TAP card discontent and the Daily News

The LA MTA got hit again with another negative story in the Daily News, reporting that the platform turnstiles, because they only work with turnstiles, are boondoggle, TAP implementation is rushed, etc

But the first rule of implementation is that everything takes longer, costs more, and is messier than you want.

One transit advocates argues that they should just give up:

“It’s a boondoggle,” said Kymberleigh Richards, the public and legislative affairs director at Southern California Transit Advocates. “We are never going to get ($154 million) in lost fares out of this. At $1.50 a ride, how many fare evaders do you have to catch to make back ($154 million)?”

link: MTA’s $46M system of locking turnstiles sits unused, waiting for fare cards to be adopted – LA Daily News

We’ll see.

LA’s 298-foot route bullet train from Not The Los Angeles Times

Oh, I just love parodies and spoofs, and this one had me roaring:

The plan won quick support from L.A. City Council members. “One of the things we like about this project is that it costs so darn much money,” Councilman Eric Garcetti said. “Let’s face it – we’re not that good at fiscal responsibility, so it’s better to focus on what we do well.”

link: L.A. plans bullet train for Angels Flight

Just think of space-time hijinks we could get up to!

Then there’s this:

Acting decisively, L.A. city officials today adopted a strongly worded resolution that wishes the city’s budget deficit would “go away really soon, like in the next three months or so.”

Alleged Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa drafted the statement after rejecting calls for Los Angeles to declare bankruptcy or shrink its bloated pension system.

After the resolution passed, Villaraigosa and several City Council members climbed onto their unicorns and rode off into a rainbow-filled sunset.

L.A. City Council passes resolution wishing budget deficit would go away

HT to Donald Shoup

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Todd Litman responds to Steve Polzin on valuing time on transit

Valuing The Precious Hours Of Our Lives | Planetizen

Todd Litman, a productive writer and thinker in transportation and transit, responds to Steve Polzin’s entry about how we focus on highway congestion delays but seldom on transit delays, The Cost of Slow Travel.

Unfortunately, the response misses the point and an opportunity to think strategically about transit and service. Instead, it’s misdirected advocacy. I’ve been watching this dynamic happen time and time again for years now. Somebody raises a criticism of transit, and the advocacy army responds and responds and responds and responds–only without addressing the original problem. And as a result, we have lots of political interest and investment in transit, but decreasing productivity from that investment. Which just makes transit the target for more criticism. This is one of the reasons that when loudmouth comments get made on this blog, I take the time to respond back. No matter how much thought policing we do around transit, we won’t get as many passengers as we could unless the service improves.

Polzin’s article wasn’t an indictment of transit quality of service, at least not entirely. It legitimately called attention to how level of service and aggregate delays on highways get to be the subject of a high-profile report every year–from TTI–while transit service quality gaps get ignored–except by the people struggling to use it. That high-profile report? It gets used as a rationale for proposals from highway investment, investments in signal timing, intelligent highways, intelligent vehicles, information systems and–yes, transit as well. In transportation, “needs assessments” are generally all about demonstrating service quality problems. “Heavens! So many people use our highways/bikeways/streetcars/shuttles that we need more! Our service is poor compared to elsewhere. We need more dollars, please.”

So pointing out the length of transit commutes in time is not necessarily somebody being a meanypants who doesn’t support transit the way he or she should. Instead, it’s a realistic appraisal of one aspect of mobility service quality, period.

Yes, service quality. People tend to like to separate travel time and service quality based on the arguments, like Litman uses, that the time in transit or walking is more pleasurable and productive than being in a car. But they are only right for people whose preferences align with theirs. For other segments of the mobility market, they are wrong. Moreover, it’s wrong to assume that these are the only things being traded: yeah, you hate to drive and you’d be happier not driving, but the extra half an hour that transit takes you means a half an hour you’re not with your kids, cooking, drinking wine with your spouse at home, watching the game, or any number of things you can’t do on transit, either. So yeah, I’d prefer to get the exercise walking than driving, but I prefer to spend the time cooking so that my kids aren’t sitting around hungry after school more than I prefer the exercise. Some people weight that in the opposite direction. I suspect that if there is a 10 minute difference between transit and driving, transit wins just about every time. But a half-hour difference? When do we begin to lose people? That’s the question. The next question is: can we close that gap in service without going bankrupt?

Transit advocates and car users can trade assertions about service quality for the rest of eternity and it won’t help us figure out the social welfare problem of mobility provision in cities. Transit advocates tell me that they much prefer the jolly, wonderful time they have on transit. When I ride transit, which is a lot, I mostly just listen to my iPod and try not to get barfed on. It is never the best of part my day, and it is sometimes the worst part of my day. My suspicion is that most drivers feel the same way. Most days it is fine, other days it sucks.

Transit advocates tell me about the inhumane hours and hours of despair that people in cars endure. People who use their cars to commute from Orange County to Los Angeles tell me about how they use the time to listen to books on tape and it’s not so bad. New Urbanists tell me that walking in the city is the best part of their day. I’m not sure: on the way to the post office this morning, I had an aggressive panhandler shriek “GIVE ME A QUARTER, BITCH” in my face as he burst from an alley, startling me so much that my heart palpitated for a good 10 minutes afterwards. I’m no pansy, but I’m betting my day has better parts than that. Maybe this doesn’t happen in Seaside.

The point is that preferences are largely unknowable except to people doing the preferring. We can argue that the auto’s dominance is a revealed preference and that’s that. We can and do argue that transit isn’t supplied ubiquitously enough to argue that auto usage does not represent a revealed preference, but rather a choice made under mobility supply constraints. It’s impossible to tell because we can’t conduct controlled experiments and there are too many endogenous factors. Who is to say that people with genuine preferences for particular types of urban lifestyles aren’t self-selecting at the regional level? That the preferences are not revealed soley by neighborhood choices and mode choices made within regions but–as I strongly suspect–people who love love love the type of urbanism that Litman and others advocate select into places likes New York and Portland and San Francisco?

The Slow Cities idea is directed, particularly, at changing people’s preferences, not arguing that transit is objectively time competitive. So transit takes you longer. So what? You are saving the planet. You are not driving. Isn’t that nice? Don’t you feel relaxed not rushing?

We can also argue forever about the regional productivity numbers for either highways or transit, no matter how many scientifical-looking graphics Litman or anybody else shows me. Honest researchers admit we have little real understanding about whether, at this stage of the game in American development, investments in mobility infrastructure* drive labor productivity or whether productivity drives investment (remember my needs assessment statement). Yes, we have theories that argue the former and the latter. And empirical testing once again becomes Herculean because we don’t have controls.

In the end, if transit commutes are longer, they will not be competitive with other modes for those whose preferences run towards time savings over not driving. If we’re willing to bet that group is a small part of the market instead of a big part of the market, that’s one thing. I’m not willing to take that bet. I’d rather take seriously the issue of why transit commutes are longer to see if modifying operations can edge into that share of the mobility market.

*Save for airport and freight investments. There we have reasonable data.

The transit conundrum on Planetizen and planners in denial

Steve Polzin has a nice essay up on Planetizen about time wasted traveling on transit:

The Cost of Slow Travel | Planetizen

He points out that there is abundant handwringing about the “costs of congestion” when the Texas Transportation Institute’s report comes out every year. Polzin applies the same logic of the “costs of congestion” to transit, which doesn’t make him very popular with the commenters. But the quality of their logic and reasoning is remarkably poor. I would hope for better trained people than this, and I hope that the comments reflect those of planning groupies rather than professional planners.

Because Polzin is right. He may be wrong about the usefulness of productivity loss logic or some need to be “fair” about congestion tallies. In general, I don’t think productivity losses are an important issue in transport most of the time. We know what the answers are: if congestion on any service gets bad, we ration it with tolls and supply alternatives and then think about adding supply. People can be trusted to make good decisions about whether a trip is worth making based on their own preferences and resources.

Many of the comments boil down to: transit is better because it’s better and your metric is dumb and corporate bunkum, so nyah. Jerry Springer/Bill O’Reilly/Michael Moore/Glen Beck reasoning and argument: if I shout loud enough, act snotty enough, and demonize you, I must be right. Blither blither. My bike commute is wonderful. My walking commute is the best part of my day. It doesn’t matter what you enjoy. It doesn’t matter if walking or biking are fun. Those are separate modes, sometimes complementary, other times competing, with transit.

Polzin’s essay should remind us that the problem of excess travel time on transit translates to lower patronage, just like congestion on roadways does. Without riders–and we’ve spent billions on transit chasing passengers that have only somewhat materialized–we can’t fix cities with transit. We have to have patrons. And if transit commutes are too long or too unpleasant, we won’t get those passengers. We’ve tried all the “high-moral-ground” arguments in the world surrounding transit since the 1970s. We’ve whined that the cards are stacked against public transit; we’ve whined about auto subsidies; bootyhootyhootyhoo. And yet, the bottom line is that nobody in the real world cares if transit faces an unfair disadvantage in funding or anything else.

They just want to get places in a reasonable amount of time in a reasonable amount of comfort.

And we haven’t supplied that.

Our problem is that walking, biking, and autos generally outcompete transit in quality, including time. No amount of whining or wishful thinking fixes that. It’s a thorny, thorny problem, and it’s a problem we have everywhere in the world–not just the United States. Transit is a difficult service to supply well: it congests fast, and hanging on the strap crushed between passengers when you have a bum hip or arthritis can make 10 minutes feel like an hour. Transit companies promise us comfort and convenience and they can only deliver that under impossible conditions: we need more urban density planners cry. Sure. Bring those origins and destinations closer together. But the more passengers they get, the more you feel like you’re riding in a cattle car. As soon as the last butt takes the last seat in transit, we’re operating in conditions where service quality isn’t as high any more. Under those conditions, transit had better be dirt cheap and really fast compared to cars, walking, or taxis. And it’s not: it’s getting more and more expensive in terms of fares, and it’s always generally been slower save for exceptional places.

This is a much more daunting reality to face than the one where people just don’t take transit because they simply don’t know how wonderful it is, we just haven’t received enough billions to make it work, or people are just too selfish to want to save the planet like we planners. This line of argument goes straight in the operational challenges of transit, rather than simply viewing as projects we “win” or lines on a map.

LA’s Bus Bench Blog coverage of the LA MTA’s TAP card woes

Maybe I am being unfair (I probably am), but the LA MTA does various and sundry things that are so counterproductive it makes me crazy sometimes. So on the one hand, we are stridently building building building rail every second of every minute of every day so we can say “LOOOOK! We have trains! We are a great big grown-up world city metro region like New York! WE are!! REALLY REALLY REALLY are!!” and yet they can’t seem to figure out how to implement a smartcard fare system. Is it just me, or do systems around the galaxy manage to do this without all the drama and hair-pulling that the MTA has both introduced and suffered through? I know they have a bigger problem than systems in other places with fewer buses on the road, but it’s not like they haven’t thrown money at this issue.

Am I just thinking this is an LA problem just because I’m seeing it up close? Was I hallucinating when I had one card that allowed me to go from the bus to the train to the bus and the tube and back in London? Do other regions have these problems in implementation?

My TAP card works great, but mine is handled through a yearly pass paid for via direct deposit. Andy has gotten to the point where he won’t even try to renew his on the bus–it’s too much hassle–and will only use it if he can renew it on the train. Otherwise, he goes with the cash fare.

Here are a collection of stories on the TAP card, including a sad story about Metro operators who have been accused of taking money:

The Bus Bench: One of three Metro TAP card “embezzlement” cases dropped

The Bus Bench: Tired of TAP Crap? Here is Metro’s daydream from 2007.

The Bus Bench: Punch on Duty: New TAP Card Policy Places Onus on Customer

The Bus Bench: Metro Prepares to Silently Concede Busload of TAP Card Problems

Californians wake up to the reality of major projects like HSR

Cities not on track with California’s plan for high-speed rail system – latimes.com

This story is about a Buena Park Mayor faced with the loss of a TOD and station area he fostered because of the high speed rail. So not only do we have to throw money at a new system, we’re going to use those fund to undo a project that we just threw money at. Is there really, seriously, no better design than one that takes out a TOD? .