Monday, December 17, 2007

High Ridership = Rail Bias

So the FTA does this thing to cities that haven't had a rail project where the first project is not given a rail bias. We know a bias exists and is about 34-43% according to a TRB report by Ed Tennyson. So in cities like Portland and Denver where they are extending their lines, they were able to use their bias. However cities like Minneapolis and Charlotte weren't able to. In 2020, the Hiawatha line was supposed to get 24,000 riders a day. But here it is 2007, 13 years away from the goal and ridership is at 29,000.

So after a year's worth of ridership data, Charlotte planners will be able to use the bias that they weren't able to use on the first line, which if the FTA used current regulations, wouldn't even have been built. Charlotte got a medium low on their cost effectiveness rating, which now the FTA says you must have a medium to even get into Preliminary Engineering. But guess what they use to calculate cost effectiveness? Ridership! Which seems to be behind recently; Houston, Minneapolis, St. Louis, and Denver have all opened lines recently and have had much higher ridership than predicted. So higher numbers lead to better CE measures, but new lines aren't allowed the bias. Does this mean that new lines aren't afforded the right numbers? Ask the folks in Columbus Ohio. Early indications say that ridership in Charlotte will be exceeded. 9,000 riders were expected and so far daily numbers have been around 12,000. I expect it will die down a little but as more development on the South Corridor comes online, more ridership will be added. What this tells me is that more cities are going to get the short end of the New Starts stick. Is anyone else ready for a new administration that cares about urban issues?


M1EK said...

The rail bias is a myth - when stated as "all other things equal, people prefer rail by 34-44%". That's not how they got that figure; they got it through decades of bad bus and good rail service.

Now I don't think "good" bus is good enough; but neither do I think that bad rail (shared-lane streetcar) will result in rail bias after the first week, except for tourists. If you're honest with yourself, I don't think you would either.

Doesn't precisely apply to Charlotte since theirs is LRT, but it very much would apply if Austin goes with streetcar vulgaris, and will apply in Seattle, etc.

Anonymous said...

Actually, the "rail bias" is an established fact. m1ek didn't bother to read Tennyson's paper, which compared the impact on transit ridership after rail lines were discontinued, not after "decades of bad bus and good rail service."

Michael D. Setty

Pantograph Trolleypole said...

I mentioned nothing about streetcars in this post and all about light rail and how the FTA funds it, so how you pulled streetcar into this discussion is beyond me. Streetcars are not new starts projects and are fighting for funding with BRT in the Small Starts category. In transportation modeling there is actually such a thing as the rail bias which is calculated and used by cities after they build their first line to get more accurate ridership figures for the next one. This is one of the reasons why extensions are easily approved by the FTA than initial lines as discussed in the post.

M1EK said...

Tennyson's paper does NOT say "all things being equal"; it says "if some things are equal and others aren't". Quoting directly from Lyndon's site:

"It is evident that rail transit is likely to attract from 34 percent to 43 percent more riders than will equivalent bus service. The data do not provide explanations for this phenomenon, but other studies and reports suggest that the clearly identifiable rail route; delineated stops that are often protected; more stable, safer, and more comfortable vehicles; freedom from fumes and excessive noise; and more generous vehicle dimensions may all be factors."

Better stops, and bigger, more comfortable vehicles, obviously have an impact. Streetcar vulgaris provides neither of those. It does provide an identifiable route. Noise/fumes would depend on implementation.

Again, all I'm saying is that if you take the "rail bias" factoid and try to apply it to the city-bus-versus-mixed-traffic-streetcar scenario, you're doing it wrong.