Sunday, August 14, 2005

Tourists prefer rail transit

In my earlier post on the deeper psychology of rail, I argued out-of-town visitors prefer rail transit over rent cars. This Washington Post article confirms it, although it also makes an argument for good signage:

For visitors to Washington who come from freeway-reliant reaches of Middle America, riding the Metro can be an attraction in itself. But a few trips riding the rails in their comfortable shoes show that the experience can be more than a little bewildering, too.

"We come from a little town, so this is pretty neat," said Teri George, 51, of Mount Vernon, Mo., while her two young grandsons raced up and down the platform at the Smithsonian Station. ...

Despite some confusing rides, many visitors said riding public transportation is a worthwhile adventure.

"I love it," said Leslie Fraser, 30, in town from Fresno, Calif., where she said she's usually stuck in her car. With a camera around her neck and her Frommer's guide opened to the Metro map, she easily found a Dupont Circle-bound train.

"I wish they had these all over the place," she said.

Of course, in Houston, it's more likely to be a business traveler than a leisure tourist, but it still improves their opinion of the experience and the city, which they report back to family, friends, and colleagues. Certainly not a "case closed" pro-rail argument, but one that should be considered nonetheless.

17 Comments:

At 8:24 PM, August 14, 2005, Blogger Kevin said...

Many businessmen prefer cabs.

Most businessmen don't relish the notion of walking even several hundred feet in Houston's 90+ degree temps and ridiculous humidity four-five months of the year, and then waiting in said conditions for a train. When one is drenched, it's really hard to make an impression at that big meeting!

That's why the 7.5 mile downtown rail line to nowhere and the proposed Galleria rail line EVEN IF LOCATED ON RICHMOND (which was not part of the METRO Solutions vote) is NOT going to produce any sort of WOW factor among businessmen. It's not going to be used by most of them.

It might impress tourists, or it might not, but it's sort of irrelevant to a discussion about Houston. We're not a tourist destination, but a business destination. Businessmen aren't interested in the appearance of being world class -- they want to get where they need to be, comfortably, to make things happen.

 
At 9:14 PM, August 14, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

ease up, Kevin. Surely you've been on business trips where you were impressed with something that you didn't actually ride or stop to explore or otherwise spend time with.

For example, a few weeks ago I was on a business trip to Kansas City, and while I didn't have time to enjoy the parks and restored old neighborhoods that we drove past on our way to meetings, just seeing those things outside the car window left a very favorable impression on me of Kansas City. Who knows, maybe that city is actually a dive, but I've left thinking it's a city of beautiful parks and vibrant neighborhoods, even though I spent zero time with either.

 
At 10:41 PM, August 14, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I should have been more specific: the primary business travelers that will use it are convention goers, either at the GRB or Reliant Park.

 
At 8:26 AM, August 15, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

As I've said before -- the rail novelty effect is a pretty lousy reason to support rail. It didn't exist forty years ago (indeed, sreetcars were spat upon compared with buses), and it may not exist forty years from now. We're talking about investing in long-term infrastructure with few, if any, objective advantages, based upon what essentially amounts to an urban fad.

Moreover, Houston would probably look better to visitors if we lowered our hotel tax a bit, seeing as it's currently the highest in the nation at 17%. I don't think the powers-that-be are really all that serious about impressing those who visit our fair city.

 
At 8:49 AM, August 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

- rail. It didn't exist forty years ago -

sure it did.

 
At 9:04 AM, August 15, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

High hotel taxes make great sense in a business-focused city with few leisure tourists (at least relative to other tax options). Cities like SF and NY have to worry about losing substantial tourism if they raise hotel taxes too much. Houston does not.

 
At 10:52 AM, August 15, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

anonymous,

Oh? Then why were streetcar lines still being eliminated forty years ago in favor of more modern buses? From the 20's through the 60's, rail suffered from an image problem versus buses. The history on this is fairly well documented.

tory,

Fair enough, but if our only visitors are captive business travellers, aren't we making a bad impression by taxing them severely just because they're captive?

 
At 11:10 AM, August 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Owen said: - rail. It didn't exist forty years ago -

Anonymous said: sure it did.

Owen said: - Oh? -

Anonymous says: Yes, oh! Some of the cities that had streetcar or light rail systems 40 years ago that are still in operation today include Boston, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Toronto. And of course there were also a number of subway/elevated systems... NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philly, etc.

 
At 11:12 AM, August 15, 2005, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Maybe a little, but most of them are charging it to their company, so they don't care so much, and the rate is only marginally higher than most other business cities.

 
At 12:12 PM, August 15, 2005, Anonymous RJ said...

Maybe I'm a careless consumer, but I've never paid any attention to hotel taxes or airport taxes when booking travel. I don't think my complaint of "the room tax was too high" would be well received by my wife as justification for not going on a trip!

 
At 2:23 PM, August 15, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

Anonymous says: Yes, oh! Some of the cities that had streetcar or light rail systems 40 years ago that are still in operation today include Boston, New Orleans, Newark, Philadelphia, San Francisco, and Toronto. And of course there were also a number of subway/elevated systems... NYC, Chicago, Boston, Philly, etc.

I didn't think Boston, Newark, or Philadelphia had light rail 40 years ago. And simply because some cities kept it, doesn't mean it wasn't largely considered outmoded. In New Orleans, for example, I recently saw a documentary (on one of the public access channels, no less) noting that the Canal Streetcar line was removed in the mid-60's because at that time buses were considered more modern. In Houston, streetcars were phased out during the 30s in a "bus modernization program."

Most of the cities that kept streetcars did so for atmospheric reasons (i.e. the San Francisco cable cars, which were fairly unique, and the New Orleans St. Charles line, the oldest continually-operating street railway in the world). Even then, cities largely limited their reliance on street-level railways. Those few that kept streetcar lines generally only kept a few of them.

I don't want to have to go dig up every scrap of information on this to give you a history lesson, but trust me -- 40 years ago street rail service suffered a generally poor public image.

 
At 3:21 PM, August 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Owen said - Most of the cities that kept streetcars did so for atmospheric reasons (i.e. the San Francisco cable cars -

Anonymous says - I'm talking about the San Francisco MUNI system, not the cable car.

Owen said - I don't want to have to go dig up every scrap of information on this to give you a history lesson

Anonymous says - C'mon. You were just telling us all how there was no rail 40 years ago. And now you're going to give us a history lesson?

 
At 5:54 PM, August 15, 2005, Blogger Owen said...

C'mon. You were just telling us all how there was no rail 40 years ago.

Ummm... I never said that. I said that general public perceptions of rail were much more negative 40 years ago -- i.e., the novelty effect just wasn't there, and we shouldn't build rail today expecting it to be here in the future.

This isn't to say that no streetcar/light rail systems survived, but there was a general public prejudice against them for about forty years (between the 20's and the 60's, when a massive number of streetcar lines were eliminated, including entire systems in many cities). By the 1970's, a few cities were getting into the rail fad, but it's only been recently that it has really caught on.

 
At 8:32 PM, August 15, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Apologies, I misrepresented what you said.

 
At 8:33 PM, August 15, 2005, Anonymous Tom Bazan said...

Of the 27 events the GRB has booked over the next two years, the average attendance will be less than 600 attendees. Not all the attendees will even be staying in the CBD.

The vast majority will either take a hotel courtesy bus or a cab to get where they need to go in a safe and timely manner.

The few tourists I have observed on weekends at the deserted and doomed Main Street Square pedestrian mall have to dodge the panhandlers as they wait to try and get a photo of the fountain, if it is operating at the time.

They do not seem to be interested in riding the tram.

 
At 10:12 PM, August 21, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

there are plenty of people on north end of downtown on thu/fri/sat nights. plenty hop on the train too.

 
At 12:11 PM, September 16, 2005, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Actually--while its true that there was an image problem with streetcars in the 30's and 40's (remember that the country had been through the Depression and WW2) one of the main reasons for that image problem was that the streetcar companies were private businesses who had been starved by first money (during the Depression) then unable to buy new equipment during WW2 due to rationing and greater war needs for tanks, guns etc.
The other major reason for the conversion of streetcar lines to busses was the purchase of a number of private companies by a company called National City Lines. This company was owned by General Motors and a number of other automotive companies and suppliers (like Goodyear or Firestone--I forget which) who had reasons to push the bus conversion of streetcar companies. They purchased streetcar companies wholesale and converted them to bus operations. This has been proven in courts of law--even (as I understand it) up to the Supreme Court.

 

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