Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Why Mayor Parker needs to audit Metro's plans

The Houston Chronicle editorial board recently called on Mayor-elect Parker to essentially 'tread lightly' when it comes to Metro, so as not to potentially jeopardize federal funding for the new rail lines. While I think everybody would agree we don't want to put federal funding at risk with any clumsy moves, an immediate deep-dive audit and analysis of Metro's cloudy future plans and financials is absolutely called for. There are big money bets being made here that require fiscal due diligence and a fiduciary duty by the mayor, who appoints the majority of Metro board members.

First, some of the troubling Metro numbers I've seen recently:
I myself worry that much of the line's ridership is simply as a parking shuttle for the Texas Medical Center - something future lines won't benefit from.
  • Those of you who know Tom Bazan know that he is a strident Metro critic - and not one I always agree with - but he does make some fair points:
"METRO has failed to honor the main promises made to voters in the 2003 “Solutions” referendum; that of a 50% INCREASE of bus service. Further when voters approved the “Solutions” plan in 2003, the urban rail portion was to be 22 miles, costing $1.2 billion ($54.5 million/mile). Today, it is a 30 mile rail plan, and the cost is in the range of $4 billion ($133.3 million/mile)!"

BEFORE METRO BUILT URBAN RAIL, FY 2001
Population: 4,262,000
Transit Boardings: 101,914,157

SIX YEARS AFTER URBAN RAIL COMPLETED, FY 2009
Population: 5,090,600 (2008)
Transit Boardings: 73,080,702 + 11,561,633(rail) = 84,642,335 total (12 months ending September 2009) - a 17% drop in ridership
  • Several reports say Metro's announced costs for the new light rail lines are low by more than half (KHOU Channel 11 and followup, Examiner, blogHouston, Neal analysis). From The Examiner:
    Using the $1.46 billion contract as the basis for calculations, the average cost of the four corridors will be $68 million per mile. The average based on the (FTA) letters of no prejudice amounts for the North and Southeast corridors would increase the cost to $159.4 million per mile.

    It would also increase the cost of the East End Corridor to $527.7 million and more than double the price of the Uptown Corridor to $688.8 million.

    That would bring the estimated cost of the four lines to more than $3 billion.

    Separately, the 11 miles of the University Corridor not included in the contract would be more than than $1.7 billion.
    $4.7 billion is a truly staggering amount of money if that turns out to be the true cost - way, way beyond the $640 million bond issue voters approved in 2003.
Then there are the disturbing stories of financial blow-ups at transit agencies across the country:
And that's just a sample of the dozens of transit agencies in trouble, looking for either taxpayer bailouts or draconian service cuts.

Houston has a real chance to make sure we don't make the same mistakes.

As far as federal funding, it is important, but it's not everything. An analogy: if a salesman offers a $200K Ferrari at half-price with a $100K government subsidy to a middle-class family (and, to make this analogy match rail, they can't resell it), it's still a financially imprudent and disastrous move - subsidy or not. The goal is not maximizing federal subsidies - it's building a sustainable, affordable, functional, high-ridership transit system.

Labels: , ,

46 Comments:

At 9:53 PM, December 23, 2009, Anonymous kjb434 said...

"The Houston Chronicle editorial board recently called on Mayor-elect Parker to essentially 'tread lightly' when it comes to Metro,"

Coming from the Houston Comical, you can't believe anything they say regarding transit. They champion and cheer on METRO even when the facts are showing their complete ineptness, broken promises, and outright lies. The paper is quickly become a joke and it only good read if you want to laugh or just cry at how journalist have ruined their profession. The editorial bored is often in their own world and can't even begin to see the other side of any issue.

METRO is following the same path as every government run transit agency runs into: reality and economics.

This is why there isn't much money in moving passengers in the US. Airlines just barely make profits. Passenger rail was given up on a long time ago and now the inept AMTRAK runs national rail because no business man in their right sense would do it. The only lines that come close to paying for themselves on AMTRAK are meant for tourist and not moving people efficiently. There are things AMTRAK can do to become profitable, but they all call on them operate like a competent business.

Me and other posters can regurgitate the information that everybody already knows. Pro-rail folks will just dismiss it and say the public should do rail for some "green" reason and it's just better for the community. Two of the most lame arguments ever. Rail does not help environment and often can generate a carbon footprint larger than if all the commuters drove their own cars. Freight actually is better than truck and works for moving large, heavy freight great distances. On top of that, rail can never reduce traffic. It never has and never will. Just pick up a transportation textbook and read for yourself.

 
At 11:22 PM, December 23, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Scary info.

Randall says transit ridership started dropping the same year rail construction started. Did rail construction honestly effect ridership? I find that hard to believe, but I guess it's possible. Is that a true correlation?

 
At 3:35 AM, December 24, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

KJB434: what the textbooks say about rail and traffic is that nothing reduces traffic because of induced demand. That's equally true of freeway and rail expansions. But when something goes wrong with those capacity expansions, traffic does spike. The main case study here is of LA's traffic, which gets worse during Metro transit strikes, with traffic speeds going down 20%.

Finally, the part about carbon footprint being high is only true for rail services nobody rides. For more popular services, it's not true. For example, the New York City Subway emits one sixth as much carbon per passenger as the average single-passenger car, according to the Federal Transit Administration.

Tory: your graph shows cost in nominal dollars, not cost in inflation-adjusted dollars; adjusted for inflation, the cost growth from 1996 to 2007 was small, on the order of 20%, slightly less than the growth in ridership.

Said graph also makes too much of passenger-miles. Urban transit doesn't exist to carry people, not people-miles. You'll see railroads report passenger-miles sometimes, but not urban rail systems.

 
At 8:12 AM, December 24, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

We don't know what operational cuts/modifications Metro put in place during rail construction, partially to get around construction, but also possibly to cut costs to pay for the ongoing rail program.

 
At 2:07 PM, December 24, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

If Metro cut costs to pay for rail construction, how is that a bad thing?

Light rail has lower operating costs than buses in a large majority of US cities. In Houston, buses cost $3.18 to operate per passenger, compared with $1.29 for light rail, according to the National Transit Database. There was a cost spike in 2002-3, but it went back to normal afterward. In an even larger majority of US cities, rail runs at a higher farebox operating ratio; in Houston it's 0.25 for light rail and 0.18 for buses.

The basic tradeoff is that rail is cheaper to operate and more expensive to construct; whether it's justified depends on how much traffic you expect.

 
At 2:40 PM, December 24, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> If Metro cut costs to pay for rail construction, how is that a bad thing?

If they cut service to do it, maybe with lower frequencies on bus routes.

Your cost quotes are per trip, and don't take into account the shorter trips on rail. Per passenger mile, they're almost exactly the same ($0.53 vs. $0.55). So rail has a massive additional capital cost + the same operating costs vs. buses.

 
At 9:07 PM, December 24, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

First, in most US cities, the average trip length is higher on rail than on buses. Outside Houston, passenger-mile numbers are actually more favorable to buses.

But more importantly, passenger-miles don't vote. They don't contribute revenues: urban transit fares either are flat or increase slowly with distance. On intercity systems passenger-miles make more sense, and often intercity railroads and airlines quote passenger-km numbers. But on urban transit, passenger-miles are an excuse to build low-ridership extensions to the exurbs and neglect urban neighborhoods. Competent transit operators report and care about passenger numbers only. For example: I can't find passenger-km numbers for Tokyo Metro, only passenger numbers, whereas for the mainline Japan Railways companies, it's much easier to find passenger-km numbers.

The short rail trip lengths in Houston are actually a good thing. Radical Cartography has a map of all urban transit systems in the US and Canada to the same scale. The unmitigated failures, like BART, are spread out with little coverage in the inner areas - they're run by people who think passenger-miles vote. The successes have dense coverage in the center, often at the expense of spread - Calgary's light rail network extends out much less than any of its less successful American counterparts. Houston seems to emulate Calgary and not the Bay Area, and that's a good thing.

 
At 9:49 PM, December 24, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

While your argument on passengers vs. passenger-miles may have some merit, it's still unfair to say rail has cheaper operating costs per trip when their trips are much shorter on average (at least in Houston). Operating costs are fairly compared per passenger-mile. Whether transit agencies should maximize passengers or passenger-miles is up for debate, but the metric for mode cost comparisons has to be standardized by passenger-mile.

 
At 12:38 AM, December 25, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

I don't see why it should. Costs per passenger-mile obscure the fact that some passengers are inherently more expensive to move than others. This appears a lot with commuter rail, and commuter-like systems like BART: the operating costs per passenger-mile of running trains to the boonies are low, but the operating revenue and the operating costs per passenger are both high.

Nationally, buses cost $3 per passenger, light rail $2.8, heavy rail $1.7; per passenger-mile, buses cost $0.9, light rail $0.6, heavy rail $0.4. For commuter rail this effect is stronger - it costs $8.6 per passenger and $0.4 per passenger-mile.

Those numbers are weighted by the fact that most rail ridership in the US is in or near New York. But the effect of rail performing better per passenger-mile is true in nearly every US city with significant rail, even ones with underperforming rail like Cleveland and Miami and ones with Sunbelt form like Denver. The only exception with significant rail is Los Angeles.

 
At 12:46 AM, December 25, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

I should add something to the previous comment: in most cities, the bus/light rail cost ratio per passenger is higher than 3/2.8. The reason the national averages are 3 and 2.8 is that the busiest and lowest-cost bus systems, such as New York, are bus and heavy rail only, with no light rail.

 
At 3:16 AM, December 27, 2009, Anonymous Keep Houston Houston said...

Here's the big problem with major bus service increases: they mean absolutely NOTHING long-term.

NOTHING.

Buses are ethereal. All of the costs associated with buses are ongoing; fuel, maintenence, and outright fleet replacement about every 10-12 years or so. That means that there is ALWAYS a HUGE opportunity to cut bus service for any reason anyone feels like whatsoever.

Rail, by contrast, is lasting.

 
At 9:05 AM, December 27, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Exactly. Bus service can be easily ramped up or down based on demand. Or new routes created to meet demand. They can adapt as the city evolves. Rail cannot.

Rail can serve a purpose in very highly traveled corridors, and a small amount of dense development can be shaped around rail lines. But rail-appropriate corridors are pretty few in Houston. Certainly Main st, and probably University and *maybe* Uptown - but North, East, and SE lack major destinations and could be just as well served with bus or BRT.

 
At 10:16 AM, December 27, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

A European city the size of Houston might not even have a subway beyond Main Street, and a corridor serving Uptown and Montrose. The idea of sending urban rail out to the sticks to maximize passenger-miles is an American planning pathology and leads to low ridership. The model for Houston's public transit should be Calgary, where light rail cost $2,400 per rider, not Portland, where it cost $11,000.

 
At 12:11 AM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Michael said...

>>Certainly Main st, and probably University and *maybe* Uptown - but North, East, and SE lack major destinations and could be just as well served with bus or BRT.

We've already been through this. The voters along the North, East, and SE corridors *overwhelmingly* voted for rail. You think Annise Parker's first year as mayor is going to be spent repudiating the will of the voters? You must be joking. Whether it may be economically sound to replace the routes with BRT is one thing - whether it is politically possible is quite another.

 
At 7:56 AM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

The current mayor did change it to BRT at one point, and then changed it back. So it can be done. And a lot of the people right along the routes have had a change of heart as the construction looms closer and the note the permanent lane closures, access changes, and land takings.

 
At 1:08 PM, December 28, 2009, Anonymous Appetitus Rationi Pareat said...

I've asked this question before but I might as well ask it again, "What exactly do you mean by BRT?"

Specifically, are you talking about grade separated, fixed routes serviced by special buses? Or are you just talking about the same ole buses but for fancy new names and perhaps a right hand lane that is (supposedly) just for buses?

I find it funny how so many people who are basically ideologically anti-public transit suddenly become such big believers in BRT. Of course, they rarely actually define what they mean by BRT which makes me suspect that it is simply a ruse to funnel less money to transit and more money to highways.

 
At 1:18 PM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Michael said...

>>The current mayor did change it to BRT at one point, and then changed it back. So it can be done.

Actually, I'd say that was the perfect illustration of my point - it cannot be done. The residents of those corridors got irate when they learned they were going to get buses when they specifically voted for rail. You think they will try to pull that again on the same people? I mean, yes - anything is possible, but I'd say the likelihood is less than 5% or so of that happening.

The reality is - these lines are about to get their matching funds - any week now, and then the construction should really get going. And the reality is most voters want this to go forward.

 
At 2:37 PM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'm flexible. Whatever the ridership will really justify. A Quickline like Bellaire might be adequate to the demand, or a dedicated diamond lane, or real grade separation with or without electrical overhead wires. Weigh up the costs of each vs. the ridership and speed (which will impact ridership).

 
At 2:38 PM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Oh, and then factor in whatever the minimum requirement is for federal matching funds.

 
At 2:42 PM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> And the reality is most voters want this to go forward.

Straight up, probably. But ask their support if Metro has to take a quarter penny away from roads, or increase taxes, or has to cut bus service to meet budgets. I imagine support would fall like a rock. The mayor has to make sure this is all doable within conservative budget forecasts without hurting bus service for the poor.

 
At 4:10 PM, December 28, 2009, Anonymous Appetitus Rationi Pareat said...

Thank you for being clearer on what you mean when you use the term BRT.

I think that anything other than a fixed, grade separated bus lane with fixed stops would be contrary to the original intent of the system (i.e. a fixed, transit system). I realize that many on here cite the fixed nature of such a system as a potential weakness but it is essential in order to encourage denser development around stops. A bus system (even a system with "diamond lanes" or the like) generally doesn't encourage this type of development.

 
At 5:02 PM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I think the Main and University lines should be full LRT. Let's see how well they create dense development. As they start to succeed and there is demand for more land near stops, the other BRT lines could be upgraded to more fixed routes/structures.

 
At 5:29 PM, December 28, 2009, Anonymous Appetitus Rationi Pareat said...

Tory-

I actually don't think the "wait and see" approach is that bad of an idea for those lines. But even with "wait and see", it is important to secure a grade separated route in anticipation for the future upgrade. It will be cheaper to take care of that portion of the construction now and probably easier as well.

That being said, the "wait and see" is probably politically untenable because it may be seen as the "rich" areas of town getting their investment while the "poorer" areas of town are left out in the cold. Just a consequence of living in a democracy.

 
At 5:48 PM, December 28, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I don't think so. The University line runs through poor areas (east and far west/Gulfton) as well as better off areas (central-west inside the Loop).

 
At 8:30 AM, December 29, 2009, Anonymous Anonymous said...

ARP, you keep mentioning grade-separated BRT. That would be great for either BRT or LRT, but this hasn't been on the table even for light rail, so why set the standard this high for BRT?

The Main St. line and the other planned lines are all at-grade.

 
At 8:50 AM, December 29, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I was assuming he meant dedicated-lane (like most of Main St.), not grade-separation.

 
At 9:10 AM, December 29, 2009, Anonymous Appetitus Rationi Pareat said...

Yes. I mean a separate, dedicated right of way for either the rail line or the BRT. This would be opposed to the diamond lane setup. Sorry for the confusion.

 
At 11:16 AM, December 29, 2009, Anonymous IHB2 said...

it's too bad every discussion of the Solutions plan devolves into pro v anti rail. the post called for a thorough audit and clarification of future public transit plans.

why would anyone be opposed to that at this stage, when it is clear that the 2003 bond commitment + fed match falls seriously short of being enough for publicized plans?

we know where the extra $$ will have to come from - local pockets - and that means opportunity costs for all other municipal needs. Annise Parker strongly supports LRT but a "deep dive" audit would seem to be a logical starting point for a new mayor. then some straight talk about what we can and can't afford without the fantasies and outright lies by METRO execs.

 
At 11:44 AM, December 29, 2009, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Exactly, IHB2.

 
At 12:37 PM, December 29, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

the post called for a thorough audit and clarification of future public transit plans.

Yes, and then it followed with a quote from Randall O'Toole bashing rail and an insinuation that light rail destroyed Houston's public transit service.

Personally, I think they should audit the national highway system. Let's apply the same standard Amtrak's obliged to follow by law: no capital funding to any highway segment that doesn't pay for itself (e.g. any Texas highway). When motorists complain, let's give hand-wringing lectures about fiscal prudence and the need to balance the budget and avoid subsidies.

 
At 12:55 PM, December 29, 2009, Anonymous IHB2 said...

let's give hand-wringing lectures about fiscal prudence and the need to balance the budget and avoid subsidies

so you DON'T think a thorough audit of METRO and frank public discussion about METRO plans going forward is a good idea for an incoming mayor?

 
At 4:05 PM, December 29, 2009, Blogger Alon Levy said...

Not any more than you think a thorough audit of the national highway system and a frank public discussion about US DOT plans going forward is a good idea.

 
At 6:09 PM, December 29, 2009, Anonymous IHB2 said...

well I suppose if the City of Houston could print $$ like the fed govt can, I would agree with you.

 
At 9:11 AM, December 30, 2009, Blogger Jardinero1 said...

I think the graph says less about rail than it says about the opening of other major roadways in Houston. Most of the falloff in ridership between 2001 and 2005 can be chalked up to the opening of various tollways in the southwest part of town and the improvements to South Main. After each of these major expansions in roadway infrastructure, large numbers got off Metro and back into their own cars.

The fifty percent expansion in operating costs over seven years cannot, in any realistic way, be attributed to the Main Street line. A fifty percent growth rate over seven years represents a compound annual growth rate of less than seven percent. That can easily be attributed to the massive increase in fuel prices, maintenance on an aging bus fleet and higher employee wages, benefits and pension obligations.

 
At 6:28 PM, January 07, 2010, OpenID bobbyhadley said...

I agree in general that METRO must be more transparent and more efficient--the same can and must be said of every government agency--but as Mark Twain well put it, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics." That graph ought to also have a line showing METRO's energy/fuel expenditure over the same period.

Without coming to the defense of METRO, I think it's important to look at how energy costs have dramatically increased over the same time period that METRO's Red line has been in operation.

Being that METRO is a transit agency, I'm sure that fuel/energy expenditures as a percentage of total operating costs is fairly substantial, and that perhaps while this may not totally account for the increase; I suspect it plays a large part.

As for the non sequiturs on other rail transit projects around the country, it's dishonest to lead readers into comparing Houston's mass transit plans with those of other cities for innumerable reasons (not the least of which include: population, scale, funding sources, relation of system plan to demographics, etc.).

 
At 11:17 PM, January 07, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Almost every transit agency in the country has overestimated revenues and underestimated costs until they reach a financial crisis. It just seems prudent to make sure we don't do the same thing.

 
At 1:04 AM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

Almost every transit agency in the country has overestimated revenues and underestimated costs until they reach a financial crisis.

This was true in the 1980s, but nowadays ridership and revenues are above projections at least as often as they are below projections. For every San Jose there's a Phoenix.

 
At 8:44 AM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

I'm not talking specifically about rail projects (although they're often a major factor). I'm talking about overall transit agency budgets. NYC, DC, and Chicago aren't really building any significant new rail projects that I'm aware of, but they're still in fiscal crisis. On the other hand, Denver is in deep trouble specifically because of overly-ambitious rail.

 
At 10:12 AM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Michael said...

>>I'm talking about overall transit agency budgets.

Why leave it at that? We know that no highway pays for itself and the Texas Legislature is considering raising the gas tax or imposing a VMT because our funding of roads is "in fiscal crisis", yet to read this blog you'd think that there has never been any problem funding a roadway. I wouldn't audit Metro any more than I would audit all transportation-related projects impacting the city of Houston.

>>I'm talking about overall transit agency budgets. NYC, DC, and Chicago aren't really building any significant new rail projects that I'm aware of, but they're still in fiscal crisis.

And I hear the bridges in Minneapolis are in great shape. Just because we are letting our roadway infrastructure deteriorate to the point of collapse does not mean we aren't facing a crisis there. According to the American Society of Civil Engineers we are deep in the hole on funding our roadways - to the tune of nearly $120 billion per year. From their website:
"The current spending level of $70.3 billion for highway capital improvements is well below the estimated $186 billion needed annually to substantially improve the nation's highways."

 
At 2:28 PM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, we could certainly take it all the way and call for an audit of all government spending, but that's not the point. The post was specific advice to Mayor Parker, who does control Metro (indirectly), but not state highways (TXDoT) or federal interstates.

 
At 4:11 PM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Michael said...

>>The post was specific advice to Mayor Parker, who does control Metro (indirectly), but not state highways (TXDoT) or federal interstates.

The money for these projects all comes out of the same pockets - mine. So either scrutinize it all or don't. Anything less is a cop-out in my view.

I've read your other blog posts - not one peep about the cost overruns of I-10 or the fiscal absurdity of the Grand Parkway extension (which was supposed to generate something like 10% of its costs).

And now I'm supposed to want Mayor Parker to throw monkey wrenches in Metro's path because it is going to be expensive to build 5 rail lines?

I don't want to waste money any more than the next guy, and I want Mayor Parker to build the lines and run Metro in the most effective manner possible, but beyond that I don't think I share your fiscal concerns.

 
At 4:57 PM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

> The money for these projects all comes out of the same pockets - mine. So either scrutinize it all or don't. Anything less is a cop-out in my view.

Politicians don't find it helpful when you tell them to fix things they can't really influence or control.

I'm not a fan of cost-ineffective road projects either, but that's not really my area of interest either. On my blog, I write what interests me. You're welcome to start your own. There is a key difference though: road project overruns just cut into the ability of TXDoT or HCTRA to do future road projects. If Metro seriously blows the budget, fundamental transportation services for hundreds of thousands of very economically vulnerable people can get affected.

 
At 5:49 PM, January 08, 2010, Blogger Michael said...

>>I'm not a fan of cost-ineffective road projects either, but that's not really my area of interest either. On my blog, I write what interests me. You're welcome to start your own.

No thanks. Your blog is very interesting and I enjoy reading it to gain an alternative perspective on some local matters - and I think others out there like the CTC and Offthekuff already generally express views that I agree with.

I just think the critique of Metro would be more effective and credible if it came from groups or individuals that critiqued wasteful spending in general, especially as it pertains to Houston, and not just Metro.

As it stands now, the left critiques I-10, the right critiques Metro, and meanwhile all projects get built because the average voter doesn't care in either case and doesn't trust either side.

>>If Metro seriously blows the budget, fundamental transportation services for hundreds of thousands of very economically vulnerable people can get affected.

Or we just give Metro the other 25% of the sales tax that they are due? If you are truly concerned about the plight of the poor - that's great. I don't believe (nor is it the general perception, IMHO) that concern for the poor is what motivates the standard critic of Metro - most are just anti-spending on the public good - but of course you are free to have your own reasons.

If Metro was in dire straits, and they were acting in good faith, I'd just favor giving them more money - just as I-10 received more money - screwing over the disadvantaged is not an option in my worldview. And I believe poor voters supported the Metro Solutions plan pretty overwhelmingly - so perhaps we should honor what they voted for and attempt to provide these mobility services to them.

Also, I believe the implications of blowing the budget on other road projects is greater than you suggest. If we can't build the *best* roads for our communities, ultimately that affects our competitiveness in the global economy and our ability to maintain our infrastructure in a cost-effective manner. Building sprawling roads to nowhere can be just as dumb and damaging as building subways in Waco.

 
At 8:31 AM, January 09, 2010, Blogger Tory Gattis said...

Well, that's the problem isn't it? Whether they blow the budget intentionally or unintentionally, they have huge threat of cutting service to the poor to bludgeon the public into giving them more money, whether the 25% or a tax increase. All the more reason for close scrutiny.

The public, through it's elected reps, have chosen to allocate that 25% to roads. Metro promised in the Solutions referendum they could do everything without touching that 25%. If they want to make a case for how much more they could do with that 25% and put it to the public in another referendum, they should go for it. But backing into it with a fiscal crisis is not acceptable.

As far as concern for the poor, there are a lot of people out there that believe as I do that all of these billions for rail (nationally) could go a *long* way to improving service for the poor with far more frequent and express bus services across the entire city (as opposed to a handful of rail lines). In LA, they even formed the Bus Riders Union to advocate for the poor and force LA metro to stop diverting funds from poor, overcrowded bus service for fancy rail lines (and they won in the courts).

And, to get technical, btw, the solutions referendum did not specifically call for rail in these corridors - just high-capacity transit. Some sort of express BRT would also meet the referendum far more cost effectively, freeing up money to improve both local and commuter bus services across the whole Metro service area.

 
At 11:01 AM, January 09, 2010, Blogger Michael said...

>>they have huge threat of cutting service to the poor to bludgeon the public into giving them more money, whether the 25% or a tax increase.

I'm pretty confident that tax increases of all sorts are coming in the relative near term. Again, I think your concern here is not unique - whether it is the poor not being able to ride the bus or the middle class not being able to get to their jobs in under 2 hours, a host of problems awaits us with 2 basic options: cut services or increase taxes.

>>In LA, they even formed the Bus Riders Union to advocate for the poor and force LA metro to stop diverting funds from poor, overcrowded bus service for fancy rail lines (and they won in the courts).

Contrast that to the approach here. In Houston, some of the politicians already tried to convert the lines to BRT. The community response was that they had voted for rail, or at least the same type of service as the University line and Uptown line. The BRT proposal was relatively quickly shelved in favor of the original rail lines.

If the community wants BRT, by all means go for it - even people like me would support it if the community had expressed its support for a bus option. But if John Culberson, Tom Delay, the Kemah Mayor, and a few others want BRT, I'd say you're just a little short of a movement. If it is in the community's interest it shouldn't be that hard to organize a bus riders union here representing the hundreds of thousands of Metro riders. Until then, I think the voters and the community have expressed their preference for rail about as clearly as can be done given our current means of expressing such preferences.

 
At 4:16 AM, January 11, 2010, Blogger Alon Levy said...

Some sort of express BRT would also meet the referendum far more cost effectively...

Initially, yes - BRT costs somewhat less than LRT per km. But the capacity of BRT is limited, and the operating costs are high. In LA, the Orange Line is straining at less than 30,000 riders per weekday. The low ridership has meant that even its construction cost is high expressed on a per rider basis, higher than this of the Blue Line LRT.

 

Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home