Saturday, December 30, 2006
Friday, December 29, 2006
Thursday, December 28, 2006
Little Rock AR - I had to laugh reading the story reported on KATV-7's web site. Apparently there is one more cost issue effecting light rail and streetcar operations and that is theft of copper.
To combat the thefts of copper grounding wires from the Little Rock trolley line, the additional expense of cameras and video monitoring of the track now need to be added to the price of running the Little Rock trolley line.
Copper theft from rail lines is nothing new. It's been going on practically since the days of the first electric streetcars. When copper prices rise, so do the thefts of any copper a thief can get their hands from electric rail lines.
It's a cost that rarely is considered in the building and operation of the line but it adds up quickly.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Washington DC - Bloomberg.com reports that Washington DC is now jumping on the streetcar bandwagon. The reasons given are all of the standard boiler plate Light Rail Transit (LRT) arguments which proponents try to overwhelm the general public with.
Once again we hear about the economic boom times that are ahead once the line is built. We hear about all the development that will occur. We hear how it will reduce traffic. We hear how it will clear the air. We don't hear one word about if it will actually move people any better than a decently operated bus route could.
We even receive an environmental brow beating from Eleanor Holmes Norton (D), Washington's delegate to Congress. "Light rail is the wave of the future if you care about the environment" Holmes tells us.
As stated in an earlier Laurels & Lances article, it is unclear as to how well rail lines actually help the environment. Rail lines, like streetcars, don't reduce pollution near as much as proponents claim. The traffic will still be there and congestion will increase. Cars and trucks will be spewing more pollution into the air from the increased congestion. Pollution will still be generated to run the streetcar, albeit at a distant power plant. The environmental claims of reduced pollution for LRT and its offshoots are a dubious claim at best.
The line is planned to run by the new Washington National's ballpark set to open in 2008. The ballpark is what will spur development in one of Washington DC's poorest neighborhoods, not the streetcar line. We'll never know that once the rail proponents start spinning the facts and claim anything that is built in the area, including the ballpark, is proof that streetcars spurred the development.
What is often overlooked in these deals are that the poorest residents, the same ones that the politicians claim they want to help, will be displaced. The poorest residents will be pushed out so development can occur. This little fact is one of the most glossed over items of revitalization efforts in any city. The politicians and pro-side activist groups will end up getting the residents all excited about having their neighborhood and life quality improving so that none of them will question anything until they get a court order to move out so a developer can build a condo. Rather than actually improve the lives of its residents through proper education and proper investment in the community, cities opt for unneeded capital projects which ultimately force the "problem" out of their area and into another area.
Although the city is financing to build this line, it eventually will be dropped onto the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority's (WMATA) lap to operate. WMATA is already facing a multi-million dollar operating deficit and this is just what they need, another fiscal black hole to try and fill.
Then there is the American Public Transit Association (APTA) comment from Bill Millar. "Washington seems to be following what many cities are doing: to see how the use of streetcars might be helpful in not only solving transportation problems, but in helping with economic-development issues", states Millar. His comments are typical of what I expect from APTA as they are just a lobbying group that routinely calls for "style over substance" transportation solutions as well as refusing to address the true problems facing the future of public transit.
While this streetcar line may actually work well, the reasons being cited as to why the line is needed are not the reasons it should be built. Not one reason given in the Bloomberg.com story is a good reason to pour millions of tax dollars into building and operating the line. It's all political spin that is based in conjecture rather than fact.
Such a streetcar line, as this one in Washington DC, should be built if it is the best transportation mode for the area. This line is not that and the proponents make no claim that it is. It's just another attempt to jump on the LRT/Streetcar bandwagon using the worn out pro-rail rhetoric.
Rep. Meyer correctly states that public transit usage is declining. While there has been a recent increase in ridership over the past couple of years, this is mostly due to higher fuel costs and the spike of ridership is already declining nationwide.
Also mentioned in the article was the point that LRT is not exactly the choice of the people living there. A survey of residents show 53% said they would not use the line. While surveys leave a lot to the imagination, the survey was commission by the City and County of Hawaii, who were pushing for the line, and it didn't come back exactly as they had hoped but they still pushed the vote through.
Rep. Meyers suggested that the residents should have a chance to vote the project up or down. There's little chance of that happening. Rail activists have done a good job spreading the word of all the "benefits" of having an expensive toy built. The residents won't believe that LRT isn't all that was promised to them until after the line is built and by then it's too late.
While there are places LRT will work well, it won't work well everywhere. My major problem with LRT are mostly the arguments made by the proponents. False promises of good times ahead if only you support building the line. I have heard the same arguments made for every rail line proposed. The proponents gloss over or ignore any problems with having an LRT line such as the cost, effects on the rest of the transit system and how much it will cost the general public. All you hear is of economic boom times and the massive development that will occur if only you support building the line.
Rail proponents from all walks of life are so desperate to get LRT lines slapped down all over North America that most refuse to even question the proposals. Questions such as, "Why is the line being proposed where it isn't needed?" and "How are you going to pay to run this line when you are already screaming about fare hikes and route cuts for your transit system?", are rarely asked by rail proponents.
Rep. Meyers has a better handle on what is happening than those that have control of the project. A rare trait in a politician these days. The whole proposal needs to be looked at again and by a neutral party that has no interest one way or the other. Traffic congestion will not be eliminated or reduced by Honolulu's multi-billion dollar LRT line. One of the major selling points to the residents is that this rail line will solve the traffic issues.
The general public need hard facts, not activist and political spin, to better understand what is happening. Pro-LRT spin is among the top for being smooth and effective among the general public. Those who dare question LRT proposals are routinely shouted down as being closed minded and being against improving the "quality of life".
A Laurel goes out to Hawaii State Representative Colleen Meyers (R) for questioning this rather ill-conceived plan.
Tuesday, December 26, 2006
Washington DC - An Associated Press story in The Examiner reports that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) is considering instituting 'congestion fares', better known as 'peak hour fares', to help reduce the $116 million budget gap the system has.
A congestion fare is being considered to help spread out the demand for WMATA services from peak periods to less busy times. By shifting a part of the crowd to less heavy travel times, WMATA hopes to increase the efficiency of some of the non-peak trips, eliminating overcrowding on peak trips as well as raking in more money from those that won't or can't change their travel times.
It is figured that if WMATA can shift 5% of it's peak hour patronage to the fringe periods of just before and after the peak period, overcrowding issues could be eliminated for awhile at least.
There is a gamble in doing such a move at many transit systems. With WMATA, the gamble is less due to more captive riders that enter the congested zones of Washington DC. Due to parking issues and greater parking expenses than in many other cities, what many would call a choice rider elsewhere are more or less a captive rider on WMATA. It is important to note that this particular type of captive rider still can abandoned transit far easier than a true captive rider.
Many critics of peak hour fares consider the increased cost as a punishment to those that choose to ride. Critics charge that it drives away ridership and is more of a cash grab by the system than tool to use to equalize demand and eliminate overcrowding. In many cases they are correct. Peak fares do punish the rush hour ridership and do keep some from riding but there is a flip side to it as well.
Transit systems are designed around the peak period. While off peak carries far less in terms of ridership, transit systems need to be set up for peak period which is the bulk of their ridership and where most of the fare box revenue comes from. To be set up for peak period service means more employees, more vehicles and more cost to operate the system. Even a bus or rail vehicle that is just sitting at the depot costs the transit system money.
That is part of the reason that various transit systems across the country have charged peak fares at one time or another from as far back as the days of the horse cars. It costs more to run peak service than it does to run off-peak since you have to have the additional infrastructure in place to handle peak periods.
While higher ridership tends to offset the higher operating costs, it doesn't offset enough of the costs. With fuel, insurance, wage and other associated costs continuing to rise, the offset between revenues and expenses continues to grow.
This is where a balance needs to be struck between off peak and peak service. Tough ridership standards need to be implemented where if a route doesn't meet its minimum ridership numbers, it needs to be cut. Too often, transit systems tend to chop the peak service and leave the unproductive off peak service alone. That trend has to stop.
If your going to charge a peak fare, riders will be less tolerant of route cuts in peak periods. In addition, riders will hold the peak service to a higher level which most transit systems these days can't meet. Riders will be even less tolerate of missed trips, crowding, etc.
To impose a peak fare requires the transit system to look at peak periods differently. This is because your now operating more or less two different operations. In a standard fare system, your just adding more vehicles for peak periods. In a peak fare system, your not only adding more vehicles but also a different fare structure and having to adjust routes more often for services like express and limited stop routes.
In some cases, peak fares actually generate more costs for the transit system in order to hold the ridership. A general rule of thumb is that for each 25 cent increase in fare, you lose around 5 percent of your ridership. This holds true with peak fares and to try and keep that peak ridership which the transit system depends on, the transit system usually ends up spending more money in various improvements such as extra buses or creating new express routes.
While WMATA hasn't decided if they are going to do the congestion charge yet, I suggest they look very closely at the issue before making the decision. It is still a gamble and if they lose the gamble, they could end up losing more money and ridership than if they just did an across the board fare increase.
Personally, I don't think the congestion charge will do what WMATA thinks it will.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
May this holiday be filled with Peace, Joy and Love
...and a personal thank you to those that have taken the time to look over my words on this blog regarding my views on improving public transit. The comments and e-mails are appreciated.
Waterford CT - A news story from the theday.com web site brings up a problem that many transit systems face, bringing transit service to shopping centers.
In Waterford, Southeast Area Transit (SEAT) has been attempting to serve the Waterford Commons shopping complex. The problem is the owners of Waterford Commons are concerned over liability issues of having buses running on their property.
SEAT seems confused over what Waterford Commons means by liability issues but from the story, it appears clear that they are referring to having the buses destroy the pavement. A common occurrence at malls and shopping centers which aren't designed for having a steady flow of heavy vehicles.
This brings up an important point. Why aren't shopping centers, malls and other such development built with transit service in mind?
Many zoning regulations don't have any mention of public transit access so developers aren't required to build to accommodate transit so the owners ignore it. While I'm not a fan of adding new regulations to the already over regulated businesses, zoning regulations for large shopping developments should include public transit access.
Many shopping developments across the country do encourage transit service and even go beyond zoning regulations to ensure transit ridership can patronize the businesses within the development. By working with the transit system, the owners of these developments can easily allow access for buses without having problems.
If buses are causing problems with pavement deterioration, the transit system needs to pony up the money to repair it. If there are other issues related to public transit at the development, then action should be taken by both sides to solve the problem before pulling service.
Another part of the problem is that owners of some developments are scared of the long standing belief that public transit will bring the "wrong element" to their property. This is more of the primary driver in the move by some shopping complex owners in keeping transit out. While this belief may have some truth behind it, other evidence suggests that the problems the owners fear would have occurred whether transit was there or not.
Many people are dependent on public transit to shop. Businesses generally don't want to turn away any potential customers so it seems odd that the owners of some of these complexes try to make it harder on the public, as well as the businesses that pay to be in those complexes, by making it difficult for them.
The bottom line is that owners of malls, shopping centers and other large business developments that depend on the public showing up should work with the local transit system to allow transit service to their complexes. By ignoring transit, the owners of these complexes are not only hurting the public but the businesses that lease space at their complexes.