LA transit lessons for Houston?From Peter Gordon, an urban planning and economics professor at USC (a.k.a. soon-to-be-losers of the 2006 National Championship Rose Bowl).
L.A. county now has five recently-completed fixed guideway lines in operation. They include a $4.7 billion subway that carries slightly over 115,000 riders each day, three light-rail lines that cost almost $1-billion each just to build and between them serve 125,000 riders per day, and a recently opened busway that cost upwards of $350-million to build and carries approximately 10,600 riders per day.LA has perfect pedestrian/transit weather and more than twice the population density of Houston, yet can't make rail get even close to fiscal rationality. How are we going to?
These are all pathetically low numbers. The county's population is 10-million and the average person takes about four trips per day
My students and I recently applied a standard cost-benefit template to the five projects mentioned and found that, all things considered -- including generous assumptions about auto trips diverted and externality costs avoided, these five lines have a net cost to society of $560 million per year.
It takes a court order (and a lawsuit by the NCAAP and a group called the Bus Riders Union) to tell the MTA to add express bus service.
Tom Rubin reports that all of the MTAs routes could now be served by express buses -- had the money not been wasted on rail.
And what do local planners and politicians want to keep on doing? You guessed it.
Well, we're going to try by spending a whole lot less than LA - only around $2B, half from the Feds - so I guess that helps limit the potential downside. And we are doing quite a bit of rapid bus service, which is certainly more cost effective than rail. But I hope somebody at Metro is giving these numbers from other cities a really hard look to make sure we're not making the same mistakes, especially when it comes to the heavy rail commuter lines. And if that involves getting our Congressional delegation to beat up on the Federal Transit Authority bureaucracy to approve and fund more flexible and cost-effective options, then so be it (somebody at the Urban Land Institute conference in The Woodlands today told me the FTA can't handle modeling and funding of more flexible bus-based rapid transit systems).
(thanks to Out of Control for the tip)