Moving freight, bus vs. rail, and congestion vs. productivitySome good stuff in Bob Poole's newest Surface Transportation Innovations newsletter over at the Reason Foundation.
First, he covers the limitations of freight rail to reduce urban truck traffic congestion. He discusses rail shuttles to get containers from ports past congested urban areas like LA (and maybe Houston?) to more remote, lower cost areas where they can be transferred to trucks and distribution centers. But ultimately he thinks toll truckways are a more effective solution, both practically and financially.
Second, he looks at some new data on bus vs. rail based on new lines in LA. He finds BRT far more cost-effective than LRT, but then notes that express bus service, without the dedicated guideway, can be nearly as fast, and far more cost effective, than even BRT. Cost per boarding is $7.54 for LRT, $3.79 for BRT, and $2.17 for express bus. Metro has wisely switched much of the core network from LRT to BRT, but maybe they could get even more payoffs from additional express arterial routes?
But the most interesting paragraph is one that backs up my claim from way-back that expensive commuter rail displaces affordable express HOV buses in painful ways:
In Denver, the Rocky Mountain News reported (Dec. 6, 2006) that commuters are complaining bitterly about the impact of the new T-REX light rail line on bus service. The RTD eliminated nonstop express bus service from suburban park & ride lots to downtown and the Tech Center, so as not to compete with T-REX. But "many commuters have complained that the need to transfer from buses to trains to buses again has added from 20 minutes to an hour—or more on bad weather days—to their one-way travel times. Some are going back to driving or forming car pools."Houston has a great HOV bus network (although it could be even better, with improved service to non-downtown job centers). Do we really want to replace it with slower commuter rail and more time-consuming transfers?
Finally, I enjoyed the section on traffic congestion's impact on urban productivity, which includes results from a new study. Bottom line: making the investments to reduce congestion can pay off in higher urban productivity, and therefore pay.
I.e. when people are car-based, it doesn't make sense to try to force them all into the same downtown job center. Decentralization is a natural result to reduce congestion and improve mobility.
Graham's results comport with economic theory and intuition, supporting the proposition "that urban road traffic congestion plays a significant role in ‘constraining' the benefits of agglomeration, and consequently, that it may serve to reduce achievable levels of urban productivity." Moreover, his estimates that include the effects of travel time and travel speed tend to find congestion impacts about 30% higher than traditional measures that rely primarily on more narrow distance-based measures.
In short, falling travel speeds and lengthening travel times means that businesses experience faster "diminishing returns", reaching a point of zero (or negative) productivity growth faster than those with higher travel speeds and lower travel times. The most pronounced effects were on productivity in the manufacturing, construction, hotels & catering, and IT sectors. Banking, finance & insurance, business services, and public services, traditional "CBD businesses", did not appear to be impacted as negatively.
Notably, Graham observes in his conclusion that the constraining impacts of traffic congestion on urban productivity tend to reduce densities in the most urbanized locations, promoting decentralization or, in more colloquial terms, sprawl.