Monthly Archives: March 2008

The shuttle buses are particularly cutting-edge

Thanks, Shilli, for making me take the last few minutes of my work day on this!
BAD KXAN, BAD!! Particularly disappointing given you got it right in 2004 when nobody else on TV did.

Austin’s commuter rail has attracted attention from other major cities because of budget. Other rail systems can run about $100 million a mile. Capital Metro’s rail system runs for about $4 million a mile.

Yeah, because we’re not building any new track, geniuses.

“The kind of DMU units that the agency here is using are becoming basically the product of choice for this kind of application,” said Marvin Snow of Bay Area Rail Transit.

Yes, for shitty rail service which has to run on existing tracks and operate with time-separation from freight use and that will never be able to run where it needs to go, DMU fits the bill! – BART is indeed thinking about DMU, on some existing tracks, by the way. They, unlike us, would be able to transfer from the DMU to a good rail system for the final leg – i.e. DMUBart running up/down the east bay to RegularBart running into San Francisco.
And the headline, saved for last:

Other cities say Austin commuter rail is cutting edge

The inside of the vehicles are, sure. The service? NOT SO MUCH. Tri-Rail showed in 1989 that shuttle buses aren’t cutting edge.

Shuttle buses. Capital Metro’s idea of “cutting-edge”.

Working on brevity

From a comment I just made to this poll on News 8:

This isn’t light rail. Light rail would have worked (projected 43,000 riders per day) since it would have gone directly to UT, the capitol, and the part of downtown where people actually work.
This commuter rail line, on the other hand, requires that people who won’t ride the bus today will suddenly fall in love with buses when you stick the word “shuttle” in front of them.

Pretty short. Does it hit the important notes? I did leave out the ridership estimate of 1000-1500 for the new service (2000 maximum capacity).
THANKS, KRUSEE!

Why monorail failed: Seattle

This is important because we still, even today, have some opposition to street rail here in Austin from people who claim that monorail is an obvious winner – when everybody who knows anything about transit knows it’s not; and we even have two American examples; one (Las Vegas) that was built and then failed to generate the massive ridership and accompanying profit that would justify expansion (and put the lie to safety claims to boot); and another (Seattle) that never made it out the gate as the financials collapsed.
Seattle Transit Blog lays out why it failed in Seattle better than anybody ever has before. Worth a read.

Commuter Rail Use Case #2: Leander

Continuing yesterday’s post, here are a couple of use-cases from Leander; the endpoint of the line. Since the train trip would be the longest here, one might expect the train to do well – let’s see.
Each table below is again based on a commute leaving the origin point at roughly 7:30 AM (for bus scheduling). I’m still taking Capital Metro at their word that the average shuttle bus trip length will be 10 minutes even though I suspect it will be worse. It certainly won’t be reliable – but the train schedules will. In each table, a row just indicates a step (a travel or wait step).
Train times taken from page 4 of the PDF. Note that I now include a drive to the park-and-ride. The last example, folks, was supposed to be the “let’s pretend we believe that Crestview Station will really be a TOD that people will really walk to the train station from”. Updated walk time for UT for car case to 10-15 minutes based on input from Kedron et al. Note I’m assuming faculty/staff here, not students.
Leander to UT

Step Drive Express Bus (#983) Rail
1 32-60 minutes Drive to park/ride (5-15 minutes)2 Drive to park/ride (5-15 minutes)2
2 Walk 10-15 minutes to office3 Wait for bus (10 minutes)2 Wait for train (10 minutes)2
3   Bus: 45-80 minutes5 Train: 48 minutes
4   Walk 0-5 minutes to office Transfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4
5     Bus: 10 minutes5
6     Walk 0-10 minutes to office1
TOTALS
Total Time 42-75 minutes 60-100 minutes 78-103 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Offices are more likely closer to the Guadalupe end than the San Jacinto end of campus, but that still presents a range of walking times.

  2. For the train you’ll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 10 minutes for the bus (unlike the Crestivew case, these buses don’t run very often), and the bus is less reliable to boot, but I’m including “late time” in the bus range for the actual trip.
  3. The walk from parking around UT to office is going to vary widely, but almost nobody gets to park right next to their office, whereas some people get dropped off by the bus essentially that close.
  4. A load of passengers headed to UT will actually require more than one bus to service. In other words, if we assume that the train has 300 passengers, and a third are going to UT, those 100 passengers are going to require several shuttle buses – and loading even one bus from zero to full is going to take a few minutes. Of course, if relatively few people ride the train, the bus loading would be quicker.
  5. The shuttle bus is going to drop off on mostly San Jacinto, so no need for a range here. The express bus varies widely (from personal experience) – so big range here. These express buses actually will run ahead of schedule if traffic permits – the 40 minutes is my estimate of a “quick” run based on driving time of 32 minutes uncongested. On my old reverse commute on a similar route (but only to Pavilion P&R), in no-traffic conditions, the bus took about 20 minutes compared to 15 for my car. Note that in uncongested conditions, the bus will actually get you there faster than the train leg alone – that’s because the bus goes straight to UT; while the train goes quite a bit farther east, and the bus actually has a higher average speed in uncongested conditions than the train will (since the express bus goes on 183 and Mopac for miles and miles with no stops).

Conclusions for trip to UT:

  1. Like yesterday, if the destination was really anywhere near the “UT station” out east on MLK, the rail trip would be a slam-dunk winner, even with its low frequency. Even with the 10 minute wait on the front-end, it’s competitive with the car and would destroy the bus. (A guaranteed 58 minutes versus a car trip which ranges from a bit better to a lot worse). Remember this when we talk again about light rail. Too bad we’re not trying to build offices around that station – only residential TAD.
  2. A multi-door vehicle will be essential for loading/unloading. But even with two doors, it’s going to take a few minutes to fill the seats. And the claim that the bus will always be there waiting for the train is not likely to be true based on experience with Tri-Rail in South Florida.
  3. A transfer to a streetcar would improve this only slightly. If running on reserved-guideway for most of its route, it would be more likely to be there on time, and the trip to UT would be a bit more reliable (although I’m being charitable right now and just accepting “10 minutes” for shuttle-bus anyways), but on the other hand, a streetcar that carries 1.5 to 2 busloads of people is going to take longer to load too. There’s a reason transit people talk about the “transfer penalty”, folks.
  4. Remember, the shuttle bus is dropping people off on San Jacinto, not Guadalupe. Go to UT sometime and see how many offices are along SJ sometime. Big mistake – but the administrators who run UT are apparently more interested in providing another spur to eventual rejuvenation of that side of campus than they are at actually serving their staff’s needs.
  5. If I were in their shoes, I’d be taking the #983 already, but would actually try the train when it opens Unless you had to pay a ton for parking, though, practically zero drivers would likely not give up the drive for this train trip. If you valued being able to read/work instead of drive to this extent, in other words, you’d already be taking the express bus.
  6. Effect of future congestion increases? Much bigger than in the Crestview case. A much larger portion of the rail/shuttle trip is on the train itself – and the drive to the park-and-ride probably doesn’t change; so the train ends up inching closer to the car as congestion increases – but only until we put an HOT lane on US183 and Mopac, assuming they don’t do the stupid current design which wouldn’t actually work. Again, though, it becomes clear that it will take unrealistically large time savings on the one leg to begin to make up for the fact that you don’t get taken anywhere useful on it.

Downtown will have similar enough results that I’m not going to cut/paste for now, unless somebody really wants to see it.
Next: Mueller!

How much time are you going to save on commuter rail: part one

Capital Metro has put up a new presentation on rail-bus connectivity which also includes schedule times for the train service. Now we can see how much of an advantage this service will provide its potential passengers. Step one is “Crestview Station”, a supposed but not really TOD which is located within walking distance of a train station.
Each table below is based on a commute leaving the origin point at roughly 7:30 AM (for bus scheduling). I’m taking Capital Metro at their word that the average shuttle bus trip length will be 10 minutes even though I suspect it will be worse. It certainly won’t be reliable – but the train schedules will. In each table, a row just indicates a step (a travel or wait step). Updated walk time for car case based on input from Kedron et al. Note I’m assuming faculty/staff, not students.
Train times taken from page 4 of the PDF.
Crestview Station to UT

Step Drive Local Bus (#1) Express Bus (#101) Rail
1 15-25 minutes Wait for bus (10 minutes)2 Wait for bus (10 minutes)2 Wait for train (10 minutes)2
2 Walk 10-15 minutes to office3 Bus: 19 minutes5 Bus: 12 minutes5 Train: 10 minutes
3   Walk 0-5 minutes to office Walk 0-5 minutes to office Transfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4
4       Bus: 10 minutes5
5       Walk 0-10 minutes to office1
TOTALS
Total Time 25-40 minutes 29-34 minutes 22-27 minutes 35-50 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Offices are more likely closer to the Guadalupe end than the San Jacinto end of campus, but that still presents a range of walking times.

  2. For the train you’ll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 5 minutes for the bus (less penalty for missing), but the bus is less reliable, so I give both 10 minutes of “waiting time” for the bus running late.
  3. The walk from parking around UT to office is going to vary widely, but almost nobody gets to park right next to their office, whereas some people get dropped off by the bus essentially that close.
  4. A load of passengers headed to UT will actually require more than one bus to service. In other words, if we assume that the train has 300 passengers, and a third are going to UT, those 100 passengers are going to require several shuttle buses – and loading even one bus from zero to full is going to take a few minutes. Of course, if relatively few people ride the train, the bus loading would be quicker.
  5. Taking CM’s word on the bus schedules here. There is going to be some unreliability built into here, but since I took their word on the shuttle bus time, I did it here too to be fair (similar traffic interference in both cases). Not as bad as the downtown case below – since I’m assuming a dropoff at 24th/Guadalupe for the local/express bus cases, there’s only about a half-mile of truly congested conditions to worry about. The shuttle bus is going to drop off on mostly San Jacinto, so no need for a range here.

Conclusions for trip to UT:

  1. If the destination was really anywhere near the “UT station” out east on MLK, the rail trip would be a slam-dunk winner, even with its low frequency. Even with the 10 minute wait on the front-end, it’s competitive with the car and would destroy the bus. Remember this when we talk again about light rail. Too bad we’re not trying to build offices around that station – only residential TAD.
  2. A multi-door vehicle will be essential for loading/unloading. But even with two doors, it’s going to take a few minutes to fill the seats. And the claim that the bus will always be there waiting for the train is not likely to be true based on experience with Tri-Rail in South Florida.
  3. A transfer to a streetcar would improve this only slightly. If running on reserved-guideway for most of its route, it would be more likely to be there on time, and the trip to UT would be a bit more reliable (although I’m being charitable right now and just accepting “10 minutes” for shuttle-bus anyways), but on the other hand, a streetcar that carries 1.5 to 2 busloads of people is going to take longer to load too. There’s a reason transit people talk about the “transfer penalty”, folks.
  4. Remember, the shuttle bus is dropping people off on San Jacinto, not Guadalupe. Go to UT sometime and see how many offices are along SJ sometime. Big mistake – but the administrators who run UT are apparently more interested in providing another spur to eventual rejuvenation of that side of campus than they are at actually serving their staff’s needs.
  5. If I were in their shoes, I’d be taking the #101 already, and would continue to do so after the train opens.

Crestview Station to 6th/Congress

Step Drive Local Bus (#1) Express Bus (#101) Rail/Bus Rail/Walk
1 20-30 minutes Wait for bus (10 minutes)2 Wait for bus (10 minutes)2 Wait for train (10 minutes)2 Wait for train (10 minutes)2
2 Walk 0-10 minutes to office3 Bus: 25-45 minutes5 Bus: 20-35 minutes5 Train: 18 minutes Train: 18 minutes
3   Walk 0-5 minutes to office Walk 0-5 minutes to office Transfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4 Walk 10-20 minutes to office6
4       Bus: 5-20 minutes1  
5       Walk 0-5 minutes to office  
TOTALS
Total Time 20-40 minutes 40-45 minutes 33-38 minutes 38-63 minutes 38-48 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Shuttle bus is likely to be much less reliable on the two routes being proposed for “downtown” than for the UT area based on traffic conditions. I’ve abandoned CM’s 10 minute estimate in favor of a range here – 5 minutes for places close to the Convention Center on a good day; 20 minutes for the far reaches on a bad day.

  2. For the train you’ll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 5 minutes for the bus (less penalty for missing), but the bus is less reliable, so I give both 10 minutes of “waiting time” for the bus running late.
  3. People driving downtown often have parking in their exact building (0 minute walk); but many have to park a block or more away – up to a 10-minute walk.
  4. Still going to be a bus loading wait here – varying depending on actual number of people using this service.
  5. NOT taking CM’s word on the bus schedules here. Lots of unreliability when you have to go all the way past UT and then through half of downtown. I’ve taken their schedule times of 30 and 23 minutes respectively as about 1/4 through the range, because if buses get too far ahead of schedule, they’ll actually slow down and/or stop in certain places to avoid missing pickups.
  6. The walk time here is to 6th/Congress, per my own estimate. Note that hardly anybody works anywhere near the Convention Center.

Conclusions for downtown trip:

  1. Again, the shuttle is the killer. Streetcar wouldn’t help a whole lot on the loading front; but would be dramatically better on the travel-reliability front, if we get reserved guideway (would make a bigger difference downtown than on the route to UT).
  2. Note that if you were lucky enough to work at the Convention Center, your trip time would range from 28-38 minutes. In that imaginary scenario, I ride the train. Too bad we don’t have much developeable land around the Convention Center for future office use. Again, this is the fatal flaw in deciding to run the train service where the tracks happen to be rather than where people actually need to go – and in this case, we can’t fix it with office TOD because most of the land around the CC station is already developed – the Convention Center itself, recent hotels, etc..
  3. I’m staying on the #101, again.

One more question some are likely to ask: will worsening traffic make commuter rail more competitive on this trip? Answer: not likely. If bus travel times increased by 10 minutes in the downtown case, for instance, the shuttle bus trip is likely to increase too (5 more minutes, say) — meaning that the two modes’ total travel time really just continues to overlap, and on the low end of the rail/shuttle range to boot. Again, fatal flaw time: if you’re trying to sell people on a transit trip with reliable time characteristics, you can’t run a shuttle bus for the last half of the trip!
Next: Leander.

Real Americans should read this and call for impeachment

Of course, those of us who were educated enough knew this all along but many right-wingers who knew better still played along because he was on Their Team.
To me, the unforgiveable sin for a president is lying us into an unnecessary war. That’s why I hope someday Bush gets to sit around the campfire and smoke the proverbial turd in hell with LBJ. That’s also, by the way, why I couldn’t vote for Hillary over Obama no matter how much more qualified she supposedly is. She voted for this war; and either was too dumb to know it was based on lies or knew so, and voted for it anyways, prioritizing her own political fortunes over the lives of our servicemen (at the time, people thought they had to go along due to Bush’s popularity, hard as it is to believe now).
Meanwhile, the guys who actually supplied almost all the manpower, financial, and ideological support for the actual al Qaeda attack on us have gotten off scot-free. Not only that; they’re getting obscenely rich off $110 oil, plowing that money right back into funding the same extremist Islamist crap that managed to build up al Qaeda in the first place.
Good work, Republicans. It’s going to take a lot to get me to ever consider voting for you again (yes, readers, I have punched my share of “R” circles in the past). I can take an awful lot of stupid socialist-inspired economic policy if it means we don’t spend trillions blowing our kids up for nothing.

City wastes millions of dollars…

on TOD planning. I was reminded about this by the Chronicle article, but meant to write this post this morning after watching the Planning Commission cover the TOD station plans for the MLK and Saltillo stations.
Here’s how TOD (transit-oriented development) works in the real world:

You start with a rail line that goes to places a lot of people work (drops them off within walking distance of their office). You notice that the rail line is doing pretty well, but could do even better if more people lived right next to the stations instead of having to be driven to stations or transfer from buses. You loosen zoning restrictions around those stations allowing for high-density development (and maybe lease some land owned by the transit agency to developers too).
Here’s how it’s working in Austin:
The city is spending millions of dollars on consultants (and in-house employee time) on plans to avoid stepping on any neighborhood toes to allow for marginal increases in density around train stations for a commuter rail line which is only going to run twice an hour during rush hour, once in the middle of the day, and not at all at night. If you’re dumb enough to move into one of these apartments expecting to take the train to work and the low frequency doesn’t bother you, you face a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle bus ride twice a day from the train station at the Convention Center or on far east MLK to your office.

Will it ‘work’? Sure… but only because current zoning is far too low-density in these areas. You could change the zoning without the train station and see exactly the same development occur – because this train service is so awful it’s not going to result in any more than a trivial few taking transit instead of driving or taking existing buses to their jobs.
If only there were some other alternative. Something that has worked in cities like Dallas, Houston, Denver, Portland, Salt Lake City, Minneapolis, etc. Something, I dunno, lighter, that could actually, you know, go where lots of people actually need to go.
So what could work with this awful crappy commuter rail line we’re stuck with now, you ask? Precious little. If we could somehow convince a mega-employer like IBM to totally redesign their suburban-style office campus around the train station (which is going to be a long walk from their closest building as it stands today), and replicate that on each of the suburban stops, and add a bunch of offices at places like Crestview and the TODs being studied here, then maybe. But that’d be 180 degrees opposite from what the city is futilely trying to do today – in other words, the problem isn’t that people don’t live close enough to train stations, although they don’t; the worse problem is that nobody WORKS near a train station. Because the thing about people with real jobs is: if they’re not willing to take a one-leg bus trip straight to their office today, there’s no way in hell you’re going to get them to take a shuttle-bus trip from the train station to their office.
I need to get that last sentence made into a big rubber stamp. Or tattoo it on the inside of some peoples’ eyelids.

Flu trumps trains

My wife and I have been very ill – it’s been all we’ve been able to do to keep our non-sick bouncing-off-the-walls 4 year old reasonably well fed and taken care of. Today’s the first day I’m going to try to do more than trivial work since Thursday – so the blogging has to take a very distant back seat. Quick summary:
I did go to the TWG last Monday (not yesterday’s, though) and had a meeting with a councilmember afterwards. More cause for pessimism than optimism. I have a self-directed work item to bring back to them which I’ll probably post here as well in the next few days.