Kos' post also brought me to this post at A Future Oakland that put forward some fun stats that drive me crazy every time the social justice folks bring them up, which they do often. The issue I have is with the use of the National Transit database to compare subsidy across different mode types for the sole purpose of saying that one mode is better for poor or minority folks than others. Why they always want to pick this fight is beyond me and its a symptom of thier not being able to connect the different types of modes and thier function to regional job opportunty expansion for lower income job seekers. Check out this chart from Public Advocates dot org, a law firm devoted to social justice.
You can see that the chart doesn't discuss income levels but rather race, I imagine as a proxy for income levels? I'm also not sure what they mean by subsidy but I'm guessing its Capital funding+operating per rider? And as an issue, these lines all perform different services at different distances which affects the costs. No mention that BART and Caltrain riders pay higher fares than AC Transit riders. No mention that per passenger mile (a standard measure across modes), Caltrain and BART are far more efficient than AC Transit. There are a couple of reasons for this and AC's would be better compared to itself if it didn't include the less productive routes or $40 a trip paratransit but those are necessary services.
I want to believe in the social justice movement but they shoot themselves in the foot with dumb charts like this that don't tell me anything except that they don't understand transit operations or regional connectivity to jobs for lower income workers. If I were arguing on the social justice angle, I would start by saying that funding for road expansions is being wasted on suburbs that are leaching tax base and making people spend more of thier hard earned money on transportation. We also shouldn't be saying that AC is more efficient because thats false based on per passenger mile comparison and its operating type. Comparing AC to Caltrain per rider based on 20 mile trip versus a mile or two mile trip is rediculous and doesn't get us anywhere. Based on the 2007 NTD here are the comparisons for operating costs:
Caltrain is 27 cents per passenger mile.
BART is 34 cents per passenger mile
AC is $1.32 per passenger mile.
If we're going to look at capital and operating per passenger mile, it comes out to this in 2007:
BART: 50.9 cents per passenger mile
Caltrain: 60.3 cents per passenger mile
AC Tranist: $1.57 per passenger mile
Versus a Per Trip operations calculation:
AC Transit is $4.02
BART is $4.21
Caltrain is $7.28
What the argument should be is that expansion funding should stop going to stuff like ebart and expansion freeways and should start going to core expansion of AC Transit, Muni, BART, Caltrain Metro East etc. Put the transit where the riders are and it will be helpful for everyone to connect with job opportunities.
This culture war against rail that takes people to job centers in places like Concord and Walnut Creek needs to stop. Would it be more efficient to run buses? No. First that means more cars on the freeway because less people would be taking transit. It also means that more of downtown Oakland and San Franciso would be parking lots inducing less walking trips overall. But if we didn't look at regional transit systems, we would be allowing the bay area fiefdoms of transit to limit the job opportunities for low income workers. In Portland, the Max lines actually allow workers to reach a greater number of opportunities. This 2006 paper on economic development for the FTA by Strategic Economics shows an interesting chart below. But basically regional connectivity provides more opportunities for jobs that make it possible for upward mobility.
A preliminary analysis of transit ridership by industry and occupation in Portland, Oregon indicates that fixed guideway transit connects to more diverse employment opportunities than local bus. An Entropy Index was used to measure the diversity of incomes for occupations in industries with the highest percentage of transit ridership in the region. Entropy index scores are stated as a decimal and the lower the number, the more concentrated the occupational and income mix within that industry.
As Table 1 shows, industries with high percentages of bus ridership also tend to have low Entropy Index scores for an overall average of 0.54. For the most part, these were industries with a high percentage of low wage jobs. However, industries where workers use fixed guideway transit and/or bus and fixed guideway transit to get to work had a much greater diversity income diversity with an average index score of 0.89. This analysis demonstrates that fixed-guideway transit provides connectivity to jobs with different income opportunities, and possibly greater opportunities for advancement, while bus provides the best connectivity for workers in predominantly low-income industries with little opportunity for advancement.
If anything, the issue of expansion should point to the fact that suburban jurisdictions have too much power in how transportation funds are allocated. If it were equitable towards the core, services such as AC Transit would get more funding for more service, but it wouldn't make them more efficient in moving people. They are still a bus company.
This should tell you that MTC is shafting Oakland and San Francisco by not spending more on more efficient rail and metro type service for trunk lines that would serve hundreds of thousands of people. Compare the expansion of BART to San Jose versus a Geary Subway. A Geary Subway would cost around $3 billion and carry 100,000 riders easy the first day. The BART to San Jose line will not get anywhere close to that ridership number and cost a lot more money. These are the decisions that are being made based on regional politics rather than real expansion needs. The up front costs are more but the efficiency of operations leads to less cuts and better travel times for all riders in the core and connections beyond.
Just because people are poor or of a different race doesn't mean they deserve inferior or just one type of service. A network of service that serves different travel sheds is the best way to get people to thier jobs and open up the region for opportunity for all. The fight against the modes that take people further needs to be better thought out as a regional strategy for improving core service rather than pitting modes against each other, especially operations as efficient as BART or Caltrain. It's not very productive and the way the social justice movement is going now can only fail if they are going to bring data such as the chart above to the game.