Monday, November 30, 2009

Light Rail Kills Babies 2

That's what the opponents told the folks in Salt Lake City. They've come a long way since then and are probably doing the best job of just getting things built of anyone in the country.

But now the opponents are going with the next common denominator attack. If they build light rail, say they should have built BRT. If they built BRT they would be saying only use buses such as is happening in Oakland. This is at the time when UTA is actually building out a real transit network with all different transit modes including streetcars, light rail, BRT and bus networks.

"I don't think it's done any great favors to transit down here," said Salt Lake City resident Stephen Pace, who led the anti-rail group Utahns for Responsible Public Spending. He said UTA should have focused instead on buses that have the same right-of-way preference over cars as trains, but are more flexible and require a less massive investment.

This is the ugly side of the mode wars where people who fight it don't think ANY money should be spent on transit, even if they say in public we should. It's not a nod to smart planning ideas but rather what is cheaper. It shows because these attacks come amongst vigorous transit expansion in all modes. It's also interesting that opponents are starting to attack the conservative credibility of UTA's leaders. A lot of the anti-tax folks are coming out to argue against any spending via taxes.
Pace rails against the "so-called" elected officials who champion fiscally conservative values but are "just as deep in the federal trough as anybody else" to fund TRAX extensions into their communities.
It makes me wonder, what is fiscally conservative anyway in terms of development and infrastructure expansion? Is it doing nothing?

This is also happening in Tampa where anti-tax conservatives are starting to feel as if they were left behind by their elected officials who understand that infrastructure is better funded collectively. The polarizing effects of the national debates are starting to trickle down to pure ideologies.
How ironic that Republicans, one of whom I first supported over 20 years ago, and one who pledged never to impose new taxes when he came seeking my assistance in running his first campaign several years ago, would be the leading proponents of a new tax that could siphon as much as $300 million per year from the residents of Hillsborough County.
What's even better is that the author of the Tampa article also believes that people have a choice whether to spend money on gasoline or not, even when they construction of the communities they live in are based on the automobile alone.
Sharpe writes that the proposed tax increase of $85 per person is "... less than the three-week price rise in the cost of gasoline." Perhaps. But the option of paying for gas is ours and not an imposed burden by our government.
Funny that imposed burden.


Cap'n Transit said...

I have to defend the sign mentioned in the article, because I've made similar statements in my headlines. It is important to acknowledge that any train line, if in operation for long enough, will eventually be involved in the death of a child.

What's missing is the context. In my blog post, I discussed replacing a dangerous practice (unattended idling while double parked) with a less dangerous one (standing in loading zones). It's quite possible that children would be killed by cars in loading zones, but probably a lot less.

Similarly, there are already lots of children who are killed on a daily basis by cars. Getting people to switch from driving to light rail will mean less children killed, not more.

The problem is not the statement, but the fact that it was misleading.

arcady said...

Implicit taxes should still count as taxes! If the government builds infrastructure such that participation in normal civic life requires having, say, Micrsoft Windows, then they're effectively forcing everyone to buy Windows. Even if the government doesn't get any money out of it, it's still money they're requiring you to spend. Same goes for cars.

rajan r said...

I must say, if only in the slight defense of the anti-tax conservatives, that perhaps the best way to fund transport (both automobile and public) is through user fees - and then more.

A good example would be Singapore. Cars aren't subsidised - the roads they use are paid by the petrol tax and car excise, and for the Causeway and the 2nd Link, a toll. To manage demand, Singapore also prices scarcity - of overall islandwide road space through policies like car quotas/COE (or a daily tax for Malaysian cars) and a congestion charge/ERP and demand-based public parking rates.

On the other than, you have an entire public transport system that is paid almost entirely by farebox collection, with construction and maintenance covered partially by retail space and advertising. The two companies licensed to run public buses, light rail and the metro are extremely profitable, while fares are quite low (even though things like children concession fares are crossed-subsidised by regular adult fares).

Singapore isn't the only example. Hong Kong too practice similar policies - and have both highways and public transport unsubsidised (in fact, for the prior, revenue-generating). In Japan, most urban public transport is profitable - or almost all if you discount initial capital cost. Tolls on highways in Japan, as well as parking rates, are very high. Even the Delhi Metro managed to get by with a profit.

There is a usefulness for this: having byzantine, opaque subsidy structures makes it difficult for policy makers and the public to gauge demand and viability. In Singapore, most new construction is along the north-central corridor where congestion charges are most astronomical.

Decisions like building a metro line is easier with a clear methodology - a line only gets built when it is financial viable. And with the difficulty of adding more road capacity and rising congestion and parking charges have led to a shift to public transport - which allows the government to double its rail density without breaking the bank. Having a structure of subsidies cloud that, and distorts demand.

BruceMcF said...

Of course, having no subsidies also distorts demand, where there are substantial third party costs and third party benefits. A major point about the Singapore case is the internalization of third party costs into the market via congestion charges.

Indeed, in Cap'n Transit's Magic Formula for Transit Ridership - dedicated transit corridor, and make cars expensive and hard to use - making cars pay their full economic cost already gets one third of the formula in place, and of course in a densely settled urbanized area, two thirds are in place.

With only one hurdle to cross for profitable transit, its not surprising that both Singapore and HK have succeeded in crossing that hurdle.

Matt Fisher said...

In Salt Lake City, I think "BRT" is not a busway or even in a way dedicated lanes, which is what BRT should be only regarded as. It's just more or less gonna end up as just a rebranded bus. :)

But don't forget there's commuter rail there, to an extent.

In closing, and I have two assignments due this week in classes for a total of about 18 pages, I believe that these guys would probably say this s**t. They'd like to stoop to the lowest common demoninator. It almost would amount to sounding like Sideshow Bob stepping on the rake again. He's my favourite Simpsons villain.

Matt Fisher said...

Oh yeah. Ottawa's Transitway has paved the way for light rail to come to Ottawa and for bus rapid transit worldwide.

Andrew said...

For Ottawa, it would have to be the O-train.

Anonymous said...

who cares??

rajan r said...

BruceMcF: First off, the reason why cities like Singapore and Hong Kong started taxing cars and congestion (or in Hong Kong, parking spaces) is to deal with scarcity and cost. Not to boost public transport usage.

Neither does usage of public transport equal profitable public transport. Take New York for example - high rider share, higher than Singapore and Hong Kong. Yet none of NYC's transit operators are profitable.

Matt Fisher said...

Right. Both the Transitway and the O-Train have made Ottawa more rail supportive. In the case of Ottawa, rapid transit should be a mix of BRT and LRT, with BRT only existing to support LRT (if the demand in certain corridors doesn't justify rail). But I don't want to start "mode wars".

arcady said...

rajan: not true that none of NYC's public transit operators are profitable. There are a few private bus companies that run through the Lincoln Tunnel that are profitable. Of course, if you confine your analysis to just the public (i.e. structurally unprofitable) agencies, you're going to (unsurprisingly) find that they're unprofitable.

Spokker said...

Babies already die on their own for no reason. Light rail is the least of their worries!

Jon said...

based on some of the last transport measure results nationwide, it says something when 60-70% of voters approve a measure to tax themselves for mass transit projects. its hard enough getting 60-70% of a given group of people to agree on anything, let alone to tax themselves for it in this extreme anti-tax climate.