Yes, Austin, You Can Trust M1EK

Statesman, over the weekend:

Capital Metro’s long-anticipated, $47.6 million rapid bus project, designed to carry more passengers faster than existing bus lines along two busy north-south corridors, might not be as rapid as planned.

Despite an agency goal of offering time savings of 10 percent, in hopes of attracting more people to buses, the two lines would mostly offer minimal time savings, according to a Capital Metro presentation on the MetroRapid bus system, now scheduled to start operating in 2014.

In one case, a MetroRapid bus running from Howard Lane in North Austin to downtown would make the trip in 47 minutes — the same as an existing limited-stop bus that runs the same route. Trips between South Austin and downtown on that same line would offer time savings of just two to three minutes.

[...]

Capital Metro, which has an aging bus fleet, would have had to buy new buses – or even more buses, as Hemingson argues – at roughly the same time even if MetroRapid were not happening.

Yours truly, several times in the past few years, bold added for emphasis:

http://m1ek.dahmus.org/?p=629

Y’all may have fooled the Feds into buying you new rolling stock under the guise of BRT, but some of us aren’t buying it. The signal-holding device won’t be worth anything in the afternoon congestion on Guadalupe (it’s not the light in front of the bus holding it up; it’s the light six blocks down and the cars in front).

http://m1ek.dahmus.org/?p=706

Rapid Bus is just a way for Cap Metro to get the Feds to pay for new rolling stock – it provides practically zero time savings over existing limited-stop #101 service. It’s not rapid; it’s not anything like what light rail would have been. The cars of all the people stuck from the next light up will still be in your way even if you can hold the light directly in front of the bus green a bit longer.

 

http://m1ek.dahmus.org/?p=509

Rapid Bus continues to be a complete waste of time and money – our council members were right to put the kibosh on it the last time through. Investing this much money on a half-baked solution for the most important transit corridor in Austin is stupid, especially since this particular solution won’t actually work here (too many times the traffic backup goes far beyond the light immediately in front of the bus in question).
In other cities, and in a smarter Austin, we’d be seeing packed light rail trains run down Lamar and Guadalupe by now. There is no way rapid bus can provide enough mobility benefits here to be worth a tenth the investment you’re going to dump into this dead-end technology; and I hope our council members cut this program off again.
It’s time to demand that the residents of Austin, who provide almost all of Capital Metro’s funds, get some rail transit rather than spending our money providing train service to suburbs like Cedar Park that don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes. Rapid bus is an insult to the taxpayers of Austin, and it’s not going to be rapid.

Allow me to suggest to anybody with an interest in real governance rather than government-by-consultant that at this point Capital Metro’s paid spin people (including their de-facto PR people at the Alliance for Public Transportation) have no credibility on either Rapid Bus or the Red Line, and perhaps the media and city council should be listening to those of us who were right all along rather than those who were wrong but had the time to glad-hand about it.

All posts about Rapid Bus can be found in this category archive: Rapid Bus Ain’t Rapid

Red Line weekend debate, in pictures

The city wants to spend this much:

per rider bringing people from OUTSIDE the

to come into town in the hopes that they’ll spend

of which the city gets back 1%, or this much:

Let’s repeat. Spend this much:

to get this much:

Here is how this all made me feel:

Write the City Council on Red Line weekend subsidy

Here’s what I just sent.

Honorable mayor and council members:

Please reject efforts by some to use additional tax revenue from the city of Austin to subsidize service on Capital Metro’s Red Line. As a strong supporter of rail transit in general but also an Austin taxpayer, I don’t want to spend our scarce local transportation dollars on a service which primarily benefits non-Austin residents, and definitely not at such a high cost.

The most recent operating subsidy information available from Capital Metro shows weekday service requiring an operating subsidy per ride of approximately 34 dollars. This is abominably high compared to good rail lines in other cities – and ten times the current bus subsidy across the system. But this subsidy, at least, is paid for by all Capital Metro members (including Leander residents, for instance). Not so the case with this new proposal.

Even if we exceed weekday numbers by perhaps double, my own quick estimates show we would likely be spending around 20 city tax dollars per rider to bring them downtown and take them back – and a reasonable expectation is that they might spend 40 or 50 dollars while here – meaning the city is asking taxpayers to spend 20 bucks to return 40 or 50 cents to the tax coffers (and this is assuming they wouldn’t have driven and paid to park were the Red Line not an option).

This money needs to be saved for the city’s own urban rail plans.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
UTC 2000-2005
mike@dahmus.org

Since sending this I realized I should also have included a point I made on the phone to KUT an hour or so ago: that during the week, you can make an argument for (some) subsidy by referring to scarce space on highways and roadways and in parking lots and garages. This is not the case on the weekend – plenty of space to get into downtown, and plenty of places to park, some of which even make the city additional revenue.

Oppose City Funding Of Additional Red Line Service

WHEREAS most riders of existing Red Line service are likely not residents of the City of Austin and the majority likely don’t even reside in jurisdictions which pay Capital Metro taxes

and

WHEREAS the City of Austin already excessively subsidizes the existing Red Line operations, as the overwhelming taxpayer to Capital Metro, contributing over 90% of Capital Metro’s revenue to allow the Red Line to be subsidized at a cost of nearly 34 dollars per ride

and

WHEREAS such funds as proposed to further subsidize the Red Line cannot possibly result in a positive economic outcome for the City of Austin given that weekend traffic on the highways is not substantial, and the city can only recover 1% of spending by visitors in the form of sales taxes

THEREFORE BE IT SUGGESTED that everybody reading this contact everyone you know and your city council members and advise AGAINST the City of Austin paying for expanded weekend service on the Red Line and saving the money, instead, for the city’s urban rail proposal – which, unlike the Red Line, will serve primarily Austinites and which desperately needs the money.

Who is riding the Red Line, Part Two

Here’s a summary chart showing the data from Capital Metro from October, 2011; showing how many people board from each station in the AM peak, discussed yesterday in more detail.

Why break it up like this? Because as I mentioned yesterday, it should be pretty obvious that the 3 park-and-rides aren’t attracting a bunch of people from Austin itself. Nonsense, you say? Lakeline is in the city limits, you say? Let’s look at the map.

Here’s Lakeline Station.

Here’s Lakeline Station after I roughly draw the line representing the Austin city limits (by hand, so please excuse my poor skills). Map updated on 2/9/2012 to include a small section I inadvertently left out in my first poor attempt at freehand.

And here is the same image with an arrow helpfully representing the approximate direction all those transit passengers are going to work (note: Paint won’t let me go off straight vertical or horizontal; imagine it about 15 degrees to the southeast).


Now, here’s the thing: There are a few people inside that little part of Austin sticking up there who might be taking the Red Line. But it ought to be incredibly obvious based on nothing more than this picture (if it wasn’t just from words before) that most of the passengers getting on the train at Lakeline probably came from outside the city limits of Austin – because most people living inside the city limits of Austin would have to backtrack quite a ways to get to the train station.

Howard is the same – except it’s people from Pflugerville and Round Rock freeloading instead of Cedar Park. Any questions?

How much are we subsidizing passengers on the Red Line now?

Erica McKewen from Capital Metro let me know that one of the most recent monthly reports does, finally, have the subsidy information available for the general public.

Example from page 7 of December’s report, blown up for your perusal below. The most recent subsidy information shows that even with higher ridership after the 2011 changes (closing competing express bus routes, dropping unproductive shuttles, adding a peak trip); the Red Line still requires a subsidy of nearly 35 dollars per passenger per trip. In most other cities with successful light rail lines (that pull boardings well into the 5 digits per day), operating costs are similar or even lower than the bus system as a whole – which, if you can get higher passenger fares, means that operating subsidies on good light rail lines are lower than comparable buses, not ten times as high.

In tabular form, the most important numbers only:

Mode Operating subsidy per ride Notes
Regular bus $3.22 On top of a regular fare of about $1 per trip, $2 for express. High productivity routes like the #1 have barely any subsidy at all.
UT shuttle $1.23 By contract, a certain percentage of operating costs is paid for directly by UT; the rest by Cap Metro – this is fare-free for students and de-facto fare-free for everybody else
Red Line $33.98 Fares were lowered for most people to be as low or even lower than express buses; many to most riders do not even pay Capital Metro taxes

Who is riding the Red Line?

Well, we don’t know who, but we do know how many are getting on at each station. Thanks to Erica McKewen at Capital Metro for quickly supplying the following information (excerpted from a longer spreadsheet).

Morning boardings, AM peak:

Leander 154
Lakeline 211
Howard 154
Kramer 47
Crestview 26
Highland 12
MLK 8
Saltillo 3

Data from October 2011.

Analysis:

The stations where almost every passenger likely comes from the city of Austin are Kramer on down. Those stations account for (47+26+12+8+3 =) 97 boardings each morning.

The station where perhaps half the passengers come from the city of Leander (pays Cap Metro taxes, but not COA taxes – this is an important distinction for later in this post) accounts for 154 boardings each morning. So say 77 passengers here do not pay Capital Metro taxes.

The stations where most passengers likely come from places that are not the city of Austin and do not pay Capital Metro taxes are Lakeline and Howard, which account for (211+154 =) 365 boardings each morning. Say 10% of these boardings come from the city of Austin, and another 10% from other jursidictions that pay Cap Metro taxes (Leander, part of unincorporated county). This means 37 people from Austin, and 37 more that also pay Cap Metro taxes. If correct, 291 people that boarded here do not pay Cap Metro taxes.

(More on that last paragraph in another later post – suffice to say that rail stations on the edge of city limits are not going to attract most of their passengers from within that city as those people would be backtracking to board the train).

Combine those and you get a reasonable estimate that of the 615 AM peak boardings in October in this sample, about 368 are from places that do not pay any Capital Metro taxes and about 134 are from the city of Austin.

Put another way, 60% of the riders of MetroRail do not pay any taxes to support MetroRail, and 78% of the riders of MetroRail are from outside the city of Austin. If we assume the weekend ridership will be roughly the same as the in-week ridership (and this is a big assumption), these numbers would hold there too. More on that as details become more clear, but I think that even if the line terminates at Lakeline, the numbers would stay roughly the same, since some of the Leander riders would still ride, and far fewer of the people getting on in-town will (since weekend connecting bus service is far less likely).

In other words, if the city does what it is rumored to be doing and decides to pay for weekend MetroRail service, they’ll be paying 20 bucks a ride (collected from Austin taxpayers) to carry mostly non-Austinites downtown in the hopes of collecting a quarter (25 cents) or so of sales tax from each of them (that sales tax only being ‘extra’ if those people wouldn’t have driven downtown anyways – to say nothing of lost parking revenue if they would have paid to park).