Proof of Yesterday’s Entry

Yesterday, I gave a hypothetical example which showed why suburbanites might only see empty buses, and incorrectly assume that all buses are always empty.
It took exactly one day to prove the hypothetical.

This morning, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway intending to take the express bus into work as usual. However, I got there a bit early due to green lights, and the #3 bus showed up right as I pulled in. I thought I’d give it a whirl, since it ends up arriving up here at about the same time as the express bus, and has the added advantage of dropping off at Braker rather than Balcones Woods, which allowed me to more easily deposit some rent checks at the ATM.

There were 24 people on the bus, including me, when we pulled away from the bus stop. Note that this stop is about a quarter of the northbound length away from downtown, i.e., if you rode from the central point of the route to its far northern end, this stop is about 1/4 of the way up.

We puttered up Medical Parkway and Burnet, stopping at about 60% of the stops, usually to let people off; occasionally to pick people up. By the time we got to US 183 and Burnet, there were about 10 people still on the bus.

At Braker and Mopac, there were 4 people left, includng me.

At my stop on Braker between 183 and Jollyville, one other guy left the bus with me. That left 2 people to go to the end of the northbound route at the Arboretum (actually a loop end-point; it’s technically south of where I got off, but still before the layover point).
So if you had seen the bus between downtown and Burnet at 183, you would have thought: “that’s a pretty full bus” (nearly every seat was taken). If you had seen the bus at the Randall’s on Braker, on the other hand, you would have said “that bus is empty”.

And if you were as stupid as most suburbanites, that would be ammunition for you to run around and claim that Capital Metro wastes your money because all they do is run empty buses.

PS: The ride stunk. Bumpy and jerky. Hard to read. Not worth the 50 cent savings. I’ll wait for the express bus next time.

Why suburbanites think all buses are empty, Part One

I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway this morning to get on the 983 “express” bus to work. 6 people, includng me, got on at this stop. There were 4 or 5 people already on the bus.

Several people disembarked at the Arboretum, and one other person disembarked with me at Balcones Woods. By the time it got up to the suburban park-and-ride, it was surely emptier than when I got on.

Actually, this bus isn’t a great example, since it is ‘deadheading’ for the most part – the primary traffic on these routes is inbound in the morning; they actually run some of the buses back straight up 183 without stopping to get back up to the big park-n-rides quicker. But it reminded me to write this article anyways, so there you go.

A better example is the #3 bus (Burnet). It has at least 30-40 stops in between its northern terminus loop around the Arboretum and downown (and then continues on down to Manchaca with probably another 40 stops). It runs very frequently (every 20 minutes). Well, that’s frequent for this town anyways.

Imagine this experiment: At each stop, exactly one person gets on the bus. All of them are headed either downtown or to UT.
If you drive past the bus at the Arboretum (its northernmost stop), how many people will you see on the bus? Exactly 0, until that one guy gets on.
If you drive past the bus at UT, how many people will you see on the bus? 30 or 40.

In fact, many of Capital Metro’s routes operate this way; it’s how transit is supposed to work. Although the disembarking model is unrealistically simple; some people do get off in between, and many stops have no pickups while others pick 5 or 6 up like mine this morning.

But the real lesson here is that suburbanites are stupid. While reading the example above, I’m betting you were offended at my lack of respect for your intelligence, yet, in fact, most people here nod their heads when some knuckle-dragging Fred Flintstone type like Gerald Daugherty’s ROAD bumcaps rant about empty buses.

You want to see full buses? Go to the end of the route, Einstien!
Also, get your ass on Lamar or Burnet – don’t expect to see a ton of buses on Mopac or I-35; I’m fairly certain Capital Metro found it difficult to convince people to run across the on-ramps to get to the bus stops.

Same logic applies to bicyclists too, by the way. Local libertarialoon Jeff Ward rants that he sees no cyclists when he drives around town, and again, the suburban knuckle-draggers can’t wait to grunt their affirmation. Ask him where he drives, though; he’s almost certainly going from his far suburban home to the KLBJ studio at I-35 and US 183. Probably using freeways the whole way, too. If you want to see cyclists, drive down Shoal Creek or Speedway or Duval, you morons.

The Gas Tax Ain’t Regressive

Dave Fried talks about the supposedly regressive nature of gas taxes in response to Andrew Sullivan, and uses my blog to make a point about public transportation, but he’s barking up the wrong tree.

The supposed regressive nature of the gas tax is a fallacy – in fact, poor people spend far less proportionally on gasoline than do the upper-middle-class.

The gas tax isn’t purely progressive; though; the very rich actually spend less proportionally than do the upper-middle-class, due to their tendency to be either in the few healthy downtowns, or less need to drive overall.
Poor people as a rule simply DON’T drive as much as you middle-class people think. The people you think are poor who you see driving everywhere are actually the lower rungs of the middle-class; and they’re doing it in much more fuel-efficient vehicles than their upper-middle-class SUV-drivin’ non-neighbors. Even the poor people who own cars (and most do, around here) often leave them parked during the day. Drive around East Austin at 10:00 on a weekday and you see a lot of driveways with older Japanese cars parked in them (with a few 80s-vintage American cars which still get much better mileage than do SUVs). Now drive around Great Hills and see how many cars you see parked which aren’t for stay-at-home moms.

Poor people, in every metropolitan area with which I have a passing familiarity, are also concentrated in urban areas or the oldest (inner-ring) suburbs. (Don’t bother me with anectdotes about the rural poor; we’re talking macro scale here). Guess what that does to the number of miles they must drive?

Ride the bus sometime if you want to see real poor people. Trust me on this one.

The other problem with this analysis is that it ignores other sources of roadway funding, such as property and sales taxes, which in this state are a huge portion of revenues for roads (even state highways). Due to the fact that poor people here live in areas which still proportionately get taxed at a higher rate than due the exurbs, they’re ALREADY being taxed regressively. The gas tax evens it out a bit, in fact.

Some supporting articles:

The Folly Of Buses, Part XII

Yesterday, I dropped off the car I use on the days I drive to work (my wife’s ancient Honda Civic) so the squeaky brakes could be looked at. I figured I’d take the bus from work to the brake shop.

I work directly on the route of the 383 (Research Blvd) and the brake shop is pretty close to a 383 stop (10 minute walk). No problem, right?

Problem 1: This bus runs every half-hour. Not a big deal when I thought the brake shop was open until 6; but then I called and found out I had to be there by 5. This meant I had to hop on the 4:16 (actually a few minutes later, since that timepoint was for the Pavillion Park & Ride a mile up the road).

So I walk out of the office at 4:10 and walk along Research (US 183) looking for the stop. First problem: no stop until Braker – a ten minute walk. But no bus passes me, so we’re doing all right so far.

I get to the bus stop at about 4:20, which is about when I figure an on-time bus would arrive there anyways, given the 4:16 timepoint before. I wait.

4:25 comes and goes. A number 3 bus goes by. As it turns out, this would have been a good one to hop on (a longer walk at the other end plus a layover at this end of the route made me pick the 383 originally).

4:30 comes and goes.

4:35 comes and goes.

4:40 comes and goes. Another number 3 bus comes by. At this point, I’m out of options. I get on and request a transfer, anticipating that I won’t be able to get the car and I’ll just have to bus it all the way home (not that bad since at the shop, I could pick up the number 5 stops a block away from our house).

The bus gets to the layover point and waits for 5 minutes; then starts heading south again. I go by my old workplace and arrive at Anderon and Burnet at 5:00, ready for the (15 minute) walk to the brake shop, which was supposed to close at 5. Note for suburbanites: the number 3 never had fewer than 5 people on it, even at the end of the route where I got on; and people got on or off at about every quarter-mile, despite this being the far suburban section of the route (it continues all the way to downtown, getting much more crowded as it does).

I hoof it quickly to make it in 15 minutes. One guy is there holding the shop open for me. I apologize profusely and look like a big sweaty ass while doing so.

Anybody else think more investment in the bus system is better than building rail? I don’t know for sure what happened to the 383; but here are some possible reasons it didn’t show up through 4:40:

  1. Got stuck in traffic (local buses don’t have any priority over cars; even so-called rapid buses rarely do)
  2. Broke down (buses are much more likely to break down than trains)
  3. Operator unavailable (buses require substantially more human operators per passenger than do trains)

Unless you’re being served by a route a bit more frequent than the number 3 (and there are only a handful that are), the unreliability of buses makes them untenable for commuters who have any choice in the matter. (If a bus is arriving every 5-10 minutes, one being late or missing doesn’t kill you, but otherwise you’re in really bad shape).

This is what some people don’t get about light rail. Even if it was still slower than your car, a reliable form of public transportation would be much more attractive to people who have a choice than the current unreliable bus system or the future unreliable rapid bus line. I’m willing to spend 5 or 10 more minutes getting to work if I get to read a book on the way. I’m not willing to do so if half the time it ends up taking 30 minutes longer, and I never know whether today is one of the on-time days or not.

The next scheduled 383 would have arrived at Pavillion at 4:56 PM.

BRT: The R stands for unReliable

Today, I rode my bike to the bus stop at 38th and Medical Parkway to get on the “express bus” to northwest Austin (there’s a stop near my new office). This works pretty well most of the time. I don’t have a shower at work and am out of shape right now; so I take the easy trip in the morning and then bike home in the afternoon.

There’s a 983 bus every hour (most of the buses on this route run normal southbound and then switch to a different route northbound to pick up people in far suburbia; only a few buses ‘deadhead’ on the reverse-commute – but they are quite full; today’s bus had about 20 people on it).
The bus was supposed to arrive at 7:48. It arrived at 8:02. The interesting thing is that had this bus broken down (as they do constantly, unlike rail), the next one would have been at 8:48. Ever sat at a bus stop for an extra hour?

One of the greatest advantages of light rail over bus rapid transit (to which these express buses are very similar) is reliability. They simply don’t break down; and barring Houston-like idiot drivers, they don’t get into accidents. They don’t get stuck in traffic (90% of US so-called rapid bus installations end up without dedicated runningways, meaning that cars can use the bus lane and therefore the bus can still be stuck in gridlock). EVEN IF THEY’RE NOT A MINUTE FASTER, you won’t be stuck at 8:01 wondering if you’ll be waiting another hour or not.

Unfortunately, BRT is what Austin is going to get, thanks to a local pantload state legislator from a suburb that doesn’t even pay into the system. Why nobody is willing to stand up to this guy is beyond me; Austin itself voted something like 55-45 for light rail even with all of its half-baked problems at the time.

Mike Levy Hates Pedestrians

Mike Levy, publisher of Texas Monthly, is at it again. For those who haven’t yet had the pleasure, Mr. Levy’s favorite pastime is finding a local transportation issue (relating to downtown, most of the time) that irks him, and then firing off an angry email to about 100 people around the city (the people he considers movers and shakers). In said email, Mr. Levy’s usual tactic is to find a city staff person whose job it is to implement some policy with which he disagrees and ascribe all sorts of sinister motivations to that employee. Said employee is almost always just carrying out the express will of the City Council, with whom Mr. Levy somehow never picks a fight directly.

Today’s example is light synchronization downtown. Mr. Levy admires Houston’s system (in which supposedly all lights on one corridor turn green at the same time – which is a disaster for air pollution and for pedestrians, since the incentive of the driver is to hit the gas and go as fast as possible while he still has greens). Austin’s system is more properly described as sequencing, in which lights are staggered on a major corridor to encourage 25mph automobile travel (better for the air; better for safety of motorists and pedestrians).

Mr. Levy, of course, ascribes this instead to a supposed desire by Austen Librach to ruin downtown traffic so that light rail becomes more viable. (Hence the title of this entry – pick the most awful reason for doing something that your audience will ascribe to your designated villain, and stick it in his mouth no matter what he really says).
Levy’s audience will probably buy it, since most of the people on his list are knuckle-dragging I-can’t-imagine-anything-but-single-occupant-vehicle-travel pedestrians-are-Communist old-school Austin Republicans. But really. If somebody was trying to sabotage commutes to make light rail look better, wouldn’t they instead gum up Mopac and I-35, since at its worst, the downtown part of the typical suburbanite’s commute is 5 or 10 minutes of the hour – 90 minute total trip? And who, dare I ask, would be responsible for the current gumming up of I-35 and Mopac?

Yes, readers, it’s the suburban wankers (assisted by Cap Metro destroyer Mike Krusee who used his power at the state lege to force an early election) who narrowly voted down light rail in 2000. Or, maybe, it’s the guys in charge of TXDOT who built highways to serve real estate speculators rather than actual transportation needs.

Or maybe, just maybe, it’s Mike Levy, who, instead of using his awesome powers for good (getting downtownites to understand that nothing but rail can fix traffic there since we ain’t gonna knock down skyscrapers to add more lanes) has squandered them on evil. Yes, folks, it’s all because Mike Levy Hates Pedestrians.

Get Off Da Bus

It’s been rumored for a long time, but further more credible signs are afoot that Capitol Metro is abandoning plans for in-town light-rail transit in favor of a bus rapid transit system.

I could not be more alarmed at the incredible stupidity of the board and other leadership at that agency.

  1. They’re supplying commuter rail to areas which are primarily not Capital Metro taxpayers at the urging of the same state legislator who forced Capital Metro to call a rail election before they were ready, which they then lost by an incredibly small margin (winning in the city of Austin proper), primarily due to an insufficiently baked plan.
  2. For the majority of residents of the city of Austin, they’re now going to continue to provide transit which is not reliable (sure, the bus can change a traffic light ahead of it to green; but cannot move gridlocked cars out of its way) and very slow.

Of course, the disingenuous jackanapes who pushed the anti-rail campaign in 2000 will be silent about the fact that BRT takes even MORE street space from cars, and provides even LESS benefit for the money.

Capital Metro is signing its own death warrant. But as I predicted back before the 2000 election (Patrick Goetz: you still owe me a steak dinner), the state is the ultimate power here, and the state hates public transportation.

HOUSTON HAS LIGHT RAIL.

Truly, the apocalypse is nigh.