The ceiling for the Red Line

Later this week, physiotherapist stay tuned for a new formula which takes into account service quality (measured by miles per hour), traumatologist frequency, and, and this is the new part, end-user payment (fare).

Hint: MetroRapid’s going to cost $1.75 each way. Today’s #1 service costs $1 and today’s #101 service costs $1.50. Next year, the #1 will be cut in half and go up to $1.25; while MetroRapid will replace the #101, add frequency to the few stops it serves, and cost $1.75.
is very low.

I keep having to drag up this old Chronicle article so much I finally thought I’d better link to it AND excerpt the relevant parts in case it ever disappears down the memory hole.

February 25, illness 2000 in the Chronicle:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, pharm serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, website like this supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The key here is that from about 1997-1999, Capital Metro’s plan of record was to take the entire Red Line (what we use now for commuter rail), build two new tracks, put up electric wire, and run light rail trains on it all day long at high frequencies.

The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today, and hinted to Capital Metro that they would not fund that line. Capital Metro quickly switched to what became the 2000 light rail proposal – the “Red/Green” line, using the Red Line’s ROW only from Leander to Airport/Lamar, then going in the street from there.

You can use the 1997 proposal as, effectively, a ceiling for what can be accomplished with further investment in the Red Line we have today. Nothing has truly changed since then – Capital Metro anticipated infill then around the stations in the far northwest, and they anticipate it now, and it still turns out to be low-density crap if it ever gets built. No more jobs have moved to be close to the MLK station instead of at UT.

Folks, there isn’t that much more that can be accomplished with a train that doesn’t go very many places worth going. The real action is, as it always has been, around Congress Avenue downtown (not the Convention Center); at the University of Texas (preferably its front door on Guadalupe), and at the Capitol; and no, you aren’t going to convince suburbanites to transfer to a shuttle-bus(*) to get to those places (as we’ve finally, I hope, proven by now).

lowceiling

This is why further investment in the Red Line is best characterized as wasting money trying to disprove the sunk cost fallacy. There’s very little new ridership there, even if the train gets a little faster, or runs a few more hours on the weekend.

* – no, urban rail doesn’t help either. Suburbanites own cars. Two train trips in our commuting environment, even if the second one goes closer to where they want to go, is fundamentally uncompetitive. Believe me, or not, but remember: I’m the guy who predicted the Year 1 ridership correctly, and called that nobody would want to ride shuttlebuses when everybody else said they would.

  • Patrick

    So should I go ahead and sign the petition to abolish capital metro?

  • Novacek

    “The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today”

    Okay, so what’s your source/support for this claim?

    The linked article only says “Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs”. Ridership on the red line could improve to 20K a day and still count as “far lower”.

  • m1ek

    First of all, 20K/day would not qualify as “far lower” by any reasonable definition of the term. The FTA’s been more than willing to fund light rail starts at that level, for instance.

    Second, the actual ridership projections were lost to history. I recall them being low single digit thousands (as in perhaps 5,000 boardings/day); but there is no way to get this now of which I’m aware.

    Third, you can extrapolate from the performance of the Red Line to this point – knowing that most of the people who are not riding it are not riding it because of where it goes (and doesn’t go), rather than how often it goes there; judging from other cities’ experiences and other elements of one’s corpus of knowledge. Unless your only interest is just a blind defense of Capital Metro and the decision they made in 2004 which had nothing to do with ridership and everything to do with an offer they couldn’t refuse, of course.

    Your call.

  • Novacek

    “First of all, 20K/day would not qualify as “far lower” by any reasonable definition of the term.”
    Of course it would. If the Red/Green projected ridership was 30K, then 20K ( ten thousand less per day) or one third less would reasonably be described as “far lower”. Or I’ve recalled occasions in the past when you’ve claimed optimistic ridership projections even above 30K for the red/green. What’s your cutoff? Would 10,000 vs. 40,000 fit your criteria of “far lower”?

    “but there is no way to get this now of which I’m aware.”
    Exactly. In fact the Chronicle article implies that it was never public knowledge. Yet your entire post is based on this number (or the lack thereof).

    “Third, you can extrapolate from the performance of the Red Line to this point”
    You mean the Red Line that is capacity constrained at peak commuting times? Basically, it’s performing as well as it possibly can given its size (ie the route isn’t hurting it any).

    “Unless your only interest is just a blind defense of Capital Metro”
    I don’t engage in blind defense. I’m perfectly willing to criticise CapMetro when they deserve it (such as with their ludicrous claim that people find _2_ zones for the rail “too confusing”). But neither do I attack them blindly when they talk about something that make sense, such as expanding(at low cost) a very popular and capacity constrained rail system.

  • m1ek

    Your comment in response pretty much proves you’re in this just for blind defense of Capital Metro (or, given your example, for not doing exactly what they’re doing – except for cheaper and more).

    You left out the part where I said the FTA would not have made such a comment if ridership projections were anywhere near 20k, given that they have funded lines with projections of that level with no complaints.

    That, and the fact that I’m not a liar, and that I told you I heard projections were in the single-digit thousands, means you need to walk back your comments. Or we’re done. I have no obligation to continue to provide you a platform to be a complete asshole – I can help you set up your own wordpress site if that’s your interest.

  • Novacek

    “You left out the part where I said the FTA would not have made such a comment if ridership projections were anywhere near 20k, given that they have funded lines with projections of that level with no complaints.”
    They’ve also funded 5,000 /day ridership lines (ignoring for the moment that those aren’t the 25-year out ridership numbers).
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tide_Light_Rail
    Gross ridership isn’t the only criteria they use when making these decisions. They very well might willingly fund one line with ridership X, and fail to fund one with ridership >X.

    “That, and the fact that I’m not a liar,”
    I didn’t call you a liar. However, at best, you’re repeating third-hand rumors. (Fed to Capmetro outside official projections, CapMetro to you). Someone up the chain from you very well might have been repeating erroroneous information, or information that was misinterpreted by someone down the chain (first year projections vs. 25 year horizon projections, for instance).

    Given that it’s a rumor, 5K seems particularly suspect because:
    1. The current redline is getting basically half that, at 5 years in, with 20 years left to go into the projection.
    2. during which time Austin is going to double in size. Leander (which almost tripled in size during the last census) will probably do so again in that time.
    3. TOD at the inner stations (such as MidTown commons) is finally getting going.
    4. Again, the current ridership of the red line is capacity constrained. It could probably hit close to 5K just by running larger cars, even without the greatly increased frequencies of the original red line plan.

  • m1ek

    The problem here is that you’re wildly inconsistent in what you expect out of people.

    You believe everything Capital Metro says without reservation (i.e. TOD at Midtown – that’s ludicrous; it’s lower density than background conditions elsewhere)

    You expect your own arguments to be accepted given the typical standards in the “court of public opinion”

    I make my own posts assuming, basically, about halfway between the standards of the blogging world (be honest; make an honest argument; consider alternate explanations) and the standards in civil court (the preponderance of evidence, i.e. Cap Metro put forth a proposal for almost as much money with “far lower ridership”; was going to get the kiss of death “not recommended”; which is FAR MORE LIKELY to mean single digit thousands ridership than 15,000)

    And you attack said posts as if you were a defense lawyer in criminal court, whose only job is to find some tiny shred of reasonable doubt.

    That’s fucking annoying. Cut it out.