August 24, 2010

The Other Shoe Begins To Drop

A comment I just left at Capital MetroBlog's entry full of people insisting that the train is successful now or will succeed soon:

So it turns out Capital Metro isn’t going to wait any longer for us to “clap louder or Tinkerbell will die”; in the January service change, they will cancel many 984 and 986 bus runs in order to attempt to boost MetroRail ridership.

Some of those people currently riding those far superior express buses will switch; some will go back to driving.

The key here is that when you build a GOOD rail line, most people switch from redundant bus lines willingly – because the train is better than the bus. Only awful trains require you to force-march passengers away from what they choose to ride; and this only works for captive riders, and only for a while.

Once again, M1EK was right – and those of you defending Capital Metro were wrong.

Capital Metro is about to learn the difference between "captive rider" and "choice commuter" (and the rest of us are going to learn how many of each comprised the ridership of these express bus routes).

August 20, 2010

Whole shakers of salt

So yesterday, I saw a couple of self-congratulatory tweets about the upcoming service changes (on Sunday) which start the process of eliminating service to large parts of central west Austin. This was particularly interesting given that I had just added information to our rental property's MLS listing about "distance to MetroBus" (the #9, at least until Sunday, has a stop about 100 feet away). So here's what I tweeted in response:

(some short background on the taxes and Red Line issue here)

Shortly thereafter, it was retweeted by another user. Capital Metro PR guy JMVC responded (to that user, not me) that the service change resulted in increased service, and that "you should take what he says with a grain of salt". I had planned to just link to this tweet but since yesterday I've been blocked (JMVC has been non-public tweeting for a long time; although he certainly shares his opinions with most of the local decision-makers despite not being willing to be similarly available to the public). Here's the image:

So let's examine in detail. My tweet:

Question 1: Is Clarksville losing service?

Well, they're losing the #9. Promised in return was a reworked version of the current ER (Enfield Road) shuttle, to pick up the Clarksville portion of the #9 (the new #11 route was to leave Enfield at West Lynn just like the #9 did; run down West Lynn, turn on 12th, hit the very northern portion of downtown, and then head to UT). IF the #11 existed, one could reasonably argue that Clarksville was losing some serivce (to the core of downtown and points towards Travis Heights) but gaining other service (better access to UT area during times when the ER doesn't currently run). Image scraped from the 2020 service plan created by Capital Metro:

The 2020 service plan explicitly mentions that the cancellation of the #9 should not occur until the #11 is ready to go. Again we go to the fine folks at Capital Metro:

So here we are in Fall of 2010. Is the #11 ready to go? Well, here's an image of the proposed service changes (click for the source posting, which will probably age off in a month or two):

The whole thing is longer - but there's nothing in there about the #11 or the ER. Notice that the #29 cancellation notes that the #30 modifications pick up some of the lost service; no such claim exists on the line for the #9.

So, on part 1 of the claim, that being that Clarksville is losing service, I believe we've proven adequately well that I was correct. Clarksville is losing the one metro route it has; the metro routes supposedly replacing nearby UT shuttle routes and the lost #9 are nowhere to be found. Anybody disagree?

Question 2: Is service overall going up? (Implied by JMVC)

Short and sweet: Here's two images from the 2010 implementation plan for the 2020 service plan changes. Make sure your browser is wide enough to see the column titled "Annual platform hours". Or just click on them.

[...]

-7 buses (note that the ER/LA versus 11/12 changes don't actually change the number of buses). And note that this is the original implementation plan. Yes, hours of service theoretically goes up by 30 system-wide - but note that without the ER/LA to 11/12 change, this is more likely going to be a large decrease in hours of service (by my calculations that changes things by something like 13,000 fewer hours). 21/22 changes also not happening now (this is a good thing in the short-term); that would give back about 10,000 hours if/when it happens. Somebody with more time than me is welcome to tally up and see what the difference really is - but it's clear the #9 resources were originally intended to go into expanding the ER and changing it into the 11, and that's not happening now. Let's say 5-7 fewer buses given the 2 the 21/22 would have been responsible for losing.

So what we have now is 5-7 fewer buses and about 3,000 to 13,000 fewer hours of service. The answer to the question is: NO, service overall is NOT going up as a result of this change. The resources from the #9 are NOT being invested in service elsewhere in the system.

Question 3: Why are these cuts being made?

This one is never going to be nailed down for sure - but here's a hint as to why they might have done the "save money" part of the implementation plan and apparently deferred the "spend that saved money" part of the plan. (Click for larger image).

The most logical explanation for the failure to produce the promised #11 substitute for Clarksville is the fact that it's a change that costs money - and right now all the available money in the system is being sucked up providing huge subsidies (far more than the huge subsidies originally budgeted) for rail riders, many of whom are from areas that don't even pay Capital Metro taxes).

This is with the current Red Line operations. Capital Metro is now proposing more runs (different times and more days of the week). Where do you think that money is going to come from? Those trains are going to be less full than what we have today, so the subsidy per passenger is going to be going up, not down; more, not less, operations dollars will be required for rail.

If you think the decision to spend more operating costs on rail doesn't have anything to do with the fact that this service change has kept most of the money-saving ideas but thrown out many of the money-costing ideas, you're far more generous than am I.

Question 4: What happens now?

Do you really think people (admittedly few) who ride the #9 now are just going to stop travelling? Are they going to use the ER shuttle and just transfer to go the core of downtown? (the ER stays even further away from 6th/Congress than the proposed 11 will). Will they give up all travel entirely when UT's not in session?

Of course not. Some of those people are going to resume driving. Some are going to find other ways around - like the long walk up/down the big hill on West Lynn to take the #21/#22 combo (slated for elimination a few years further down the road, by the way). Meaning that it's not really acceptable to keep talking about the 11 as future relief for the 9 cancellation - the people relying on the 9 are screwed just as much this upcoming N months or years as they would be if the 11 wasn't ever going to come along.

Question 5: Does this say anything interesting about Capital Metro?

In this process, Capital Metro's PR guy basically told another tweeter that I shouldn't be trusted, but failed to engage the argument in public - instead asking the other tweeter to come talk to him in private. In another forum (OWANA yahoo group), a (much nicer) employee basically did the same thing - inviting me to come to meetings to plan the future conversion of ER to 11 rather than addressing the point that, in the meantime, the neighborhood was, in fact, losing city bus service.

While it may be lame for private businesses to refuse to address the arguments of their critics in public, it is their right to do so. Is it OK for a public entity funded by our tax dollars to do the same?

This is symptomatic of the general problem with Capital Metro - every single time any of their critics makes any kind of argument, but especially when somebody makes ones that are actually good arguments, they insist on receiving input only privately (in person) or in large public settings (where every person, including people who just show up for the meeting without having any idea what they're doing, is on an equal footing). They don't want to engage the idea; they want to figure out how to make the person expressing the idea less of a threat so the idea itself can be safely downplayed or ignored.

Refer, please, to the repeated suggestions that because I don't show up for the large public gatherings where lines are drawn on maps (and ignored); where suggestions are made, good and bad (and ignored); that somehow my input shouldn't be listened to, even though, say it with me: I was right on the Red Line and they were wrong.

I think the public would benefit from an open exchange of ideas with the critics who actually want public transportation in this area - not asking for Skaggs and Daugherty to be engaged here, mind you - but Capital Metro doesn't agree.

Cutting short now; meeting time.

Any more questions?


August 12, 2010

Holding Capital Metro Accountable on Ridership

So on a couple of forums I frequent, Cap Metro employees and hangers-on have been trying a new talking point - that they never expected 1700-2000 boardings/day anytime soon on the Red Line. This only requires a very short and obvious rebuttal.

The July 2010 performance report includes the picture below. (Capital Metro has suddenly decided to switch to only reporting rail numbers every two months, by the way).

Any questions? (Click to enlarge).

Obviously, recent proposals to increase service will make this subsidy number even worse - because there's no way a train in the middle of the day will lead to the number of riders per train overall going up. And, no, it's not relevant that the subsidy exists at all - we expect to have to subsidize mass transit unless we're Neanderthals or glibertarians. The key here is that the already excessively large budgeted subsidy for commuter rail - one much larger than that which a good light rail line would have required - turned out to be too small by a factor of 2. This obviously means that ridership was, in fact, expected to be about double what it has turned out to be.

Period.

Capital Metro is now going to try to increase the already incredibly high subsidy for the few people interested in awful commuter+shuttlebus service from Leander (and Cedar Park and Round Rock and Pflugerville, the latter three of which don't even pay Capital Metro taxes) - and it's obviously going to have to be at the expense of bus service that actually serves residents of Austin. It's incumbent on our city council representatives to say not only no, but hell no.