This is the category archive for "Funding of Transportation".
Main

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:

Continue reading "Whole shakers of salt" »

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:

Continue reading "Math with M1EK, Lesson 1" »

July 13, 2009

Yes, right-wing know-nothings, bicyclists do pay for the roads

Just sent to the morning show guys at 590-KLBJ, who were discussing the 3-foot passing rule and then let a caller drag the show down into the typical "cyclists don't pay for roads" nonsense. They didn't start there, but also didn't contradict her...

Gentlemen,

Although you probably don't remember, y'all have had me on your show a couple of times for a short talk about transportation. This morning on the way into work, I heard you and your listeners talking about the 3-foot-passing law that Gov. Perry vetoed; and the last caller I listened to made some very inaccurate points which you didn't challenge at all which need to be corrected, regarding paying for roadways.

The fact is that in the state of Texas, the state gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to the state highway system (and schools) - meaning it cannot be spent on any roadway without a route shield (number) on it. For instance, I-35, US 183, RM 2222 - state highways; can get gas tax funding and usually do (with some local contributions thrown into the mix). While the federal gas tax has no such restriction, in practice in our area, the metropolitan planning group that disperses such money spends almost all of it on the state highway system as well.

What does that leave out? Well, essentially 99% of the streets cyclists ride on when they're actually trying to get somewhere. Not just little roads - major roads like Enfield/15th; Cesar Chavez; all the numbered streets downtown; Windsor; Lamar north of the river; Burnet south of 183; etc. - these roads don't get one cent of funding from the gas tax.

What about vehicle registration? Goes exclusively to the state and county governments - and the county doesn't spend any of their money on roads inside city limits.

So cyclists do, in fact, pay for the roads they ride on - in fact, they likely overpay by orders of magnitude considering that their 'bill' for using one of those city-funded streets is the same as if they drove that day, yet they cause a lot more damage and take up a lot more space when they drive (you can fit a lot more cyclists on a street like Speedway than you can cars, in other words).

Please don't let your callers get away with this kind of hurtful know-nothing reactionary attack. While "cyclists don't pay for roads" is a patently false statement, there's plenty of valid disagreement on the 3-foot-passing rule that could have been explored instead, and the listeners deserve that higher-quality discourse.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005

Looking at this in retrospect, I forgot to even mention that the city pays for its roads with general funds - mostly sales taxes, property taxes, and utility transfers. D'oh. Will email them accordingly. (Still sick with plague and no sleep).

April 28, 2009

CM reserves down to effectively nothing

Cross-posted from the twitter which is about all I have time for right now:

Was there any doubt? CM was being truthy about reserves/quarter-cent money: Statesman article ( also see: helpful chart ).

This happened, in short, because Capital Metro pursued a cheap rail plan that was so cheap the Feds didn't want any part of it (45M originally promised to voters from Feds now spent out of reserves) - then, a combination of typical overruns and not-so-typical incompetence (and a bit of overruns caused by under-engineering) led to even more spending out of reserves. When they say they have enough money to pay Austin the commitments they made in the past, they are lying. They clearly don't have the money; didn't back then; and Ben Wear deserves some apologies from some Capital Metro employees at this point.

February 23, 2009

Red Line: Taxes versus benefits

The first in a new series by M1EK, inspired by various internet fun and maybe Dmitri Martin, except not so much funny as it is sad.

Cedar Park and Round Rock pay 0 to Capital Metro. "Other" includes some portions of unincorporated Travis County and a few small jurisdictions like Jonestown. 93% of CM's budget supposedly comes from the city of Austin (you lately more typically hear "over 90%").

Continue reading "Red Line: Taxes versus benefits" »

November 17, 2008

Don't Let The Door Hit You...

CNN's Campbell Brown's words ring true in relation to this pantload, whom the media never bothered to fact-check on anything:

Brown spoke of the "false equivalency" that's often practiced in journalism. "Our view is that when Candidate A says it's raining outside, and Candidate B says it's sunny, a journalist should be able to look outside and say, 'Well it's sunny, so one of these guys is wrong,'" she told Stewart.

Guess what? Sal Costello was wrong on almost everything he ever said. But you wouldn't know that for reading the Statesman, or the Chronicle, or even Burnt Orange Report - and the transportation discourse has suffered drastically for it. Instead of flat-out telling their readers that Costello's position wasn't true, they, at best, alluded to it indirectly, assuming people would get it. They didn't. As a result, people now honestly believe his bullshit about being double-taxed and the money supposedly diverted to 'toll roads' from 'free'ways.

In this whole process, one might assume the losers are suburban motorists. Not so; the losers are central city Austin residents, both drivers and non-drivers, who have to continue the unfair process of paying for suburban commuters' highways through both the gas tax subsidy and the property tax and sales tax subsidy. With toll roads, at least suburban commuters would have paid something closer to the cost of their choice to live out there. Now? Back to business-as-usual, meaning people who ride the bus in East Austin get to subsidize people driving in from Circle C. My environmentalist friends who think this means "no roads" are deluded - the phase II toll roads weren't highways to nowhere like Southwest Parkway; there already exists sufficient commuting demand and more than enough political support to make these roads happen, whether 'free' or tolled.

Anyways, to our erstwhile Circle C Crackpot: don't let the door hit you. And shame on you, reporters. It was raining the whole time, and you let people think there was an honest disagreement on the weather.

(The worst part? As I mentioned to a facebook friend, he actually made me feel a little bit sorry at one point for this guy. UNCLEAN).

September 05, 2008

Austin Contrarian on Austin Rail

Since I'm stuck driving 200 miles a day in the desert here in Yuma with no internet access except at hotel at evening, please go over to Austin Contrarian's take on Austin rail - to which I've commented a few times already.

July 31, 2008

BRT is a fraud (so is Rapid Bus)

A quick hit from Orphan Road in Seattle; excerpts:

BRT is neither cheaper nor faster to build. No matter what you might say about a mixed system or buses needed as feeders or matching the traffic requirements with the market, at the end of the day, BRT is most likely to be a fraud.

I'll let other people be "reasonable" and concede that, if you grant a lot of things that never will happen, BRT "might" work. When I look around at all these existing BRT implementations and find delay, financial ruin, and angry riders, I've had enough. BRT is a fraud.

Also of note from the BRT example city of Curitiba are these scalability problems courtesy of The Overhead Wire:

During peak hours, buses on the main routes are already arriving at almost 30-second intervals; any more buses, and they would back up. While acknowledging his iconoclasm in questioning the sufficiency of Curitiba’s trademark bus network, Schmidt nevertheless says a light-rail system is needed to complement it.

All of this (and more) applies to Rapid Bus. The investment is high - and the payoff is nearly zero; you're still stuck with an awful vehicle that can't get through traffic congestion like light rail does all over the country. No wonder the highway guys push for BRT (and its dumber sibling, Rapid Bus) so much - it's not a threat to them. The Feds are pushing it now because the Bush guys have finally wrecked the FTA - but that doesn't make it a good idea; it makes it something to pretend to consider until saner hands take the till.

Capital Metro needs to cut this out right now and put this money into something that works - like the light rail proposal which, unlike Rapid Bus, is at least something that has worked in other cities and can insulate us from diesel costs in the future.

July 15, 2008

Rapid Bus Still Ain't Rapid

A quick hit, since I'm about to go to bed early with a raging ear infection while on a business trip to scenic Huntsville, AL. This is a comment I just posted on Cap Metro's blog in response to the announcement that they're shooting again for "rapid" bus on the only good rail corridor in the city.

Rapid Bus continues to be a complete waste of time and money - our council members were right to put the kibosh on it the last time through. Investing this much money on a half-baked solution for the most important transit corridor in Austin is stupid, especially since this particular solution won't actually work here (too many times the traffic backup goes far beyond the light immediately in front of the bus in question).

In other cities, and in a smarter Austin, we'd be seeing packed light rail trains run down Lamar and Guadalupe by now. There is no way rapid bus can provide enough mobility benefits here to be worth a tenth the investment you're going to dump into this dead-end technology; and I hope our council members cut this program off again.

It's time to demand that the residents of Austin, who provide almost all of Capital Metro's funds, get some rail transit rather than spending our money providing train service to suburbs like Cedar Park that don't even pay Capital Metro taxes. Rapid bus is an insult to the taxpayers of Austin, and it's not going to be rapid.

I urge each and every of the ten readers of this crackplog to write to your city council members and ask them to stop Capital Metro from spending money on this ridiculous project - if CM feels like spending some money serving Austin for a change, there are far better projects on which to do it.

April 06, 2008

The Buses Aren't Empty, Part VIII

Dear libertarian ideologues: If you mainly see buses on the ends of their routes in the godforsaken burbs, and they're NOT empty, Capital Metro would be doing something wrong. Morons.

The right place to measure ridership is along the whole route - but if you have to pick just one spot, pick somewhere in the middle and you will invariably find a very different story than the typical suburban idiot narrative of "the buses are always empty". Try standing-room-only, at least in the morning rush. (I took the 2-bus trip to my awful new office twice in a row in late March and on both mornings, I had to stand on the #5; I never wrote up the TFT because I was too busy, but maybe I ought to).

And, dear disabled friends, media coverage of our very low FRR ratio thanks in large part to your gold-plated taxi-limo service is eventually going to kill the rest of the system - which will also kill your golden goose. Think long and hard about what you do next.

Also, dear bus-riding friends, if you keep opposing modest, long-overdue fare increases, sooner or later the majority of voters (who, sad to say, don't ride the bus) will cut the sales tax support, one way or another. You may think people like you are the majority - but there's 5 people who drive and never take the bus, not even once a year, for every one of you. Seriously.

September 24, 2007

It IS time to raise fares, BUT

Dear Friends at Capital Metro:

Hey, the last few rides, taking my 3-year-old to the UT lab school and back, have been swell. Good work. So I saw your fare increase went over like a lead balloon. Well, I just filled out your survey. Here's my additional comments:

  1. This fare increase is long overdue, especially for the door-to-door special transit stuff. Yes, I so went there. It costs like 60 cents to provide a ride which actually costs the taxpayers something like 20 or 30 bucks. But even the normal fares are too low (and, no, almost nobody rides the bus to save money on an individual trip - because the economics of that don't make sense, even when the bus ride is free).
  2. It's typical stupid PR by Capital Metro to be pushing this fare increase at precisely the time when it's most easy for the bus riders to complain about subsidizing suburban commuter rail passengers. Of course, I don't think there will be many of them, but it's still an incredibly dumb bit of timing.
  3. No, eliminating free transfers and Ozone Action Day free rides doesn't count as raising fares. Cut it out. Presumably, you had to take a round-trip, so even with that free transfer slip, you used to pay a buck, and you're paying a buck now; it's just costing CM a bit less in driver time.

M1EK's recommendations:

  1. The aforementioned STS hike (yes, disabled people should get more of a break than regular bus riders. If we expect a 25% farebox recovery on able-bodied people, then let's shoot for 10% for the disabled. Something has got to be done here, though - serving the disabled is not Capital Metro's only mission).
  2. STOP THE FREE RIDER PROBLEM. Even today, with nothing but express buses to serve them, many residents of Pflugerville and Cedar Park, who don't pay any Capital Metro taxes, get to ride the bus for the same price as the Austin and Leander residents who DO pay those taxes. My solution? Walk-up fares go up dramatically (to about 80% of estimated full cost - remainder covered by Federal subsidy). Residents of the service area can buy discounted single or multiple rides by showing proof of residency in the service area. You guys actually encouraged this by moving the old Pflugerville express bus stop to just inside the CM service area right next to where it used to be - CUT THIS SHIT OUT. We don't owe Pflugerville anything but contempt for refusing to fund transportation solutions. Likewise with this stupid Round Rock idea.
  3. Since you guys think this shitty commuter rail service is going to be a magical gold unicorn which poops out fairy rainbows, PROVE IT by charging double the express bus fare. This will take the wind out of the sails of the bus riders complaining that poor eastsiders will be subsidizing rich suburbanites.

Here's what those fares might look like (this is just a wide estimate, though). Let's assume that we have developed a smart-card for residents of the service area which can be used even for the walk-up case - this is simple and is done in many other jurisdictions to identify people who qualify for reduced fares (such as senior citizens).

Ride typeCurrent fareTarget FRR for residentsResident fareNon-resident fare
Standard one-way bus fare$0.5025%$1.00$3.00
STS ride$0.6010%$2.00$15.00
Express bus one-way fare$1.0025%$2.00$6.00
Commuter rail one-way fareN/A40%$4.00$8.00

(similar relative discounts as today for students, seniors, and day/monthly passes. Assumption is that average cost of a one-way city bus ride, all costs included, is $4.00; $8.00 for express; $10.00 for commuter rail with shuttle bus; $20.00 for STS).

The conclusion is that if we're going to raise our farebox recovery ratio but simultaneously not drive away choice commuters (who are the voters we need to keep on board), we need to do something to capture the free-rider revenue, or lower the free-rider cost. Systems like New York's can handle this by heavily discounting monthly passes and having relatively steep one-way fares; we're not to that point yet here.

I'll expect my consultants' fee any day now.

Your pal,
M1EK

September 20, 2007

Austin drivers don't come close to paying their own way

Quick hit, found from Jeff's excellent "City Transit Advocates" aggregator:

This recently released national study confirms that even in states with more progressive transportation policies than we have in Texas, motorists do not pay the full cost of providing them with roads and ancillary services. Not even close. (I've seen the New Jersey study before and have used it many times; but nobody bothered to go to that level of detail for the nation as a whole).

And in Texas, it's a lot worse - we don't allow state gas taxes to be spent on major roadways outside the state highway system (which screws cities like Austin in favor of suburbs like Round Rock); and we even require 'donations' from city and county general funds to get state and federal 'free'ways built. If the subsidy recovery would be 20-70 cents/gallon nationally, it'd easily be over a buck here.

September 19, 2007

Driving: Fixed versus variable

Wanted to point readers to a discussion between Austin Contrarian and myself about fixed versus variable costs of driving, and how best to account the fixed costs. One thing many commute calculators get just absolutely and stupidly wrong is the idea that depreciation is a factor of miles driven (it's actually far more a factor of age - miles a distant second). For instance, this is a comparison I ran for one of the early comment's on AC's post: a 1998 Honda Civic LX, automatic, all other values default. All values as "private party" and "excellent condition".

Miles drivenValue
20,0006,540
90,0005,640
180,0004,825

(KBB said 86,000 would be "typical", but actually seems a bit low to me).

A 1998 Civic would be either 9 or 10 years old today, depending. The added depreciation due to driving normally versus the little-old-lady case is no more than $100 per year ($8.25 per month). The depreciation due to age swamps this figure by a factor of 10 or more. This stands to reason - would you really pay a ton of money for a 9-year-old Civic just because it wasn't driven very much? Of course not.

What does this mean? Ignore the commute calculators which include depreciation, insurance, and registration, unless you're one of the vanishingly rare few people who can completely get rid of a vehicle. Instead, use one of the calculators which only includes truly variable costs, like mine (originally written for bike commutes, but can be used to compare the cost for transit commutes just as easily - just zero out the cost of bike tubes and tires and put bus fare in "extra costs"). For instance, at gas prices of $3.00, and with $80 tires (about what our last set cost, each), you end up with these values for some of my old commutes (assuming I got to use our Prius instead of what I actually drove back then, which only got 38 mpg):

TripCarBus
Home to 183/Braker (Netbotz)$1.31$1.00 / $2.00 (regular / express)
Home to downtown (free parking)$0.46$1.00
Home to downtown ($8 parking)$8.46$1.00

Now, if AC's parking cost was unbundled - charged per-day, his commute would actually come out cheaper on the bus by a fair margin, as indicated above. He indicated a monthly cost of $100, and I'm just guessing that $8 might be the price on the spot market, but that means that if he drives even about half the time, it'd be smarter to pay for the parking pass and then drive every day.

How can we fix this? If more of the costs of driving were borne directly by drivers, at the time they drove (or at least paid for gas), it wouldn't be so artificially cheap. For instance, when I drive downtown, I'm using roadways which were paid for out of property and sales taxes - not the gas tax. If we were to pay for all major roadways out of the gas tax, well, first, Round Rock would start to have to finally pay something approaching the cost of their infrastructure without free-riding on Austin, and second, at the extra buck a gallon I figure it would take, the math would shift a bit. It'd shift more if we could get auto insurance priced by the mile (although you keep hearing about it, it's never been an option for me or anybody I know personally). And, of course, if we paid for the costs of our Iraq adventure by gas taxes instead of through income taxes, the story would be even more different. But in the meantime, it rarely makes sense on purely economic grounds to ride the bus, even at our currently way-too-low fares so we're going to have to keep working on the other reasons. Like reliability. Light rail, dependable in time and at least competitive with the car, on which you could comfortably work or read, would be an easy winner. City buses - well, I salute AC and Tim for being able to work and/or read on the jerky city buses, but I was never able to, and I doubt most people would consider it acceptable even if saving a couple of bucks. Unfortunately, of course, our brand-new commuter rail line is going to inflict two of those jerky bus rides on every single rail passenger every single day. Oops.

September 12, 2007

Round Rock screws Austin again

Quick hit:

Most coverage of Round Rock's attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here's the kicker that nobody's talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, because Round Rock doesn't pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.

The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don't expect CM to ever do this - they'd get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.

Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

September 07, 2007

Difference between streetcar and bus

Since many people still think that if you build streetcar, they will come; here's a set of use case-like tables which I hope will explain what the actual difference is between streetcars and buses. The first case is for "why can't we just fix commuter rail by building a streetcar line to which they can transfer?". The second case is for "won't streetcar get more residents of central Austin to take transit to work?".

Some shorthand below explained up here:

"Stuck in traffic": Does the vehicle have its own lane, or is it sharing a lane with cars? This affects speed and reliability.

"Detourable": If there's a traffic accident in the shared lane, can the vehicle in question change lanes to get around it? This is a drastic impact on reliability.

"Fast/slow": Is the vehicle capable of accelerating/decelerating quickly? Speed, obviously.

ModeStuck in traffic?Detourable?Fast/slow?
Circulators as applied to commuter rail service
ShuttlebusYesYesSlow
StreetcarYesNoSlow
Mode by itself (for residents of actual central Austin)
ShuttlebusYesYesSlow
StreetcarYesNoSlow

Notice anything? Whether you're using the vehicle as a circulator or as your primary form of transit, it performs exactly the same. I know this seems obvious, but I still get people thinking that there's some magic fairy dust that will make streetcars turn into good transit service for the people who actually wanted it, in both 2000 and 2004. No, credulous fellow residents of Central Austin, streetcar doesn't bringing anything more to the table than bus does - arguably LESS, for daily commuters. Note the "Detourable" column. Yes, I've had times on the bus when I've benefitted from this capability. They won't detour just to get around heavy traffic, but they darn sure will to get around an accident.

So what are some of the other benefits of streetcar not mentioned here? It provides a perception of permanence that bus service does not. This is worth something if you're trying to stimulate development somewhere - but downtown Austin doesn't need the help. It also provides a minor benefit for tourists - making it more obvious that transit exists, and making it more attractive (people from out of town are unlikely to want to ride the bus given the stigma of bus service in many other cities).

The only advantage streetcar has is for tourists - which is why, IF we build this thing, it should only be funded out of hotel/rental car taxes. Even if it ran through the dense residential parts of Austin, it would provide precisely nothing of benefit to those residents, who, by the way, pay almost all of Capital Metro's bills.

September 03, 2007

Capital Metro misses huge opportunity

Last Saturday, I went down to FlugTag with my 3 and 13-year-olds. I wrote down the next few buses on the #5 and #7; we picked the #5; and walked out to the stop. Three UT students were already there - also going to the FlugTag. Got to the stop at about 5:25 for the bus that should have been there at 5:32.

Note that the buses were running on the Saturday schedule - which means that instead of running every 18-19 minutes, it runs every 38 minutes. IE, probably half as many buses as usual. I think the #7 was roughly the same.

We waited. And waited. Saw 2 buses go by northbound. By 6:00 or so, after I had called Cap Metro twice and been assured that the bus was only 5 minutes delayed, the 3 students walked to Guadalupe to catch the #1. Since my arthritis was already going to make this a risky endeavor, we stayed put. Called Cap Metro again, and was told this time that the 5:32 bus had already gone by - a lie. I let the agent have it; telling her that the #5 might have detoured down Guadalupe to make up some time but he damn well didn't go by us. She told me the next bus would be by in about ten minutes (about ten minutes later than schedule). I figured we'd give it that ten minutes and then give up.

Five minutes later, a #5 bus comes by, and as I'm paying for myself and the boys, the driver is asking us to hurry, as he's already 45 minutes late. A-ha! While the driver lied (apparently) to the dispatcher about where he was, at least he continued to run the correct route. We got basically the last 3 seats on the bus and settled in. As we headed farther south, the bus filled up more and more - by the time we reached Dean Keeton and Speedway, every seat and every standing position was full; and the driver started telling people at stops that he couldn't take any more people.

Between there and the southern end of UT, we probably skipped another 30 people. The bus was full of brand-new UT students - I had to give a lot of directions - who were new in town and trying out Capital Metro for the first time.

Downtown was a madhouse - as expected - very slow on Congress. Our original plan was to hop off at Cesar Chavez and walk - but at 5th (right in front of Eckerd's), the driver announced that there was a #30 a block behind him that would get us as close as possible to the event. So we, and 25 others, hopped off and then back on the #30, only to be stuck when a police car pulled right in front of us, stopped, and the officers went into the Eckerd's and left their car right in front of us - forcing our bus driver to try to change lanes in the middle of gridlock. That took another 10 minutes (just to get around the cop car). Thanks, APD!.

By the time the #30 bus reached Cesar Chavez, we all gave up and got off the bus.

FlugTag was amazingly crowded, and I'm glad we went, but then I had to acquire ice cream I had promised the 3-year-old, and through a comedy of bad decisions ended up walking all the way to the convenience store near Peter Pan. Observed dozens of people waiting at every bus stop heading away from downtown (for the #10, for instance).

After the ice cream mission was completed, we walked out to Lamar intent on catching the #3. A dozen people there, too. Crap. Called Cap Metro and the next bus wasn't scheduled for another 40 minutes! Decided to just walk the north side of the lake back to Congress, where at least I could choose between the first #1, #3, #5, or #7 to show up. Once we managed to struggle to the stop there, I was about dead (and am lucky I didn't end up on crutches or in a wheelchair like the last time I pushed it and walked this much) and only had to wait about 15 minutes for a #7 (even passed up a #1 in the meantime).

So, what did Capital Metro do wrong? Well, they had no control over the traffic. There's nothing they could have done about the hour it took to get from my bus stop at 35th and Speedway to Cesar Chavez/Congress. Of course, light rail a la 2000 would have worked great, but commuter rail wouldn't have worked at all - because people would have had to take shuttle buses through that same traffic.

But one obvious thing Capital Metro could have done was simply run a bunch of these routes on their weekday schedules. This would have meant that the dozens of people futilely waiting at bus stops, many of whom were obviously trying Capital Metro for the first time ever, might have had a better impression. I'll bet, however, that with the hour-long waits for buses in evidence, that Capital Metro gained exactly zero future customers, and probably even lost some who were previously willing to ride. Don't tell me that's too difficult - they have no trouble when they want to reduce frequency (run a Sunday schedule on a mid-week holiday, for instance).

People who are stuck on a bus that's stuck in traffic aren't going to blame the bus. Well, most of them, anyways. But people who are stuck waiting an hour for a bus only to be told that there's no room to ride? They're damn well going to blame the bus, and they damn well should. And meanwhile, Capital Metro is pushing a long overdue fare increase at precisely the worst possible time - making it trivially easy for the "bus riders union" to claim that they're subsidizing commuter rail for Leanderites. Does it get any dumber?

And, moral of the story? Ride your bike. If I could still ride, I would have ridden down with the boys, and it would have been a piece of cake.

August 20, 2007

Ben Wear article on bike bridge misleads

Just sent to the Statesman in response to Ben Wear's article this morning

There are a few key facts that Ben Wear left out of his article on the South Mopac bicycle/pedestrian bridge which paint a very different picture:

1. There used to be a shoulder (available for use by commuting and recreational cyclists) on the Mopac bridge until a few years ago (when it was restriped to provide a longer exit lane). When the shoulder existed, it was frequently used.

2. The 15% figure cited by Wear is misleading - when you run the same comparison on total transportation funding in our area, about 1% (last time I ran the figures) went to bike/ped projects.

3. Urban residents, even those who don't drive, are subsidizing suburban commuters through the toll-road 'donations' he mentioned (remember; the city has to repay those bonds from sources like sales and property taxes; not the gas tax) and in many other ways. When you add up the flows of dollars, it would take a couple of bridges like this every single year just to begin to make up for the money flowing out of Austin towards the suburbs, from drivers and non-drivers alike. Perhaps THAT would be a better focus for an article in the future. I'd be happy to help.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005

I spoke on this exact same 15% issue a few years ago on KLBJ's morning news show but it keeps popping up as if we're in a bad game of Whack-A-Mole. In this case, the 15% applies only to city funding, and includes pedestrian infrastructure which was never built back when saner cities would have done it (i.e. when the road was constructed in the first place). When I ran the numbers a few years ago, bike/ped funding for the whole area ended up at something like 1%.

February 20, 2007

Managed Lanes: Good Theory; Will Suck Here

A short entry; and I won't inflict a drawing on you, so please use the power of your mind to visualize.

CAMPO has already tentatively allocated $110 million for "managed lanes" (one in each direction) on Mopac from Parmer to Town Lake and is now explaining the plan. These will, apparently, boil down to a new inside lane in each direction, with possibly flimsy barriers between them and the general-purpose lanes, similar to what you see on the northbound frontage road just north of Bee Caves Road. General-purpose lanes will have to be narrowed a bit, and some shoulder will be lost (especially the inside shoulder - which will be effectively gone).

I'm generally a moderate supporter of HOV lanes, and a stronger supporter of managed lanes. Tolling road capacity anywhere is a good move away from our current system in which urban drivers and especially non-drivers subsidize SUV-driving suburban soccer moms. Ironically, the more red-meat conservative you are around these parts, the more you apparently pine for the old Soviet method of market-clearing, at least as it applies to road capacity.

And, one of the best reasons to support HOV or managed lanes is the boost in performance and reliability it can give bus transit, which needs all the help it can get.

HOWEVER, the system considered here will do nothing to improve the performance of transit, for this reason:

To exit Mopac, the bus (or car that paid a toll) must travel through three lanes of general-purpose traffic in order to get to the exit lane.

If that traffic is backed up enough to make you want to use the toll facility, it will also be backed up enough that it will be impossible to quickly cut through to get to your exit. Much of the time savings in the managed lane will be lost at entry and exit.

This is the same problem other half-assed HOV facilities have around the country - in places like South Florida (no barrier; hard to enforce; and mostly useless during extremely high traffic periods except if you're going all the way through where the traffic is). Likewise, this facility won't help the commuter going to UT, or downtown; the only group it could really help dramatically would be people going from north suburb to south suburb.

IE, we're going to spend city drivers' gas tax money to even more excessively subsidize the suburban commuter - but just in case we might accidentally benefit the city; we're going to do it in such a way that it only helps those who don't live OR work in the center-city.

STUPID.

By the way, $110 million would pay for the entire commuter rail line (which won't do anything good for Austin), OR, it could be used as a down payment on a rail transit system which will work, i.e., build a leg of real non-streetcar light-rail from downtown up to the Triangle.

January 23, 2007

SH45 and SH130 were ALWAYS in the plan

Contrary to what Sal Costello's band of merry anti-tollers alleges, SH45 and SH130, as tollways, were always supposed to get money from the 2000-2001 city and county bond packages. I remember; I was arguing against it at the time (not on this crackplog; it didn't exist yet; but still).

Shame on KXAN for just reporting this as fact. Mayor Watson didn't "re-allocate" any money towards these toll roads; before the election, the city was advertising that these two tollways (and a third, Loop 1 North) were in fact the primary expected recipients of the right-of-way purchase money. While Austin didn't promise exactly which road projects would receive funding, it was crystal clear at the time that a good chunk of right-of-way purchases were going to go to these tollways.

Costello appears to be hanging his hat on the weak argument that the city bond language didn't SPECIFICALLY say that any money would go to "tollways" or "toll roads". But neither did the city bond language say "freeways" or "free roads"; it said that a large chunk of the transportation bond would go to right-of-way contibutions for state highways, which it did. And the city didn't mislead anybody into thinking these would be for non-toll-roads; again, backup materials before the election clearly indicated that they intended to spend these funds on SH130, etc.

The city, unlike the county, chose to group all transportation bonds together as a tactical move to try to get them passed, rather than risk environmentalists voting against the highways chunk and motorists voting against the bikeways/pedestrian chunk. That's the only reason they didn't have separate SH45 and SH130 items.

August 23, 2006

MetroRapid: Part One

Since many others are doing a fine job showing how stupid the idea of an adult bicycle helmet law is, I'm catching up on stuff I was supposed to crackplog about a LOOONG time ago.

Here's the first of a series about Rapid Bus, now officially branded MetroRapid, which, don't forget, is the sum total of the transit improvements on tap for the urban core of Austin thanks to the bait-and-switch commuter-rail electioneering. You aren't getting rail; you're getting a bus that looks like a train. But does it perform like a train? In each one of these articles, I'll be looking at another "rapid bus" or "bus rapid transit" city and how the mode actually performs, and compare to Austin's proposal.

Let's start with a note that my intrepid cow orker forwarded me some months ago from New Jersey: Bus Rapid Transit - Not For New Jersey. I'll provide some excerpts, since the whole thing is fairly long.

Study after study has now clearly confirmed what NJ-ARP repeatedly has reported for more than a decade - busways do not attract large ridership, cost more to construct and operate and, where they do operate, have not produced the financial results their promoters have promised. It's a lose-lose-lose situation.

In our case, we're not actually constructing a busway; so the "costs more to construct" is not applicable to Austin. However, the "do not attract large ridership" will certainly bite us here.

Statistics show that busways attract only 33 percent of projected ridership, but rail lines exceed initial estimates by 22 percent. Notwithstanding, the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), in concert with the highway and motor bus industry, has continued to advocate for BRT. In order to justify continued expansion of BRT, supporters have used rail planning models to predict bus patronage. Even though busway supporters have sponsored trips to places such as Curitiba, Brazil, to view what in their minds is a successful application of BRT technology, nowhere in North America has this mode of public transport attracted such rail passenger boardings.

Curitiba is really starting to become like the infamous (and discredited) 85% head-injury-reduction-for-bicycle-helmets study. It's trotted out every single time some transit agency is pressured by the Feds into building BRT (or Rapid Bus) instead of rail - and every single time it's not even remotely applicable to the United States' population. Curitiba is a poor city full of people who are, at best, marginally capable of affording automobiles. It doesn't take much at all to get them to use public transportation - most don't have a choice, and the remainder are poor enough that even relatively small cost savings are worth large investments in extra commuting time. All their "bus rapid transit system" really had to do was be a smidge faster than regular buses to be a huge success there.

The same, of course, is not true in the US (or Austin in particular). Remember this post in which I estimate that a potential transit user in the suburbs might save a couple of bucks at the cost of an hour or two of time. Not compelling in the least, even if the extra time investment drops by 20% or so.

When one considers that light rail cars have a 40-year life compared with 15 years for buses, LRT is much less costly as well as more attractive and safer.

Hey! Good news for Austin! We'll only be stuck with these awful articulated buses for 15 years, and then we can get rid of the "but we invested all that money in those fancy buses" argument.

A study by the General Accounting Office (GAO) revealed that light rail vehicle was 15.5 percent less costly to operate than bus, all other factors being equal. Low floor light rail cars have a larger capacity than low floor buses of comparable length. The average capacity of a 40-foot low floor bus is only 37 seated passengers due to space that is taken up by the wheel wells which intrude on interior space that otherwise could be used for fare paying riders. While an articulated two-section low floor bus contains more seats, it will still have less capacity than a low floor light rail car. Unlike BRT, a light rail line can increase line capacity by adding more cars to a train, resulting in an increase in operator productivity. The only way to increase the capacity of BRT is to add more buses, each of which will require another driver resulting in higher operating costs.

Well, Capital Metro is so flush with money that higher operating costs won't matter at all, right?

Please check out the whole article. BRT and its stunted sibling "Rapid Bus" are nothing more than stalking horses, pushed by the Feds to avoid having to make investments in rail transit. After all, you can convert a busway back into a car lane. Don't be fooled - folks pushing Rapid Bus aren't friends of public transit.

Next time: Boston!

June 15, 2006

Double taxation on city streets

For the anti-toll whiners patriots, and even those who use it to try to get more hits, here's a story for you.

There's this guy. His name is Joe Urbanite. He owns a car, which he drives sometimes. He used to walk and bike a lot, but now due to medical problems, can't bike at all and can only rarely walk. When he drives his car, he usually goes a mile or two to the grocery store on Red River, or downtown via Guadalupe for a show to the main library, or up Speedway to the pool at Shipe Park, or across town on 38th/35th Street to get to his inlaws' house. Joe's wife also uses the car a lot to go to the frou-frou grocery stores like Whole Foods (Lamar, 6th) and Central Market (38th). Joe might also use the car later today to go to the hardware store (29th near Guadalupe) to get some wiring supplies. Even when Joe's going far enough where Mopac or I-35 might be an option, he usually tends to stay away from those highways because he's found out it's a bit quicker to stick to surface streets than going through those awful frontage road traffic signals.

Those roads range from very big to merely minor arterials; but we're not talking about residential streets here. All those roads were paid for out of Joe Urbanite's property and sales taxes (usually but not always in the form of bonds). And remember, Joe lives in a property which is valued very high per acre compared to Bob Suburbanite, so he's paying proportionally more in property taxes.

Joe Urbanite goes up Guadalupe to the gas station to fill 'er up. He notices that the state of Texas has assessed a "gasoline tax" on his fuel. Wow! Neat! Does this money go to pay for the roads Joe used? If so, man, that's an awesome user fee; barely even a tax at all.

But no. The gas tax in the state of Texas is constitutionally prohibited from being spent on anything but state highways and schools. That means that if it doesn't have one of them nifty route shields with a number on it, it ain't getting squat. What about the federal gas tax? In theory, it could be spent on roads outside the state highway system, but it rarely is - most of that money gets dumped right back into big highway projects.

In summary: Joe pays the entire cost to build and maintain the roads he uses out of sales and property taxes. (Compared to Bob Suburbanite, far fewer roads in his area get any state gas tax money). Joe also pays as much in gasoline taxes per-gallon as does Bob Suburbanite, but that gas tax really only goes to build roads for Bob.

So tell me, anti-toll whiners patriots: how, exactly, is Joe Urbanite not double-taxed? And how is this example not much worse than toll roads?

May 17, 2006

Why Commuter Rail Will Fail In Austin

A link from Houston I just stumbled upon today which explains why rail transit works so much better in Washington, DC than in San Francisco, and shows quite well the problem the commuter rail line will have in Austin. (San Francisco still has a ton of rail passengers, of course, but the argument is that they have far fewer than they _should_).

Check it out here.

Relevant excerpts (summaries - read the whole article for depth):

  • BART saves money by using existing rights of way; Metrorail maximizes ridership by puting lines where the transit demand is
  • BART serves the suburbs. Metrorail serves the suburbs and the urban core.
  • BART stations are where the cars are; Metrorail stations are where the people are.

It strikes me that you could almost substitute "Austin's 2004 commuter rail proposal" for BART and "Austin's 2000 light rail proposal" for Metrorail and essentially the whole thing would stand just as well as it does now.

And the whole thing exposes how much of a snow job Lyndon Henry and Capital Metro are pulling by calling "All Systems Go" a "light urban railway".

I highly recommend a full read. I'm also adding this blog to my links.

May 03, 2006

Solution to Bile Shortage Found

Since I thought I had been dumped back into moderation for the horrible sin of providing more than two (actual content-filled) postings to austin-bikes on some day in the last week (turned out to just be a delay, apparently), this particular response to our good friend Roger Baker risked being unposted, and thus, I posted it here for posterity. Post-haste.

On 09:18 AM 5/3/2006 -0500, Roger Baker wrote:
I bet some of you thought that there wouldn't be any bike lanes along SH 130 didn't you? (hey, as an Austin taxpayer, you're paying for part of it).

[...]

...Darcie Schipull of TxDOT advised that they have hired Wilbur Smith
Associates to develop a master plan for bike and pedestrian trails
along SH 130. They will work with jurisdictions to develop the plans
and to encourage them to use the plan for applying for enhancement
funds...


So if the City of Austin can magically come up with a few million dollars to match against another few million dollars of Federal money, we might get hike/bike trails built along parts of this road, and along parts of the Capital Metro rail line, by the time our grandkids are riding bikes, assuming they still exist by then. Note that the road was absolutely not designed for bike trails to begin with; the only concession to them is essentially the maintenance of enough right-of-way to fit them in spots. (No design allowances made for interactions cross-streets, for instance).

Does the fact that TXDOT responded in exactly the same way as did Capital Metro penetrate the cocoons of credulity of any of y'all yet? Graciously allowing another governmental entity to build a bike trail on your unused land as long as it's not too much trouble and as long as they pay the entire bill was always possible, and here's the important part: EVEN WITH TXDOT.

The only right-of-way owner the city ever had any trouble with in this regard was Union Pacific. TXDOT was always willing to let us build trails with our own money in their right-of-way. It's not a particularly notable concession; and it does not signal support for bicycling.

Nothing new here. Someday, maybe, y'all will get a little less credulous about what exactly you're being promised and how much you're willing to give away for it.

April 10, 2006

Vote Tuesday Against Sal Costello's Suburban Army

Sal Costello continues to post a shrill screed or three almost every single day to Austin Bloggers trying to get people to vote against incumbents who approved some or all of various toll road plans around these parts. Most irritating of all is that the Austin Libertarians (whose politics would logically tend to support tolls, even on existing roads, if they were being remotely consistent about user fees) have signed on with this pantload, which shows that they're just a bunch of suburban Republicans who don't want to be identified with the religious right.

If you have any interest in making sure that suburbanites pay their fair share, though, you need to vote the exact opposite way from Sal's recommendations. These toll roads finally start to reverse the decades-long subsidization of neighborhoods like Circle C by central Austinites who have to contribute property and sales tax money to TXDOT to build 'free'ways. At the same time, TXDOT spends most of their money in the suburbs and hardly anything remotely close to central Austin since most major roads there aren't part of the state highway system.

Tolls in any form are good. Tolls which changed by the time of day would be even better. Tolls which were frequently changed to ensure free-flowing traffic would be best. But any tolls are better than going back to the bad old days where Sal's driving is subsidized by people in Hyde Park who might not even own a car.

The truly amazing thing is that he's managed to sucker environmentalists into opposing these toll roads. Rather than imposing tolls on roads to stop subsidizing sprawl over the aquifer, groups like SOS actually think they have the power to prevent those roads from being built at all, and have made common cause with folks who would expand 290 to 100 lanes before caring one whit about Barton Springs.

Just say no to Sal. Tolls are a responsible way to make sure the people causing the demand actually pay the price.

March 02, 2006

Austin Rail Politics Thesis

Jeff Wood, in the middle of a thread on lightrail_now where I'm trying to once again prevent Lyndon from wriggling off the hook, just posted a link to his thesis on Austin rail transportation politics in which I'm quoted a few times. A good summary for those still interested in the issue.

February 06, 2006

The Capital Metro Finances

Ben Wear finally checked in this morning about the "commuter rail finances causing pressure for cost reductions causing union strife issue" which I covered here, although I disagree completely with his conclusion that light rail would have left us in the same mess.

  1. The commuter rail plan would NOT have received any substantial Federal funding. Wear glosses over this for more commentary about how difficult the New Starts process is. Rail lines with such paltry projected ridership have not done well at the FTA in recent years.
  2. The light rail plan, on the other hand, would easily have received the 50% Federal funding. We already know the Feds rated it highly even though they weren't allowed to include the impact of TOD and other future development such as the Triangle (which is now, in 2006, online).
  3. The commuter rail plan was sold to the voters of Austin on the premise that it was so cheap (with the Federal money that Capital Metro is now NOT seeking) that it would not necessitate touching the 1/4 cent "rebate" or the Build Greater Austin funds.
  4. The light rail plan counted on using both. Wear glosses over this to some degree, but at least mentions it.
  5. The operating costs of commuter rail are likely to be high - Wear mentions this, but doesn't mention why they're disproportionately high compared to light rail - again, it runs back to low ridership. Operating cost per passenger, in fact, is likely to be much higher with commuter rail than with light rail. The physical cost of moving each train is quite likely to be higher with diesel than it was with electricity, and many of the ancillary operating costs such as maintenance actually rise at a lower rate than the number of vehicles do thanks to economies of scale. Then, when you divide that cost by a much smaller number of commuter rail passengers, you're in bad news city. It's going to be a feeding frenzy for the local suburban Republicans masquerading as libertarians when the "we're paying a $15 subsidy for each rail passenger's daily ride" stories start coming out.

Summarizing: the 2000 light rail plan would have gotten a bunch of money from the Feds, would have had access to the 1/4 cent 'rebate' and Build Greater Austin funds, would have had greater income from fares, would have had proportionally lower operating costs, and would have opened up more TOD income than will this commuter rail plan. Since it would have gone "right down the gut", i.e., right next to all the neighborhoods which actually want to use transit, and directly in front of UT, the Capitol, and the parts of downtown where people actually work, it would have become the success story that we've seen in Minneapolis, Portland, Dallas, etc. IE: a credible alternative which encourages even those who drive to work every day to support future expansions and even (shudder!) tax increases.

Instead, based on what we have now, it's unlikely that, if it's ever built out, the complete commuter rail + streetcars plan being pushed today will end up being any cheaper anyways, which really puts the lie to the idea that cost was the reason for picking it. It was about screwing the center-city in favor of Krusee's suburbanites all along. If you are one of the few who ride it, this is how you're gonna get to work. And our "success story" that we're attempting to emulate is South Florida: Shuttle buses for those who were going to take the bus anyways, and branded as a big fat failure by everybody else.

December 23, 2005

Why Krusee Supported Rail, Part One

Round Rock doesn't pay Capital Metro taxes. They decided a long time ago that they didn't want to be part of the system. Great. I wish we Austinites could similarly exempt ourselves from paying taxes which build their roads for them, but here we are.

So where does Krusee and rail come into this, then?

CAMPO is about to approve using Federal money to build an "intermodal transit center" in downtown Round Rock, which will include a new bus line which connects to a Capital Metro Park-n-Ride in far North Austin.

Let me repeat again: Citizens of Austin subsidize bus rides on Capital Metro by paying a 1% sales tax. Citizens of Round Rock pay nothing to Capital Metro.

These park and rides (and the express buses which stop there) are fairly attractive today for a small subset of commuters who have to pay money to park at their office (mainly UT employees; a few folks downtown). So some people, even when not in the Cap Metro service area, drive to the park and ride and then hop the bus (paying the same low fare as an Austin resident would). Until recently, the main places this 'freeloading rider' problem occurred were Pflugerville (which voted themselves out of the system - Cap Metro responded by moving their park and ride what seemed like 500 feet further down the road towards Austin) and Cedar Park (who can freeload on either Leander or Austin).

Now we've just opened one of these at the far north fringe of the service area (near Howard Lane).

I have asked Cap Metro in the past (when I was on the UTC) whether they realized that building more park-and-rides at the far fringes of their service area would lead to this 'freeloading rider' problem; and they said, yes, it would, and no, they didn't intend to do anything about it.

So now, to add insult to injury, we're using area-wide tax revenue to build a project which will make it easier for Round Rock residents to ride Capital Metro, where they will be heavily subsidized (far more than Austin riders) by Austin taxpayers. This will further drive down Cap Metro's fairly abyssmal "farebox recovery ratio". And Cap Metro is enthusiastic about this.

Is Round Rock going to institute a 1% sales tax to pay for Capital Metro service? Hell no. They can't, even if they wanted to; they're maxed out. Is Cap Metro going to demand that passengers provide proof of residence inside the service area before getting the heavily discounted fare? Hell no. They won't, even if they wanted to.

But could Capital Metro build light rail for urban Austin where most of their tax revenue comes from? No, that was 'too expensive'. If you're appropriately slavish in your praise, Kaiser Krusee might deign to bless you with some streetcars which are stuck in traffic behind his constituents' cars. Just don't point out that by the time we've built a bunch of worthless commuter rail lines and a streetcar loop, we might as well have just built the 2000 light rail plan - it would have been no more expensive and far more effective.

Anybody see anything wrong with this picture?

More to come.

October 10, 2005

Regionalism as the enemy of urban transportation

I couldn't put it any better myself. This is how Mike Krusee's killed Austin's hopes at getting intracity transit back from the dark ages of slow jerky buses.

September 09, 2005

More on the gas tax

Been posting to the blog Hammer of Judgement in comments, but thought I ought to excerpt the last comment here too:

#1: It doesn't matter WHY they drive less, if you're just measuring the regressivity of the gas tax. Whether it's because they don't have to, don't want to, or CAN'T is irrelevant.

#2: Texas "highway system" comprises only roads with route shields on them, and even then, substantial donations in the form of property and sales taxes are required these days to get anything built. In addition, in Texas, most major arterials inside cities are NOT part of the state highway system, and thus get ZERO gas tax dollars.

This is not something you want to dispute me on, it's the closest thing to a specialty I have. Here's some starter links for you:

http://mdahmus.thebaba.com/blog/archives/000173.html
http://mdahmus.thebaba.com/blog/archives/000164.html
http://mdahmus.thebaba.com/blog/archives/000122.html

pictures:

http://mdahmus.thebaba.com/blog/archives/000117.html

entire category:

http://mdahmus.thebaba.com/blog/archives/cat_funding_of_transportation.html

#3: On anectdotes - the studies I cited aren't available in their full form on the web (to me or you), but they go WAY beyond anectdotal data, since there are real studies behind those quotes, unlike most of the people who assert the gas tax' regressivity.

#4: I don't know where the 15% figure comes from; but even if true, the STATED REASON most people harp on the supposed regressivity of the gas tax is concern for the poorest people, not the middle class. Thus, showing that it's regressive across middle and high incomes but NOT low incomes serves to refute the essential point.

Note that I cover the topic of roadway funding extensively in this category, including "what roads get gas taxes and what don't", "how do we pay for major roads", "why does the state effectively subsidize the suburbs through the gas tax", etc.

September 04, 2005

The Gas Tax Isn't Regressive, Part Three

(at least, not regressive across the spectrum) - as I've argued here and here, the gas tax doesn't hit the poor that hard; it mostly hits the exurban parts of the middle class and leaves the rich alone. From my original article on the subject:

The supposed regressive nature of the gas tax is a fallacy - in fact, poor people spend far less proportionally on gasoline than do the upper-middle-class.

The gas tax isn't purely progressive; though; the very rich actually spend less proportionally than do the upper-middle-class, due to their tendency to be either in the few healthy downtowns, or less need to drive overall.

Here's another link I found today which asserts the same:

"A subsidy to new vehicles would be regressive. A tax on gasoline is not regressive across the lowest incomes but is regressive from middle to high incomes."

Note that the internet is replete with sites which say that the gas tax is regressive, but the only articles or studies which actually include any supporting arguments are the few that claim that it isn't regressive. This leads me to believe that the gas tax ISN'T regressive, for the reasons previously discussed, and that the 'conventional wisdom' is wrong here.

This is timely because of a current thread on Environmental Economics on this very subject. Amazingly, I've now provided THREE links which are credible and contain supporting evidence for the claim that the gas tax isn't regressive across-the-board; for the most part blind assertion is still the only support for the 'regressive' position. Moral: Conventional Wisdom is hard to fight, even when it's wrong.

August 31, 2005

CAFE versus gas taxes - which works?

Kevin Drum likes CAFE. He believes that gas taxes are highly regressive. He's wrong. But which one 'works' better? His argument rests on the last 5 years of generally rising fuel prices versus vehicle sales.

The problem is that the rise in fuel prices recently has been seen by most Americans as the result of gouging, or the result of storms, or hippie environmentalists or <insert other crazy reason>. Key here is that all of those things are temporary. Now, if you're one of the few people who follows the real oil situation you know that we're probably in for a period of ever-higher spikes and plateaus (with intervening drops due to recessions, perhaps), but most people don't know this stuff.

If you think the last couple of years are an anomaly, it doesn't make sense to invest in a fuel-efficient car. Therefore, using that period as an example of how higher fuel prices don't affect vehicle choice as much as CAFE did is foolish. Better to look at Europe, where CAFE-like standards don't really exist; but at the time of vehicle purchase, it is understood that gas taxes are very high and likely to stay that way.

Anyways, CAFE doesn't work half as well as a high baseline for gas prices does. The real reason? Once you buy your car, if gas prices/taxes are low, there's no real incentive to leave it in the driveway on any given day. With higher gas prices/taxes, however, there is an incentive to leave it at home and take the bus, or carpool, or whatever.

Addressed as a quickie since so many people around the interweb keep repeating this canard.

August 27, 2005

Blandburbs and 'choice'

Continuing my recent theme of pointing to other works that explain my thinking, here's a quite good explanation of why suburban sprawl isn't natural; isn't the result of consumer 'choice'; and isn't healthy. Highly recommended. The only thing I'd add is the role of irresponsible inner city neighborhoods in preventing cities from doing responsible things to promote infill.

The idea that suburban sprawl is just a natural 'choice' ignores the reality that without the massive subsidies and regulatory restrictions which prevent anything ELSE from being built, a large minority of current suburbanites would actually live in neighborhoods like mine. All you need to do is see how cities developed before WWII, i.e., before the advent of both zoning and automobile subsidies (when there were plenty of cars, just not massive subsidies for their use by suburbanites).

I promise I'll get to my Pfluger Bridge stuff next week.

August 16, 2005

The Wrong Direction

I can't believe anybody, including the current batch of Republicans, honestly thinks this is a good idea, but my standard for surprise keeps getting reset.

August 04, 2005

Future Connections Has Started

Capital Metro's Future Connections Group is now, finally, up on the web. This group was tasked with figuring out how to get people from the commuter rail stops, which are far away from where people actually want to go, to the places they, those wacky commuters, actually want to go. Like, say, their office. Or the University. Or the Warehouse District.

This is basically going to be a waste of time, since those of us who operate in the reality-based community all know Capital Metro's going to end up delivering shuttle buses in mixed traffic. The streetcar guys like Jeff are holding out hope, but I don't see Capital Metro going that way, and even if they did, streetcars are only marginally better than mixed-traffic buses for those choice commuters. Streetcars might help make downtown redevelopment even more palatable, in other words, but they aren't going to fix the speed and reliability problems of the All Systems Go route for people who live outside downtown.

Terminology lesson: In most cases, "streetcars" means "vehicle on rails in a traffic lane which shares its lane with cars, or is otherwise 'sharing traffic' with other vehicles and stops at a lot of red lights". "light rail" in this case bumps you up to "has its own lane; always gets a green light". So a streetcar is basically a Dillo on an embedded rail - it still is stuck in traffic just like your car or other buses are.

History lesson: The 2000 light rail plan, or any one of ten easily passable scaled-back versions thereof, would have delivered passengers (in ONE train trip) from their dense center-city residential neighborhoods or from their suburban park-and-rides, directly TO the University of Texas, the Capitol Complex, and downtown, without requiring a transfer to anything else, bus or streetcar in a reasonably fast and very reliable amount of time. Capital Metro didn't even try to bring something like this back before the voters, and most of the pro-transit people here in Austin didn't have the guts to tell them otherwise.

August 01, 2005

Toll Roads Help Central Austin, Part IV

The city is talking about amending the agreements with TXDOT about right-of-way participation for some local highways which are now, obviously, being rebranded as toll roads. This applies only to US 183 (east of I-35), US 290W, and SH 71 (east of I-35).

Note carefully the following facts:

  1. The city of Austin was on the hook for tens of millions of dollars for these roads, if they were to be built as freeways. The chance that this money would be extracted from Austin is 100%.
  2. The money for these contributions from the city to the state was authorized by the City Council in past cost-sharing agreements with TXDOT, which would require that bonds be floated like these examples in which voters authorized the city to borrow money for other recent highways.
  3. That borrowed money must be repaid by taxpayers in the form of property taxes, sales taxes, and other sources of revenue (mainly utility kickbacks). There is no contribution from gas taxes to the City of Austin budget. None.

What this means, in effect, is that the people in Central Austin who are disproportionately taxed on their properties (due to higher land values, not necessarily higher incomes) are paying these bills, and those are the people who drive the LEAST. Residents of the more sprawling parts of Austin are somewhere in the middle (pay less than Central Austin, get some benefit), and the real winners are people living in Dripping Springs, Bastrop, etc who pay nearly nothing and get most of the benefit of these particular roadways.

Now that the roads are being re-floated as tollways, the city is free (pending this agreement) to use this money (again, property and sales tax and utility dollars, NOT gas taxes) within the city limits of Austin for the needs of actual Austin taxpayers. And the people who most benefit from the roadways will actually have to pay for them.

What a communist idea.

Summary: toll roads are a winner for residents of Austin.

July 21, 2005

The Buses Aren't Empty, You Idiots

The probably forthcoming Capital Metro strike and a poll on News 8 have provided an opportunity for suburbanites to again claim that "the buses are empty" while wailing about their unfair tax burden.

I've addressed this a couple of times. Here are the links. Please read and forward (especially Part One). Educate just ONE suburbanite, and the world will be a better place.

Part One
Part Two
Part Three
Part Four

July 01, 2005

Double Taxation Isn't Restricted To Roads

The anti-toll zealots, and in particular, Sal Costello like to whine and moan that tolling freeway expansions which are (mostly) paid for with gas tax money is "double taxation". Left to the reader is the obvious implication that "double taxation" is a bad thing, and is new.

As you might have guessed, I'm here to tell you otherwise. First, a simple example.

Last weekend I drove down to Zilker Park on Sunday morning to play volleyball. (For reasons of time, I wasn't able to bike, although I do that sometimes too). At the entrance to the loop which meanders through the river side of the park, there was a booth (A TOLLBOOTH!) set up, at which I paid 3 big bucks for the privilege of parking my car at the park.

BUT WAIT! Zilker Park was ALREADY PAID FOR by my property and sales tax dollars! How can this be? This is (organ music) DOUBLE TAXATION!

The fact is that suburbanites whining about toll roads have had it pretty good for a long time. They've had their road infrastructure subsidized by the center-city, they pay far less comparatively in property taxes, and they impose most of the negative externalities of driving on us center-city residents. Nobody in Circle C has to worry about an elevated freeway monster wrecking some of their neighbor's houses and ruining everybody else's outdoor activities.

Yes, they (but mostly us center-city folks) paid taxes to build these roads already. So toll roads, as designed in this case, are, in fact, (organ music) double taxation.

True libertarians (which many in this anti-toll coalition claim to be) would recognize toll roads as a baby step towards road pricing, which is the evil capitalist concept that the scarcity in road space ought to be managed by charging people to drive on it. These suburban republicans who like to call themselves libertarians instead advocate taxing everybody who drives (and a healthy chunk from those who don't drive too) to build a freeway where the cost of driving is low, but there's less incentive for each driver to explore alternate options to single-occupant commuting, so the road ends up crowded, just like, I don't know, every single highway we build.

Just as in Zilker Park - if parking were free, every single space would be full, and the ring road would be a nonstop parade of cars futilely seeking space. At $3/car, however, there's at least a small incentive for those whose utility is marginal to seek other solutions to the problem. (I might ride my bike; two of my friends might carpool; a third person might take the bus; somebody else might use the park during the week instead of the weekend; etc.)

So in summary: suburban Republicans like Sal Costello prefer the Soviet economic model - very low prices (subsidies from entire society), scarcity "managed" via long lines.

I hope this helped you understand the concept of double taxation and why we should all be against it.

Your pal,
Mike Dahmus Age 33

June 22, 2005

Toll Roads Help Central Austin

Sal Costello is pissed that TXDOT has bribed the City of Austin with rebates on previously spent right-of-way money if they agree not to oppose these roads' tolling.

As I've noted in draft form (I now hopefully have the motivation to go back and finish those posts - as I do, see the bottom of this post for links), huge chunks of bond money approved between 1997 and 2000 by City of Austin and Travis County voters were designated for "local participation" in projects like SH130, SH45, Loop1, US183, SH71, and US290 freeway and tollway extensions and expansions. This "local participation" boiled down to (in most cases) 10% of right-of-way costs + utility relocation. Doesn't sound like much, but it added up to tens of millions of dollars each time.

What's the rub? The city and county don't get any money from gasoline taxes. These bonds will be repaid using city and county funds, which effectively means property and sales taxes (or in the city's case, utility slush funds paid back by electric customers).

Note: You pay this bill no matter how much or how little you drive; no matter how efficient or inefficient your car; no matter whether you take the bus, ride your bike, or walk.

And guess who pays the most, proportionally, in property taxes? Here's a hint: My small lot in central Austin is valued far higher than the comparatively vast Steiner Ranch lot of one of my cow orkers; more than the huge lot of one of my friends on "The Mountain"; heck, more than Sal Costello's lot in Circle C. Most of the costs associated with city and county spending are related more to the size of the area covered rather than population density, by the way. And Sal's getting far more lane-miles and far wider streets for his $0.50 than I am for my $1.35.

Accepting this rebate from TXDOT helps Central Austin. Of course, it requires Sal and his Circle C buddies to start paying more of their fair share instead of being subsidized by the central city (we'll still subsidize you with our gasoline taxes when we do drive, but the property and sales tax subsidization will drop dramatically). So you can understand why the southwest and northwest Austinites are so ticked off, even if they hide behind the baloney claims of "double taxation" (I paid to park at Zilker Park last weekend; was I "double taxed"?)

Responsible City Council members should ignore this caterwauling and do what's best for the fiscal interest of the city - which means tolling roads used disproportionately by people who either don't pay any city taxes (because they live outside city limits) or pay relatively little. If you want less sprawl and a healthy center city, please make your voice heard.

Past highway spending in bond elections (added as I finish them over the day):

June 21, 2005

Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid, June 2005 Update

Today's Statesman article continues their tradition of blindly accepting whatever Capital Metro says about the transit plan (which was, not coincidentally, innocuous enough not to piss off the real estate interests who largely shape the Statesman's editorial content).

For background on what Rapid Bus really is, and why it's a rip-off for central Austin taxpayers (who get nearly nothing out of the commuter rail plan but pay most of the bills) check the links at the bottom.

Short summary: The people in the densest neighborhoods (including the about-to-open Triangle) who actually WANT to use transit are getting nothing more than a lousy stuck-in-traffic slightly-fancier version of the #101, i.e., a BUS which is MUCH SLOWER THAN THEIR CARS. NO, holding a green light for a couple of seconds ISN'T GOING TO MAKE MUCH DIFFERENCE. It'll be the cars IN FRONT OF THE BUS, sometimes stacked up through several intersections up ahead, that most affect its speed, not the traffic lights.

The people out in the suburbs who don't really want transit and don't pay most of the bills anyways are getting a commuter rail line which, as long as they don't mind changing to a SHUTTLE BUS at the end of the trip, will take them downtown. Oh, and if they're lucky enough to work directly at the Convention Center, it'll be competitive with their cars.

All this instead of a scaled back version of the 2000 light rail plan, which would have served BOTH suburban AND urban residents with transit which was competitive with their cars AND dropped them off directly at UT, the Capitol, and downtown.

June 14, 2005

There is no lie brazen enough for the road warriors

A month or two ago I wrote a letter to the Honolulu Advertiser (we had just come back from there, and I was still reading the paper regularly online) rebutting the claims made by various right-wingers that Honolulu wasn't dense enough to support rail. (As it turns out, if you're measuring residential density, they're the densest city in the country - yes, more so than even New York City!). This is coming up because Honolulu is attempting yet again to start a rail system after a disastrous flirtation with Bus Rapid Transit which ended as almost all such flirtations do - with a scaled back system that doesn't perform any better than city buses, and thus didn't attract any new riders.

Today I was reminded of this again since their their drive-time columnist included this small blurb at the end of his column:

Still think of Honolulu has a small town? Think again.

Emporis.com reports that Honolulu is fourth in the nation when it comes to the number of high-rise buildings (10 stories or more).

The company, which specializes in geography information, says there are 424 high-rise buildings in the urban core from Pearl Harbor to Hawai'i Kai. That's enough to make us 14th in the world.

In America, only New York City (5,454), Chicago, (1,042) and Los Angeles (449) have more high-rises than Honolulu.

And yet, even in Hawaii, there are those (like Cliff Slater) who claim that rail won't work in Honolulu despite the fact that it works in far less-dense cities and the fact that the huge tourist movement from the airport to Waikiki could fill up three or four rail lines in the blink of an eye.

How dense is dense enough? Clearly the only dense things here are the road warriors themselves.

June 02, 2005

Not much room for optimism

Thought I'd copy this here for posterity - this is a comment I made to an excellent entry by Kevin Drum of the Washington Monthly blog, in reference to somebody who thought that since we adjusted to the 1970s oil shock (he's right on that one) that we could just as easily adjust to the oncoming (soon or later, depending on your alarmism) peak oil shock.

Adding this comment to my blog has made me recall that I still owe an analysis of "fire stations per capita" back to the Texas Fight guy. I'm sorry, I've been busy at work and at home, and will try to get this done soon.

My comment:

John,

The answer to why this shock will be much worse than the one in the 1970s is two words:

suburban sprawl

One thing Kunstler gets right is his analysis of the complete lack of options in a modern suburban development (really exurb) to the single-occupant vehicle and truck delivery to strip malls. There's no way to carpool. There's no way to use transit. There's no way to ride your bike or walk. There's no way for the store to switch to freight rail deliveries (not even the way it used to be, which was truck for only the last very small N% of the trip, if even that).

The ONLY things modern suburbanites can do are:

1. Trade in their SUV for a compact car - works well if you're one of the early adopters, but what if everybody else is trying to trade down at the same time?

2. Move back to the cities - see above.

We would have had to change our development laws twenty years ago in order to have a prayer of solving this problem, but instead we've been operating on a regime that not only requires urbanites to subsidize wasteful suburbanites, it actually PROHIBITS BY LAW (through zoning codes) the development of additional urban neighborhoods.

For reference, my last two homes have been in two center-city neighborhoods where 80-90% of the dwellings would be impossible to build today due to suburban-influenced zoning code which applies even in these older neighborhoods. Of course, to even get to that point, you'd have to overcome their fanatical opposition to infill, but every bit counts.

May 10, 2005

In case anybody was wondering...

Lomax' comments about Austin not building any roads during the 1980s and 1990s are, in fact, a load of crap. That didn't stop the media from playing them without even bothering to check up on the details, of course. Austin, in fact, built a ton of freeway miles in the 1980s and 1990s - they were overwhelmed by a growth in average miles driven per capita, which was the predictable result of opening up miles and miles of farmland to low-density suburban sprawl. Although a few ill-advised city-destroying freeways were rejected by Austin in the 1960s and 1970s, it's doubtful TXDOT would have had the money or the will to build any more than what eventually got built anyways. Most of the cancellations occurred long before the 1980s; Koenig Lane was the only one to survive even on plans in the modern era which isn't now essentially built or getting built.

The 183 corridor, from I-35 west to Spicewood Springs, was upgraded to freeway in the 1980s and 1990s. So was Ben White Boulevard (290/71) from Congress to past Mopac. Mopac was extended several times during this period as well.

Full coverage at Jeb Boyt's site, and I agree with Keath that the TTI's motivation is to spin things to support big transportation projects like the Trans-Texas Corridor.

April 21, 2005

You'd better be hedging

Some fairly respectable analysts are beginning to join "kooks" like Kunstler, although in a far less inflammatory way, in predicting that high oil prices are not only here to stay, but likely to get quite higher. The latest "Occasional Report" from CIBC World Markets lays out the case. Older "Occasional Reports" are also highly recommended, as they seem to cut through a lot of baloney and show how and where higher energy costs will hurt (without going flat-out lunatic like the idiots who think every N% increase in gas prices means an N% increase n the price of everything delivered by truck, for instance).

I've been hedging higher energy prices for a long time now - we paid a hefty premium for our house in central Austin, and part of the reason was that we could, much more easily than your average suburbanite anyways, drastically reduce our driving and/or switch to jobs better served by public transportation. (my current office is served about as well as any out here in the 'burbs, which is to say that I can take the bus each day by spending only about 40 extra minutes - as sad as that is, it makes me the winner here by far). We also bought a Prius in February of 2004 (after waiting five months) - again, a hedge; if we do end up having to drive a lot, at least it won't kill us. Well, as it turns out, we're only driving about 10,000 miles a year combined anyways, but every little bit helps.

The only problem is that hedges like this are largely a loss-amelioration strategy - they don't gain us anything unless inflation makes wages go up. The same group above thinks it won't this time, unlike in the 1970s, so the best we're really able to do is attempt to be a bit less screwed than the average suburbanite will be.

This hedging logic (whether you believe in local kook Roger Baker's Kunstler-like rants or not) should also apply to public infrastructure spending. I happen to believe that building the toll roads is a way to do this - the 'hedge' being that since the roads are going to be built either way (an assertion the environmentalists disgree with), it's better to have them paid back with tolls rather than with property and gas taxes (even if the tolls come up short, the impact on central-city residents is still less than with the typical free highway payment mechanism - remember, you still pay gas taxes while driving around central Austin, but none of that money goes to those roads - in fact, urban areas all over the country are screwed by the gas tax's bias towards suburban and particularly exurban areas). In other words, paying for the new toll roads with gas taxes simply makes things better for people at the far edges of Leander, and far worse for people living in Central Austin.

A better hedge, of course, would be a gradual overall increase in gasoline taxes with a mandatory minimum payback for major urban areas similar to what the Feds do with 'donor states'. But with the average suburbanite convinced that they're undertaxed rather than subsidized, it's simply never going to happen. Toll roads are, in this sense, the best hedge we can manage at this point in time.

For those interested - ways to hedge on energy costs which are easier if you live in an urban neighborhood than out in one of the soulless sprawlburbs:

  • I can bike to work (up to 5 days a week) - right now I average once a week; mainly due to scheduling difficulties, but we could change this if we had to.
  • I can take the bus to work - at a 40 minute or so penalty per day (which as mentioned above puts me ahead of pretty much anybody else here)
  • I can get a job downtown (easier said than done) and reduce the transit penalty to near-zero
  • We're within a (long) walk of 5 grocery stores - right now this means we have a very short drive; we only occasionally walk, but at least we CAN walk if it becomes expensive enough to drive
  • We can walk to a battery of other shopping and dining choices (we do this quite frequently now)
  • In an era of higher fuel prices, the places we shop are going to be less impacted than the strip-mall businesses, due to efficiencies of scale (cheaper to deliver to 5 grocery stores that are very close together than 5 that are very far apart)
  • Our house is small - less air conditioning and heating costs
  • Our house is old enough that it was designed before air conditioning - meaning we have enough windows for good ventilation most of the year

For these hedge privileges, however, we pay through the nose:

  • The house price is far higher, per square foot, than in the 'burbs -- this is not purely because of location, but also because post-WWII zoning laws have artificially restricted the supply of walkable urban neighborhoods. Most of the homes on our street are illegal under current zoning code for various bogus reasons.
  • Our city, county, and schools tax mainly through property taxes, which are a double whammy - not only are we appraised proportionally higher, but the property tax itself is often used in ways which subsidize suburban development - providing city services is far more expensive per acre in Anderson Mill than it is in Central Austin, but the Central Austinites pay orders of magnitude more property taxes.
  • Those property (and also sales) taxes are often grabbed by the state and spent in ways which not only subsidize the suburbs, but hurt central cities - things like requiring local 'donations' in order to expand freeways. (The 1998 and 2000 bond elections floated tens of millions of dollars in bonds which were used to pay for right-of-way and other costs for roads like the far north extension of Mopac, SH45, SH130, etc - none of which provide any use for central Austin at all, yet central Austin is where most of that tax money comes from - and when a project IS proposed which affects central Austin, it ends up being a destructive force like the ridiculous proposal by TXDOT to double-deck Mopac).

March 28, 2005

Transportation microeconomics 101

I talk about this enough that it might should be its own category.

Problem: Bozoes in government, in the media and elsewhere think about transportation at only the highest level - where you're moving thousands of people around the city. This usually ends up producing plans which fail spectacularly at serving their intended constituents. Since this often boils down to money, I'll call this "transportation macroeconomics" even though most of the people who do it aren't thinking about economics. (Hint: they should be).

Solution: Transportation microeconomics. Whenever evaluating some transportation plan or change in economic conditions, take a couple of representative 'use-cases' and analyze the economics of their decision-making at their local (individual) level.

Example 1: Toll Roads. Local activist Roger Baker has been on my case on the austin-bikes email list for talking favorably about toll roads (as the least noxious of the two realistic possible outcomes - the other one being that all of those toll roads are built anyways, but as free roads). I'm going to be more favorable to him than he is to me, and construct an argument based on his stated motivations (he likes to accuse me of being a toll-loving road warrior). Roger's point is, basically, that the toll roads won't have enough traffic to pay off the bonds once the "oil peak" causes gasoline to get even more expensive than it is now. He's definitely one of the SOS-bloc (don't build these roads at all because they promote sprawl and hurt the aquifer) rather than the free-roads-bloc ("double taxation!") best exemplified by Brewster McCracken and Gerald Daugherty, who will end up getting central Austin to pay for these roads via property and sales tax kick-ins.

So, is Roger right? Would expensive gasoline lead to an exodus from the suburbs and a default on the bonds which back the toll roads? Or am I right - that the traffic which today would fill the toll roads in a second isn't going anywhere even as gasoline gets more expensive. Let's look at a use-case.

Joe Suburban drives his Suburban on a 30-mile round-trip every day from western Travis County to his job in one of the southern suburban office parks. He gets roughly 15 mpg on this commute and pays $2.00/gallon for gas today. By some calculations, which include depreciation, he pays a hefty price for his commute even today, but I categorically reject the idea that suburbanites will reduce the number of vehicles they own (barring catastrophically high gas prices), so depreciation should not honestly be part of the cost equation. Using my handy depreciation-free cost estimator, Joe's daily commute cost is $2.79 today (remember, no tolls yet). Is that enough to convince Joe to carpool? Not today it isn't. Is it enough to convince him to use transit? Even at the discounted rate, the bus trip from the park-and-ride at 290/71 costs him probably an hour extra time per day, and still a buck ($1.79 savings at the cost of an hour). This assumes he even HAS a transit option, of course. Most suburbanites don't.

Suppose gasoline DOUBLES in price - to $4.00 a gallon. Joe's daily commute cost (with new tolls of, let's say, $1.50/day) is now: $6.91/day. His "transit cost" is now $5.91 for an hour of time, assuming no rise in bus fares (unlikely). Still not very attractive, I hate to say.

All right, suppose gasoline TRIPLES in price - to $6.00 a gallon. Joe's cost is $9.58/day. Transit option would save $8.58 a day at the price of an hour. I hate to break it to you, but most suburbanites would still drive at this cost.

Bad news for Roger: $6.00/gallon gas is roughly equivalent to $160/barrel (working backwards from this logic which is admittedly crude). That's quite a bit further down the "oil peak" road than most people think we'll hit anytime 'soon'.

In other words, it will take such huge increases in the cost of gasoline to get suburbanites to stop driving to work alone that it's not even a factor for the foreseeable future. Even then, one would assume that rather than abandoning their stake in the 'burbs, some large percentage of suburban drivers would just get more fuel-efficient cars. At $6.00/gallon, driving a Toyota Prius, Joe Suburban's daily commute cost drops back to 2.48 without tolls and 3.98 with. Oops.

See my previous article on my 'week without a car' -- even for me, who is the only guy at my 60-person office who could possibly take the bus to work without transfers, it's not cost-and-time-effective to use transit until gasoline is really REALLY expensive. It costs me about 30 extra minutes per day and saves me pocket change.

When does transit make sense? When the time penalty is minimal and/or the cost savings are comparatively large. Two obvious (much shorter) use-cases:

1. If I worked downtown, I could take the #5 bus straight there at a time penalty of perhaps 5 minutes. This time penalty is so small as to be not worth counting, and I could actually get rid of a car, thus moving us into the realm of the traditional commute calculators - a huge economic win for the transit alternative. Unfortunately, the current economic regime penalizes businesses who locate downtown rather than in the 'burbs (far higher property taxes) even though they generate far less demand on city services.

2. Lucy Leander works at the University of Texas and has to pay roughly $5/day for parking. She lives close to a park-and-ride where she can pick up a good express bus to work which isn't much slower than her car would be. Here's her comparison. Even at $2/gallon, she saves $7.36 a day (without getting rid of a car) and only spends a few more minutes. Note that having to pay for parking makes this comparison far more favorable for transit.

So my lesson is: Major employers should be downtown (where transit can serve them), and parking shouldn't be free. Until either one of these is fixed, however, you're going to get nowhere with me by claiming that a plan is economically viable (or not) based on gasoline prices.

Unfortunately, current conventional wisdom is still that spreading jobs through the suburbs reduces average driving (absolutely false). The facts have an anti-suburban bias, I guess.

March 07, 2005

1997 Travis County Highway Bonds

(From Travis County's poorly maintained site):

  • $3.5 million for SH45 south right-of-way
  • $4 million for SH130 right-of-way

Other highlights in that election were:

  • $36 million for other road projects (none of which were inside Austin city limits; but paid for by all Travis County residents)
  • $1.6 million for MKT trail, which I don't recall ever seeing any action on

2001 Travis County highway bonds

(Source: Austin Chronicle)

2001 Travis County bond election items of transportation interest:

Highways:


  • $32.7 million for SH45 north and FM1826
  • $66.2 million for SH130

Other interest:


  • $57.4 million for other road projects (none within city of Austin; city of Austin taxpayers charged same rate as people in unincorporated Travis County)

2000 Austin Bond Election Language

CATRANSCO summary of this package; city language follows below.

This election set aside $90 million for contributions from Austin for state highway projects.

(I'm excerpting these and saving because I don't know how long the city will keep up these old pages).

The issuance of $150,000,000 tax-supported general obligation bonds to improve roadway intersections, acquire right-of-way, provide funds for highway and roadway construction, develop high occupancy vehicle lanes and related infrastructure, improve bicycle and pedestrian mobility infrastructure, construct related drainage facility improvements, and acquire land and other property interests for these projects; and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay the bonds.

If approved, the $150 million would be spent in three major categories:

€ To help accelerate major highway projects inside the City that are built by the State.

€ Capacity improvements on City roadways, including expanded lanes, improved intersections, and High Occupancy Vehicle lanes.

€ Pedestrian and bikeway projects.

The currently anticipated amount to be spent in each category is:
€ $90 million for matching grants.
€ $40 million for capacity improvements.
€ $20 million for pedestrian, bikeway and sidewalk projects.

The Austin City Council also established criteria about the expenditure of the bonds, should they be approved:

Unless the road is authorized by an election of the City of Austin or another jurisdiction and the spending is approved by the Austin City Council, the bond proceeds will not be used to fund matches for road infrastructure of right-of-way through:

€ The Drinking Water Protection Zone.
€ A City of Austin preserve.
€ A City of Austin destination park

For each proposed use of bond proceeds for a road project, City staff must make a recommendation on the proposed use through an analysis of:

€ The tax equity and social equity implications for City of Austin residents.
€ Impact of the proposed project on the Drinking Water Protection Zone.
€ Impact of the proposed project on increased mobility, decreased congestion and air quality.
€ Any alternatives to the proposed project that provide the same or better congestion relief with improved air quality.

1998 Austin Bond Election Language

(Original city language below; I wasn't able to find a good summary anywhere).

There wasn't any apparent donation to TXDOT for highways in this package; but it does show how expensive it is to maintain the city's arterial network. Austin maintains a far higher percentage of its major arterial network than other localities in the area.

The issuance of $152,000,000 in tax supported General Obligation Bonds for improving traffic signal synchronization and control systems, acquiring and installing traffic signals, improving and reconstructing roads and streets, and constructing, reconstructing and improving drainage facilities related to roads and streets; and acquiring land and interests in land and property necessary to do so; and the levy of a tax sufficient to pay the bonds.

Several key transportation projects make up Proposition One.

The City of Austin periodically has the opportunity to apply for Federal and/or State funding to implement projects such as new roadways, road expansions, sidewalks and bicycle facilities. Approving Proposition One will provide required matching funds as well as funding for City-sponsored projects to improve and install sidewalks and bicycle facilities. This category also includes rights-of-way funding for mandated projects, including U.S. 183/290.

Street improvements that may be funded with approval of Proposition One include, but are not limited to: Loyola Lane from Johnny Morris Road to Decker Lane; Dittmar Road from South First Street to Manchaca Road; Manchaca Road from Matthews Lane to William Cannon Drive; Rutherford Lane from Interstate 35 to Cameron Road; South Congress Avenue; Barton Springs Road; and Dorsett Road. This proposition also would provide funding for the Great Streets program. This program includes projects to enhance the use and appearance of Austin's streets and sidewalks, including landscaping, irrigation, pedestrian and other mobility improvements.

Additionally, funding is proposed to upgrade and enhance intersections by adding right turn lanes, left turn lanes or through lanes; adding sidewalks and/or bicycle lanes where appropriate; and generally improving traffic flow in the travel corridor as part of Transportation System Management.

Traffic signal system enhancement and the installation of new signals also would be funded through approval of Proposition One.

Finally, Proposition One would provide for a number of street reconstruction projects which may include, but are not limited to: Woodhollow Drive from Far West Boulevard to Spicewood Springs Road; 34th Street from Guadalupe Street to Funston Street; Enfield Road from MoPac Boulevard to Exposition Boulevard; Convict Hill Road from Kandy Drive to Wagon Train Road; and Cesar Chavez Street from IH-35 to Pleasant Valley Road. Some industrial-area streets that would be targeted for reconstruction include: Todd Lane from Burleson Road to St. Elmo Road East; St. Elmo Road from IH-35 to Nuckols Crossing; St. Elmo Road East from IH-35 to Congress Avenue South; Terry-O Lane from St. Elmo Road East (S) to St. Elmo Road East (N); Freidrich Lane from St. Elmo Road to Teri Road; Industrial Boulevard from St. Elmo Road East to Congress Avenue; roads throughout the Central Business District; and other roads citywide.

These things are connected

It's not a coincidence that now that small cars are rated on how they stand up to crashes with SUVs, that gas is headed up for good, but nobody in the suburbs will understand why this is so, and why it's really going to hurt this country's economic competitiveness.

Meanwhile, Western Europe waits patiently for their turn...

March 04, 2005

Why Central Austinites Should Support Toll Roads

Excerpted from a discussion on the austin-bikes email list, where one of my self-appointed burdens is to be the voice of reason towards those who live in the center-city echo chamber (where everybody bikes; where nobody wants sprawling highways; etc).

The last paragraph of my response is the most relevant piece, and the one that the person I was responding to and many other wishful thinkers just don't get. I, thanks to moving here with suburbanites, and working with exclusively suburbanites, have learned the following painful truths:

  • There are more suburbanites around here than urbanites. A LOT more. And the most recent election, they finally WON a seat in our city council (McCracken over Clarke) DESPITE much higher turnout in the center-city.
  • Outside Austin, there are no urbanites. CAMPO is now 2/3 suburban, for instance.
  • Suburbanites cannot conceive of any lifestyle other than the suburban one. Really. I get blank stares when I tell them I rode the bus to work today, or when I say I walked to the store.
  • The sheer population and geographical coverage of suburban neighborhoods means that even if gas gets really expensive, they're still going to be living there. Resistance to their redevelopment in ways which aren't so car-dependent and the cost of such modifications means we're stuck with what we have now for at least a few more decades. Yes, even at $5.00/gallon.

Here's the thread:

Roger Baker wrote:

> On Mar 4, 2005, at 9:34 AM, Mike Dahmus wrote:
>
> Roger Baker wrote:
>
> McCracken is the immediate hero here, but he likely wouldn't
> have done it without Sal Costello, SOSA, and all the
> independent grassroots organizing.
>
> On CAMPO, McCracken's resolution got defeated about 2 to 1,
> with Gerald Daugherty on the bad side, along with CAMPO
> Director Aulick. TxDOT's Bob Daigh deserves a special bad
> actor award for expressing his opinion just before the CAMPO
> vote, with no reasons given, that any independent study of the
> CAMPO plan would be likely to threaten TxDOT funding for our
> area. -- Roger
>
>
> Just like the transit people in Austin with Mike Krusee, you've
> been completely snookered if you think these people are your friends.
> The goal of McCracken et al is NOT to stop building these roads;
> it is to build these roads quickly as FREE HIGHWAYS.
> In other words, McCracken and Costello ___ARE___ THE ROAD LOBBY!
> Keep that in mind, folks. Slusher and Bill Bunch don't want the
> roads at all, but pretty much everybody else who voted against the
> toll plan wants to build them as free roads.
> And these highways built free is a far worse prospect for Austin
> and especially central Austin than if they're built as toll roads,
> in every possible respect.
> - MD
>
>
> All that is easy for Mike to say but, as usual, lacks any factual basis or
> documentation. Furthermore, he does not appear to read what I have previously
> documented.

As for factual basis or documentation, it should be obvious to anybody with the awareness of a three-year-old that McCracken's playing to his suburban constituents who WANT THESE ROADS, AND WANT THEM TO BE FREE, rather than Slusher's environmentalist constituents, who don't want the roads at all.

As for reading what you've previously documented; oh, if only it were true. If only I hadn't wasted a good month of my life reading your repeated screeds about the oil peak which have almost convinced me to go out and buy an SUV just to spite you.

POLITICAL REALITY MATTERS. The suburban voters who won McCracken his seat over Margot Clarke WANT THESE HIGHWAYS TO BE BUILT. AND THEY DON'T WANT THEM BUILT AS TOLL ROADS BECAUSE THEY'LL HAVE TO PAY (MORE) OF THE BILL IF THEY DO.

Here's what's going to happen if Roger's ilk convinces the environmental bloc to continue their unholy alliance with the suburban road warriors like McCracken and Daugherty:

1. We tell TXDOT we don't want toll roads.
2. TXDOT says we need to kick in a bunch more money to get them built free.
3. We float another huge local bond package to do it (just like we did for local 'contributions' for SH 45, SH 130, and US 183A).
4. The roads get built, as free highways.
5. Those bonds are paid back by property and sales taxes, which disproportionately hit central Austinites, and especially penalize people who don't or only infrequently drive.

Here's what's going to happen if the toll roads get built, as toll roads:

1. TXDOT builds them.
2. The current demand for the roadway is large enough to fill the coffers enough to keep the enterprise going without the bonds defaulting.
3. (Even if #2 doesn't happen, we're at worst no worse off than above; with the added bonus that suburbanites still get to finally pay user fees for their trips on the roads).

Here's what's going to happen in Roger Fantasyland:

1. McCracken, Gerald Daugherty, et al have a Come To Jesus moment and decide that we Really Don't Need Any More Highways In The 'Burbs.

Now, be honest. Which one of the three scenarios above do you find least likely?

YES, EVEN IF GAS TRIPLES IN PRICE, SUBURBANITES WILL STILL DRIVE. THE OIL PEAK IN THIS SENSE DOESN'T ****MATTER****. The people out there in Circle C aren't going anywhere in the short term, and it'll be decades before their neighborhoods are redeveloped in a less car-dependent fashion, assuming we can afford to.

- MD

Blame TXDOT

Today's Statesman is full of people whining that "city planners" didn't get Ben White / I-35 right.

For those who still don't get it: NOBODY AT THE CITY OF AUSTIN GETS ONE LICK OF LOUSY INPUT INTO THE DESIGN OF AN INTERCHANGE BETWEEN TWO STATE HIGHWAYS. If the road has a big route number on it (like "2222", "71", "290", "I-35", "US-183"), the city doesn't control the road, and TXDOT doesn't ask for the city's opinion on things.

The sum total of the involvement of the City is to screw with signal timings at intersections with traffic lights, in a few cases. And in most of those cases, the bad design decisions made independently by TXDOT mean that all the signal timing changes in the world won't help.

To whit:

Today I biked to work. (Well, I biked to the bus to work; I'll be biking all the way home). I forgot to pack my lunch. I had a bunch of leftover change in my bike bag, so I walked along this route to the local McDonald's to get a cheap greasy lunch.

I noticed a pretty long backup, as always, at the Braker intersection. Today, I ended up passing the same stopped cars a couple of times; so I started paying attention. Guess what? I was able to beat a car in the right lane ON FOOT from my office to the other side of the Braker intersection. This wasn't a twenty-foot trek either. According to Yahoo, this is a quarter-mile jaunt.

Why is this intersection so bad? Why is Ben White's rebuild so painful? Two words: frontage roads. When TXDOT 'builds' a freeway, they're actually (9 times out of 10) turning an existing arterial roadway (with driveways, strip malls, etc) into a freeway by using the original roadspace for the new main lanes and then widening into property on the sides to build "frontage roads" (one-way streets which the main lanes exit to and enter from).

So what are the problems with frontage roads?

  1. They generate their own traffic - cities (who had to give up a ton of land, and in most cases even PAY for the pleasure) aren't going to restrict future development along these streets, especially since TXDOT sells them on the idea that they should keep doing so.
  2. They cause poor intersection design. Most intersection with frontage roads must operate with four independent cycles - meaning that the people arriving from each of 4 directions are given exclusive use of the intersection on their green light. (The "intersection" in this case extends to both frontage roads). Two major two-way arterials which intersect, on the other hand, operate with two cycles (one for each road) with minor additional cycles for left turns.
  3. They preclude better interchanges down the road - unless it's to another freeway. In other states, the intersection at Braker would have long since been upgraded with more space, possibly changed to a SPUI (single-point urban interchange which reduces traffic signal cycles to essentially 3), or possibly improved with a ramp modification, or even adding one or two flyovers... but not here. Here, we're stuck the way we are. On Ben White, you can build a direct connector ramp (flyover) since there's another freeway on the other side. On Braker, building a flyover would mean bulldozing everything on one corner of the intersection that located there because of the frontage road.
  4. They actively exclude cyclists, pedestrians, and transit users. Typically fewer crossings are built or preserved on highways with frontage roads (example: US 183 between Spicewood Springs and 620). This is a minor irritant to motorists but completely screws other users of the roadway, since it's not practical for them to walk a mile down the road, cross at the only remaining crossing for a mile either way (Anderson Mill), and walk back.

What should TXDOT have done in these cases?

Simple: either toughen up and just admit that we can't preserve property access on what's supposed to be a limited-access highway, or do what they do in other states - build perimeter roads (that maintain property access from the city streets, not directly from the highway) rather than frontage roads. This would run counter to the ethos that highway construction and expansion exists to promote retail traffic, which is why it'll never happen in this state, but that's what it would take.

March 03, 2005

Rapid Bus Ain't Rapid

Earlier this week, Capital Metro included a flyer in copies of the local newspaper which touted Rapid Bus down Lamar/Guadalupe, opening late 2006 or early 2007.

Coincidentally, Wednesday night I had to drop my wife off and pick her up at an appointment which allowed me to travel down Guadalupe from 30th to 6th streets at the extreme tail end of rush hour (6:40 PM). I paid special attention to the ability of cars and buses to navigate through this congested corridor.

First: a short re-hash of what Rapid Bus is:

  • Rapid Bus is not "bus rapid transit". "bus rapid transit" or BRT in short picks from a set of items off a menu which will supposedly improve the speed, reliability, and attractiveness of bus transit. The hopes are that it will bring bus transit up to the level of a good urban rail line. In practice (in the United States), this has been far from the case - mainly due to the reluctance to set aside dedicated right-of-way for the bus vehicle, which results in poor speed and reliability compared to rail (and poor relative performance compared to the private automobile). Even when bus lanes are created, the fact that they are typically in-street makes them worthless in practice since cars just use them anyways.
  • Capital Metro is certainly moving towards BRT with this line, but even they admit that it's not good enough to call it BRT yet. (That's even with the slip-shod definition of BRT which allows for it to be declared even with only a few improvements over normal bus service).
  • In fact, both the existing express buses (which travel down US 183, Mopac, and I-35) and limited buses (which run down normal corridors with fewer stops) already implement some features of BRT. (fewer stops and improved vehicles).

So what characteristics of BRT is Capital Metro including in the design of this new service to make it "Rapid"?

  • Signal prioritization - i.e. the ability to hold traffic signals green for a few seconds as the bus approaches
  • Off-bus fare payment
  • Longer (probably articulated) buses
  • Fewer stops

That's pretty much it. Items that might help make the service more like a light rail line which are not being included:

  • Dedicated right-of-way
  • Full control over traffic signals - i.e. lights turn green when the vehicle approaches
  • Electic power (overhead "caternary" wires or in-street power)

So how does "Rapid Bus" look to improve service along Lamar/Guadalupe? Like I said, I drove the most congested part of the route just yesterday, and it doesn't look good.

  • The ability to hold the next light green for 5 or 10 seconds isn't going to help during rush hour at all! At almost every single intersection with a traffic light, I waited through at least one green cycle before being able to proceed, since traffic was always backed up from further down the road. And this was at 6:40 PM! That means that while the bus can hold the signal at 27th green for a while longer, it doesn't matter because the backup from 26th, 24th, 23rd, 22nd, 21st, and MLK is preventing the bus from moving anyways.
  • Off-bus payment is going to be irrelevant. Now that Capital Metro is using SmartCards for everything short of single-fare rides, very few people are having to take more than a second to pay when they get on the bus (this is from my own bus rides on the 983 and 3 lately). Basically, paying is no longer slowing the boarding process.
  • Fewer stops is already possible with the #101. This bus is still woefully slow and woefully unreliable compared to the private automobile, to say nothing of quality rail service (which could in fact beat the automobile on both counts).
  • The ride is going to be uncomfortable. The pavement along Guadalupe simply can't stand the beating it gets from heavy vehicles like buses and trucks - and this is not going to change anytime soon. Rather than running down the middle of the street on rails (as light-rail would have done), the Rapid Bus vehicle will run in the right lane of the street on the same pavement abused by trucks and other buses. There is no evidence that the city is willing to pay the far higher bills required to keep this pavement in smooth-enough condition to provide a decent comfortable bus ride.

In review: The commuter rail line is being built on a corridor where only a handful of Austin residents can walk to stations, and only a small percentage of Austin residents can drive to a station. The primary beneficiaries, assuming shuttle buses don't just kill the whole thing, are residents of Leander (who at least pay Capital Metro taxes) and Cedar Park (who don't). On the other hand, the thousands of people in central Austin who could walk to stations along the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are being presented with a rank steaming turd which barely improves service over the existing #101 bus.

(publically opposing this Mike-Krusee-designed Austin-screwing debacle is the basic reason I was booted from the UTC, for those arriving late).

So, shut up and take it, Austin. Rapid Bus is all you're getting, and you'd better ride it, or you'll be experiencing the fun that Honolulu is currently going through with their own BRT debacle. Big ugly long buses that aren't attracting any new riders don't do transit users any favors.

References:

February 24, 2005

Cars' FRR is often zero

Say you're riding the #3 bus up Burnet Road. You pay 50 cents to get on the bus. That's your "fare". As it turns out, if you consider all the money taken in and all the money spent out by Capital Metro, and divide the difference equally per trip, it actually costs the taxpayers a couple of bucks for your ride. (The #3 bus, because ridership is high, ends up subsidizing some other routes, but we're taking a simplistic view here). Your "farebox recovery ratio" is something like 20%.

Now say you're driving your Ford Explorer down Lamar Blvd. As I've been recently discussing in the transportation funding topic, no gas tax money is spent on roads like this in Austin (basically major roads that don't have a route shield on them).

Your "fare" for this trip is thus $0.00 (the road doesn't have tollbooths, of course). In other words, the only cost you pay directly at the time ("user fee") is the gas tax, but as noted, neither this road nor other major roads of this type in the city of Austin can be funded by gas tax dollars.

The cost of providing you with your rejuvenated driving surface was substantially more than zero (12.6 million dollars, including utility work), and all that cost was most recently paid by city of Austin taxpayers via property and sales taxes (bond election in '98). And don't fool yourself - most of the cost for projects like this isn't for pedestrians, cyclists, or bus riders. We'd have a much smaller and much cheaper transportation network if nobody drove -- the fact is that most of the money we spend on roads like this is directly attributable to people driving their cars, alone.

Your FRR on this trip is 0%. That's right, a big fat zero. The only time Capital Metro gets this bad is on Ozone Action Days. So, libertarians, perhaps you shouldn't throw stones from your suburban glass houses.

What about highways, you ask? Well, it's true the majority of funds required to build state highways do, in fact, come from the gas tax. There are other, less direct, costs of these roadways which are borne by society at large, but even when considering just direct construction and maintenance cost, you still don't get off claiming that you're paying the bills. A substantial portion (largest line-items, as a matter of fact) of both the 1998 and 2000 bond elections for Austin and Travis County's 2000 package were to pay "local contributions" towards right-of-way for new and expanded state highways. IE: even on a brand-new highway theoretically built with gas taxes, the property-owners and goods-buyers are still subsidizing you, whether they drive a lot, a little, or not at all.

Capital Metro, Empty Buses, and Farebox Recovery Ratio

The local asshats are at it again, slamming Capital Metro for supposedly running empty buses.

See here and here and here for reasons why suburbanites always think buses are empty (they're wrong - most Capital Metro buses are carrying a substantial number of passengers).

As regards farebox recovery (in short, the amount of cost covered by passenger fare), the asshats are 'right' - Capital Metro's number is low. As I used to keep telling them when they'd come for their quarterly report to our commission, if you run programs like the free rides on Ozone Action Days and the free rides for UT students at night (E-bus) and don't account for them separately, you leave yourself open for getting hammered on an extremely low farebox recovery ratio. And by "account for them separately" I don't mean "after the local libertarians get the media to claim you're wasting your money"; I mean "go as far as transferring 10% of your funds to the Clean Air Force and them have them contract with you for the Ozone Action Day rides just like you do with UT for the UT Shuttle".

Of course they didn't listen. Capital Metro operates in the same center-city echo-chamber that most of the bicycle advocates I work with live in. My role on the UTC, while it lasted, was largely an effort to smash out of that box and get them to realize that there's a world out there past the intersection of 183 and Mopac, and it's got more voters in it every day.

By the way, the "farebox recovery ratio" for the private automobile is about as low as Capital Metro's artificially low number given above. As the last few days have hopefully shown, especially as you get close to the center-city, most major roads aren't paid for out of the gas tax (or tolls) - they're paid for with bonds which have to be floated every few years by the city and county and are repaid with property and sales taxes. Ironically, much of the strongest opposition to the local toll road plan comes from the same group hammering Capital Metro here. Guess what, folks? A toll paid when you drive on a particular road brings you UP to the level that the transit passenger is ALREADY AT. Gas taxes don't even come close to paying your bills.

February 22, 2005

The "Exit Test": Suburb vs. City: Major Roads, from I-35

The "Exit Test":

Another way to show the discrepancy in road funding in our area is to look at freeway intersections. (In this case, our definition of "major road" is a road which is mentioned in a marked exit from the freeway - in some places due to the frontage-road-centric design of highways here, multiple major roads have the same exit).

Using a current list of exits, let's look at Round Rock through Austin. To make things even more fair for the suburbanites, and not coincidentally to make it simpler for my transcription, I'm only going to use the part of Austin north of the upper/lower-deck split (which leaves out the densest part of Austin where 100% of the exits are for locally-funded roadways).

Round Rock:


  • Exit 256: FM 1431 (state-system)
  • Exit 254: Business Route IH-35 (state-system) and FM 3406 (state-system)
  • Exit 253A: "frontage road"
  • Exit 253: US 79 (state-system)
  • Exit 252B: RM 620 (state-system)
  • Exit 252A: McNeil Rd (local-system: Round Rock)
  • Exit 251: Business Route IH-35 (state-system)
  • Exit 250: FM 1325 (state-system)

Out of 7 exits with a road mentioned, only one is for a roadway which is locally funded; while 6 are for state-funded roadways.

Now, the exits between Round Rock and the city limits of Austin:

  • Exit 248: Grand Avenue Parkway (local-system: Travis County and Pflugerville)
  • Exit 247: FM 1825 (state-system)

Finally, the exits which are for roads which cross I-35 within the city limits of Austin:

  • Exit 246: Dessau Rd and Howard Lane (both local-system: Travis County and Austin)
  • Exit 245: FM 734 Parmer Lane (state-system) and Yager Lane (local-system: mostly Austin)
  • Exit 243: Braker Lane (local-system: Austin)
  • Exit 241: Rutherford Lane (local-system: Austin) and Rundberg Lane (local-system: Austin)
  • Exit 240AB: US 183 (state-system)
  • Exit 239: St Johns Ave (local-system: Austin)
  • Exit 238B: US 290 (state-system), FM 2222 (state-system)
  • Exit 238: 51st St. and others: all local-system
  • Exit 237: Airport Blvd (local-system west of I-35, state-system east of I-35 as Loop 111) and 38½ Street (local-system)

Out of 9 exits listed here, 8 are for roadways which are locally funded, and 4 are for roadways which receive state funding. (Obviously some exits are for both).

A reminder again: I used the part of Austin which has the MOST state-funded roadways in it (since I stopped short of the upper/lower-deck split two miles north of downtown where the arterials come fast and furious and NONE of them get state funding).

Resources used in this article:

The "HEB test"

What is the "HEB test"?

In central Austin, most people drive (or even, gasp, WALK!) from their home to the closest major grocery store (i.e. non-convenience store) without driving one inch on a roadway which is part of the state highway system because most major roads in central Austin are city-funded streets - not so in Round Rock or other bedrom communities; the vast majority there would not only choose to but MUST head out to FM 620 or 1825 or 685 or even I-35 to shop for anything of consequence.

For instance, from my house north of UT, these major grocery stores are the ones we shop at more than once a year. We drive to EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM without using any part of the state highway system (yes, we shop at all of these, in order of frequency). (We sometimes walk to a couple of these, and have biked to one):

  • Central Market (38th/Lamar)
  • HEB at Hancock Center
  • Randall's on 35th
  • Whole Foods (6th/Lamar)
  • Fresh Plus on Duval/43rd
  • Randall's at Exposition across from Casis
  • Randall's at Exposition/Lake Austin
  • Wheatsville Co-op (Guadalupe/30th)

Try the same test sometime in your neighborhood. When applied over a set of neighborhoods in a geographic area, I think the "HEB test" is a good indicator of how much (or how little) of your major street network is funded by the state. (Remember! Roads which don't have a route shield on them, like FM 1325 or US 183, are not parts of the state highway system, and thus are ineligible for all state gas tax money and most federal gas tax money!)

This test is a useful proxy for the claim (made by me and others knowledgeable about urban planning) that gasoline taxes effectively subsidize the suburbs - the typical dweller of the suburbs spends a much higher percentage of his "drive" on roads which actually get money back from the gas tax than does the corresponding center-city resident.

Many More Major Roads In The Suburbs DO Get Gas Tax Money

Same exercise as the last entry of this type. I couldn't get the scale exactly right - this section of Round Rock / Pflugerville is actually quite a bit larger than the corresponding section of Central Austin. (There's a "zoomed in" PDF of central Austin which I used for the original source - if I zoom in with a similar scale to this section of Round Rock, the lines are so thick as to be unusable).

Arterials which are part of the state highway system and thus get gas tax money:

  • IH-35
  • Parmer Lane (FM 734)
  • RM 620
  • SH 45
  • FM 1825
  • US 79
  • FM 1431 (olive green in far upper left corner)
  • FM 685 (north-south road colored olive green lower right corner)

(I can't list all the roads on here that aren't part of the state highway system because I don't know many of their names - some of them don't even currently exist - they are planned to be built sometime in the future by Round Rock and Williamson County).

Note that a much higher proportion of major roads in the southern Round Rock area are maintained by the state. In fact, it is unlikely that a resident of a neighborhood in this area will be able to pass the "HEB test".


February 16, 2005

Most Major Roads In Cities Don't Get Any Gas Tax

This entry is going to serve as background for a future entry about the gasoline tax, new proposed "miles driven tax", and tolls. It will probably be of little interest in isolation, so you might want to wait for the commentary later.


This map (click for larger version) is from a map of central Austin from the 2025 CAMPO plan. Every road which is colored something other than black is classified as an arterial (major roadway). Note that the axis of Austin's grid is off - north-south in these comments refer to the roads that go diagonally off to the northeast.




The following arterial roadways on the image are part of the state highway system, and thus, eligible for gasoline tax money from the state:


  • Mopac Expressway (north-south thick green line on left)
  • I-35 (north-south thick red line on right - leaves screen)
  • FM 2222 / Koenig Lane (east-west road at north end of image which starts as purple on the west end and switches to blue at Mopac)
  • FM 2244 (small segment in extreme lower left of image colored olive green)

The following arterial roadways on this image are not part of the state highway system and have typically not received any gas tax money, either state or federal, for construction or maintenance:


North-south roads, roughly from left to right:


  • Westlake Drive (pinkish road near Lake Austin on far left)
  • Redbud Trail (small segment of pink crossing Lake Austin)
  • Exposition Blvd (pink and purple road west of Mopac)
  • Burnet Road (blue road starting at 45th St and heading north - at US 183 it turns into FM 1325 which is part of the state system
  • Lamar Blvd (blue then purple then blue then olive green covering entire map segment)
  • Guadalupe St. (purple then blue then purple then joining Lamar Blvd north of 45th St)
  • Lavaca St. (forms one-way couplet with Guadalupe downtown)
  • Congress Ave. (brown street in downtown grid)
  • Colorado St., Brazos St. (two purple streets in downtown grid not otherwise mentioned)
  • Red River St. (purple street just west of I-35)
  • Chicon St. (I think) - pink north-south street on extreme lower right

East-West Streets, roughly from top to bottom

  • Justin Lane (I think) - purple/pink at very top, ending at Lamar
  • Hancock / North Loop - purple road starting at Mopac and heading east
  • 45th St. - purple road starting at Mopac, changing to blue between Lamar and Guadalupe, then back to purple
  • 35th / 38th St. - starts as purple west of Mopac, changes to blue east of Mopac and then pink
  • Dean Keeton / 26th St - starts as blue/purple then changes to green, crosses I-35 and turns blue.
  • Windsor / 24th St - starts as purple at Exposition, crosses Mopac and ends at Guadalupe
  • MLK / 19th St - starts as pink at Lamar, changes to purple and crosses I-35
  • Enfield / 15th St - starts as pink at Lake Austin, changes to purple at Exposition, crosses Mopac and turns into 15th St.
  • 12th St. - starts at Lamar as purple then changes to blue, ends at Capitol, restarts after Capitol as blue, crosses I-35 and heads northwest as purple.
  • 11th St. - starts as purple at Guadalupe, heads east to I-35, turns pink after I-35.
  • Downtown grid: 8th, 7th Sts
  • Lake Austin Blvd - from Enfield Road at lake, turns into 5th and 6th sts.
  • 5th and 6th sts from Mopac to I-35
  • Cesar Chavez / 1st St from Mopac to I-35 (just north of Town Lake)
  • Barton Springs Road (small segment of blue in extreme lower left)


Keep in mind that, by terms laid out in the Constitution of the State of Texas, none of the roadways in the much larger list can receive state gas tax money. And in practice, none of them really receive federal gas tax money either, since the practice at CAMPO (the local board that disburses federal gas tax money returned to the state under various programs)is to disburse pretty much all of the available roadway funds to state highway projects.

In other words, when you drive on Lamar Blvd in central Austin, you're paying gasoline tax to the state, but the city (who has to pay to rebuild the roadway when necessary, as just occurred over the last 2 years) doesn't see one penny of that money. When you see construction on 38th St, the city is paying those bills with your property and sales taxes, not with the gas tax you incur while driving.

(corrected MLK / FM 969 on 2/23 - FM 969 does not start until Airport Blvd, which is off the map)