A reasonable person replied to a posting I made about Capital Metro’s commuter rail plan (in particular to its requirement that shuttle buses be used for the last leg of their journey):
“A very good point Mike, and important one.
Isn’t this something that will be phased in as ridership grows, if possible.”
This pretty much sums up the reason Capital Metro has succeeded so far in maintaining what urban support they currently have. Most people aren’t looking at the rail system as a potential passenger – they’re buying into the “build anything and people will use it” theory pushed so ineffectively in voluntary air-quality agreements that always end up with the same set of city officials behind them. If you believe some non-trivial set of people will ride it just because it’s there, then this attitude makes sense.
However, there’s another way to look at the line (and its extension to Congress Avenue). Let’s suppose that we decide to build a new bridge halfway across Town Lake. Why only halfway? Well, the first half of the bridge is going to be pretty cheap because a bunch of old but serviceable pylons (supports) happen to already be there – all we need to do is lay decking on top of them. (The pylons for the second half of the bridge do not currently exist). Certain unidentified crackpot transportation writers claim that this isn’t enough; and that nobody will use the bridge (except for a couple of people who like to dive into the water for the end of their commute).
Would you say that building such a bridge is a good idea, just because it’s so cheap? Would you say that we should build the first half, and then see how many people use it, before we bother to build the second half? “Let’s ride and then decide” indeed.
I just sent this letter to the 590 KLBJ morning show.
Mark and Ed,
I heard the interview of Councilmember Slusher this morning and had a couple of comments for you to keep in mind if you talk to him again. (I’ve been on your show twice now – I’m the guy from the Urban Transportation Commission – actually, I’m Slusher’s appointee, and he’s not real happy with me these days for obvious reasons).
I know you guys usually attack this from an anti-transit perspective, and I’m firmly pro-transit (and especially pro-rail transit). Most people in the media are inaccurately depicting this as a repeat of 2000 – where central Austin transit people voted overwhelmingly in favor of light rail, and the suburban voters voted overwhelmingly against. That’s not going to be the split this time – a lot of people who know and support transit are not happy with this plan from a pragmatic perspective.
Ed, you tried to raise a good point with the question about lack of service to south and central Austin. When Mr. Slusher responded with the Highland Mall (and other Austin stations), I think he knows that’s not what most people mean by “central Austin” – we mean “the highest density residential areas” such as West Campus, North University, Hyde Park, etc. None of the places where there exists sufficient density to support rail transit are being served by this plan.
I’m also disappointed that nobody brought up the biggest problem with this plan – the fact that it requires riders to transfer to shuttle buses to get to UT, the Capitol, or downtown office buildings. In other cities in this country, it is very clear that your first rail line must deliver most of its passengers to stations which are within WALKING DISTANCE of their final destination, if you want to attract any new passengers to public transportation. People who can choose whether or not to drive (i.e. they own a car and don’t have to pay a lot of money for parking) will not ride a service which sticks them on shuttle buses for the last leg of their journey. This is why South Florida’s commuter rail line, after a decade, is viewed as an expensive failure.
Even without stops in Central Austin, the line could be a moderate success if it delivered passengers to at least one of those three big destinations without a shuttle-bus transfer (this is why so many center-city people were pushing so hard for the line to be immediately extended to the Seaholm power plant with a stop at 4th and Congress).
Without any modifications, the anti-transit people should be very happy with this rail plan, because after people see empty trains running down this route, it will become conventional wisdom that rail can’t work in Austin. In fact, I believe that if this plan passes, it’s going to be the end of rail transit for the area for a generation or two, as it was for South Florida.
Urban Transportation Commission
This letter was just sent today to the Statesman (registration required to view):
In Monday’s column, Ben Wear places the population in two categories – those who oppose rail transit in general, such as Gerald Daugherty, and those who support Capital Metro’s current plan. However, it’s my experience that a growing number of urban Austinites, after taking a look at the plan, are realizing that it’s a poor attempt at a starter system that will be, as a colleague on the Urban Transportation Commission aptly described it, a “finisher” system rather than a starter line.
Any first attempt at rail transit for a metropolitan area must deliver passengers to stations within walking distance of their office in order to attract a non-trivial number of people who can choose whether or not to use transit. Capital Metro’s plan requires nearly all riders to transfer to shuttle buses for the final portion of their journey and will therefore, like South Florida’s Tri-Rail line, doubtllessly be a huge disappointment from day one.
The Urban Transportation Commission at its last meeting unanimously voted to ask Capital Metro to include a referendum on the rail ballot asking the voter to indicate their preference among a set of 4 options, including several plans which solve the “circulator” problem.
In the future, please do not pigeonhole the entire area into the categories of “against all rail transit” and “for Capital Metro’s ‘finisher’ system”. The residents of the city of Austin (who voted FOR light rail in 2000, by the way) deserve better.
Michael E. Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission
The disaster which prompted this temporary move was a lack of backups being performed on the part of the filesystem at IO which contained the mysql data which backs this blog. One file was corrupt – which happened to be the file which was the backing storage for the comments table.
The people at PrismNet, who bought IO a while back, have mailed me the data in big chunks, and I might re-enter some of the comments if I have an afternoon to spare someday, but for now they’re all lost. Sorry.
This temporary site, donated by a cow orker friend, will work in the meantime while I get the permanent hosting worked out.
Metablog: I’m now posting entries on the temporary location for this blog, maintained by a friendly cow orker, until I get my hosting situation resolved.
After dropping off my wife’s old car at the Jiffy Lube, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway. I had planned on picking up the 983 (express) bus if I made it in time for the 7:48, since this is a much more comfortable ride than the other option (the #3 herky-jerky).
This 983 bus has some of the characteristics of the proposed Rapid Bus solution which is all that the urban core of Austin is ever going to get out of the All Systems Go plan (longer article on last weeks’ happenings coming possibly later today or tomorrow).
So I got there at 7:42 and noticed that the usual suspects (2 other bikers who ride this bus every day , far up the 183 corridor, as far as I can tell) were still there. Good sign. A #3 showed up right about then (the 7:36 running late). l passed.
7:55 rolled around and the next #3 showed up. l passed again (if the first #3 was running late, maybe the #983 was stuck too).
8:15 rolled around. No next #3. 8:30 rolled around. No #3 or #983. The first cyclist waiting for the 983 gave up and pedalled away, to where I have no idea (both of these guys stay on the bus long after I disembark, so the #3 isn’t an option for them).
Finally at about 8:40, I got on the 8:36 #3 and herky-jerkied my way (late) up to work. The 983 never showed. The other biker had called somebody on the phone but was still stuck there.
Need I say: This Doesn’t Happen (Well, Hardly Ever) With Rail?
Mine is the first letter in this week’s PostMarks in the Austin Chronicle.
I have an op/ed in the 3rd issue of the new Downtown Planet newspaper (no online presence yet that I know of) which is basically a cleaned-up and shortened version of this piece. I got a copy myself at the downtown Jamba Juice at 6th and Congress.
So I could go back to the year 2000 and shove this article in the face of the South Congress wankers who fought light rail so hard.
Commuter rail, suffice it to say, won’t be adding any lunchtime business on South Congress or anywhere else.
Kim and Anthony are spending 2 years in Taipei with their two daughters, Ashley and Elizabeth, and have started a weblog about the adventure. Transportation-related content in the first entry!