Monday, November 19, 2007

Summing up my views on transit

I've caught a little flak recently for a string of posts that were a tad hard on transit. Sorry if I offended some of my readers. Sometimes my posts are less thoughtful and balanced than I'd like them to be - just depends on my mood and time crunch when I'm posting.

To clarify, I'm a supporter of transit done in a thoughtful and cost-effective way (rather than a blind "We have to be like New York!" model), which, for the most part, Metro seems to do - especially when compared to a lot of other transit agencies in this country, which can be managed very badly indeed.

I've always supported the Main St. line. I think the core LRT network is pretty good too - esp. the Universities line. I'm not sure the projected ridership on the other lines justifies LRT over BRT, but I'll give Metro the benefit of the doubt since they're far more familiar with what the Feds will and won't pay for.

As most of my readers know, my biggest objection is favoring a downtown-centric commuter rail network over an express lane bus network that can serve all of our polycentric job centers at higher speed with no transfers and shorter trip times while getting people closer to their final destination buildings. Senior Metro people have told me that the costs of building commuter rail require concentrating as much ridership as possible, which means killing "competing" express bus services even if they are more direct and faster. That would be a huge mistake for this city.

As far as road vs. rail comparative costs, the Katy Freeway is very expensive, but when you amortize out that cost over the massive numbers of people it will move over its lifetime, it's not that bad on a per-passenger-mile served basis. The HOT lanes will always offer the option of a fast trip (including for transit) - no matter how much congestion re-builds after it's complete.

As far a other world-class mega-cities: NYC, London, Paris, etc. are all artifacts of their history - huge, dense concentrations of people and jobs packed in a core during the walking age, and rail was the first technology that let people move out of the tenements and into the burbs, while keeping the jobs concentrated in the core. In cities built in the car age (think of the U.S. Sunbelt), the jobs disperse instead of concentrating in a single downtown, making commuter rail inappropriate.

In the bigger picture, I think the vast majority of America will not give up the comfort, speed, and convenience of personal vehicles to go back to transit. The vehicles themselves certainly may change - smaller, more fuel efficient, or even using alternative and cleaner fuels - but the personal vehicle is a core part of our lives that will not be going away no matter what gas prices do or carbon limits get enacted. Even the nature of our economy is shifting against transit, as far fewer people work 9 to 5 in one office with lunch at their desk. People have unpredictable schedules, telecommute more, and spend more time going to and from meetings with others not inside their building - not to mention chaining together all sorts of errand trips. Our core LRT network will make that somewhat feasible for some people who use commuter transit, but it still won't fit with the majority of peoples' lives.

I won't argue that transit isn't part of the solution - it absolutely is - but I do object to people who believe we can just lay down a lot of rail, build a few transit-oriented developments, stop expanding road capacity, and still be a healthy growing city. That's just not realistic - as LA, Atlanta, and even to some extent Dallas are discovering the hard way.

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34 Comments:

At 10:50 PM, November 19, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

Tory,

I know this will immortalize me in some peoples' minds as an anti-transit fanatic (which I'm not) but I still think you're wrong to support a core LRT network. I think you're looking for a compromise on rail transit that minimizes the damage of that particular inevitability and trying to characterize that position as some form of weak 'support.'

As I've said consistently, the Main Street line has garnered good ridership numbers through funneling. Metro has organized the system so they dump a huge number of passengers bus lines at either end of the Main Street, and they've canceled or reduce service on parallel bus lines. In this way, they've artificially increased the ridership on Main Street.

Accordingly, it's largely fake. The whole system is less convenient; the 'funneling' of riders necessitates more transfers, and thus increases travel times. Moreover, the money spent on LRT could have been used for bus improvements elsewhere that would have been more effective in increasing transit ridership. You've noted before that Houston is spread out and is continuing to spread out further, far more than it is growing in the inner loop -- our transit system should mimic this. When we focus on an inordinately expensive core network, we're going in the opposite direction of development.

The only justification I can come up with for LRT is the notion that yuppies (a choice demographic) have an anti-bus bias, and there's a benefit to creating condo districts with LRT service to attract this demographic. However, as I've also noted before, rail transit has seen unpopularity before. You don't want to base long-term infrastructure on what basically amounts to a fad.

Basically, I don't think LRT has a place anywhere. Once you reach a level of density to justify rail transit, you're better off investing in subways or elevated trains. LRT only worked before cars came into vogue; right now, they're nothing more than wisps of nostalgia and poor planning.

 
At 1:58 AM, November 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I believe Metro polled people riding light rail and found that 41% started using transit b/c of the rail. I read this over at http://www.ctchouston.org/blogs/christof/2007/
11/01/01/another-look-at-whos-riding-light-rail/

Furthermore, of course Metro had to close bus lines that would compete for ridership. For instance, bus lines that ran parallel. I'm sure this caused some people more transfer and a longer trip. However, this poll indicates the overall effectiveness of this single line. 28% of rail users used Park&Ride and transfered to the rail.
I just don't see Houston's LRT system doing poorly. I wonder how Uptown will change once the rail is going down there with all the retail, apartments, and high rises under construction or being planned.

 
At 8:33 AM, November 20, 2007, Anonymous kjb434 said...

Anonymous,

You just backed up Owen's point. The transit users have longer trips with more transfers. Their service has been degraded. Even though they may still use transit, the product that METRO has produced is less effective.

 
At 8:37 AM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The benefit goes a bit beyond apt/condo yuppies. It may encourage more commuter bus ridership because people have an easy way to get around the core during the day - without having to learn bus schedules or worry about their infrequency.

And, for the same reason, it's also helpful for out-of-town visitors/conventioneers who want to explore the city but don't want to rent a car and worry about navigating unfamiliar streets and parking. In fact, it can help attract those conventions in the first place, for exactly that reason - which is a nice economic boost (it's become one of those checklist items for convention planners).

I do agree that funneling is a problem, though. I think a small amount is an acceptable tradeoff, but do have concerns that it will get worse as we expand the network, and esp. if we go to commuter rail. I hope Metro will try to optimize the network for overall ridership, not just rail ridership.

 
At 9:25 AM, November 20, 2007, Anonymous Neal Meyer said...

Tory,

Setting aside comment about the current debate on transit, I will say I have a problem with your statement about people "not giving up personal vehicles to go back to transit." That problem is that motorized transportation did not replace rail or street cars. Motorized transportation replaced horse drawn carriages and wagons! Buses, which are the modern form of what were used to be called omnibuses (and still are called that in some languages), replaced street cars and rail in most American cities after the 1930's - 1940's. If you look at photographs of the period between the last decade of the 19th century and those taken after 1920, the thing you is most striking is that horse drawn vehicles disappear from the streets and roads of wealthy urban areas.

I have two books on the London Tube system, one of which was written by a fellow named Stephen Halliday. One of the original rationales for the proposals of the London subway system in the mid 19th century was to alleviate traffic congestion caused by the enormous number of horse drawn wagons, omnibuses, and carriages that clogged the narrow streets of the vast and rapidly sprawling city.

One final item. I wish I could say that the current Metro rail proposal is only about public transportation, but it is not. And that is all I will say for now.

Neal

 
At 10:11 AM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

anonymous,

I believe Metro polled people riding light rail and found that 41% started using transit b/c of the rail.

First of all, the poll is from Metro itself, so color me suspicious.

Secondly, the poll only bolsters my view that rail is more of a fad -- a novelty -- than anything else. People like the idea of rail transit, regardless of whether it is objectively better than buses. The problem there is that the novelty will not last forever.

 
At 10:24 AM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

tory,

The benefit goes a bit beyond apt/condo yuppies. It may encourage more commuter bus ridership because people have an easy way to get around the core during the day - without having to learn bus schedules or worry about their infrequency.

But isn't that just an argument for improving bus service? There's no reason why we can't have buses running at brief, regular intervals so that commuters don't need to memorize schedules or worry that the bus won't be there. There's nothing inherent in rail that makes it more reliable or with buses that make them less reliable.

And, for the same reason, it's also helpful for out-of-town visitors/conventioneers who want to explore the city but don't want to rent a car and worry about navigating unfamiliar streets and parking. In fact, it can help attract those conventions in the first place, for exactly that reason - which is a nice economic boost (it's become one of those checklist items for convention planners).

I agree that it's good for conventions, but that's mostly because of rail bias. People percieve buses as unreliable transportation for the poor, while rail is designed for wealthier people and travellers. There's no objective reason that has to be the case.

Besides, I think the bus trolleys do/did a good job of serving visitors while avoiding the bus stigma, and they did so at a lower expense. I think they could serve the conventionier market sufficiently so as to eliminate the perceived need for rail transit.

I hope Metro will try to optimize the network for overall ridership, not just rail ridership.

If they do, they'll be the first transit agency I know of to do so.

It's like red light cameras. We keep on finding out in successive cases in separate cities that local officials purposely manipulate yellow light times to increase revenue, or at least dismiss the idea of increasing yellow light times despite evidence that doing so would reduce accidents.

If red light cameras were designed to decrease accidents rather than generate revenue, I'd have less of a problem with them. However, that rarely if ever seems to be the case.

For better or for worse, red light cameras tend to end up being about generating revenue at the expense of safety, just as LRT tends to be about expanding the rail system at the expense of transit overall. We've seen it already in several other cities -- why expect anything else here?

 
At 10:52 AM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

Great post.

As for your main concern about shutting down buses, I think shutting down bus routes where they compete with rail makes perfect sense. For instance, if commuter rail is developed along 290 as is being planned, then as before when Main Street line opened, buses along that stretch should be shut down. If you are saying that non-related routes will be shut down, then this would be a concern. I'd like to see Metro be more upfront about what routes are getting closed, especially in cases where non-competing routes would be affected.

-Mike

 
At 11:25 AM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> There's nothing inherent in rail that makes it more reliable or with buses that make them less reliable.

Well, rail does have it's own right of way - avoiding traffic backups - and the ability to change the lights in its favor.

I agree there's also a psychological pro-rail bias, but, as illogical as it is, it is there and we might as well accept it. Human behavior and bias does not change easily.

Michael:
Here's the problem: 290 park & rides might offer nonstop express bus service to Uptown, Greenway, the med center, and Downtown - as well as circulating among the buildings at each. Great service. Replacing that with commuter rail - net 30mph or so with stops - and LRT transfers (also with plenty of stops, net speed <20mph) will increase trip times so much as to dramatically reduce overall ridership - and with much higher cost vs. the original express bus service.

 
At 12:03 PM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

tory,

Well, rail does have it's own right of way - avoiding traffic backups - and the ability to change the lights in its favor.

You can certainly give buses their own right of way. You can simply reserve the right lane for buses with minimal interruption of right-of-way (as is done on some streets already in downtown) or you can simply go with fixed guideways and BRT.

The ability to change lights is certainly not restricted to LRT. Any vehicle with a MIRT device can trigger the light cycle. This ruins traffic syncronization and holds up traffic, but then again, so does the Main Street rail line.

I agree there's also a psychological pro-rail bias, but, as illogical as it is, it is there and we might as well accept it. Human behavior and bias does not change easily.

Sure it does, at least with time. Fads come and go. Why do you think streetcars were eliminated? People thought they were old and outdated, while buses were regarded as newer and better. Who is to say that we're not going to build a huge amount of LRT, and then find twenty years down the road that nobody likes rail anymore?

We can't change fads, but we can certainly oppose them when they result in waste. That's what Houston did with zoning, and we're better off for it.

Support for rail isn't extremely high in Houston, and Metro has pulled some dirty tricks to get it built. It's still a trend worth fighting, IMHO. The compromise you propose -- a smaller, inner-city rail network -- strikes me more as damage control than a plan for the best possible system. Sadly, it's probably more realistic than defeating rail expansions altogether given the current political climate.

 
At 12:57 PM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Tory,

Thanks for the explanation - but I still think more people will ride commuter rail, especially in cases where you can get straight downtown to an intermodal transit center. Some people will choose not to ride if it is not as convenient to get to Uptown / Greenway - etc - and these are issues Metro should attempt to address in their design. I have not seen direct comparisons on trip time from 290 to our job centers with commuter rail network vs bus network, but I will reserve judgement until Metro has a concrete proposal on the table. I don't believe that the most sensible proposal would likely involve keeping many of the bus lines running - although maybe certain cases like 290 straight to the med center would serve as an exception.

In some other cases, adding rail might help, even with transfers. If you have a train running every 7 minutes, and you can connect from 290 to the uptown line for instance to get to the Galleria, then any travel time increase seems very speculative at best, and in some cases might actually be a travel time decrease given that you have a traffic-free commute all the way in. (So, express bus to Galleria seems like it might be a good candidate for shutting down)

-Mike

 
At 8:24 PM, November 20, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Owen,
How can you say buses are so much economically effective? I'm not saying you are wrong but all you have done is show rhetoric, not any kind of dollar amount. Also, Metro itslef doesn't conduct the pollings, it outsources it to another company. However, perhaps you can provide a rough estimate of how many people are being funnelled Owen?

Furthermore, I've never heard of mass transit being in vogue. All this business about fads and what not is bogus. The main reason I ride (along with many other people) the rail is to save money on the ridiculous cost of parking at the Med Center. I could be wrong and all those people that board are light rail posers... :D

I dont see how connecting the 4 biggest employment centers, art museums, and major universities will be bad in the LONG run. Having optinons to how you get to work is very important.

 
At 10:06 PM, November 20, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

anonymous,

How can you say buses are so much economically effective? I'm not saying you are wrong but all you have done is show rhetoric, not any kind of dollar amount.

It's easy -- light rail has substantially higher capital costs (i.e. construction costs) and roughly equal operating costs versus buses. If you give buses fixed guideways, referred to as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), you get the same results in terms of travel times as light rail, and at a lesser cost. If there's a cheaper alternative that yields the same or similar results, then light rail simply can't be cost-effective.

Furthermore, I've never heard of mass transit being in vogue. All this business about fads and what not is bogus.

The 'fad' I'm talking about is the current prejudice in favor of rail and against buses. Cities are building rail when you could provide the same level of service with buses.

The main reason I ride (along with many other people) the rail is to save money on the ridiculous cost of parking at the Med Center.

Couldn't you do the same thing with improved bus service? They could even use the savings versus building rail to provide reduced fares.

 
At 10:20 AM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous RedScare said...

"As far as road vs. rail comparative costs, the Katy Freeway is very expensive, but when you amortize out that cost over the massive numbers of people it will move over its lifetime, it's not that bad on a per-passenger-mile served basis. The HOT lanes will always offer the option of a fast trip (including for transit) - no matter how much congestion re-builds after it's complete."

Perhaps this paragraph sums up some of the annoyance with your posts best. You blithely explain that a $2.8 Billion redo of a 23 mile highway is worth it, though the reconstruction costs over $120 million per mile, and will increase existing capacity of 270,000 cars per day to 300,000. Yet, you lambaste spending a fraction of that amount on rail projects as a waste of money. The entire METRO Solutions project is budgeted at less than what is being spent to upgrade the Katy Freeway.

Sometimes your comparisons are fair, but most of the time, you use one set of standards while advocating for more roads, while using a far stricter set of standards while advocating against rail. It is the differing standards that I find annoying.

More examples:

You deride commuter rail because it is not "flexible", but somehow find a 400 foot wide freeway "flexible".

You mentioned anecdotes to support roads, yet strike down the same anecdotes if they support rail.

You use Americans' "love affair with their cars" as a reason that rail will fail, yet criticize "rail bias" as somehow elitist and not part of the equation.

You quote articles that agree with you as "great", though they have little useful information, and virtually never quote anyone who is not in your "more highways" camp.

Few rail supporters (I would argue none) advocate eliminating highways. What we recognize is the VALUE of a fixed route such as rail, over an ever-changing bus route, just as you inadvertantly advocate for fised route highways. We recognize the smaller footprint and increased capacity of rail lines over highways. Most of all, we recognize the value of transit OPTIONS. The fact that Houstonians may generally prefer their SUV does not mean that they do not also want the option of clean efficient transit. You seem to advocate only one solution, even when other options are reasonable.

 
At 11:25 AM, November 21, 2007, Blogger Kevin Whited said...

**
To clarify, I'm a supporter of transit done in a thoughtful and cost-effective way **

What do you think of laying rail down busy auto corridors, thereby hindering auto traffic?

On corridors like Main, it has caused bottlenecks in some spots, even though there are some alternate routes for traffic. But on Richmond, the alternates are already jammed, and Richmond is already busy.

Do you think this is an example of "transit done in a thoughtful and cost-effective way" or transit done in a way that decreases traffic mobility?

As a followup, shouldn't "thoughtful, cost-effective" transit aim to increase overall mobility, rather than hurt some forms of transportation while "helping" those types who really like the idea of trains instead of buses (a "lifestyle choice" if you will)?

 
At 12:16 PM, November 21, 2007, Blogger ian said...

Kevin, when you max out your roadway vehicular capacity, high-capacity mass transit can be key to increasing maximum throughput. Granted, it probably won't increase vehicular throughput -- but what really matter? Moving cars, or moving people?

At the moment, to get from my job on the southwest side of town to my home near downtown, I can choose: crawling congestion on 59, crawling congestion on Richmond, or crawling congestion on any of the major parallel roads. If I could take fast transit and bypass all that traffic, I'd do it in a heartbeat. That would be a choice based solely on minimizing travel time and stress level and not at all an a bias for any particular mode of transportation.

 
At 2:18 PM, November 21, 2007, Blogger David said...

Tory is right about most of this post. Metro is pursuing a rail policy that identifies clusters of people and is designed to provide frequent service among those clusters. It is not attempting, as Dallas did, to spend millions on long runs of rail track in order to deliver service to dispersed suburban areas. As a result, Metro's light rail ridership is fast catching up to Dallas's and when the new service here begins in 2012 it will just overwhelm the Dallas ridership and do so at a fraction of the cost.

As far as I know, Metro's strategy is the only recent one in the US to try to provide urban service to urban places. I think that people will be emulating the Metro concept soon, after spending a lot of money focusing on suburbs without a lot of success.

The idea of spending another fortune providing inferior commuter service to the Houston Central Business District, where only 7 percent of jobs are, is marginally crazy. I agree that a commuter rail system that is focused on only one of our six downtowns would be a huge mistake.

That's not to say that an as-yet-undiscussed transit system that connects the big activity centers and is poised to connect others that are growing would be a mistake. But that will require a totally different tactic than just using existing freight rail lines, all of which just go downtown. We need to begin to discuss this pretty soon.

In any event, committing billions of dollars to commuter rail while ignoring the 80 percent of trips that have nothing to do with commuting is to ignore the core problem. Transit is an amenity for pedestrians. Forty percent of our population is pedestrian, and about 30 percent of drivers would prefer to travel some other way. While transit will never attract a majority in the region, it could conceivably attract a majority in urban areas.

We are going to have a lot more urban areas in the region than we see today, and designing a system for today is missing the point of a growing urban metropolis.

 
At 2:32 PM, November 21, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

David,

I don't think Houston is the only city to pursue the strategy of focusing on the urban core. St. Louis did this about 15 years before Houston, and just opened their first major expansion of their starter line last year. Their line is a bit different, in that the starter was from downtown to the airport (which is much closer than Hobby / IAH), but I find the lines / strategies to be fairly similar overall. The second line that they just opened goes to their "uptown" area.

Also I am not as familiar with Cleveland's Rapid, but I believe the strategy is fairly similar there as well, with recent expansions in the downtown area allowing transit users to get to the football stadium, Rock Hall of fame, etc.

-Mike

 
At 2:45 PM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Regarding cost of light rial v. cost of BRT, I believe that Australia has dealt with this problem and is switching their BRT lines to rail because the operational costs of BRT has turned out to be substantially higher than rail in the longer term. I would imagine that buses (like all automobiles) have to be replaced much more frequently than trains. Having traveled extensively in Eastern Europe, I can tell you that many of their trains and trolleys are VERY old and yet work great. I know Toronto bought many trolleys from the United States last century when many cities got rid of their urban rail service and those still work fine as well. Something to be said for investment.

One more thing, I think one MAJOR issue with buses is that they are often sitting in the same traffic that commuters who take transit want to avoid. Unless a bus is given a true right of way (not just a right lane with a star painted on it), you are going to run into that problem. And I suspect that many of the people who trumpet BRT as an alternative are not considered TRUE BRT (with a divided right of way) because the same cost of construction issues would begin to pop up again.

 
At 2:58 PM, November 21, 2007, Blogger David said...

Not to get into this peripheral argument about BRT vs LRT, but whenever making comparisons, they should be between genuine BRT (which hardly exists in the US) and LRT as it relates to the service provided and characteristics. That is, compare service in dedicated right of way, with signal priority, multiple doors, offboard fare collection, same headways, and all the rest. The primary advantage of LRT is that it can generally carry more passengers thus allowing the line more capacity at the same headways. When you get down to the minimum headways, that's where LRT shines, because at that point it's capable of carrying far more passengers.

Having said that, there are BRT vehicles coming that can challenge LRT in that sense, but so far no promises of matching capacity that I've heard of.

 
At 5:23 PM, November 21, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

anonymous,

Regarding cost of light rial v. cost of BRT, I believe that Australia has dealt with this problem and is switching their BRT lines to rail because the operational costs of BRT has turned out to be substantially higher than rail in the longer term. I would imagine that buses (like all automobiles) have to be replaced much more frequently than trains.

Could you provide a link on that? Studies done in the US have shown similar operating costs for LRT vs. BRT (i.e. the GAO study and the data from Jonathan Richmond of Harvard).

As for LRT trains being replaced less frequently than buses, that's certainly true -- an LRT train will last something like 30 years without being replaced or completely overhauled. A regular street bus will only last about 10 years. However, a light rail train costs something like five times more than a bus, so buses are probably slightly cheaper over the long term.

 
At 7:11 PM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

owen-

I don't have a link because I heard it on a ABC podcast about the upcoming election; I lived in Australia for a bit and try to keep up with things. It had to do with some of the sections of the O-Bahn in Adelaide. The stops outside of the the guided bus way are being served by an extended light rail, at least that is my understanding.

Interestingly enough, while looking for the Australian link I found this report from Calgary.
http://www.calgarytransit.com/html/brt_report.pdf
If you notice on page 10, they estimate that the cost per boarding passenger for BRT to be over 3x that of LRT. The numbers in Dallas (which they provide for comparison) are even higher.

Anyway, I will continue to look for the link to the story in Australia.

 
At 7:22 PM, November 21, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One more thing...just to clarify I have nothing against BRT if it is done correctly (i.e. separate, divided right of way with low pollution buses - preferably run by overhead electric guide wires). But again, my suspesion is that many of the people that call for BRT over LRT don't really mean BRT...they mean regular buses with fancy names for their route or special painting on the side.

 
At 4:34 PM, November 24, 2007, Blogger Owen Courrèges said...

anonymous,

One more thing...just to clarify I have nothing against BRT if it is done correctly (i.e. separate, divided right of way with low pollution buses - preferably run by overhead electric guide wires). But again, my suspesion is that many of the people that call for BRT over LRT don't really mean BRT...they mean regular buses with fancy names for their route or special painting on the side.

My only preference is for the most cost-effective form of transportation. That's pretty much never LRT. While I respect that you're willing to cite data on the issue of operating costs, it is based on assertions by one measure in two cities. I would remind you that there are several ways of measuring operating costs, and studies that review them collectively have come up with mixed data. I haven't seen a comprehensive, unbiased study that shows LRT has lower operating costs than BRT.

 
At 10:51 AM, November 27, 2007, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree on the inadvisability of replacing direct express bus with indirect multi-transfer rail, but I think you're missing just how many of Houston's polycentric MECs are near heavy rail lines.

Rail lines from Hempstead and Tomball can serve Uptown and Westchase directly by using the existing rail bypass between Eureka and Westpark. HGAC has proposed adding trackage along here for exactly this reason.

Likewise, rail lines from the south and north can serve TMC directly by using the still-existing Alameda corridor. HGAC is also talking about this.

---Anonymous #5

 
At 1:46 PM, November 27, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Even if the tracks go nearby, the core problems still remain: transfers, multiple stops slowing down net speeds, and, most critically, Metro's need to pump up ridership to justify the expense, forcing as many passengers as possible to transfer to those lines - even if much slower than direct express bus service.

Sure, the dots will connect, but when you really work out the trip times with stops and transfers, few will ride it.

 
At 2:32 PM, November 27, 2007, Blogger ian said...

Tory, for the most part I agree with you. But I think some of the commuter rail lines may make sense even with a transfer IF they transfer to a high-quality transit option such as light rail. For example: Westpark. It absolutely stinks during the peak hours. And so does the highway it connects to, 59. If commuter rail ran along Westpark, riders could catch the University line at the Hillcroft Park and Ride and take a relatively quick, painless ride into Greenway (probably not all the way to downtown or TMC, but with 59 traffic as bad as it is, you never know. . .).

Likewise, a Galveston line could connect very well to downtown and TMC destinations via the Red Line and, if the University Line was ever to be extended to Harrisburg, on that line to UH and TSU. I think it's very reasonable to assume that many commuters will have no problem transfering to fast and frequent light rail.

 
At 3:37 PM, November 27, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The 59 HOV lane already does a pretty good job connecting SW Houston directly to Greenway, although I agree it makes sense for all the SW *local* buses to connect commuters to the Uline at the Hillcroft transit center for Uptown and Greenway.

The Galveston line is one of the few commuter lines that may make sense, as I've written before, mainly because of the two-way commuting (job centers at Clear Lake and the island), and weekend usage to Kemah, CL, and Galveston. But I still imagine obnoxious problems like forcing Clear Lake residents working at TMC to transfer to Uline then transfer *again* to Main St. Line to get to work - when they really should be riding an express bus directly to TMC - not to mention Uptown.

 
At 11:00 PM, November 29, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

Sorry to post on this again so late, but just came across an article that calls into further question the idea that transit agencies in Dallas and Atlanta are struggling - you specifically mention Atlanta in your post.

Here's a MARTA press release pointing to 2 years of budget surplus and rail ridership increase of > 12% over last year (77 million boardings) - and revenue up 4% YOY all without raising fares since 2001 (hint hint - they could probably make more money if that were their only goal, but it is not).

So what exactly are these agencies finding out the hard way, dare I ask? Other than they are way ahead of Houston in terms of their transit options / quality of service.

http://tinyurl.com/3x26uc

MARTA experienced a significant boost in ridership in FY07 providing service for 147.5 million passenger boardings – 6.6 percent more than the previous fiscal year. Rail ridership also increased 12.2 percent with 77.7 million passenger boardings. Thanks to the additional ridership, passenger revenue was also up 3.5% contributing to a budget surplus for the second year in a row.


“MARTA’s efforts to improve service and to take a more customer focused approach to the way we do business have successfully resulted in an increase in ridership,” said MARTA General Manager Richard McCrillis. “We are extremely pleased to see that everyday more and more people are enjoying the quality and convenience of our service.”

Numerous system improvements as well as rising gas prices have contributed to an increase in MARTA’s ridership. Over the past fiscal year, bus service was increased and the Authority completed installation of the Breeze fare collection system. With Breeze technology, MARTA is now able to collect more accurate ridership data and has increased revenue collections thanks to state-of-the-art equipment and reduced fare evasion. In addition, MARTA’s commitment to maintaining the same affordable fare since January 2001 has contributed to an increase in customers.

 
At 7:03 AM, November 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Not saying that the transit agencies have problems - but that the cities do because they over-focused on rail and ignored freeway capacity. Atlanta has rapidly risen to one of the top handful of most congested cities in the nation. And their state transportation agency is now refocusing on freeway infrastructure - realizing that MARTA can do little to sustain the city's growth.

Dallas' LRT network has not saved downtown. It is doing ok from a residential standpoint (which has little to do with the rail), but it has attracted no significant job growth downtown - which was the primary point of the network.

 
At 9:06 AM, November 30, 2007, Anonymous nats said...

How can you say that transit has nothing to do with downtown residential development in Dallas? From talking to a friend that lives in downtown, it seems it has everything to do with it. He uses the system regularly. Additionally, the Uptown area most certainly developed because of the rail transit running through the area.

Now, as far as Atlanta, traffic certainly is painful coming from the burbs into downtown but if you live in the city, I have found the traffic comparable to Houston (and Houston traffic is not fun either, like all big cities). Not only that, with MARTA, you have an alternative which in most places in Houston you don't have. Atlanta also has experienced a lot more dense development along the line, something that doesn't seem to happen in Houston.

 
At 9:41 AM, November 30, 2007, Blogger Michael said...

All the three cities - Dallas, Houston, and Atlanta, are growing tremendously in spite of horrible traffic.

However, rail positions Dallas / Atlanta for higher density growth in the long term. And last I heard, both systems are expanding. Even Fort Worth is studying new lines.

Obviously, a rail line alone is not going to save a downtown area. I am not familiar enough with Dallas to really analyze that issue, but I imagine there are a lot of reasons (as in any city) why people might not be living downtown. Rail is one positive addition, but if the city still suffers from crime, no inner-city shopping or amenities that people want, new developments they can move into, etc, then rail is not going to single-handedly change all that. Think of the TMC on the main street line - that was already there before the line. Arguably, the line has helped strengthen that entire area, allowing people to get to work, home, TMC, or downtown quicker and more conveniently than before. But a rail line is not always going to be an instant catalyst for development - nor is that its purpose (which is to move people from A to B).

 
At 4:00 PM, November 30, 2007, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Dallas' lines are commuter lines to bring workers into the core, yet it has not boosted jobs downtown. It certainly may shape a small amount of downtown residential, but that's not why you build multi-billion dollar transit lines.

Be careful about what I'm saying here. Not that transit isn't part of the solution (it is) - just that it has to be matched with continuing freeway capacity additions if you want continued growth in core job centers.

 
At 4:38 PM, November 30, 2007, Anonymous nats said...

Well, the light rail in Dallas may extend into some of the burbs, but it most certainly is not a commuter rail line. TRE is a commuter rail. The Washington DC Metro also runs into the burbs and it's not a commuter rail (that VRE and MARC).

Of course it is difficult to track causes, but much of the development in Uptown is almost certainly credited to the light rail. I don't know about the trend in the actual number of office space in downtown Dallas but there is definitely residential space going up down there. Again, most certainly the light rail has something to do with it.

 

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