Saturday, August 06, 2005

More on the psychology of light rail

I've been struggling this week to find time to respond to Tom Kirkendall's thoughtful post earlier this week on my psychology of light rail musings, and I've finally found it on a quiet Saturday morning. He raises three very valid concerns:
  1. The distortions caused by simple yes-no voting, when the results might be very different if an array of options were available (an example of where instant runoff voting would be very useful).
  2. Even though the feds cover much of the capital costs of rail, we're locally stuck with the high operating costs, which, in turn...
  3. ...has already forced Metro to cut back some bus routes and it may have to cut others in the future, regardless of the promises in the referendum.
Hopefully, as more rail is added, operating costs might get spread over more passenger miles and reduce costs per passenger mile. Furthermore, I would like to see Metro try more outsourcing to get further cost-efficiencies, particularly with commuter/HOV routes. Allowing subsidized or unsubsidized jitneys might be another "outsourcing" option that could provide better service at lower costs.

Further down below the post is an interesting comment by AMac, who talks about the difficulties of fitting mass transit into the demands of modern life:
"I am a middle-age, middle-class guy, who for years commuted to downtown Baltimore, a city served (if that's the word) by both busses and light rail. Erratic and long hours made carpooling impractical. Yet day-care dropoff and pickup responsibilities made certain arrival and departure times non-negotiable. This combination, and it's hardly uncommon, makes most public transportation commutes pretty undesirable from a-quality-of-life point of view."

That is the great challenge of transit in a nutshell.

36 Comments:

At 4:26 PM, August 06, 2005, Anonymous Adam Block said...

Tory,

I still love you and your blog, but I'm a little confused as to what tack you're taking here.

I'm a rail supporter, and I like rail because it represents investment in the kind of city and community that I would like, and I think its great forward step in that direction. The Citizens Transportation Coalition has their reasons, and other groups have still more reasons and they are happy to write about them.

Some people like Miller Lite because it is less filling, and some because it tastes great. Why would it be a good idea to try and figure out the psychology of people who want to drink Miller Lite Beer, even if we could prove that some beers are even less filling, while others taste far better?

There are certainly some government contractors who have something to gain from working on the rail line, just as there are those who have something to gain from working on suburban freeways. Some Congressmen want rail spending in their districts, some want road spending in others.

In this, as in many other policy debates, I am reminded of the Simpsons episode where aliens Kang and Kodos invade the bodies of Bob Dole and Bill Clinton. The aliens watch dueling rallies of pro- and anti-choicers, and tentaviley proclaim, "Abortions for all!" Half the crowd booos. So they try, "Abortions for none!" and the other half boos. Then they declare, "Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!" And everyone applauds.

So let it be with light rail:)

 
At 7:51 PM, August 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Yeah, exactly. So some guy thinks we should ditch public transit and subsidize the freeway/auto industry for quality of life reasons? Ok, fair enough. I don't agree, and neither do the type of people Houston needs to be attracting if it wants to avoid turning into Lagos or Nuevo Laredo del Norte.

 
At 9:06 PM, August 06, 2005, Anonymous RedScare said...

Tom Kirkendall is quick to deride the private developers who grow fat and happy because their property values are rising, suggesting that taxpayers should be disgusted by this. However, the last time I checked, these increasingly valuable properties incur increasingly higher taxes that inure to the benefit of these same disgusted taxpayers. A quick look at HCAD records will reveal numerous properties along the rail route that have jumped in value since the rail was completed at the end of 2003.

It is also well known that new bus lines do not hold the same cache, so therefore do not cause the same spur in development and attendant rise in values. Is the increase in tax revenue enough to offset the $324 million to build the line? Probably not. But, neither is the increase in Katy Freeway values enough to pay for that $2.3 Billion, either.

 
At 9:45 PM, August 06, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

REDSCARE,

A few weeks back, being curious about the dubious, yet unchallenged claim that METRO's tram would spur redevelopment on Main Street, I too surveyed most of the parcels with frontage on Main Street in the Houston CBD. (Tory has the list I emailed him).

One striking observation was that the land values generally were unchanged in 2005 from 2004 yet most property owners have filed protests with the HCAD. It is an assumption that most other property owners in the CBD will act in a like manner.

The land values ranged from $40.00 per square foot of appraised value up to a single property, the Reliant Energy/1000 Main building, assessed at $250.00 per square foot.

There is also a trend, started by Mayor White's Wedge Group, to switch from gross leases to Triple-NET for tenants. This converts the revenue stream to more of an annuity for the owner, and all costs, such as taxes and common area maintenance are passed through to the tenant. Since the potential rent component is reduced, the calculation for determining the building's value typically results in a lower number, which ratchets down the values in the TIRZ, and eventually will circumvent the anticipated gains once promised.

Another observation is that there are several large Tax Exempt properties from the UHD to METRO's new Lee. P. Brown Admin building, including several religious-use properties, none of which contribute any current or future tax revenue.


Since the Brown Administration gave away the Fire Station #1 facility, and closed another fire station facility that was situated on land for another taxpayer funded playpen for spoiled athletes and greedy owners, Houston taxpayers must fund the replacement of these expensive facilities. The taxpayers of Houston have been subsidizing huge infrastructure outlays in the CBD and it is my speculation that the property owners will avoid most or all of their pro rata share of any tax burden now and in the future.

To try and prove that the Main Street tram will have anywhere near the positive impact in the 7.5-mile corridor as that of the improved vehicular mobility as well as increased land values of the Katy freeway expansion would be difficult indeed.

 
At 10:15 PM, August 06, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At this point it's worth posting Bazan's offensive and racist rant from Kirkendall's site about this topic... dated July 31:

**snip**

"My speculation regarding the lemming-like behavior of the minorities, which is diametrically opposed to thier best interests, would be long-conditioned behavior in the Democrat party.

Like the Soviet and German National Socialists of the 1930's in Germany, today's American Socialists go along to get along with peers in the party. They vote as they are expected to, with the promise they will get something free, taken from the rich.

Take the METRO "Solutions" scheme as the example. The minorities, of which 75% seem to be controlled by the Democrats, were promised a 50% INCREASE in bus service along with the plutocracy favored boondoggle tram extensions.

We all now know that the outcome of the vote resulted in the slashing of bus service to the poor minority, elderly and handicapped throughout the service area, AND, over 1/2 of all METRO bus routes were truncated and redirected to dump the hapless riders onto the urban train platforms.

Where in our world history did the autocratic government force the undesirables onto trains?

"Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.""
**snip**

 
At 1:15 AM, August 07, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The real question is whether the aggregate increase in land values without a Katy Freeway expansion (for example the increase in land values closer to downtown because of the horrible commute) is greater or lesser than the increase in land values with a Katy Freeway expansion which most likely will occur in Fort Bend County. For example, someone at Bunker Hill probably derives less value from the freeway widening, as his/her commute is shortened negligibly. Someone near Katy Mills, of course, would benefit greatly to say nothing of holders of undeveloped lands.

 
At 1:11 PM, August 07, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Anonymous,

Being an Independent Latino professional, I am neither a Democrat, the political party that enforced the Jim Crow laws, nor a wealthy member of the Houston Plutocracy, which consistantly manipulates the so called minority leaders to influence crucial votes, to the detriment of all taxpayers.

I am not a racist for making a speculative remark about generalized voting behaviors.

Those who fail to recognize that the various taxing entities are wasting more, where the long-term bonds are indenturing future generations to pay for many imprudent projects, are doomed to being nothing other than "Sheeple" who must work more, rather than less, to pay ever-increasing taxes to the bureaucratsin order for them to squander even more, sooner than later.

 
At 1:31 PM, August 07, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

On the Katy freeway expansion: it's not so much an issue of land values along the freeway. It enables employers to stay in the core while residents live farther out, rather than employers following the residents to the suburbs. Commercial tax base is great for cities, because they don't require many services. Residential tax base can actually be a net loss if it involves a lot of kids that need to be educated (some cities are notorious for zoning laws that try to keep families out because they don't want to invest in more schools - for example: limiting multi-bedroom apartments).

Bottom line: high mobility to the core (freeways and transit) keeps employers which keeps tax base.

 
At 8:25 AM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

Two thoughts:

Hopefully, as more rail is added, operating costs might get spread over more passenger miles and reduce costs per passenger mile.

Sure, but as you replace existing bus lines with rail (which has higher operating costs) won't that simply increase costs overall, unless even more bus lines are shut down?

Furthermore, I would like to see Metro try more outsourcing to get further cost-efficiencies, particularly with commuter/HOV routes. Allowing subsidized or unsubsidized jitneys might be another "outsourcing" option that could provide better service at lower costs.

Agreed, but we do already have some private bus lines. My apartment complex from when I went to Rice, for example, contracted with a coach service (I forget which it was) to provide a bus circulator for several destinations around the museum district, university area, and the medical center. People would buy tokens from the front office to use it, and it seemed to have a good deal of passengers (the selling point was that it was focused on the complex itself, and ran on a tight schedule). Subsidizing private contracts like that one would definitely improve mobility.

Of course, those kinds of ideas aren't even on the table. Rail is clouding everything, and likely will well into the future.

 
At 8:35 AM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

adam,

I'm a rail supporter, and I like rail because it represents investment in the kind of city and community that I would like, and I think its great forward step in that direction.

Why couldn't this be done with something far more cost-effective, though? Bus Rapid Transit is cheaper and offers the same level of service as rail. Cities that have built BRT have claimed similar developmental "benefits." Even regular bus service with MIRT devices to provide better mobility through intersections could be seen as a credible alternative to rail that would, objectively, provide the same mobility benefits with concomitant developmental influences over the long term. Why does it have to be rail, which is hideously expensive, inflexible, and dangerous to run through city streets?

Some people like Miller Lite because it is less filling, and some because it tastes great. Why would it be a good idea to try and figure out the psychology of people who want to drink Miller Lite Beer, even if we could prove that some beers are even less filling, while others taste far better?

You seem to be analogizing an affinity to rail for "taste." By this account, a person would be reasonable to support public zepplin service because he thinks zepplins are really nifty, even though they're not effective transportation. We shouldn't base public policy on what people think is "neat" -- that won't necessarily sustain a transit system in the long term, and thus shouldn't justify massive capital expenditures.

 
At 11:15 AM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

And likewise, we probably shouldn't base public policy on the needs of people for whatever reason unable to manage their time effectively, like the guy from Baltimore in the original post.

 
At 11:26 AM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Adam Block said...

Owen,

Thank you for responding. I support the new plan that is heavy with BRT. I think it will be cost effective, get a lot done, and move the project forward. My understanding is that on a 40-50 year time frame, BRT and light rail are comparable, but they obviously have very different capital and operating cost ratios. One isn't enduringly preferrable to the other one.

I think that a 'taste' for rail and what it represents is just about right the right way to put it. Mayor White said it best, "One person's sprawl is another person's dream home." So if someone else wants to put his money in to a lower mortgage payment and a longer commute in the suburbs, let's put 95% of all our transportation money behind that. And if I and growing number of others want to live closer in to town, and we will pay more for smaller yards, then let's put 5% of all the money spent on transportation in the greater Houston area behind that scenario.

Public policy and political consensus means that every group of people should get something they want, not that any one group of people should get everything it wants.

So let it be with light rail.

 
At 12:42 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

adam,

My understanding is that on a 40-50 year time frame, BRT and light rail are comparable, but they obviously have very different capital and operating cost ratios. One isn't enduringly preferrable to the other one. I think that a 'taste' for rail and what it represents is just about right the right way to put it.

I'm not quite sure that responds to the concerns I mentioned... Saying that rail is "enduringly preferrable" to BRT is vague and, in any case, merely conclusory.

The question is: Why, if BRT is cheaper and at least as effective as light rail, should we slap rail into pavement? Stop me if I'm wrong, but your answer seems to be "because I think it's cooler." You'll excuse me if that makes my eyes roll.

I think that trains are nifty too, but unless they're cost-effective, I fail to see why we should spend money on them when transportation dollars are tight and mobility is a growing problem. In a perfect world we'd have all the money in the world to spend on things we simply "like" but don't make sense rationally, but in the end we spend on necessities first.

if someone else wants to put his money in to a lower mortgage payment and a longer commute in the suburbs, let's put 95% of all our transportation money behind that. And if I and growing number of others want to live closer in to town, and we will pay more for smaller yards, then let's put 5% of all the money spent on transportation in the greater Houston area behind that scenario.

The trouble here is that most of our freeway dollars (roughly 85%, the last time I checked) come from gasoline taxes -- in other words, by the same people who use the freeways (and that's not counting registration fees and tollways). Metro, conversely, is paid for by a 1% city sales tax, which is paid by the 95% of Houstonians who don't use public transit. If the majority of the costs of rail transit were integrated into fares, a ticket would cost a fortune.

I guarantee you -- if transit users had those costs integrated, the drive for "cooler" transit would wear off rather quickly. And in any case, this doesn't change the fact that both sides -- suburbanites and urbanites -- should be using their transportation dollars in the most cost-effective manner.

 
At 1:02 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not sure I believe that the $2.5 billion Katy Freeway expansion is being paid for by the users of the Katy Freeway. I wonder what the price tag will be when they want to redo it again in 20 years or so. But the suburban developers who campaigned for this thing will benefit, while the tax base of the small cities between the loop and the beltway is being wiped-out by the project.

And then there's that other subsidy... the war for oil... which has cost us thousands of lives and a hundred Katy Freeways and counting...

 
At 3:06 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Randy said...

Anonymous said...
I'm not sure I believe that the $2.5 billion Katy Freeway expansion is being paid for by the users of the Katy Freeway.


I'm sure they are paying for it. At $0.39 tax per gallon of gasoline and an average one way trip of 20 miles in an average vehicle that gets 20 mpg pays $0.78 fuel tax per vehicle round trip. 22 workdays per month X 12 month X $0.78 = $205.92 per year paid in fuel tax per vehicle. 2.5 billion / 205.92 = 12,140,637 average roundtrips would pay for the road if the fuel tax that was paid for the fuel that was burned on those trips went to pay that project. If 100,000 vehicles make that trip per day, 12,140,637 / 100,000 = 121 workdays to pay off the Katy freeway project. If you want to be picky and count only the federal tax, $0.184 per gallon or $0.368 per round trip, then $0.78 \ $0.368 = 2.14. 121 X 2.14 = 259 days to pay off the project. Tell me taxes aren't too high and there isn't inefficiency and waste in government.

 
At 4:27 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Sorry there, but the math doesn't quite work. I think you took taxes per year and converted them to taxes per day. Still, it does seem to break even overall, just not that fast.

Projections call for 400,000 vehicles/day. $2.5B/400K = $6,250 needed per daily driver. Spread over 30 years, that's $0.57/day/driver, so it about breaks even, at least without assuming any interest expense.

What's missing from the mix is the toll road revenue from the 4 lanes down the middle. Not sure what that is, but I'll bet it's substantial.

 
At 4:32 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually, after all of these years I've come to conclude that I don't think taxes are too high. It's a fashionable thing to say that they are, of course, but... well, this isn't the place for that discussion.

Owen was making the point that freeway dollars come from people who use freeways. I don't use the Katy Freeway, yet I still pay for it at the pump. And for 290. And 225. And 45. And 900 miles of Interstate 10 from Beaumont to El Paso. And so on. I can use them if I want of course once I pay the price of entry to the system, which is the purchase of a car, insurance, gas, and maintenance (not an insignificant amount!). And there is a cost of defending a key input into this system (oil), in dollars and in lives, that is borne by every American.

Likewise, he was stating that METRO is funded by the sales tax, and not everyone uses METRO. But I don't use I-75 in Tampa or I-95 in Philadelphia or I-5 in Los Angeles, yet I pay for those. So I don't understand his point. And, there is no cost of entry to participate in the Metro system for the user other than the fare. I can't think of any wars that have started as a result of keeping mass transit operational, but I can for the highway culture.

But from a bigger picture, I have come to accept that there is a societal benefit when some things get funded by my money even when I might not use them... public schools, rural interstate highways, transit systems, etc. I didn't get that sense from Owen's post. I don't think he's taking a philosophical position about being against funding for something the user doesn't pay for in its entirity, otherwise he'd be against a lot more than I bet he initially realizes.

 
At 4:58 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Tory, Randy...

Another issue with the math - I think that assumption of 20 miles as an average 1-way trip is definitely too high. That's about the distance from downtown to the Grand Parkway, and while there are plenty of people who make that drive, it's not likely close to being the average.

One of the problems plaguing the Katy Freeway seems to be that people use it for short-hop trips because there aren't adequate surface street alternatives. (the City has had opportunities to do something about this in the past, but in a classic display of narrow thinking they chose not to). I think one of the better points that the Katy Corridor Coalition brought to the discussion was the need to address this issue both beyond and within the proposed Katy redesign.

So I'm guessing the average is more likely 7-8 miles. That will change your results, Randy.

 
At 5:16 PM, August 08, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

anonymous,

Owen was making the point that freeway dollars come from people who use freeways. I don't use the Katy Freeway, yet I still pay for it at the pump. And for 290. And 225. And 45. And 900 miles of Interstate 10 from Beaumont to El Paso...

Likewise, he was stating that METRO is funded by the sales tax, and not everyone uses METRO. But I don't use I-75 in Tampa or I-95 in Philadelphia or I-5 in Los Angeles, yet I pay for those.


If you use freeways at all, you've benefited from capital expenditures and maintinence costs paid for by gasoline taxes. This includes the vast majority of Houston motorists, who frequently use our freeways. I'm talking about the entire system, not single freeways. The entire system is paid for by taxes of motorists, i.e. those who use the system. This is not the case for Metro, where the vast majority of people who pay the sales tax (which has no relation to using public transit) don't actually use public transit, even infrequently. That's a pretty stark difference.

And there is a cost of defending a key input into this system (oil), in dollars and in lives, that is borne by every American.

Please don't start with this "war for oil" nonsense. You give people a license not to take you seriously when you reference such tired, unsupportable cliches.

But from a bigger picture, I have come to accept that there is a societal benefit when some things get funded by my money even when I might not use them... public schools, rural interstate highways, transit systems, etc.

I don't dispute this, but I will point out that public expenditures should be cost-effective, and integrating costs tends to make public expenditures more cost-effective. Support for rail is basically support for wasting money, and I'd like to see people still supporting it when they have to pay the majority of the costs to use it.

 
At 9:27 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous Randy said...

Tory Gattis said...
Sorry there, but the math doesn't quite work. I think you took taxes per year and converted them to taxes per day. Still, it does seem to break even overall, just not that fast.


Right you are, I found my error: "2.5 billion / 205.92 = 12,140,637 average roundtrips would pay for the road"

I still stand by my statement that the users of the project are going to pay for it. And as you mentioned, the tollway down the middle will reduce the payoff time substantially. Of course maintenance will increase the payoff time. Still, I think this is a great use of $$$ and my hat's off to Culberson for his assistance in bringing it to fruition.

 
At 10:30 PM, August 08, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Randy, Tory...

It's worth reiterating what Randy already said...

...if the fuel tax that was paid for the fuel that was burned on those trips went to pay that project...

Big if. So perhaps as Tory calculated the math breaks even in 30 years not including maintenance or interest (in other words, it doesn't break even, though that might be different when you look at tolls) on what is just about the most heavily travelled vehicular corridor in Texas IF that fuel tax related to trips on the Katy actually went to the project... but what happens of course is that those funds get spread around to pay for bridges in Alaska, highways across unpopulated areas, and so forth.

TxDOT's future is taxes and tolls - the current system just doesn't pay for itself. We're at a stage in our city's growth where it's time for a regional comprehensive freeway plan, as David Crossley has advocated in this forum. What is the built-out system condition? What does it cost? Where does the money come from? What are the implications regarding air quality, land use, quality of life, etc.? Can we now assume that the Katy will be built-out when the current work is done?

 
At 9:41 PM, August 09, 2005, Anonymous nmainguy said...

You know what? We all pay taxes for many things we dislike. I pay taxes that go to a war we were duped into by misleading "intellegence". Wrap your mind around that. I pay HISD taxes-a good sum I might add- even though I have no children and probably never will. I do it with the knowledge that education is a part of society that benefits us all. I'd much rather have smart, bright and intellegent people running things when I am older and grayer than I am now. We are a wealthy and blessed nation and some times I think we bitch a little too much for our own good. I think the posts of people like Bazan who deride minorities as "lemmings" has no place in a 21st century society. I think a certain amount of civility and citizenship should always be in order. I like the Red Line LRT. I use it. I look forward to more lines. I will use them. But if you don't like them-great. Just don't deride those who do.

 
At 10:09 PM, August 09, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

You know what? We all pay taxes for many things we dislike.

There's a difference between disagreeing about a goal and supporting an irrational project. I think we all agree that good transportation is the goal here. Some here think that good, high-density, inner-city transportation should be the goal here. I disagree with that, but even presuming that's a valid goal, rail still isn't a cost-effective means of attaining that goal. It's wasteful -- the capital costs are greater than for buses, and yet it doesn't provide more effective transportation. The only reason to support rail is subjective preference.

I like the Red Line LRT. I use it. I look forward to more lines. I will use them. But if you don't like them-great. Just don't deride those who do.

Sorry, but I can and will deride those who irrationally support rail, which is hideously wasteful. Rail supporters deserve every iota of criticism they receive.

 
At 8:03 AM, August 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Rail supporters deserve every iota of criticism they receive.

Now THAT'S an irrational statement!

 
At 11:19 AM, August 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Please don't start with this "war for oil" nonsense. You give people a license not to take you seriously when you reference such tired, unsupportable cliches.

oh please. like we'd really give a half-rip about Iraq if they had no oil. the middle eastern countries that do not have oil are curiously off our national radar relative to those that do. let me know if you find one of those weapons of mass destruction.

 
At 2:14 PM, August 10, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The administration is very concerned about North Korea, and they have no oil...

 
At 2:31 PM, August 10, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The administration is very concerned about North Korea, and they have no oil...

Here's a country with perhaps the most repressive regime in the world, absolutely no understanding of human rights, they have nuclear weapons and all sorts of other weapons of mass destruction, and they are desperate enough to export their weapons technology... yet all the current administration has done about it is to be very concerned, as you stated.

Now imagine how different this scenario would have been if they were an oil exporter.

At this point in our history, we need the free flow of oil, and thus it is in our national security interests to keep the oil spigots open. Remember from history that Japan entered World War 2 to fight an oil boycott and capture oil-rich territory. Counties make bad decisions when they are hooked on somebody else's oil.

 
At 2:42 PM, August 10, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think the administration is doing what they reasonably can with North Korea, given China is their protector. The secret is getting China to lean on them, not invade them. The whole world leaned on Iraq, and nothing happened. Nobody had leverage on Iraq the way China does on NK.

If NK were in the Americas, I guarantee they would have been invaded by now, as Cuba would have been had they pushed forward on nukes.

 
At 4:46 PM, August 10, 2005, Anonymous Adam Block said...

Maybe we've moved on since then, but I wanted to contend with Owen about a few things:

1. Gas taxes are not just paid by people driving their own consumer vehicles. Gas taxes paid by all the commercial travel are passed on in prices, even to consumers who don't drive. For example, a non-driver buys a banana at the grocery store, his price includes the gas and gas taxes that it took to get the banana there.

2. People who don't ride Metro get benefits from it. The mobility that lower income people gain from Metro reduces labor costs in the whole city, for basically every employer. This is a significant positive externality, and to my understanding, it was the reason we started Metro in the first place. (I'm sure this will start a fight, but Metro also helps non-Metro riders by taking cars off the road.)

3. I agree that it doesn't make that much sense to use BRT, but lay rails anyhow. I first stated this concern at a session at the Gulf Cost Institute, which Tory attended. It seems to me like laying these tracks is sort of like giving up some of the infrastructure cost savings of BRT.

4. Can we move the last line over to Tory's forthcoming "East Asia Strategies" Blog?

 
At 8:32 AM, August 11, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

adam,

Gas taxes are not just paid by people driving their own consumer vehicles. Gas taxes paid by all the commercial travel are passed on in prices, even to consumers who don't drive. For example, a non-driver buys a banana at the grocery store, his price includes the gas and gas taxes that it took to get the banana there.

This is reaching. The link is pretty indirect, and besides, those gas taxes actually go into subsidizing the freeways that get the bananas there. Accordingly, when you buy the banana, whatever tax you indirectly pay is also a tax that you're indirectly benefiting from. So my point still stands regardless concerning the fact that gasoline taxes are paid by the people who benefit from freeways, but this isn't the case with the sales tax that subsidizes transit.

People who don't ride Metro get benefits from it. The mobility that lower income people gain from Metro reduces labor costs in the whole city, for basically every employer. This is a significant positive externality, and to my understanding, it was the reason we started Metro in the first place. (I'm sure this will start a fight, but Metro also helps non-Metro riders by taking cars off the road.)

Off the top of my head, I can think of three counter-arguments:

#1 - The money spent on Metro would garner greater mobility gains elsewhere, since transit is generally cost-ineffective.

#2 - Low income people will get to work with or without transit. With the minimum wage setting wages artificially high, employers aren't really seeing a huge benefit.

#3 - So few people use transit anyway that the congestion gains are minimal. The disruptiveness of taking up lanes with light rail, and having buses stopping frequently in the right lane, has a negative effect on congestion that outweighs any benefits.

Nonetheless, I actually do support subsidizing transit, both to assist the poor and otherwise provide an option for those who can't drive. I'd just rather we privatize Metro and part with this silly, wasteful notion of light rail. But I don't oppose public transit per se.

 
At 11:11 AM, August 11, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Low income people will get to work with or without transit

You really think so? Do you honestly think that people who rely on the bus every day will be able to get to work that next morning if suddenly all of the buses are removed and the transit provider shut-down? I find that hard to believe.

With the minimum wage setting wages artificially high

So by your logic, that person running the register at McDonald's making $5.15 an hour and supporting kids is overpaid because there's probably someone somewhere out there who would do the job for $0.50 an hour, or maybe because the current employee would still do the job at $4 an hour and just add another job or work more hours away from the kids. Yep, wouldn't society be grand and life for the poor be so much better if they would just stop making so much money so that we wealthier types can save a penny on a big mac?

 
At 3:53 PM, August 11, 2005, Anonymous nmainguy said...

owen said: "Sorry, but I can and will deride those who irrationally support rail, which is hideously wasteful. Rail supporters deserve every iota of criticism they receive."
nmainguy said: "I think a certain amount of civility and citizenship should always be in order.
Oh well, so much for civility, owen.

 
At 9:15 AM, August 12, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

nmainguy,

You think that criticism of your positions is uncivil? Your quote-comparison refutes itself.

 
At 9:30 AM, August 12, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

...that's a non-response...

 
At 8:35 PM, August 13, 2005, Anonymous nmainguy said...

"Owen said...
nmainguy,

You think that criticism of your positions is uncivil? Your quote-comparison refutes itself."

I don't mind the criticism-just the uncivil spirit.

 
At 3:25 PM, August 18, 2005, Anonymous Christof Spieler said...

Two light rail points:

(1) The experience in most U.S. cities is that the cost per passenger-mile for a light rail system is lower than the cost per passenger-mile of that city's bus system.

(2) Metro is not eliminating bus routes because of light rail; it is eliminating bus routes because Bill White appointed a new METRO board and administration who care much more about costs than the previous regime and are systematically cutting routes that get low ridership. Some bus routes were truncated at rail stations, but that was nowhere near half of all METRO routes. While that results in people having to transfer, it also lowers operating costs (by consolidating more riders onto one vehicle) and reduces the number of busses on downtown streets.

 

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