October 30, 2009

Cap Metro is lying to you - again.

Doug Allen's pants

This time in an attempt to make excuses for the Red Line being such an unmitigated failure of execution.

First off, News 8 is the second media outlet to be completely fooled by this talking point being spread around to many media outlets as a talking point lately. I am also even more disappointed to see Mike Martinez fall for this load of crap.

"Comparatively, we're pretty much like the rest of the country. It takes time to build a rail system, but once you get it going, what we've seen in other cities is that it tends to expand in much more rapid pace," Austin Mayor Pro Tem and Capital Metro Board Member Mike Martinez said.

Martinez along with other council members and Mayor Lee Leffingwell all recently returned from a trip to Phoenix, Arizona, where they were able to look at Phoenix's $1-billion, 20-mile rail line that took 10 years to build.

Phoenix's line is light rail, not commuter rail. It is considerably similar to our 2000 proposal, as well as what Dallas, Houston, Portland, Salt Lake City, Denver, and Seattle have built. And, hello? You can't start a successful rail system with an awful starter line.

This talking point was more directly fed to a disappointingly credulous Lee Nichols in last week's Chronicle:

The total duration, he said, should be from 7.5 to 10.5 years, significantly longer than the four years attempted with MetroRail.

This, folks, is a lie - other rail starts that are commuter rail, not light rail, have NOT taken ten years to get running. What does take 7.5-10 years? Real light rail starts, you know, the ones that unlike commuter rail, require streets to be dug up, utilities moved, streets rebuilt in new configurations with brand new rails in them, and caternary wires hung up the entire length of the route.

Our commuter rail start here, the Red Line, which is not light rail, required no streets to be dug up and no utilities to be moved. The only section of street affected was a tiny chunk of 4th street. Our commuter rail start, the Red Line, which is not light rail, did not require caternary wires anywhere. Our commuter rail start, the Red Line, is just like Tri-Rail - in that it primarily runs new vehicles on existing tracks with real cheap stations - and Tri-Rail took just a handful of years to get up and running.

Tri-Rail began commuter service in South Florida on January 9, 1989, the first of the major commuter start-ups of the 1990s.

Formed in 1987 by the Florida Department of Transportation to provide temporary commuter rail service while construction crews widened Interstate 95 and the parallel Florida Turnpike, Tri-Rail outlasted its temporary status, adding more trains and stations in the process.

Yes, that's right, Tri-Rail took about 2 years to get trains rolling on existing track, just like ours, with minor signal upgrades, just like ours were supposed to be. They are a far more apt comparison for the Red Line than is the light rail line in Phoenix.

And as for those signals? The ONLY place Capital Metro gets a pass with me, and it's because I didn't even think of it, is there -- with Tri-Rail, the existing signals just needed to be augmented with additional crossing arms to stop stupid drivers from going around the lowered gates, because the existing freight service was medium-speed and frequent. The existing freight service on the Red Line was infrequent and very slow - so the signalling stuff really should have been thought of as a complete rebuild, but obviously wasn't.

Again, let's recap with a summary:

Work ItemRequired for light rail?Required for commuter rail?
Buying new trainsYesYes
Digging up streetsYesNo
Relocating utilitiesYesNo
Laying new rail in those streetsYesNo
Reconstructing those streets (new lane configurations)YesNo
Brand new signalsYesMaybe
Federal oversight requirementsHighLow(*)

(* - oversight requirements: Because the Red Line didn't get federal funding (Capital Metro didn't even try), the amount of hoops they had to jump through compared to the typical light rail start, or even the typical commuter rail start with federal cost sharing, was much less).

This is, if anything, a bit more favorable than Capital Metro deserves. Left out of this table for lack of a good way to organize is the fact that the Red Line reused quite a bit of the planning from the 2000 light rail line, from the 1997 rail proposals (similar to today's Red Line), and other planning documents dating back decades. The implicit claim that planning for the Red Line started right before the election in 2004 is a lie.

PS to readers: this table is not an argument in favor of commuter rail on the grounds that it ought to be 'easy'. The problem with the Red Line is that it doesn't go where anybody wants to go - it doesn't matter, in the end, how easy or hard it was to get there, if the only place "there" is is a shuttle-bus.

October 13, 2009

Math with M1EK, Lesson 1

It's come up again, this time on the twitter. The old road-warrior chestnut argument that it doesn't matter if urbanites pay a much higher percentage of their driving costs than do suburbanites, because suburbanites drive more miles overall. This tactic is a favorite of the folks at various car blogs that M1EK frequents as well, and it's time it was taken out back and shot.

Let's use our favorite Houston road as an example, thanks to AC for maintaining the story.

For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon.

So this means that for every given dollar in road costs, the driver pays $0.16 in gasoline taxes while driving on that roadway. Got it. This also means that another $0.84 is subsidized. That subsidy can come from gas taxes assessed on other roads, many of those being arterial roadways inside the city of Houston that TXDOT doesn't actually have to pay to maintain; from 'local contributions' that TXDOT often requires for freeway construction - i.e. property and sales taxes; or various other sources - the key is that the remaining money required to build and maintain this roadway isn't gas taxes generated by this road itself. So far, so good.

So let's assume that yesterday, Mr. Suburban Road-Warrior dove SH99 long enough to assess $1.00 in road costs to TXDOT and paid $0.16 in gas taxes for the privilege. Got it. Here's what that looks like:

But what about the suburbanite/road-warrior claim that this subsidy is irrelevant because the suburban driver drives more, and thus pays more gas taxes? Well, they do pay more gas taxes. If they drive twice as far on SH99 the next day, they pay $0.32 in gas taxes, which is exactly twice as much as the $0.16 they paid yesterday. They also cause twice as much cost to TXDOT to build and maintain the roadway (duh). $2.00. The more important question: does this change the subsidy?

As amazing as this sounds, the concept that a subsidy is a percentage that increases when multiplied by a static number is apparently too difficult for road warriors to grasp. Do you think these pie charts will help? I sure hope so!

What are some general conclusions to draw from this? Well, they seem pretty obvious, but some folks either can't or don't want to understand, so here they are, in black and white:

  • If the road funding system in a given state doesn't collect enough gas tax from suburbanites to cover the cost of the roadways they use, they are being subsidized by urbanites - NO MATTER HOW MANY MORE MILES THEY DRIVE!
  • The subsidy increases with the amount of miles driven; it does NOT decrease.
  • If you drive more of your miles on roads that actually receive gas tax funding than does a given urbanite, that urbanite is subsidizing you even if he drives one-tenth as many miles as you do (there would have to be a lot more guys like him for this to work, of course)
  • (this one is a bit tougher): Increasing the gas tax won't help unless the funds are redistributed (to cities, to maintain their locally-funded arterials) to address the subsidy. Doubling the tax assessed per mile is essentially the same as doubling the miles driven as far as the relative subsidy from urbanite to suburbanite is concerned - TXDOT would just have more money to build more roads that maintain the same level of subsidies.
This entry was posted in the following categories: Charts and Graphs , Driving in Austin , Funding of Transportation , Subsidies to Suburban Sprawl
Posted by m1ek at 07:58 AM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

October 01, 2009

Don't Let The Door Hit You, Fred

One thing left out of many of the accounts of yesterday's fun time is that Capital Metro actually called the cops on the media before eventually relenting and allowing them to stay. Thanks to tweeting reporters Reagan Hackleman and Matt Flener for carrying the torch. Also, Lee Nichols' blog post yesterday had the most details early-on; nobody else mentioned Watson's implied pressure or got Jay Wyatt's attention, both kind of important.

And now, on to some of Fred's greatest hits, compiled from the crackplog, to back up the thesis that he, after Krusee himself, is the one most responsible for Austin not having, and maybe never having, urban rail; all tweeted yesterday as well.

October 27, 2004, his own words (click on link for my words):

What Capital Metro does not intend to do, at least in the foreseeable future, is have lanes of city streets dedicated solely to bus traffic. When that occurs, the system is called "bus rapid transit." Lacking those lanes, Capital Metro calls its proposal rapid bus. But Gilliam made it clear he'd like to reverse those two words in the long run.

"My hope is that . . . eventually we will get to bus lanes," Gilliam said. "But
our plan is not designed around having to have them."

From November 1, 2004; click on link for much more:

The fact that the ROAD guys aren't fighting this very hard should tell you all you need to know about their feeling on the matter. But if you don't believe THAT, consider the fact that this plan comes from Mike Krusee, no friend of Austin and definitely no friend of public transportation. He and Fred Gilliam have come up with the cheapest possible way to show once and for all that rail "doesn't work in Austin" - at which point I'm sure their common cause evaporates as Krusee seeks road funds and Gilliam seeks bus rapid transit. Either way, central Austin in particular gets nothing but the back of the hand.

There is no way I can see in which urban rail can be salvaged if this election passes. David is parroting the dubious party line that this commuter rail line can be turned into "light rail" by running the trains more often and through TOD - ignoring the fact that TOD won't occur if nobody is riding the line when it opens (real estate developers will shy away from such development if the line looks like a failure AS HAPPENED IN SOUTH FLORIDA). And NOBODY has explained how Austin is going to be SO DIFFERENT from South Florida that the shuttle-bus liability won't be a huge problem here for building choice commuter ridership. High-frequency shuttle buses waiting for you when you get off the train? Check. Speedy rail portion of commute? Check. Cheap because they used existing track? Check. Now planning on shifting emphasis over the next decade to a much better rail corridor after 15 wasted years? One down, one to go.

Finally, much more recently, this post from August 26, 2009, pay special attention to this comment from Jeff Wood, aka "The Overhead Wire":

That main road is Guadalupe and is going to get plowed up anyways. There's not a lot of difference between repaving a street and repaving plus laying some tracks. And honestly, 37,000 riders is much better than 2,000.


$120 million to $736 million. 1/7 ratio for cost versus a 1/18 ratio on ridership doesn't quite add up does it.

And it would have been done with Karen Rae who is now second in command at the FRA instead of Fred Gillam who seems to be at the center of all this mess.

Summary: The guy never wanted to do rail in the first place. Whether or not he eventually came around to support the idea of commuter rail, his original idea was the same as Gerald Daugherty - allow a crappy rail line to be built and fail so he could stop getting bothered about light rail. Mission Accomplished!