Saturday, June 16, 2007

Forcing transit on the public

Honolulu HI - The Honolulu Advertiser has a story on the recent Census Bureau study that showed commuters nationwide are not being swayed to hop on board public transit. In the story however, an ill-conceived game plan of sorts has been laid out to show how people can be convinced to abandon their cars and hop on board mass transit.

The basic plan laid out uses a two prong strategy of persuasive as well as coercive tactics. The coercive tactics spelled out in the plan are scary and are aimed at literally taxing the hell out of private autos so that owning one would become completely unaffordable to the general population.

While the Honolulu Advertiser reporter, Jerry Burris, states that to be fair mass transit must be in place first, his goal is to give a template to the pro-rail activists which they can follow to force expensive rail projects to be built.

Nowhere in the article does Mr. Burris state that Honolulu's mass transit system should improve its operations and become more efficient. Nor does Mr. Burris state that mass transit has limitations that just can't be solved. What he does state, more or less, is that the pro-rail supporters have to step it up a notch. In other words, push harder to get rail built.

The problem with Mr. Burris' template is that it just won't work. Simply building transit projects such as LRT or BRT will not get people to switch even if you tax every aspect of car ownership to the max. People will ride transit if it is convenient and takes them where they want to go without a lot of fuss. Often times, what is a 15 minute car ride translates to a 2 hour plus transit trip with multiple transfers. Try hauling a bunch of kids with a few hundred dollars of shopping on a two hour bus ride in crowded conditions. It's obvious to me that Mr. Burris never has.

Mr. Burris also fails to understand that if you get people to give up their cars and on board public transit, you also give up your revenue stream. Less cars entering the city means less in congestion taxes, parking taxes and other taxes that have been levied on the concept of private auto ownership. With reduced revenues, the translation becomes route cuts and fare hikes which then will start the downward spiral that so many transit systems are in today.

I am a transit advocate but I am also well aware that transit has problems that will never be solved. Getting from point A to point B isn't simple on transit and that fact seems lost on many transit advocates. Many transit advocates these days feel that all you have to do build just one more expensive transit project and everyone will suddenly abandon their cars. Where I live, we've had many expensive transit projects built and I'm still waiting for the massive influx of new riders.

The best that can be hoped for is to attract as many choice riders as you can through focusing on the basics of providing service. That point is also lost on the majority of the transit advocates. Your never going to get a 50% share of choice riders, yet alone the much higher percentage they seem to think they'll get even with the coercive tactics suggested in the the article.

Simply building rail lines and marketing the system isn't going to get people to switch. Even taxing the car owners to the point of abandoning their cars won't do it (most will simply move to greener pastures where their money is treated better). The reason these methods won't work is that public transit is incapable of handling the diverse number of destinations that people want and need to go in any form of a timely and efficient manner. Expensive transit projects are not the answer nor is trying to force people onto transit through the leftist tactic of taxing something they don't like into oblivion.

While I agree with Mr. Burris that attitudes toward public transit need to be changed, his suggested methods are not the way to do it. Public transit needs to fix what it has in place already and go back to the basics of providing service. They need to stop building expensive transit projects when they can't efficiently run what they have in place already. A system that has good service at a reasonable rate will attract far more riders than a system that is going bankrupt building transit projects that benefit few.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

NYMTA to Disabled Community: Prove it

New York City NY - In a move that the New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (NYMTA) is saying is not related to spiraling costs of paratransit service, the system is now requiring disabled customers to visit a testing center to be certified as being disabled. Doctor notes are no longer accepted.

The move is causing some outrage among many in the disabled community, not so much for the certification itself but in how the certification process is done. Many believe that the NYMTA needs to go to the assisted living facilities rather than have the residents trek down to a testing center.

This change of policy comes at a time when paratransit service nationwide is routinely abused. While the NYMTA claims the move isn't cost related, it really is as paratransit service is extremely expensive to provide and is rapidly draining operating funds.

Some of the abuse of paratransit comes from the ease of being classified as disabled. All you need is a note from your doctor and you can be permanently listed as disabled even for a temporary issue. The NYMTA is attempting to eliminate that rather large loophole.

The NYMTA does need to make a change in its policy however, customers from legitimate assisted living facilities should have the NYMTA examiners go there or certify a doctor at those facilities to make the determination. Other customers not in a registered facility should still be required to make the trek.

I do agree with the NYMTA however that such a certification is needed. The abuse of the much more costly paratransit service has gotten out of hand. I believe that if the NYMTA makes that one change to their policy, the criticism of the new plan will be greatly reduced as well as the abuses of the paratransit system in New York City.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Transit symposium brings up some good points

NYC NY - An article in The Journal News reports on a transportation symposium that was sponsored by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. The symposium focused on bus rapid transit (BRT) rather than on light rail transit (LRT) and brought up some important points.

I read the article a few times but on the first pass the item that jumped out at me was the first sentence which read, "Bus rapid transit, if planned and built so that it is more than just a cheap version of light rail, could help ease congestion through the Tappan Zee Bridge/Interstate-287 corridor, several experts said at a symposium sponsored by The Tri-State Transportation Campaign".

I couldn't agree more about the concept of not making BRT a cheap version of an LRT line. BRT has the ability of being one of the most flexible modes of transportation available which is obtainable at a fraction of the cost of most other modes of public transport. To turn it into a cheap version of an LRT line severely limits the ability of the buses.

Busways such as those used in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania, for example, are a prime example of how BRT can be flexible. Pittsburgh's busways are designed for the same buses that provide service elsewhere in the service area and don't require specialized equipment. On the opposite extreme is the BRT operation in Eugene Oregon which has limited itself to being an LRT wanna-be with specialized equipment.

Another point brought up is that BRT as an image problem. I agree again. Much of the negative image of BRT is thanks to the pro-rail crowd. By broadly painting bus transportation with terms such as "dirty", "low-class" and other negative connotations, the pro-rail activists have convinced many in the general public that rail is the answer and to ride a bus is slumming it.

What I find amusing are these two paragraphs:

But to build a bus rapid transit system that will attract riders by choice, Alan Hoffman, a principal with the Mission Group, a San Diego planning firm, said buses must get people where they want to go, do it quickly, frequently and with less than a 10-minute wait, and make them feel good about using it - all at once. Without all these elements, BRT is just another dreaded bus.

"We don't want to feel like losers," Hoffman said, adding that "often the experience of transit is a humbling experience."

Why is it that people will wait a half hour for an LRV and feel like winners but if they have to wait 11 minutes for a bus that they feel like losers? Much is the successful stereotyping that the pro-rail crowd as fed to the public.

Don't forget that in the 50's and 60's when rail was rapidly being replaced by buses, the opposite was true. The majority of people complained about having to ride the slow and ancient streetcars and wanted them replaced by buses. They felt like losers when they had to ride a slow streetcar but like winners when they could ride a bus that could bypass many of the problems that slowed the streetcars down.

This point was brought up to me by a friend who sent me the article and he is totally correct. It was completely a mirror image of today in terms of public perception. The only thing that has changed over the years is the flip-flop in the perception of buses and rail vehicles. We'll have another perception flip-flop with the same cities that clamored to get rid of rail in the 50's and 60's and are now clamoring to hop on the rail bandwagon today will be trying to get rid of rail once again in 40 or so years.