Monday, August 22, 2005

Causes and effects of Metro ridership and costs

Rad Sallee at the Chronicle has a piece today on Metro's ridership numbers, and Anne comments here. The overall trends don't look good, with local bus ridership and revenue dropping and costs increasing, moving Metro from a 20% farebox recovery to 14% over the last 4 years. The problem is that there are so many variables in play, it's really hard to figure out exactly what's going on. The article mentions the usual issues:
  • Bus route cuts
  • Bus route changes to link to light rail, making trips more inconvenient with more transfers
  • The Enron collapse, the recession, and the weaker office market downtown
  • The problem of counting boardings instead of trips (a single trip can include multiple transfers/boardings - the new smart cards could answer this if and when they get implemented)
But there are couple other possible causes not being considered:
  • Gas costs have more than doubled in the last couple of years, which could be a big part of Metro's 30% increase in operating costs. I'm sure the rail is part of that too, but it would be nice if Metro broke out what part of the increase is fuel related.
  • After 9/11, interest rates dropped and the automakers slapped huge incentives on cars and trucks to keep them moving off the lots, which, in turn, lowered the prices for used vehicles. You have to believe that enabled a lot of the transit-dependent to become transit-independent. In my mind, that's a good kind of ridership loss, although it probably hasn't been so good for traffic congestion.
What would be really helpful would be some comparative transit numbers to other cities like Dallas, San Antonio, and Austin. That would isolate out national factors like fuel costs and cheap cars to see how we're doing on a relative basis.

18 Comments:

At 10:43 AM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Not sure of the value of linking to Anne's comments, which as per usual are high decible garbage... It makes it seem you're tied-in with that whole gang (and I'm sure that whole gang will be responding en masse to this topic as they make their morning rounds). You tend to stay well above that level, which is great.

 
At 11:06 AM, August 22, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

I agree with the lack of good comparable data make good conclusions. Also, you are correct in the multitude of contributing factors.

 
At 12:35 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Yes Tory, ignore the facts when they do not fit the Liberal template.

The ends justify the means when it comes to diverting precious taxpayer resources for building more unsafe, unreliable, and underutilized urban rail.

Sounds to me like the pro-urban rail lemmings are advocating "To Hell with the bus safety net for the poor, minority, elderly, and handicapped bus transit dependent riders!"

The FTA has already told METRO that the tram expansion plans are not feasible, yet METRO has said taxpayers will get more boondoggle urban rail, not less, and the bureaucrats will ram it down our throats sooner than later.

As Houston's population surges, METRO bus ridership is declining, as is the fare box revenue.

METRO has stated many times that they are running the transit agency like a business.

If one had a business with 106 accidents in 21 months, and the revenue from the main service was declining as a result of intentionally decreasing service, yet, the business was still trying to borrow enormous sums of money to increase the part of the service that generated nominal revenue, and which served the least number of people, the lender would throw them out on their keisters.

In response to METRO's poor performance, the politicians award the bureaucrats with several hundred million more in taxpayer funds, promise them billions more, and bless thier plans to issue billions in bonds, indenturing future generations.

 
At 12:39 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"To Hell with the bus safety net for the poor, minority, elderly, and handicapped bus transit dependent riders!"

I think you're projecting, as you and your kind are the ones with the ultimate agenda of eliminating mass transit completely and increasing federal subsidies for highways.

 
At 1:02 PM, August 22, 2005, Blogger kjb434 said...

anonymous,

I'm pro-rail, but Tom puts a good point out on the table. What's so bad about susidizing highway construction instead. The highway construction provides much more relief than new rail lines.

The only way I support rail is that is can become a good investment for the future for the urban core, but we shouldn't take federal money away from projects that provide a better benefit.

Also, about FED money going to urban transit projects. A certain amount of the highway bill is allocated to transit and can't be used for anything else. Metro should try to get as much as they can of the money. The FED has already earmarked the money, METRO wouldn't be wasting it.

The money we taxpayers probably have more to squable over it the money that is generated from local tax rates on people in the METRO service area.

 
At 1:44 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sounds to me like the pro-urban rail lemmings are advocating "To Hell with the bus safety net for the poor, minority, elderly, and handicapped bus transit dependent riders!"

This coming from a guy who advocates doing away with METRO altogether... how ironic.

 
At 2:31 PM, August 22, 2005, Blogger ActionAmerica said...

Tom Bazan made a good point about how a lender would view a private business, with such a poor accident record. But, lets put this into a slightly different perspective.

Let's pick a tool company (any tool company). Let's say that Wagner introduces a new model of ladder today and one year later, the statistics show conclusively that people are falling off of that ladder at a rate more than 10 times the national average for all other ladders. Do you think that Wagner management, that is responsible to their shareholders for showing a profit, is going to try to find some flimsy excuse to blame the people who are falling off the ladders or will they recall the ladders until the problem can be found and resolved, thus limiting their potential liability?

In fact, a private company that ignores such statistical evidence of problems, sets themselves up for a "gross negligence" claim that can multiply the damages in any court case. Furthermore, if the ladder manufacturer didn't voluntarily issue a recall, the government would probably force them to do so.

In the military, if two helicopters out of hundreds, go down in unexplained crashes in one week, they ground all of that model of helicopter, until they can make sure of its safety. When Firestone tires started blowing out somewhat more often than the average, they were recalled. But, Houston has a tram that crashes at about 10 times the national average and Metro calls it a success and plans to build more. What's wrong with this picture?

A private business that ran its operation like that would be out of business in no time. But, a publicly funded money pit, like Metro, can grow and expand infinitely, despite such problems, since they can just dip into the public coffers for more of our tax money, every time they screw up.

 
At 2:43 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

It is no secret that there is a plan for a regional transportation entity.

The Harris County Commissioners all operate buses now.

Why continue to allow the unelected and unaccountable METRO bureaucrats to continue it's ill-devised urban rail schemes when the tax money could be better spent on rubber-tired solutions to improve mobility throughout the service area and region?

Unless it is merely an issue of "turf," the regional authority and County could handle the future transportation demands.

The County would still focus on providing the "safety net" for the bus transit dependent.

 
At 2:52 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

with such a poor accident record

Highway deaths in US for 2004: 42,636 (not including deaths from that soon to be trillion dollar repeat of Vietnam that Republican Senator Hagel admits "we're not winning"...).

 
At 5:12 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous Adam block said...

Tory,

I guess you are back to your Metro apologizing, liberal standard- bearing ways :)

My understanding had been that the route cuts , except for the rail tie-ins, were made on the basis of elminating the least user-mile routes.

Even if they cut 10% of the total route miles that way, which I don't think they have, those cuts should have resulted in a disproportionately small drop in ridership. Thoughts?

---Adam

 
At 6:43 PM, August 22, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Not apologizing - just want to look at the full range of facts.

Yes, they were less traveled routes, but those people probably transferred to other lines, possibly more than once, so one lost rider on those routes could translate into 2 or 3 fewer boardings overall.

Metro should be careful, or they can end up in a death spiral with route cuts. Hub airlines face a similar situation: cut an unprofitable flight, suddenly there are fewer passengers connecting onto other flights, so other flights become unprofitable and get cut, starting the cycle over again.

 
At 11:15 PM, August 22, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

RE: Why continue to allow the unelected and unaccountable METRO bureaucrats...

Are you suggesting that we should hold elections for VPs and other executives who work at METRO? And would you suggest the same for TxDOT, the airport system, HCTRA, and the Port of Houston Authority?

 
At 7:40 AM, August 23, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

rj,

And would you suggest the same for TxDOT, the airport system, HCTRA, and the Port of Houston Authority?
-------------

Among the entities you cited, none receive "windfall" sales tax as does METRO.

 
At 8:19 AM, August 23, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

Last I checked, the port of Houston authority receives a portion of my property taxes. In fact, so does the hospital district, harris county flood control, etc. I don't recall electing their VPs.

 
At 9:08 AM, August 23, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

The METRO board has been my focus.

Property taxes and sales tax are two different income streams.

No one can mess with the sales tax.

I am not trying to argue in principle to the point you raised that the Airport and Port of Houston boards, in particular, deserve the same critisism I leveled against METRO's past and current boards.

TxDOT must request funds and answer to the Governor and submit to oversight by the Legislature.

The HCTRA is doing what it was established for, building toll roads and collecting huge sums of taxpayer money which unfortunately is being redirected by the ensconced Commissioners.

The hospital district seems more controlled by federal judges, who have lifetime appointments.

The issue of bureaucratic feifdoms could be a useful discussion as it relates to many arbitrary and capricious decisions which impact us all.

 
At 9:21 AM, August 23, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tom -

I am not trying to argue in principle to the point you raised that the Airport and Port of Houston boards, in particular, deserve the same critisism I leveled against METRO's past and current boards.

The METRO board has been my focus.

I can accept that... whether I agree with your postion vis-a-vis Metro or not, sometimes you just have to pick your battles.

 
At 3:01 PM, August 23, 2005, Anonymous TomC said...

RJ said...
First rj said to Tom:
Last I checked, the port of Houston authority receives a portion of my property taxes. In fact, so does the hospital district, harris county flood control, etc. I don't recall electing their VPs.
and then:
Tom said to rj:
The METRO board has been my focus.

A nice side-step, tom...

Tory?
I think I'll have to agree with the first comment on this subject. AQnne does tend to be a one-note ranter like tom-which is fine, I suppose. You do tend to stay well above that level, which-I think-most of us appriciate.

 
At 3:22 PM, August 23, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I appreciate the compliment. When I'm aware of other Houston blogger posts on a topic, I like to link to them and let the reader make their own informed judgement. Linking from me does not necessarily mean endorsement - just an FYI for those who are interested.

 

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