Thursday, December 26, 2019

2019 Highlights

Hope everyone is enjoying the holidays.  Time for our annual round-up of the best posts of 2019.  Looking at the list, I think it was a very good year relative to most of my others.  Hard to believe we're coming up on the 15th anniversary of this blog. I'll have to do a big retrospective post in March for that.

These posts have been chosen with a particular focus on significant ideas I'd like to see kept alive for discussion and action, and they're mainly targeted at new readers who want to get caught up with a quick overview of the Houston Strategies landscape. I also like to track what I think of as "reference posts" that sum up a particular topic or argument; and, last but not least, they've also been invaluable for me to track down some of my best thinking for meetings or when requested by others (as is the ever-helpful Google search).

Don't forget we offer an email option for the roughly once/week posts - see the Google Groups subscription signup box at the bottom of the right sidebar. An RSS feed link for newsfeed readers is also available in the right sidebar (I'm a fan of Feedly).

As always, thanks for your readership.
And don't forget the highlights from the first few years. For what it's worth, I think the best ideas are found there, often in the first year (I had a lot "stored up" before I started blogging) and most definitely in the best posts from the first dozen years and million pageviews.

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Saturday, December 14, 2019

More on free transit, Houston densifying, CA vs TX, hard economics for TX HSR, Bastrop city plan, and more

Large backlog of items this week:
"Even if Texas Central could manage to attract 6 million passengers a year, the annual payment on a $20 billion loan at 3 percent interest over 30 years is just over $1 billion. That means it would have to collect nearly $170 per passenger above its operating costs in order to repay loans or give funders a return on their investments. Since airfares are already far lower than that, I don’t see any way for this to ever happen."
“1,545 people per day settled in Texas last year, with Harris County seeing the greatest influx from out of state than any other region,” according to Yardi Systems."
"The new code is very lean—based on the rural-to-urban Transect, it does not regulate uses, only nuisances. The thinking is that if the use creates no problem, why regulate it? There are no minimum lot dimensions or parking requirements. Shared parking is encouraged. Every lot is automatically allowed to have two accessory units. So, rather than the continuing the single-family zoning that is fiscally unsustainable as a dominant pattern, every lot can have three units. "
Finally, I'll end with a little good humor piece: Texas Luring Jobs Away From California With Promises Of Electricity:
"California Governor Gavin Newsom was dismissive of Texas's claims, though. “They’re making false claims of being able to deliver electricity 24/7,” Newsom said, “but it just can’t be done.” Newsom was also dismissive of the Lone Star State's other claims, such as affordable housing, plenty of water, cheap gas, plastic straws, and not constantly being on fire. "
😂 

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Wednesday, December 04, 2019

Why METRO should eliminate transit fares

Apologies for the infrequency of posts - it's been a busy holiday season.  The big item this week is my mention in this Chronicle article for getting Metro to reconsider spending $100 million on new fare-collection equipment while they're still looking at going completely fareless:
(Metro Chairman) Patman said she spoke with Tory Gattis, a local blogger who has argued for free transit as a way to boost use, on Wednesday after the Houston Chronicle reported on the agency’s plans to expand payment options. Gattis, she said, urged the board to give the contract more consideration in view of the fare study. 
“I agree we need to think carefully about the connection between the two,” Patman said. 
... 
Gattis, in a Twitter post Wednesday, called spending that much to collect about $70 million each year “silly.” 
“$100 (million) could buy and operate enough buses to handle the surge in demand from going fare-less with only a 6 percent revenue loss,” he wrote.
This is something I've discussed here before when I was supporting the Metro bond referendum, and Harris County Commissioner Radack supports it as well.  Kansas City and others are also looking at going fareless to boost ridership. Both Forbes and Aaron Renn have written about the benefits of free transit fares. Here's how I see the case for free fares:

Benefits of METRO going fareless

Affordable: Only 4.9% of Metro’s budget comes from the farebox ($67.5m from $1,363.8m revenue budget). That's less than a couple years of normal sales tax growth.

Increased ridership:
  • People are strongly attracted to “free” and discouraged by any cost
  • Attract the occasional/discretionary rider (including tourists) who won’t go through the hassle of getting a Q card. From Forbes:
"This increased demand is not due solely to the availability of free and convenient transportation, but also to the fact that it is frictionless: people don’t have to worry about travel cards, cash or identification."
Reduced congestion and increased air quality:
Reduced drunk driving as more people choose transit to go out

Faster and more on-time trips from speeding the boarding process
  • Also lower fuel consumption lost to excessive idling at stops
Stimulates the local economy and vibrancy: people will go out more and do more shopping, eating out, nightlife, entertainment, socializing, etc.

Reduced costs from not having to collect, process, and enforce fares
Eliminates fare-based confrontations between drivers and riders (a larger problem than you might think)

Huge PR boost from being the first major city in America to go fareless
From my understanding, it sounds like they could consider fareless off-peak right away, but would need a few years to add capacity to be able to handle the extra demand at peak hours.  I've suggested a 5-year steady ratcheting down of fares (20% reduction per year) while adding incremental capacity where demand increases beyond existing capacity, which is especially likely on commuter routes.  Going fareless off-peak in the near-term can also attract the discretionary rider to move their trip from peak to off-peak hours, freeing up additional peak capacity.

That's the case for fareless. I'm looking forward to the results of Metro's study and what they decide to do. I sincerely hope they look at going big and bold rather than playing it safe.

UPDATE: Bill King sent me an older Chronicle op-ed of his making similar arguments, but with more detailed analysis on the costs and benefits.

UPDATE 2: Kansas City beat us to it, but it shows it's possible for a major city to go fareless and we could still be the first top-30 metro to do it. Hat tip to Chris.

UPDATE 3: CityLab: Why Kansas City’s Free Transit Experiment Matters

UPDATE 4: A Kinder analysis of some of my arguments for Metro going fareless.

UPDATE 5: Vox: Kansas City is making its bus system fare-free. Will other cities do the same?

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