Sunday, December 14, 2008

Two Percenters

Stop it. Just cut it out. Joel Kotkin, the newest of the O'Toole/Coxies is the latest offender.
Spending on upkeep of transit systems in older centralized cities such as New York, Washington and Chicago also seems logical. But with few exceptions -- the heavily traveled corridor between downtown Houston and the Texas Medical Center, for instance -- ridership on most new rail systems outside the traditional cities has remained paltry, accounting for barely 1 or 2 percent of all commuters.
This 2% bullshit needs to stop. Stop comparing a single transit corridor or a poorly funded transit network to all roads in a region. Let's compare a single road project to the whole region next time. The next interchange, i'm going to be all about comparing the number of trips. Heck the big dig only takes 2% of trips. Stop it. Wendell Cox or Robert Poole say all the time we should spend money depending on existing trip percentages. That doesn't do us any good and only enforces the current shares. We should be spending more money on livability infrastructure.

Another interesting thing about Kotkin's screed is that he praises Houston's light rail line, which he and his followers bashed in the past. So what's it going to be Joel? There's a whole lot more wrong with his ideas on the stimulus, but I'll leave that to others.


john tierney is a wannabe scientist said...

Is it just me or do libertarians have a propensity towards "voodoo economics" and "voodoo mathematics"? Ideology replaces actual thinking and the big picture.

The Urbanophile said...

In fairness, it is hard to come up with comparisons that make raw numbers favorable to transit. Firstly, the basis of transit ridership versus highway volumes is different to begin with. Transit is usually defined as boardings along an entire line. Highways are usually measured as AADT at a specific point, which does not capture all of the people entering or exiting the highways at every interchange. Also, AADT does not account for the fact that not every car is SOV.

Beyond that, the numbers still don't cut it for transit. I believe the Charlotte light rail line that is reported to be greatly exceeding expectations in ridership only carries 16,000 people per day. Contrast that with the 150,000 AADT I'd expect to see in traffic volumes on many freeway segments in a place like that.

Even so, does that make light rail a "failure" in Charlotte? I don't think so. To fight the battle on those terms is to implicitly argue on the turf of highways. I think there are better ways to look at it.

beyonddc said...

The so-called "libertarian" think tanks are utterly intellectually bankrupt. When they recognize the massive subsidies that go into their precious driving-based lifestyle, maybe the real world can start taking them seriously.

Until then, they are nothing but paid consultants pushing a predetermined agenda.

arcady said...

The usual comparison is a commuter system along a single corridor like a light rail line, compared to all auto trips taken within a given region, and of course you get that light rail has less than 2%, because light rail does nothing to serve the many non-commute trips that people take. Even in an ideal world, rail transit does fairly little for these trips: many of them become walking trips and just don't get counted at all. But if you look at something like peak hour mode share going into the CBD, you get some pretty high numbers, much higher than the 2% this article talks about.

Michael said...

I think it is important to fight the libertarian critique with more compelling numbers for transit. We know that their numbers are BS, mainly because they are framing the problem in the wrong way (in the same way in which they measure Pittsburgh's population as 300k when for all intents and purposes Pittsburgh is a city of 2.5 million).

Here is a good presentation with some alternate measures:

Look at page 20:
Cost of transport as % of GDP:
USA - around 12%
Europe - around 8%

Traffic related fatalities:
USA - around 100 / 1 million inhabitants
Europe - around 70 / 1 million inhabitants

Also, as a measure of market share, the best comparison is percentage of trips for which both transit and car trips are available. This means, when a person owning a car and living in the Houston Medical Center needs to travel downtown to a location within 1 mile of the rail line (or another convenient downtown shuttle linking them to their final destination - which does not exist in Houston ;)), which mode do they take? In these measures, the transit numbers I've seen are more like 50% - although unable to find that right now.

Thankfully, libertarians are losing the "war for hearts and minds" because people intuitively understand that they are wrong. However, it doesn't hurt to be able to fight statistics with better statistics, along with a better way of framing the debate.

Alon Levy said...

Michael, even the cost of transport comparison doesn't account for the fact that Europe isn't far less car-friendly than the US, and is getting more so. You should compare car-based cities, like Houston and Dallas; partially transit-based cities, like New York; and fully transit-based cities, like Singapore and Tokyo.

Matt Fisher said...

To Alon, I have a question: Would a city like London or Paris be "partially transit-based" as much as New York is? I think Hong Kong would count as "fully transit-based".

Nevertheless, these guys should just stop it. It's the same old crap every time a place is considering rail transit. Cut the crap, you guys!!

Of course, trends in Europe are not an indication that Europeans want to live in sprawling suburbs and drive automobiles just like Americans do. These guys keep making crap up.

Justin said...

Michael Fisher: Totally in agreement. It's fine, if what they are posting is true. But it has been well-established of their methods to reach their numbers. It's a shame that these "experts" are paid so much money to spew what is essentially junk statistics.

Matt Fisher said...

To Justin: I'm not Michael. I'm Matt Fisher. Will you correct me on this? In fact, I was mistakenly called Michael at an exam I did this morning.

Alon Levy said...

I'm not sure about London. Paris I'd say is fully transit-based, based on the fact that its total subway and commuter rail ridership is about 25% higher than New York's, even though the metro area is half the size.

Morgan Wick said...

You have to tell them why their arguments are BS before you can move to your own arguments.

The Urbanophile said...

I think this raises the good point and what I was trying to get to as well. I live a transit oriented lifestyle, and one commute trip on transit leverages many trips made on foot each day. I doubt these foot trips are adequately captured. Whereas in the burbs these would end up being car trips. So say 10 car trips turns into 1 transit trip and 9 other mode trips (walk, taxi, etc). So transit to auto comparisons mis-judge the reality of the change.

Anonymous said...

Though these guys are not real libertarians, they are "vulgar libertarians".

These guys NEED big government for their road projects.

Cato & Reason are just front groups for the auto/oil/highway lobby.