Very disappointing to read this hagiography of AURA, which has diverged from its original principles and become nothing but a platform for vainglorious semi-employed dishonest people to seek public spotlight so they can get seats on commissions that end up producing no tangible movement towards urbanist goals.
They started out as a “cut the BS” transit advocacy group and have pivoted towards credulous support of Capital Metro initiatives that cut local bus service on our most productive transit corridors and support future plans that eliminate the rest (supporting suburbanism over urbanism; not coincidentally due to the fact that the AURA president lives at the end of one of these ‘rapid’ bus lines). They now fully buy into a line from Capital Metro that transit ridership has dropped due to poor land use despite the facts on the ground being entirely the opposite (transit service was slashed on the corridors with the most supportive land use). More on that here: https://restoreourlocals.wordpress.com/2015/05/14/how-urbanists-talk-about-transit/
Please don’t buy into this rewriting of history. AURA is nothing more than a vanity group led mostly by people working (if you can call it that) in the public sector. This is not the urbanism Austin needs.
That interest in return on investment opens the chamber up to critics who drubbed the 2014 light rail proposal as a suboptimal choice of projects. Its huge price tag and relatively low ridership projections – due in part to a route that bypassed some of the city’s densest neighborhoods – could have drastically cut into the Capital Metropolitan Transportation Agency’s operating budget, which could in turn have hurt the agency’s bus service, those critics argued.
“I don’t think I would characterize the 2014 bond proposal as a bad plan or a bad investment,” Cantú said in the chamber’s defense. “It might not have been the perfect plan. And I think a lot of people and groups in Austin are looking for perfection, and perfection is the enemy of good enough.”
He either doesn’t know the concept “worse than nothing” or knows it and doesn’t care. Ignorant or dishonest. You pick.
If the Chamber’s ‘new approach’ that identifies sprawl as bad does not include radical honesty about how bad the 2014 light rail plan was (instead extolling I-35 ‘improvements’ and more state highway ‘investment’), then they have learned nothing; we are all dumber for having listened to them. I award them no points; and may god have mercy on their souls.
I don’t like long circular arguments. I like looking for short-circuits to avoid them. So my response to Dan Keshet’s blog post (which doesn’t allow comments, grrr) is this post.
I served on the UTC from 2000-2005 and dealt with the cab companies in the policy arena many times. It was by far the least attractive part of serving the city. The cab company leadership were, pure and simple, jerks. When ADAPT came in to our meetings and behaved abominably, at least they had a good motive behind it and some justification for their frustration. The cab company representatives (sometimes up to and including their owners) were simply exploitative and entitled jackasses.
Uber is also horrible. They have bullied journalists. They have engaged in tactics that might be as bad as what the cab companies did back in my day. Lyft is a lot better.
But fundamentally speaking, I want to know whether cab companies are any better today (did the threat of competition make them improve their attitude?), because the choice in the election in May is between rules written by the cab companies and rules written by a working group that both cabs and uber/lyft participated in. So let’s look at how that went down. Here’s how the citizen representative on that working group described it (click on picture to expand):
That makes it simple for me – short-circuit the endless debate: we get to choose between rules written by the cab companies and rules written by a group that actually tried to compromise, and in that group the cab companies were by far the worst actors. So the threat of competition didn’t make cab companies try to behave better; it made them behave even worse.
So I’m voting in favor of Proposition 1 and urge you to do the same.
I don’t post very much, as the state of urbanist and transit advocacy in Austin has depressed it out of me, but as a reminder, I’m still alive, if barely, and you can get a lot of updates on facebook in #atxfreedomurbanists or on twitter.
Two important facebook comments in a thread fighting against a member of the establishment I thought it worth copying here and cleaning up before I go. Blockquotes (italics in most themes) are my words; things in quotes are the guy I was responding to).
I have my honesty and my integrity, which are worth a lot. It means that in the future, when I say something, people don’t have to think “does he really mean that?”. Or “is he exaggerating for the benefit of somebody or something else and doesn’t really know what he’s talking about?”
And the second (most of it):
“At least you have ideological purity in snaky Facebook posts, that is even better than a seat at the table for sure.”
Playing along with the bad guys is what the Alliance for Public Transportation did. They got nothing out of it. I fought them. I won. I beat a bad project which would have made things worse. And the people who were dishonest and disingenuous in service of Proposition 1 have to live with that. People should take what they say in the future with many grains of salt, as they were willing to be dishonest in the service of power. I’m not.
Show me why it’s worth my while to change. Show me an example of somebody like me who played along and was able to change the power structure instead of getting subsumed by it (or just having nothing good happen). Then I might listen, if the example is good enough and compelling enough. Until then, you’re wasting your time and everyone else’s.
“but no one in a position of power or authority gives a rats ass about what you say, because of how you present your opinion and maintain your relationships. ”
is a personal attack, by the way, and it’s also dishonest. The people who say substantively the same things but in a nicer way also get nowhere. The people who modify their message enough to get heard in this political environment are modifying it to the point where it is no longer substantively *true*. IE, the A4PT may have gotten listened to, but they did by basically lying to the public and to themselves. What good did that do anybody?
And of course remember again that the A4PT got listened to by lying to the public and to themselves, and then LOST. Don’t forget. Never forget.
A month or two ago I pruned a few folks from my friends list1 on another platform. The reason? They’re friends with this guy.
This blog and this author will never forget what that guy did to Austin and our transit system. He single-handedly destroyed Austin’s chance at a sustainable transit system with his craven, evil, actions; has never apologized; never admitted fault; and has been welcomed into the new urbanist community despite all that.
That’s a big part of the reason why I don’t trust the Congress for the New Urbanism and those associated with it, and neither should you. One thing you can count on from this blog and this author is honesty. And honestly, if your judgement is so bad or your sense of morality and ethics so warped that you think you should remain friends with that guy without calling him to account2 , you’re no friend of the blog or this author.
exception given for those in the media or government who must stay in touch with those they need to cover, and also for a guy who added me after this cull and whose request I accepted without remembering to check the connection; I’ll make my mind up on him later ↩
no, I don’t want to hear your bullshit argument about how you need to keep lines of communication open. If you don’t draw a line with a guy like this, you literally have no lines ↩
Now it’s here, and again, everybody is surprised and dismayed.
The dismay is obvious. But why the surprise?
Honestly? It’s due, in major part, to the fact that one particular employee of Capital Metro has spent years convincing decision-makers and media-members that the author of this blog is a troll who has no idea what he’s talking about. Yes, I know this for a fact.
The last major exchange that Capital Metro employee and I had is still burned into my mind. It was on the same topic as the blog link featured further down this page, but I have yet to be able to get a twitter search tool to bring up the thread. Basically, I spent a couple of hours while on a layover in the DFW airport a couple of years ago making the fact-based case in that blog post below (about the #9 being cancelled without its planned replacement) in tweet form, calmly and rationally, only to be repeatedly told by that Capital Metro employee that I was wrong; and at the end, to be cut off again and labelled a troll. After that, I lost a considerable amount of access I previously had to some members of the media, city council and staff, and other decision-makers and thought leaders. I observed some activity myself where said Capital Metro employee was undermining yours truly with media members, and heard much more from others.
Today, that same Capital Metro employee was given an attaboy by somebody who I respect for supposedly dealing with constructive criticism well. This doesn’t make me feel happy about that person I respect, and it doesn’t make me happy about trusting the organization he leads. I hope this is just a momentary mistake.
Here’s the post which begins by showing how the Capital Metro employee in question really deals with constructive criticism, and my fact-based rebuttal to his dismissive aside to a third-party. Click the big words right after this.
I’ve been told by the leaders of the organization I mentioned above that I’m wrong for attacking said Capital Metro employee, even after that employee lied repeatedly during the Project Connect process. I’ve let leaders of the organization I mentioned above know that the Capital Metro employee in question made some clumsy threats against another supporter of said organization which were not consistent with the image of that Capital Metro employee that they continue to firmly grasp to. After all this, I find myself wondering what it takes to make those people angry. I know I’ve done so, by taking issue with their strategy and tactics both privately and publically, but apparently actually lying in order to steal political capital to support a hare-brained, mendacious, underhanded political process is just A-OK, as long as they see you a lot and you smile and shake their hand while stabbing them in the back. You’ll still be their chum, and still get lionized for your ability to handle constructive criticism.
Again, I hope I’m wrong. But like them, I’m reading some tea leaves.
My work situation is going to prevent me from making much effort on this today so please assume I endorse this product and/or service 100%.
No, and the Riley fig leaf last night changes nothing – it does not commit to a fair evaluation of the Lamar/Guadalupe ROUTE against whatever is shat out for Highlandmall or Highlandmueller; and it does not force a real answer about the FTA’s opinion about moving Rapid Bus in 2020 or 2022 or whenever (instead of John Langmore’s claims that made it pretty clear he implied to them he wanted an opinion on cancelling it today, bronchi in 2013). Its only tangible effect would be an attempt to delay opposition until it’s too late.
I’m continuing to urge all transit advocates to vote AGAINST the bond referendum in 2014.
if you parse Langmore’s comments it makes me think he was asking them about cancelling the project now (rather than moving the middle third in 8 years); and Project Connect staff were vocal and public at the beginning of the process that Lamar/Guadalupe was on the table and that we should not act as if rapid bus precluded urban rail there.
They either lied then or they’re lying now. Personally, apoplexy I believe they lied then in order to try to get more buy-in for this process (I myself believed Rapid Bus effectively precluded urban rail and was convinced to believe it might not by those staff members); but it could be now, too; the mixed messages last night about the FTA maybe considering Rapid Bus ‘permanent’ versus what the City Council eventually threw in as a fig leaf is just one obvious indicator.
The fact that the guy who ran the Rapid Bus project at Capital Metro came up and spoke in favor of Lamar and said he doesn’t buy the FTA argument should tell you something.
Lie #1 during Phase 1 of Project Connect was the justification of the collapsing of the West Campus and UT “subcorridors” (zones) into the Core subcorridor/zone “so we could ensure they would both be served by any initial alignment”.
Now, the final alignment through campus has been decided. Let’s see what we got. Click on most of these to make them bigger.
From Project Connect’s presentation to the CCAG on Friday February 21st:
Huh. Look at that. Not only do we not even see West Campus, but we can’t even see the western half OF campus. What a shock!
But it’s probably just a misleading image, right? There’s no way Project Connect would have told everybody they were going to serve West Campus and then not do so – West Campus must be just right underneath the words on the left, right?
Let’s see how far away a couple points on San Jacinto are from a location two blocks west of Guadalupe, using Google Earth. (The center of density in West Campus is not on Guadalupe – the best height entitlements are actually several blocks to the west. A ‘population center’ of West Campus in a few years will likely be 3 or 4 blocks west of Guadalupe; so me using 2 blocks is being generous to Project Connect).
Remember that the rule of thumb in transit planning for years has been that most people will not regularly walk more than a quarter of a mile from their home to their transit stop (or from their transit stop to their office). A few will do more, but the quarter-mile rule ensures you will get most of your possible transit market. Some people lately have tried to assert that good rail transit can do the same thing with a half-mile walking radius; in my opinion, this works in some cities where parking is quite difficult, but primarily on the home end of the trip, not the office end.
First, from 21st and San Jacinto to two blocks west of Guadalupe on 21st:
0.6 miles. The main density of West Campus is definitely not served by San Jacinto even by the most generous standard. Guadalupe itself is 0.48 miles away; served only barely by the most generous standard. In other words, the side of campus with the most activity is well outside the commonly accepted walking radius and just barely inside the most generous one.
Now let’s try 24th.
0.58 miles to where West Campus’ density starts. West Campus is not served at all by a stop here, either.
Finally, Dean Keeton and San Jacinto:
Nope. 0.54 miles to the start of West Campus’ density. To the start. Still outside even the most generous reading of “served”.
Project Connect, the claim of yours made back in November is still a lie.
On days like this where I have no time it’s so nice that others have picked up the slack. I’m just going to republish their comments to Langmore’s disingenuous and mendacious letter to the Chronicle. It is just horrible that a guy like Langmore, tadalafil a rail consultant responsible for many horrible projects that have set back transit for years due to low ridership and huge operating subsidies, read more has this kind of soapbox and power.
First, from Chris Lazaro:
One of my biggest problems with Mr. Langmore’s letter is not that he misinterpreted our call to consider Lamar/Guadalupe as a call to pull the plug on MetroRapid (which is not true, by the way). Rather, my biggest issue here is this data that he and others are so quick to trust, despite warnings from trustworthy professionals in the transportation field that the data is both flawed and incomplete.
I can tell you that, as a transportation planner myself, garbage in absolutely equals garbage out–and that is precisely what is happening here. Frankly, some of the metrics used by the Project Connect team to evaluate the transit sub-corridors is laughable and, at the least, should not have been given nearly as much weight as they were. The team can pretend that they altered weights and still identified Highland as the #2 route, but when some of the appropriate datasets are ignored altogether, how can we trust that we have been given the complete picture?
And, beside all of that, Langmore and other Council members have spent all this time defending the Highland sub-corridor that East Riverside (a corridor that we all agree makes sense) is quickly falling by the wayside. It is becoming evident that the Mayor wanted Highland to move into the Phase 2 study, regardless of what else was going on.
At the very least, Langmore, Leffingwell, and the rest of City Council needs to come clean about their intentions for Austin’s next transit investment. If it is to serve the interests of ACC and the Seton Medical Center, then they need to admit that. Hiding behind threats of lost funding and lost support from the FTA will not suffice.
Last, but not least, cities across this country sell Bus Rapid Transit to its residents as an interim solution until rail is affordable along a particular corridor. In other words, cities invest in BRT because they believe it is viable for fixed rail (streetcar, light rail, etc.) and that the system can later be upgraded. If Austin instead wants to argue that its pseudo-BRT system actually precludes future rail investment, then we MUST stop using this upgradability as a selling feature. Period.
It’s time that Langmore, the Mayor, the rest of Council and the Project Connect team be honest about what is happening.
Second, from Cory Brown:
t’s not the least bit unreasonable to question the institutional support of organizations that brought us MetroRail, and its expensive rider subsidies.
It’s also not unreasonable to question the claims of Mr. Langmore, who has chosen to publicly ignore the truth. The next person Mr. Langmore can name as suggesting we “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens” will be the first.
If Mr. Langmore & CapMetro can’t be truthful regarding advocates who merely disagree with one facet of their proposal, how can we trust them when it comes to operational costs & ridership estimates?
Third, from Niran Babaloa:
John Langmore’s willingness to misrepresent the arguments of the folks he disagrees with is insulting. Who said we should “pull the plug on a $48 million investment the month before it opens”? The message he has heard from the citizens who disagree with him is clear: do not build a rail line to Highland before putting rail on Lamar. Either start with a line on Lamar and move MetroRapid when the rail line opens a decade from now, or start with East Riverside so Lamar can come second.
As an exercise for the reader, how often do you find yourself needing to head to places on Guadalupe and Lamar? How often for Red River? If you’re like most of the Austinites that are forced to waste their time stuck in traffic on the Drag each day, it’s clear that there are tons of people who want to go places along the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor. We should put rail there.
The question before us is timing. Ideally, we’d start with Lamar, which has the jobs and housing that make it the highest transit ridership already. A good plan B would be starting with East Riverside, where ridership is high, and the zoning allows for enough density for the ridership to be even higher. Highland, however, doesn’t have the density of people or jobs to make for a blockbuster first line, which endangers our chances of building a second and a third.
The biggest issue with Highland is that there is no way voters will approve rail down Lamar once there’s a line to Highland. A second line through Hyde Park before the rest of the city has seen any rail won’t seem fair to most people, and I don’t blame them. Rail to Highland means rail on our best transit corridor won’t happen until the middle of the century. If the places that people want to go can only be reached by buses stuck in traffic, people will stay in their cars, traffic will stay terrible, and we won’t become a city where it’s normal to take transit for decades.
This is the future that the citizens who have been paying attention are trying to avoid. We’re not trying to “pull the plug” on MetroRapid. We’re trying to avoid making the mistake of allowing the backbone of our transit system to remain slow for decades. Join us, and tell city council that if they put a rail line to Highland on the ballot, you’ll vote against it.
Having seen somebody very recently and very approvingly point to this somewhat credulous piece on the Austin Post as “a breakdown” of MetroRapid, page and having one of my rare crackplog opportunities (i.e. on a plane), I’ll try to make this brief and use a couple of simple examples.
First, remember: Unlike with MetroRapid on Burnet and S Lamar, MetroRapid on Lamar/Guadalupe/SouthCongress is replacing an existing limited-stop service which already runs with decently high frequencies. In other words, we live in a world where the 101 already exists. The change is not, as it is on the 3 corridor, giving up shorter walks in return for higher frequencies and higher speeds; as you will see below, you’re giving up shorter walks AND higher frequencies for no actual improvement in speed.
today’s example: a really good looking guy who happens to live near 42nd and avenue b
Example 1: Let’s call this guy “Precisely Mike Dahmus”, because he’s exactly me. Imagine I worked downtown at 6th and Congress instead of in the evil soul-sucking wasteland across from Westlake High.
If I were to walk from 42nd and Avenue B (near my house) to Guadalupe to take the 1, or 101, today, I’d have choices like this at 8:00 in the morning:
Notice that the 101 isn’t much faster than the 1, overall, because it takes 4 minutes longer to walk to 39th and Guadalupe (where the MetroRapid stop is currently under construction and where the 101 stops today) than it does to walk to 41st and Guadalupe (a 1L/1M stop, but not a 101 or MR stop). The bus is 6 minutes faster downtown if you only consider time on the bus (I used 6th/Congress for this comparison).
What’s the change when MetroRapid is added? Well, half of the 1L/1M trips at 41st/Guadalupe go away; and half of the 1L/1M trips at 39th/Guadalupe also go away (obviously). The MetroRapid route runs every ten minutes during peak times, which sounds good, but remember that the last time I explored this, I showed that the combination of 1 and 101 actually runs more often today than the future combination of 1 and MR will run. I was going to do a pretty picture here with some more screen grabs, but the internet on the plane is not cooperating well with the wordpress composition screen, so I’ll just have to spell it out:
Today, in peak hours, the stop at 41st and Guadalupe gets 5 or 6 1L’s or 1M’s every hour (varies depending on which 60 minute window you choose). The stop at 39th and Guadalupe gets the same 5 or 6 1L/1M buses and 3 or 4 101s. (The example in the link above had 5 1s and 4 101s for a total of 9 buses). Note that at this stop, today, your rational action if you care most about getting to your destination as soon as possible is to get on the first 1 or 101 that shows up because the time savings of 4 minutes (101 being 4 minutes faster than the 1) is less than or equal to the expected wait time for the next bus to arrive (whether or not it will be a 101!). Yes, even if the 101 is faster!
Of course, at 41st and Guadalupe, you’re going to get on the first 1L or 1M you see.
Now, fast-forward to when MetroRapid opens. Capital Metro has said the 101 is gone, replaced with 6 MetroRapids per hour (one every ten minutes). Either the 1L or the 1M is slated to be eliminated, so the 5 or 6 buses per hour changes to 2 or 3. At 41st/Guadalupe, your calculus is now quite different – whereas before you never had longer than 10-12 minutes to wait for the next 1, you may now have 20-25 minutes to wait; and it may make sense to walk down to 39th to pick up the MetroRapid. But this is not an improvement for old Mike! Unlike many of the people on the Burnet/SLamar corridor, he currently has a choice between the 1 and the 101 which is roughly the same – now he’s forced to walk further to the replacement to the 101 because somebody took away half the 1s. The new trip is no faster than his 101 option is today.
Don’t believe me? Look at 39th/Guadalupe in the new order. You’ve got 2-3 1s, same performance characteristics as today; and you’ve got 6 MetroRapids, same performance characteristics as today’s 101 (by Capital Metro’s own admission!):
At 39th/Guadalupe, you gave up between 9 and 11 trips per hour, which had similar overall expected time-to-destination (combination of existing 1 and 101); and you got between 8 and 9 trips per hour (2-3 1s that remain; 6 MetroRapids). And again, I don’t know how often I can emphasize this before people get it, the faster MetroRapid trips aren’t any faster than the 101s that run today.
What about truly frequent service?
One of the ways to think about this is that the time you really spend on transit is a combination of walk+expected wait+travel time, and that transit can only be truly useful when it’s frequent enough that you don’t have to look at a schedule, as Capital Metro has claimed will be the case with MetroRapid (even though, as you can see above, there are problems with this claim).
Jarrett Walker at Human Transit (somebody please remind me to link this later when I have a better connection) has said that when dealing with frequent service, as both the before and after are by Austin’s standards, you should consider the “wait” to just be “half of the headway”, i.e., if you walk out at random to the bus stop, you’re going to wait, on average, half of the scheduled time between buses. Let’s put that to the test.
Today, the Mike example above has the following choices:
1. Go to 41st/Guadalupe (4 minute walk).
2. Wait for bus (half headway rule says there are 5-6 buses per hour for a headway of 11 minutes; half headway is 5.5 minutes).
3. Travel on bus (19 minutes).
The total expected time for “show up and go”, which, again, is how we’re supposed to judge truly frequent service, is 28.5 minutes. Not bad compared to a car drive of 10 minutes, trying to find parking for 5 minutes, and a likely longer walk from parking than from the bus stop!
Mike’s choices at 39th/Guadalupe, if he chooses to take the longer walk to get a chance to ride the 101, are a walk of 8 minutes; a half-headway wait of 3 minutes (9-11 buses per hour); travel time of 13 minutes on the bus for a total expected time of 24 minutes. Note, actually a little faster, in the “show and go” method, compared to staying at 41st/Guadalupe! If you can hack the extra walk, this is the way to go (and this meshes with why MetroRapid is an improvement on Burnet and S Lamar, where no existing express service exists!)
Now, using same methodology for the future; “show and go” at 41st/Guadalupe changes to 2-3 buses per hour, so we get a total expected time of: 4 minutes for the walk, 12.5 minutes for the wait (headway now 20-30 minutes); and the same 19 minutes bus time, adding up to 35.5 minutes. Not a credible alternative to the car any more.
What about going down to 39th/Guadalupe? Same as two paragraphs back except half-headway changes to 3.5 minutes (8.5 trips per hour; half headway). Total expected time is now: 24.5 minutes.
But wait, you say; I’ve used the MetroRapid travel time even though I’m using half-headways that count the 1L and 1M. Yes, yes I am; if we’re doing show-and-go, that’s the way we have to do it (because as we discussed before, once a bus shows up and I’ve already waited N minutes, the rational decision is to get on it whether it’s a local or a limited – because the wait till the next one is actually longer than the expected travel time savings). Is this unfair? Yes, it’s unfair, but unfair mainly in Capital Metro’s favor, since in the equations above I’m assuming all of the buses travel as fast as the current 101!. The image below breaks it out a bit further to explain what happens in the various scenarios. “Best” means you showed up at 39th/Guadalupe and the next bus was a 101; “Worst” means it was a 1.
Hmm. A little difficult to pick out. Let’s sort from best to worst and re-display.
So even with the investment of tens of millions of dollars into MetroRapid, the hypothetical in reality exactly real me gets zero benefit from the project, even in “show and go mode”.
I’ll be back with more use cases later.
When somebody says “it’s faster”, it should probably actually be faster. In no way can you reasonably describe MetroRapid on this, by far most important, stretch of corridor as “faster”. MetroRapid may gain a few minutes if you come from the South Transit Center into downtown, which a few people actually do; and even more if you go from South Transit Center to North Transit Center, which nobody actually does, but for the key stretch (you know, the one where rail is an issue being discussed right now), MetroRapid is not any faster, at all, in any way, shape, or form.
When somebody says “it’s more frequent” (as almost everybody has), it should probably actually be more frequent. This isn’t as egregious a falsehood as the speed one, but it’s still incredibly disingenuous. Yes, MetroRapid is running a little more often than the existing 101 whose speed and reliability it will be unable to beat, but Capital Metro intends to pay for this by cutting local buses along the same route which are often a better choice for passengers. Overall frequency, counting all reasonable options, is not going up; it is going DOWN.
Go click-crazy on these pics, medical man.
This still apparently gets some people the wrong way. Please read it all the way through. Vomited out quickly because I really don’t have time to blog, mind but I have even less time to say this 140 characters at a time.
Despite appearances from this blog, page in real life I’m an introvert – fairly shy. Especially don’t like being in situations where I have to talk a lot to people I don’t know.
In 2000, I got on the Urban Transportation Commission and enjoyed the collegial relationship with a bunch of people who were like-minded to varying degrees, access to interesting subjects and speakers, the whole shebang. Still look back with fondness. In 2004, I became the public face of the “pro-rail but anti-Red-Line” campaign because nobody else would. This was a huge stretch for me – I’m not a politician; I don’t like to gladhand; and I’m petrified about giving speeches (not as much now, but definitely then).
It was just that important, though; nobody else would do it, so I had to. I gave speeches next to that asshat Jim Skaggs and said “if we build the Red Line, we can’t have good light rail”. I opposed the Red Line so vociferously and publically that, as expected, I got the boot from the UTC shortly after the election, and many people I used to talk to wouldn’t talk to me any more after that.
Of course, every prediction I made during that campaign turned out to be true – ridership was underwhelming; operating subsidies continue to be unmanageably huge.
Ever since then, I’ve struggled with people who don’t get why this was important. Why not just start with the Red Line and go from there, they say. Why not just expand the Red Line into something that works better?
This is insulting, people. Let me explain why.
1. I’m a smart guy.
2. I know transit really well.
3. I did something very uncomfortable for me for a long time and burned down a lot of stuff I liked to do because nobody else would say anything.
Do you folks honestly think I would have done that if I thought there was even a 1% chance we could get from “The Red Line exists” to “40,000 happy rail passengers a day at a sustainable operating subsidy of, say, 5 dollars per ride”? This was not and is not a simple difference of opinion. This was not me being a pessimist. I have lots of differences of opinion. I’m pessimistic and optimistic about lots of things. I wouldn’t go to all that trouble and burn down something I liked if I was only 99% sure the Red Line was going to be a disaster. Or 99.9%.
What most of the remaining optimists don’t understand is that there is quite literally NO way out of this mess that doesn’t require tearing up the Red Line unless you don’t care at all about how much money we spend on capital, operations, or both(*). Even the long-range plan the city and Cap Metro recently shat out admits this – getting up to something like 25,000 rail passengers in the year 2045 by, finally, ripping up part of the Red Line and replacing it with urban rail (of course, if we wait until 2045 to do this, it’ll be long too late for our city’s health, but still).
Even the city and Cap Metro get this. There’s no way to get “there” (40,000 happy rail passengers at a reasonable operating subsidy) from “here” (pretending the Red Line isn’t a huge disaster at operating subsidies of $25/ride for customers who mostly don’t even pay Capital Metro taxes). Again, the long-term plan of record right now is to build a bad urban rail line to Mueller, getting something shy of 10,000 riders/day; and then eventually building a second urban rail line that, once I’m retired or dead, will finally go up to about US 183 (pushing the DMU service out to the suburbs where it belonged all along). Again, this happens in 2045. At the end of all this, in 2045, we’ve spent five times as much money to get back to where we could be if we tore up the Red Line and built the 2000 route, and might get almost as many passengers, at a higher operating cost.
This isn’t a simple difference of opinion. For you to believe that there’s a way out of this mess now that doesn’t involve replacing the Red Line, you have to believe that I’m an idiot.
I’m not an idiot, people. We really are fucked.
Hope this helps.
(* – and if you don’t care how much money your plan costs, you are an idiot, or at best, painfully naive. No matter how much you stomp your feet and talk about how much we spend on highways, we still live in Texas and the United States, not New York or Western Europe – so costs matter a hell of a lot).
First assumption: JMVC (Capital Metro PR guy) knows that when people talk about the suburbs vs. the city, site we’re talking mostly about the Red Line. This is reasonable because the operating subsidies on the Red Line are gargantuan compared to bus service; and the Red Line thus consumes a hugely disproportionate share of Capital Metro’s operating and capital budgets. Although the video to which he links tries to muddy the issue by showing bus routes all over Austin as if they’re somehow as costly (and as attractive) as rail service, stuff we know better, don’t we?
So, let’s just talk about rail for right now, then.
Let’s consult the archives:
First, in Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part One?, I showed that the overwhelming majority of Red Line passengers are boarding at the three park and rides on the northern end of the line; NOT from the stations most people would think of as “in Austin”.
In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Two?, I showed that it was expected that most riders at the Lakeline and Howard stations would not be from the City of Austin due to simple geography (i.e. of the people for whom it would make sense to drive a reasonable distance in the correct direction to the station, the overwhelming majority would be outside the Capital Metro service area and the city of Austin).
In Who Is Riding The Red Line, Part Three?, a rider from up north verified that most passengers getting on board at the Lakeline Station (within Austin city limits, but just barely) are actually from Cedar Park, and pay zero Capital Metro taxes when in their home jurisdictions (no, the one or two lunches a week they might do in Austin don’t amount to a hill of beans).
Conclusion? As usual, please don’t mistake JMVC’s paid spin for a responsible, reasonable, take on reality. In fact, the suburbs receive transit service far in excess of what would be fair given their contributions in tax dollars (remember, most of the areas served by the Red Line are attracting riders who pay ZERO Capital Metro taxes from their home jurisdictions). The suburbs that receive 0 transit service are getting their due; many of the northern suburbs that are getting non-zero service pay zero in taxes and are thus getting far more than their due; and a cursory examination of Leander would show that they’re getting back service worth more than what they pay in, so they’re getting off well too, even though unlike the rest of our suburban friends, they’re not complete freeloaders.