yah” he grunts.
Again, no next stop information on the changeable message sign, which helpfully shows me the date and time. He doesn’t announce it either.
So I stand in the center aisle hunched over looking at the street signs in the dark as they whiz by.
Aha! Wilshire and Crenshaw is the next stop. I reach to pull the cord, but somebody is reaching faster than me, and they get to it first.
The bell rings. The sign says “Stop requested: please use rear door exist.”
Alrighty! I can use the rear-door exit. It’s my favorite, in fact.
But, alas, the driver slows down for the stop at Crenshaw, sees the light is green, and then accelerates past the stop without stopping or opening his doors.
Me and 4 other people yell “WTF?”
The next stop is Wilshire and Western, where I first alighted the 720 an hour ago to trundle along the same stretch of Wilshire BLVD twice.
Third time is the charm. After another 20 minute wait, another 720 comes, and I pull the cord immediately.
He stops! It’s magical.
We get out. I walk over to the Metro 710 sign. A nice lady says to me: “That doesn’t run at night. You have to take the 210.” There is not a single map of the route posted. There is not a single schedule posted. Were it not for that woman, I would have had no way of knowing that the 710 doesn’t run at that time of night because waiting an hour for a bus is not unusual in my experience.
During this time, I have not seen a single taxi.
So I go stand at the 210 station. It is pitch black except for headlights on Wilshire and some sad streetlights.
I wait for 45 minutes. I see a taxi coming, but the 210 is right behind.
Eh, I think. I’ll save the 10 bucks and take the bus. I let the taxi go by.
I look up. The 210 bus now says “Not in Service.”
I utter words you can not put on a family blog and I turn around and walk 1.7 miles from Wilshire/Crenshaw home, to Crenshaw on Washington, at 10 o’clock at night.
As I turn the corner from Crenshaw& Washington, 500 yards from my house, a taxi turns around and says “Honey, let me give you a ride. You don’t need to walk in this neighborhood at night.”
My travel time: approximately 4 hours.
The Journal of Transport and Land Use always has good things in it, and this time out is no exception. I’ll pull out two papers to discuss this week.
The first is from fellow UCLA alumni and now assistant professor at Columbia University, David King. His manuscript is
King, D., 2011, Developing Densely: Estimating the Effect of Subway Growth on New York City Land Uses The Journal of Transport and Land Use, 4(2), pp. 19-32.
From the abstract:
Abstract:In the early twentieth century, New York City’s population, developed land area, and subway network size all increased dramatically. The rapid expansion of the transit system and land development present intriguing questions as to whether land development led subway
growth or if subway expansion was a precursor to real estate development. The research described in this article uses Granger causality models based on parcel-level data to explore the co-development of the subway system and residential and commercial land uses, and attempts to determine whether subway stations were a leading indicator of residential and commercial development or if subway station expansion followed residential and commercial construction. The results of this study suggest that the subway network developed in an orderly fashion and grew densest in areas where there was growth in commercial development. There is no evidence that subway growth preceded residential development throughout the city. These results suggest that subway stations opened in areas already well-served by the system and that network growth often followed residential and commercial development. ăe subway network acted as an agent of decentralization away from lower Manhattan as routes and stations were sought in areas with established ridership demand.
This is a wonderfully written paper, and I can’t claim any particular objectively because I think David is the shizzle. However, it’s worth chatting about the paper in some depth.
In this introduction, King notes three factors that reinforced the idea that the subway followed people rather the other way around:
1. The subways were developed by private transit companies with public financing. These companies were not real estate developers: they relied on fares alone for their business. I strongly suspect that this is the biggest single factor in the story he has to tell. If you are a private company, you don’t pour capital investment into places unless you are pretty clear that there are going to be passengers. Contrast this behavior with the behavior of pork-barrel, get-my-slice-of-the-capital-funding-pie-no-matter-how-few-passengers-there-are temptations of public funding for capital improvements.
2. There was no real zoning prior to the 1960s, so developers could cram as many units as they could pencil out into the parcels they owned.
3. Land values were on the rise, which would reinforce #2, and which drove manufacturing off Manhattan in favor of offices–so that we today can stroll around Manhattan and oooh and aaaah at its sustainable urban form populated by, among others, billionaire I-bankers holding the reigns of a capitalist machine that is currently eating the entire universe. But they live in apartments and walk more than everybody else, so they must be The Better Environmental People.
Anyhoozily, I am not the world’s biggest fan of Granger models, but King’s application of them is clever here. To make a long story short, the models look for a first period change in a variable that correlates with a second period change in different variables. King sets up the analysis to look at both possible directions: subway supply change lagged against real estate development (the subway following the people hypothesis) and the alternative, development lagged against subway supply (the people follow the subway hypothesis).
He tests against both commercial and residential development, and he finds that there is no support for the belief that the subways were speculative–that is, that they came before the development. Instead, subways followed development, and commercial real estate most importantly.
One quibble is that I wish he’d left Staten Island in the analysis. He drops it because it’s not a part of the subway network, but I think that makes for an interesting control. Another swing at the questions King brings up concerns whether there is a change in the rate of development once the station appears.
David King blogs about transportation over at Getting From Here To There.
I got this in the mail from Brookings this morning:
This Thursday, August 18, the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program will release a report that analyzes how well public transit systems serve households that do not own cars and so have few other transportation options.
Transit Access and Zero Vehicle Households uncovers, for the first time, the fact that 700,000 households across the country have no access to cars or transit and so are severely constrained in getting to jobs and commercial centers. This presents a significant challenge to metros working to grow their economies, which, in turn, presents a challenge to our nation’s economic future.
The report will go live on the Brookings Metropolitan Policy Program website at 10 AM ET on 8/18. Accompanying the new report will be individual profiles showing how the country’s 100 largest metros perform individually in this area.
Also on Thursday, we will be launching an online interactive mapping tool that uses Bing maps technology to analyze transit data for all 100 metropolitan areas. This tool will give users a wealth of information on how well transit systems perform.
If you have any questions in advance of this release, please feel free to contact Rachel Harvey, 202.797.6073, firstname.lastname@example.org, or John Fairbanks, 202.797.6087, email@example.com.
Heaven help them if there is the vaguest hint that transit in NYC could improve its service in any way, shape, or form given the histrionics that greeted their last report…
This topic has arisen quite often given our Federal budget brinkmanship: would transit in the US be better off with devolution?
Let’s define some terms. Devolution is the political science speak for movement of fiscal and governance responsibility from higher to lower levels of governments–usually federal to state governments. Traditionally, the governance of cities has been a complex blend of home rule and state statute, and since I am not a lawyer and don’t play one on tv, I can’t explain much more than that.
My grouchy libertarian (actually quite genteel and decent) colleagues tend to refer to transit funding in the US as “making bets with other people’s money.” That is, the transit revival so far in the US, with a few notable exceptions like much of the LA system, has been funded via cracking into Federal revenues, largely from gas taxes, for regional transit projects (capital investment). Perhaps nothing embodies the old lobbying adage that “this issue isn’t going to go away until we pass it” more than transit advocacy–unless perhaps high speed rail advocacy. And advocates have been successful, even if they don’t have the funds they’d like.
Beginning in 1992, the US opened progressively more of gas tax revenues to nonhighway purposes. In fact, in the tradition of “not going away” to get funding at the Federal level, I’d argue, prompted a bunch of livable city folks to begin advocating for Federal support of bike and pedestrian projects. (And there is money used for those; if you are going to allocate Federal cash for projects and expect a match, localities are able to afford much more in the way of bike and pedestrian stuff even if nominally it has to look like the money for those things comes from their funds.)
Many people have grumped about Federal funding for transit another such local/regional projects, and I’m one of those, with caveats. It’s not clear to me that Federal taxpayers should pay for the sidewalk outside my door. I realize that the earth will crash into the sun at the mere mention of property taxes, but land value improvements that I capture directly as homeowner, like sidewalks, are what property taxes or private homeowner association fees are for.
Arguably, local leaders would make more prudential developments if they were to be accountable to their constituents for investing wisely, instead of what they are accountable for now–chasing for their share extra-jurisdictional dollars.
I’m not particularly sympathetic to whining that roads got their investment at the Federal level and now fairness requires that transit get its fair share. I tend to reserve social justice arguments for people rather than modes, and if we want to support transit for civil rights reasons, let’s do so based on those compelling reason—and do it right, by concentrating the dollars in the communities, projects, and services where civil rights and access are most needed rather than overcapitalizing into low-density, low-employment suburbs because of political payola.
I also don’t expect Federal taxpayers to pay for the pothole outside my door.
Federal gas taxes were initially dedicated for an interstate system, which we did, in fact, build (though some may be surprised to remember that the “urban freeways” they deplore do connect into a larger network). So the Federal role in high speed rail money makes far more sense, in terms of network coordination and connectivity, than the idea that Federal taxpayers should be on the hook for the Crenshaw Line Light rail (wonderful project though it is) or the Number 8 express busline in Upper Sandusky.
Federal involvement in transit also has led to a heavy capital bias in transit investment, prompting local and regional agencies to build transit projects, again and again, that they can’t afford to run with any frequency. This leads to a wider geographic coverage for transit–which probably still isn’t wide enough to deal with spreading regions–and with lower frequencies than really make for high service quality. (And sprawl is bad, bad, bad, evil and terrible! The worst thing ever! There? Will that sentence keep some of you land-use people outta my grill for the purposes of this post? Can I talk about something else now? Thanks.)
Transit has been on the teeter-tottery edge of those issues and criticisms for a long time. Why can’t New York pay for its own subways? Or Los Angeles? Or anywhere? That’s why we have local taxes and general funds, right? If you want transit, don’t go holler at the feds. Make it happen if you want it. Perhaps there would be a greater chance of that self-helping if leaders know that the buck really began and stopped with them, and they might instead be much more careful to match investments to operations.
The US Congress is overly dominated by rural interests, and many of us for years have argued that this creates a hostile environment for transit funding in the first place, as many rural senators wonder: “what’s in it for my constituents?” and the ineffectual spreading of scarce resources around to systems that aren’t particularly viable or worth investing in. Porky McPorktown.
This graphic appeared in the Economist (where I have been a devoted subscriber for a very long time; please don’t sue me) accompanying this story about US Federal spending by donors and recipients of Federal largesse:
I encourage you to read the entire story. This is about all Federal spending, and I’d rather like to dig into their numbers when I get time. This map, I suspect, would be basically the same if it were to map out gas tax revenues and disbursements. The big states, like New York and California, give more than they get. The states with Senator Bedfellows making careers out of yammering on about the evil Feds get a lot more than they give. Who can explain these politics? I can’t.
So if places like California, New York, Illinois, and Minnesota were running their own budgetary shop, they could keep the revenues they are currently sending to Portland and Memphis and Charlotte.
Here’s the glitch: these donor state are only fiscally better off with Federal gas tax elimination or erosion if those donor states prove capable of passing a gas tax on its residents equal to or better than the 18 cents a gallon [- whatever the Feds give away to other jurisdictions]. And I’m not seeing that happen, at least not in California. Maybe in Minnesota. Maybe in New York, or Massachusetts. Maybe.
And there’s another question: would there have been a Portland at all if there hadn’t been Federal taxation, redistribution, and willingness to invest in smaller regions? It’s not clear that Portland wouldn’t have been willing or able to raise the money for its own perky transit miracle, but I have my doubts as to whether Portland as a region would have evolved as it had had it not been for their aggressive pursuit of Federal funding early on.
Wouldn’t many people feel rather bad about that?
The politicos are the fanboys that advocate for every transit project under the sun, no matter how much of a boondoggle, because they know that spreading the money around is the right way to keep the money flowing.
The technos are the fanboys who actually do analysis and think that money should go to effective service and projects. If you are going to live in a reductive world, I’m probably a techno. (I reduced, not Alon, who goes on to discuss the camps in far more nuance and detail.)
Here is Alon’s attempt to reconcile the two:
Ultimately, the two camps are on the same side when it comes to supporting a transit revival. However, the strategies are diametrically opposed. Ask Clem Tillier or Systemic Failure’s Drunk Engineer how to do it and they’ll propose modernizing the regulations, minimizing community impact through smart engineering to reduce NIMBYism, and making sure to build the most cost-effective projects in order to appeal to fiscal conservatives. Ask a political, such as Bruce McF, and he’ll propose to build locally popular projects and spread money around until there’s a critical mass of train riders willing to lobby for more cost-effective regulations. The two camps’ goal is the same, and there can be agreement on individual issues such as the need for FRA reform or support or opposition for specific projects, but the general strategies have the opposite sequences of steps.
I’m dubious of that description, but if it fits the sites Alon reads, perhaps he is right. For me, anecdotally, I personally don’t know as I believe in a transit revival. I’m not sure I even really know what a transit revival really is, as I don’t believe there was a golden age of transit to begin with, and if there was one, it took place in regions that are entirely different than the metropolitan regions we’re staring at today: smaller, less affluent, less connected trade-flows, etc. I think there was a prior age of hot and crowded streetcars contemporary transit fanboys can look back on with adoration because they never had to ride the damn things. (But that were, nevertheless, useful in providing mobility to people without the means to have a car or a cart, and thus, worth having.)
The way I see it: I’ve got a job, and that job is to train urban planners and policy professionals to work effectively in transit agencies, and that means you have to understand both the technical side and the political side. That way, when the political side spends billions on a train to some far-flung, voter-rich suburb, your technical side can explain the empty train in techy, importanty-sounding terms and keep your job.
A bit more seriously, transit is a fact of life in urban areas; it’s an urban service. There’s cost-effective, useful transit, and there are projects that pretty much such suck up billions and keep construction companies and politicians happy. My job as a researcher is to help sort between those and try to get more to fall in the first camp than the latter, or–home run–derive cost-effective services that make politicians and a whole bunch of other people happy. My job as a teacher is to help my students become the sort of professionals who can walk through the minefield, contribute to the endeavor of good cities and good government (yes, I believe in those things), even though we wind up falling short more often than we’d like. I tend to teach the technical stuff because by the time they get to graduate school in planning, they have drunk deeply from the religion of advocacy. They don’t need me to teach how to scream and shake their fist on transit’s behalf, or to blither on for hours about how it fights obesity, stems pollutions, creates jobs, turns grey skies to blue, and builds community. They already know how to do those things–and I can’t help with the agency-level politics because I’ve never been able to stand to work as anything other than a freelancer. Instead, I try to help them understand dwell time models, capacity calculations, signalization, and the pros and cons of mid-block stops.
One thing I will note: the technos and the polticos have one thing in common: virtually all of the places Alon and Salam talk about on their blogs are fanboy sites.
Can’t a girl play?
Transport has always been male dominated, and in the loudmouth world of transit advocacy, that’s been especially the case. But there are girls out here, too, fellas.
While the US is busy dealing with its self-made debt
hairpulling crisis and Carmageddon, Australia actually decided do something useful with its time: pass a carbon tax.
Now, forgive me, Australians, because even though I think of myself as an intelligent person, I can’t get myself to remember that Australia has one “i” in it. I’m an American, and so I consider myself well-educated and cosmopolitan because I a) know you exist at all and b) can find you on a map and c) know who your federal leaders are. I know the metric system too! Praise me.
Anyhoodily, here is a collection of things I’ve been reading about the carbon tax.
Timothy Hurst for Reuters a pro op-ed
“It’s going to be fine, people had a lot of warning,” said Lisa Schweitzer, a professor of urban planning at the University of Southern California.
Yeah, stand back. I gots a me a PhD.
However, I have to say, this reporter for the AP, Daisy Nyugen, was a pleasant lady to chat with. I’m just sad I didn’t say anything smarter for her to use.
If you’re upset that there are no trains on the west side of LA to help you cope with the 405 going off line, here are a few words of advice:
1. Don’t kill the next subway proposal that comes along after it has a construction problem, a problem which could easily be engineered for (like an improperly capped oil site with trapped methane, which wasn’t the agency’s fault, btw–private company’s fault), and don’t use that as a thinly veiled rationale upon which to indulge your rampaging NIMBYism.
2. Don’t get your US representative to write riders into Federal law that you can’t build subways anywhere along the most-promising westside LA route.
3. Don’t get your County Supervisor to spearhead an initiative to prevent any local options sales tax funding being spent on subways in the region (thereby restricting everybody else to slow-as-molasses light rail while indulging your NIMBYism).
4. Do try to get over your spoiled, entitled gazillionaire selves long enough to pull your heads out of your fanny to recognize that transit service–particularly the gold-plated billion-dollar system you will get simply for being your special, special selves–is a residential amenity.
Because, you see, if you hadn’t done any of the first 3, and if you had done #4, you’d have a subway down Wilshire already, and perhaps a parallel route to the 405 because Metro wouldn’t have had to waste years coddling you, handling every proposal that affects the west side with kid gloves, and putting off construction anywhere near you people because every time they do, they walk into a billion-dollar political shitstorm.
Just a few tips from your Auntie Lisa.
One of my favorite people, Peter McFerrin*, has a nice entry in the New Republic blogs about private transit services as a possible means for serving suburb-to-suburb commutes, a trip that municipal transit services, with their orientation downtown, have struggled to serve.
Peter argues that fiscal crisis in recent years has caused agencies to cut back routes that are likely to serve these commutes, and that private jitney services could step in:
Outside of the West, where geographic constraints have resulted in higher suburban development densities than in Midwestern, Northeastern, or Southern metros, transit agencies have had great difficulty making suburb-to-suburb service financially sustainable even in good times. Poor pedestrian connectivity depresses ridership, while high mileage per passenger increases costs, especially for fuel. As a result, many suburb-to-suburb bus routes recover barely more than ten percent of their operating costs from fares. In times of fiscal retrenchment, such unproductive routes represent a serious drain on transit agencies’ precarious finances, arguably preventing resources from being shifted to routes that might benefit more riders.
The problem, described in this way, becomes apparent: how do jitney services make their money if this is the service environment they are working in?
McFerrin is less explicit here (blog entries in real blogs, unlike this one, are usually short), but the experience in other parts of the world suggests:
1) jitney services use primarily nonunionized labor, unlike all the major regional transit agencies in the US, and thus have much lower operating costs for every vehicle that is on the road;
2) they can pursue a flexible pricing structure, unlike transit agencies that have to set fares by policy and thus, must respond to multiple public objectives—most of which mean that fares are kept low; and
3) they can pursue flexible routing, cutting service times, because they are not required to cover the geography as comprehensively as municipal or regional transit companies.
*Because he is one of my favorite people, I am both a) very proud and happy for him and b) hideously jealous. I love TNR!