Wednesday, January 30, 2008

CEI: Magic Numbers From a Magic Computer

This is directly related to a number of previous posts that I've had about the dumb cost-effectiveness measurement that the FTA uses. Apparently now we're calling an important investment based on a magic number now. How did they choose that magic number? Well it has to do with ridership and travel times and cost of the project. You're not allowed to use transit oriented growth, just what the MPO predicts for the district surrounding the station from an outdated 2000 census. Economic development isn't included which produces value for the region, the FTA will say that travel time includes this measure and they say that with serious faces. Don't expect to count VMT reductions because thats just not possible either. Cities starting out don't get to use a rail bias which we know exists. The Pioneer Press Reports:

In its simplest form, the CEI is a basic ratio: capital and operating costs divided by time saved. "Another way to say it might be 'cost per user benefit,' " said Arlene McCarthy, head planner for the Metropolitan Council, the lead agency heading up the Central Corridor effort.


The computer programs that calculate the CEI draw on transportation data from the census, honed down to areas the size of a few city blocks. The programs look at the entire region and attempt to project what commuters would do differently if the rail were built this way or that way.

There's even a sub-variable in that portion known as "rail bias," which states that some people never take buses but will give up their cars to take a train. It's real, planners say. No one knew the metro area's rail bias before the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis was built, and they say that's one of the reasons that Hiawatha's ridership today is 58 percent higher than projected before construction.

Cost per user benefit. Not benefits that the project brings to everyone, just the user. That one person. I wonder what would happen if they applied this index to highways.

In any event, here the article about that ridiculous index that has kept many a city from building a transit line. It might not let Minneapolis build the Central Corridor, because they want to build a tunnel to bypass the heavy foot traffic at the University and make a future connection to a major train hub. Apparently its one or the other, even though it would be cheaper to do it now rather than later. Did they consider that? The Hiawatha Line which is way over ridership did not pass the test, yet look at it now. Guess how it passed? Land Use considerations. But those don't matter as much anymore. It's all this index. Yes, I'm still bitter about Columbus Ohio. I highly suggest the read.

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