Traffic reduction tech, Houston's city type, Metro pros and cons, and more
Sorry to keep doing this, but there are just so many backlogged small misc items to get through...
- An interesting blog post on the limit of commute times and their impact on sprawl. He uses Houston and Katy as an example, although I think there are some weaknesses in his example. You can see my comments/response here.
- The Urbanophile on "calling card industries" and types of cities. He's specifically discussing Chicago, but his 2x2 framework can be applied to any city. I'd say Houston is around the top-middle of his grid (near the bottom of the post), between an Industry Cluster city and a Global City. We don't have quite the industry diversity to fully meet his Global City definition, but the Med Center, the Port, and NASA do move us beyond a single-industry cluster town for energy - not to mention the true international diversity of our demographics. Dallas is more of a bottom-right city, a regional business center, like Atlanta.
- Regarding this Chronicle story on high income segregation in Houston: As far as Houston vs. others, my hypothesis is that when you have as much social mobility, prosperity, and growth as Houston has had, people move a lot more and sort themselves out more vs. more static, older cities.
- BusinessWeek on how Grapevine (near Dallas) has used dynamic traffic flow monitoring and signaling adjustments provided by a company called Rhythm Engineering, which "programmed 52 intersections reduced stops in some areas by as much as 88 percent and wait times by as much as 45 percent. Rhythm estimates the amount of time and fuel saved to be worth $8 million annually." That's pretty sweet, and Houston should be calling these Rhythm guys asap for corridors like Westheimer and 1960/Highway 6...
- I pretty much agree with Kuff's thoughts (and support) the Metro GMP referendum and the opposition lining up against it.
"Basically, I don’t see the upside to voting against this referendum. I see the case for it, but not the case against it. I wish the referendum would have been better, but that fight is over. This is what we have to work with, and it’s good enough for me."
"Metro's high water mark for transit ridership was in 1999-2002 when its fixed-route service had slightly fewer than 100 million boardings annually. This was just prior to the opening of the light rail line on Main Street, so all of these boardings were on buses.
However, since 2000, Metro's fixed-route ridership has declined in all but three years. In 2011, total boardings were just under 77 million, a decline of more than 21 percent in eleven years. Of the 77 million boardings in 2011, roughly 11 million were on the Main Street light rail. Therefore, bus ridership has declined in the last 11 years by about 32 percent.
This decline in ridership has occurred at the same that Metro estimates that the population of its service area has grown from 4.2 million to 5.1 million, a 23 percent increase. If Metro had just been able to keep pace with population grown, its ridership would now stand at something over 120 million boardings annually.
The decline in ridership certainly cannot be attributed to Metro being short on funds during the last decade. Its total annual revenues have increased 43 percent, from $397 million to $568 million. Much of the increase has come from the sales taxes area residents pay into Metro, which increased 49 percent since 2000, rising from $359 million to $537 million.
Even if you net out the general mobility payments to the member cities and the county, its share of the sales tax collections have risen from $233 million to $348 million, also a 49 percent increase. During the same time, inflation in the Houston region only rose by 31 percent.
What is most startling, however, is the increase in the amount of sales tax subsidy per fixed-route boarding. In 2000, after subtracting the general mobility payments, local taxpayers only contributed $2.31 per boarding. By 2011 that amount had increased to $5.25 per boarding, a 128 percent increase.
Metro attributes its ridership decline to the recent economic recession and the 2008 fare increase. However, nationwide transit ridership has grown by about 10 percent over the last decade. Certainly other urban areas have been hit harder than Houston by the recession and virtually all have substantially increased their fares since 2000.
Metro's failure as a transit agency has not been for the lack of funds nor because of the recession. It is because Metro has neither a clear mission nor a cohesive strategy to increase ridership. Increasingly, it has been trifurcated into a light rail construction company, a bus company and special needs taxi service.
Of these three, the bus service, which is the most flexible mode, has the greatest capacity to increase ridership and still carries more than 80 percent of Metro's riders. But it has been constantly shortchanged, primarily to pay for the at-grade rail system. As a result, the decline in Metro's bus ridership is three times the national rate. We have sacrificed the most effective transit system to pay for one that Metro's own environmental studies show will make traffic congestion worse, only marginally increase overall ridership and do nothing to reduce emissions."
Labels: costs of congestion, demographics, economy, identity, Metro, mobility strategies, transit