July 29, 2004

Ricky and Two Weeks Notice

So Mark Hasty wants people to Lay Off Ricky and he makes a lot of very good points. I'm a Dolphins fan if I'm anything (and I'm barely that), and I think the right way to look at it is this:

If you're a professional, the implied contract between you and your employer (and in Texas, especially, it's just implied) is that you'll each give each other a minimum of two weeks notice before changing your employment arrangement.

IE: Your obligation to your employer is to give two weeks notice, and your employers' obligation to you is to pay you for two weeks if and when you are either announcing your departure or getting fired/laid off.

My previous employer does not qualify, by the way; most of the last few people to give any notice were immediately fired! I myself gave a full two weeks' notice and was retained by my boss (VP), and I continued to work, for a week, until the CEO got back into town, and then was told on Monday that the preceding Friday had been my last day. At IBM, when I quit, I was paid for two weeks but was escorted out (true for something like 50-90% of people there). IBM satisfied their implied obligation to me, while my last employer did not.

So I think an analogy could be made to Ricky. Had he given two weeks' notice (from today, let's say), the Dolphins would have had some time to go try to get another running back. I don't think he's wrong for quitting - I think he's wrong for leaving his coworkers in the lurch, just as I would have been wrong for quitting on 0 days notice. (However, the people who quit after me who wised up and gave no notice were correct to do so given the precedent set against myself and others who did give notice after me).

I doubt the Dolphins would have been able to cut him immediately without paying some 'severance'.

There, a non-political non-transportation post. The enb.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Sports
Posted by m1ek at 05:01 PM

July 27, 2004

Can Streetcars Save All Systems Go?

Today's Statesman finally has an article on one of the improvements being floated to the All Systems Go plan which attempts to address the vast gap between the commuter rail line's terminus east of the Convention Center and the actual destinations of center-city workers (Congress Ave, State Capitol, University of Texas).

So would this plan, assuming they could get Capital Metro to go for it, work? I generally evaluate transit competitiveness on three simple metrics: comfort, reliability, and speed.

Comfort: Streetcars win out over shuttle buses big-time. However, they're still not as good as staying in the same seat the whole trip (as 2000's light rail route would have allowed, and as commuter rail extended to Congress Avenue could theoretically do). Transfers are uncomfortable - there's no way around this; even transferring from one great ride to another great ride is a pain. But again, compared to shuttle buses, streetcars win.

Reliability: No difference. Some people think there's some magic in those rails, but unlike light rail, these railcars would be sharing a lane with cars. Stuck in traffic, just like the shuttle buses would be. Both the streetcar and the shuttle-bus lose out here to light rail (or a more sensibly routed commuter rail). What that means is that one day, your trip from the commuter rail station to your office might take 5 minutes, and the next day it might take 25 minutes. A transit alternative that is more reliable than the car (easy to do if it has its own right-of-way) is fairly attractive even if it has a small deficit in speed.

Speed: Worse (with proposed routing). If they were running in a street with higher average speeds, the streetcar might actually have an acceleration advantage, but the Dillo doesn't have much trouble keeping up with cars now on downtown streets. The problem, of course, is that both the Dillo and this streetcar will be stopping very very very frequently. Both light rail and more sensibly routed commuter rail would win here. For transit to be competitive on speed does not mean that it must be faster than your car, especially downtown, but the overall trip must not be much slower than your car. This route fails that metric, especially if you're going to UT or the Capitol.

So it looks pretty bleak, right? Well, actually, I like streetcars. Cities which have already developed a high-capacity high-performance transit "spine" (like Dallas and Portland) can get additional distribution benefits from a streetcar. (The key, though, is that the high-performance transit spine must be an attractive choice in and of itself, which the commuter rail line Cap Metro is pushing is definitely not). And the streetcar as a downtown distributor (ignoring the linkage to commuter rail) is more attractive than the Dillo, because the psychological effect of seeing rails in the street is more likely to make dense residential and commercial development attractive. As a matter of fact, one could argue that Cap Metro should build a streetcar like this on a couple of streets where there's little possibility of light or commuter rail first and then go for light rail.

So in conclusion: Streetcars are neat. They're good for Austin. But they can't really make the All Systems Go plan any more competitive. Sorry, folks.

(modified May 2006 to account for streetcar route as indicated in Future Connections Study).

July 22, 2004

Conservatism

This guy put together a great explanation of why I used to call myself conservative.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Personal , Politics (Outside Austin)
Posted by m1ek at 09:47 AM

Jeff Ward, Fred (Gilliam?) and Commuter Rail

Yesterday's Jeff Ward show which I caught about an hour of was a predictable frenzy of transit-bashing, with a cameo by Fred, a Capital Metro board member who I assume is Fred Gilliam.

Some easy softballs to whack which were pitched by both sides on that show:

1. (from a caller) "The 986 express bus already takes about 50 minutes to get downtown, so why would we need a rail line?". Answer: First of all, it takes a lot longer than 50 to get from Leander to downtown even in non-rush-times. The route the caller mentioned only runs at 6, 6:20, and 6:30 AM, by the way. According to the 986 schedule, in those severely off-peak times it takes 62 minutes to reach downtown.

A more representative line, the 987, which doesn't hit the inner park-and-rides either, takes 75 minutes to reach downtown (Guadalupe and 8th). The 983, which is the only route which has a departure time from Leander after 7:20ish, takes 85 minutes to reach downtown.

2. (from Fred): (paraphrased): "Well, Jeff, you're a genius for noting that people won't walk 5 miles from the drop-off at the Convention Center to get to their job at the Capitol or UT, so we've designed this great distributor service which will run at very high frequencies and take you straight there". This "high-frequency distributor" exists today; it's called The Dillo, and it's dog-slow.

From experience with other areas which have tried the approach of building a rail line where it happens to be convenient to lay tracks (or use existing tracks) and then distributing via shuttle buses, most people won't be willing to take this transfer. In Tuesday's posting I noted that the city is as skeptical as I am of Capital Metro's idea that this won't drastically hurt ridership.

For comparison, the 2000 light rail plan would have taken passengers from the same park-and-rides up in Leander and NW Austin, but it would have dropped UT passengers off at Guadalupe (without a transfer). It would have dropped state passengers off within a block of the Capitol (without a transfer). And it would have dropped downtown office workers off within a block of Congress Avnue (without a transfer).

This plan is nothing more than Capital Metro's attempt to build what they think Mike Krusee will let them get away with. It serves only far suburban passengers, and it serves them poorly.

3. (from Jeff and others): (paraphrased): "people won't leave their cars behind for transit, or they'd be doing it now". Baloney. Cities which develop rail systems which are competitive (not even faster, just close) on time with the automobile and are reliable (same time every day) always siphon away a lot of car drivers. This has been the experience in Portland, Denver, Dallas, Houston, Salt Lake City, etc. Rail does things that buses can't, namely, get out of traffic, and provide a comfortable ride. None of those cities were experiencing any success with getting people out of their cars with their bus systems (which were more extensive than ours), but all of them are now (with rail) delivering people to their jobs via transit who actually had the choice of driving and chose not to.

The problem is that this rail plan won't do it. Capital Metro, again, is building what Mike Krusee will let them build rather than building what needs to be built.

July 20, 2004

City confirms: No connection to Seaholm with initial commuter rail line

Another wishful thinking balloon has been punctured, this time by the CIty of Austin in a semi-public transit update. Focus on pages 4 and 5:

1. The initial line from Capital Metro will not make it to Seaholm. No way. It won't even make it to Congress. And the eventual line going to Seaholm has some serious problems navigating the transition from 4th to 3rd streets which are going to be expensive to solve.

2. The city agrees with me that requiring a transfer to distribute passengers to destinations other than the Convention Center (where the proposed line terminates and where nobody actually works) is going to be the kiss of death for ridership.

It's time for center-city people to wake up and smell the coffee. This commuter rail line does not serve the needs of downtown workers, state workers, or university workers. And modifying it so that it serves the needs of downtown workers is going to be expensive enough that it will absolutely NOT happen on the initial line. When you combine that with the fact that it doesn't go near any of the densest residential neighborhoods, it's clear that this plan is a huge loser. Running empty trains from Cedar Park to satisfy Mike Krusee might make it easier for Capital Metro to fend off attacks from the state legislature, but it's not going to do anything for downtown Austin.

And for those who say "build it now and improve it later" - you're being incredibly foolish. Areas which followed this plan (San Jose, South Florida) by developing "easy" starter systems that were unattractive ended up with a much tougher row to hoe with expansions than did areas which made sure their starter lines were going to be a success (Dallas, Portland, Denver, etc.). You run the risk of the "build half a bridge" syndrome - building a bridge halfway across a river is often half as cheap as building the whole bridge - but it doesn't provide half the utility, does it? Additionally, this system, as I discussed earlier, eliminates the possibility of rail lines which could service the UT and Capitol areas which are the two largest pockets of possible transit riders in the city.

July 15, 2004

Don't Kid Yourself: Commuter Rail Precludes Light Rail

A lot of the effort to mollify center-city people like me who are disappointed that Capital Metro's All Systems Go plan does nothing for the densest residential neighborhoods of the city and doesn't deliver passengers to the two largest potential attractors (UT and state capitol) has gone into two messages:

The first message is "commuter rail is just like light rail" - relatively few people have bought this, outside the suburbs, since they know that rail going down Airport Blvd. isn't going to do anything for any corridors where there's any real density today or where density in the future is even remotely attractive. This has morphed into "once we double-track and build more stations, you center-city folks can just catch a quick bus to or from the commuter rail station" which I have a hard time believing is fooling anybody, but you never know. I've talked a bit about this and plan on doing more in a later article, but not today. Capital Metro's words are: Commuter Rail
Urban Service
Operating on existing freight tracks, this line from Leander to Downtown could provide convenient service for both suburban and central city passengers.

The second message, and the one I'll talk about today, is the idea that we can get light rail in the urban core "later" if we approve this plan now. The genius of this message is that it does a fairly good job of lumping opponents like me in with kooky pie-in-the-sky non-pragmatists who are unwilling to get something running on the ground because of the pursuit of the perfect solution.

The problem is that this message is misleading at best, and a lie at worst. The reason to oppose this plan is because it's deadly to future transit operations in this city. IE, not just because it doesn't do enough right away, but because it will actively prevent more effective solutions from ever happening.

Two of the strongest constituencies for ridership in the original (2000) rail plan (which was destroyed primarily through legislative manuevering by Mike Krusee) were state workers and university people.

With the 2000 plan, the state workers who live anywhere in the northwest corner of the metro area could have driven to a station, boarded the rail, and rode it straight to the Capitol. Roughly the first 2/3 of the length of this trip would have been on what is now the commuter rail line; i.e., completely separate right-of-way. The remaining third would have followed the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor with prioritization far exceeding that which the new Rapid Bus will get.

The university was going to be a huge attractor for ridership in two ways. Like state workers, university workers (or students) could board anywhere along the route and get delivered directly to the destination (at least, on Guadalupe St., which is close enough to walk to anywhere at UT). A second group of riders would be travelling to the UT satellite campus on Burnet Rd. north of US 183. The mere fact that a rail link would exist between the two campuses (again, walking distance on both ends) was going to provide a powerful core of riders on day one.

The current commuter rail plan, for reference, requires both of these constituencies to transfer to shuttle buses to reach their final destination. This, as I've pointed out before, means that anybody who has a car and can afford parking will never ride this route.The shuttle transfer kills the performance of the transit trip to the point where only people who don't own cars or have difficult parking situations would consider it, as is the case with today's express bus lines.

So what about a future light rail line, as Capital Metro winks and nods might someday fill this gap? There are at least three obvious reasons why this won't happen (at least, in a way which solves these constituencies' travel problems).

1. A new light rail line down Guadalupe/Lamar, if commuter rail is built, cannot follow the original 2000 path northwest on the current rail right-of-way. The two vehicles have completely incompatible trackage, even if scheduling issues could be resolved. In fact, I have a hard time believing it's feasible to even have a light rail line on this corridor cross the commuter rail line, making even transfers an incredibly difficult proposition. Thus, the areas where we were counting on the most long-distance residential travel cannot be served even if we get a new light rail line down the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor.

2. The operation of the commuter rail line, in my opinion, will swamp Capital Metro with enough additional operating costs that they will be unable to resume saving even 1/4 cent of their sales tax money (as they could today). See previous articles by me for why I think this system is not going to attract significant ridership compared to the light rail model - in short, no area like us in the last ten years has started with commuter rail for a very good reason: they saw what happened in South Florida.

3. The investment in the so-called rapid bus vehicles is going to be difficult to abandon, both financially and politically. There aren't many corridors in Austin where these vehicles could be shifted (physical constraints). The pressure to keep this crappy part of the system running is going to be very very hard to beat.

So, I think anybody who's tempted to vote for this plan with the 'understanding' that we can come back later and solve the needs of actual Austin residents rather than pandering to Cedar Park ought to think twice.

July 13, 2004

Libertarians and Public Highways

Yesterday, local pseudo-libertarian Jeff Ward was speaking out on his show against the recently passed toll road plan. I'm not going to talk about whether the plan is good or bad (In my role on the Mostly Ignored Transportation Advisory Commission, I voted for it as a lesser of two evils myself with some amendments to handle some things I didn't like), but about something which is increasingly common these days - that being Libertarians Who Love Them Some Good Old Fashioned Government Pork As Long As It's In The Form Of Suburban Highways. (LWLTSGOFGPALAIITFOSH for short).

And just a minute ago, two winger-leaning cow orkers came over to get an education on toll roads. They also fall into this category.

So, one would assume that libertarians would be strongly in favor of toll roads. After all, gas taxes (and worse, property taxes) are a very blunt instrument. People pay who don't even use the facilities that get the money (for instance, people who drive on major arterials in the city of Austin are usually not on roads that get any state gas tax money, which by state law can only go to state highways). The money isn't even remotely related to the facility you're on (drive on I-35 and you're funding construction of Mopac North). And with our own dysfunctional funding scheme here in Austin, you pay (via property and sales taxes) for not only major arterials such as Lamar Blvd, but also for right-of-way for state highway expansions even if you don't own a car.

So when I turned on the radio, I would logically have expected Jeff Ward, he of the "show me the business plan for transit" theory, to be strongly in favor of toll roads. After all, the funding is more directly related to the use (you use, you pay; you don't use, you don't pay). Ths is Libertarian 101.

You can guess, however, from where this is going that he doesn't believe that way.

No, Jeff, like most self-identified libertarians I've met, loves our Socialist Highway System. Because, you see, he uses it every day, so it must be an example of Good Big Government. And he never gets to talk to any of the people who use Capital Metro every day, so that's obviously Bad Big Government.

Those LWLTSGOFGPALAIITFOSHers love to complain that transit is bad because it gets most of its money out of a tax that most of us pay which is not related to our use (zero, some, or lots) of the system. They like to point out how little of the cost of one trip on the system is paid for at the time of boarding by the rider. Well, guess what, LWLTSGOFGPALAIITFOSHers? The same damn thing is true for road funding, at a much larger scale. I pay property taxes and sales taxes to Austin, which uses them to build and maintain most of its major arterials with no contribution from the gas tax. I get no rebate on the days I don't drive. When I do drive, I drive most of my trips on those roads that Austin pays for; so my gas taxes go mainly out to the 'burbs, where a much higher percentage of their major infrastructure receives gas-tax funding.

You know, I don't like these roads being built either way. But I know damn well that having them built and having the people who chose to live out in the hinterlands pay some of the costs of their destructive choices is far superior than having them built and having us all pay out of generic gas taxes and property taxes and sales taxes. At least this way, when Joe Suburbia goes looking for houses, he'll have to think of the cost of his choice.

I guess that makes me a better libertarian than Jeff Ward.

And please don't talk to me about any of the following winger talking points on either side:

1. We paid for them already. (No, you didn't. Mostly, people in the urban core paid the bills for you).
2. Double-taxation is wrong. (I don't care. From an efficiency perspective - i.e. moving the most people for the least cost, you absolutely must use some form of congestion pricing, even if it's the blunt instrument of tolls which don't change by the time of day).
3. You're paving the Springs (Yes, but the other alternative was building these same roads as free roads, which would have been even worse as an incentive for sprawl over the aquifer).

Addendum

This morning I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway (near Lamar). I boarded the 983 express bus, and paid a "toll" of $1.00 (actually 50c since I bought discount tickets a while back). I was "double-taxed" since I also pay for Capital Metro with my sales tax dollars. Oh, the humanity.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Driving in Austin , Republicans Hate Public Transportation , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin
Posted by m1ek at 08:45 AM | Comments (1)