A bird in the hand should be worth ten in the bush.

You may see a lot of people talking about how it’s important to serve future growth with rail transit – and what that means in Austin is that we’re doing that instead of serving current density. No, you can’t do both.

So they want to make it a decision about serving one current person in existing density versus one future person in future development. But is that reasonable?

Consider the fact that the speaker after me a couple of Fridays ago was from Catellus, and bragged that with rail, Mueller can add 5,000 new residents. Sounds like a lot. That 5,000 would be a good start to getting 15,000 riders on the train (30,000 boardings/day, which would make it a success).

And hey, the #1 corridor only has like 15,000 boardings/day today (7500 riders), so Mueller’s almost going to be as good today and much better tomorrow, right?

Wrong.

Let’s take those 5,000 people and look at them analytically.

Some of those people will be children, who will not take the rail (except maybe to downtown on the weekend, but, oops, we moved the Childrens Museum to Mueller, so maybe not). Cut out 25% of the original total and we’re down to 4,000 non-children.

Some of those people will be stay-at-home-ers. Especially in Mueller where the proportion of young families is relatively high. Let’s say 5% of those who remain, as a conservative estimate. We’re down to 3800 potential transit riders.

Some of those people will work in the core, but many will not.1  Last I recall the employment share for the core versus the rest of town was something like 20 or 25%. Let’s be optimistic and say 25%. So we’re down to 950 potential transit passengers.

Then, finally, we have to adjust for those who will be willing to take transit. No, not everyone will be; many of the people living at Mueller who work downtown or at UT are driving today instead of taking the bus, and will continue to drive instead of taking the train; so many of the newcomers will be the same way. Let’s be incredibly optimistic about transit here (for such a low-density, suburban, area) and say that 50% of the people for whom transit is a reasonable option will decide to use it. So we’re down to 475 potential transit passengers.

Well.

If we build rail to Mueller, we can get 475 more people to move in and take rail.

Feel free to run the same kinds of calculations on the additional expected population in Mueller (the amount yet to move in with or without the extra rail bonus). You’re still not going to get up to a ton of potential transit passengers.

Meanwhile, remember that statement upstream about the #1 ridership? Let’s apply the same filters to it.

Approximately 15,000 boardings/day (7500 people) on this corridor today (existing bus service which would logically be folded into light rail there if we built it).

Do we have to adjust down for children? No, these are people who are already taking the bus to work or UT; those children are already factored out before we got to that 7500 number.

Do we have to adjust for stay-at-home’ers? No, these are people who are already taking the bus to work or UT; those people staying at home are already factored out before we got to that 7500 number.

Do we have to adjust for where they work? No, these are people who are already taking the bus to work or UT; people who work in the suburbs are already factored before we got to that 7500 number.

Finally, do we have to adjust for “willing to use transit”? Yes, we do – even more people than the original 7500 would be willing to use rail. We’d have to go back to the population figures within a given distance of the line to calculate how many new riders we could reasonably expect – but it’s pretty much a given that you can exceed the baseline bus ridership in a corridor with a decent rail line. (Note above with Mueller where I said optimistically 50% of people who could reasonably ride transit might take it? On the #1 corridor it’s nowhere near that high today even though the buses are pretty good. Take it up to 50% with good rail and you’d see thousands more riders every day).

What’s the lesson here?

A proven bird in the hand (actual riders in corridor A) should count for more than ten future birds in the future bush (people moving in to corridor B).


  1. I happen to know for an anectdotal fact that many Muellerites work all over the place – from personal experience with them – they don’t all work downtown or UT; far from it; many moved there to get a nice house, relatively cheap, NOT because of where they work 

2 Replies to “A bird in the hand should be worth ten in the bush.”

  1. There’s a reason I keep saying Highlandmueller. Kyle Keahy kept pointing out that the Highland sector adjoins it; the Highland sector includes Hancock Center (where Phase 1 was going to stop before Project Connect supposedly changed everything); there’s no credible routes up to Highland Mall; etc.

Leave a Reply