The current brou-ha-ha with Lyndon reminded me to go check if anything’s up with Tri-Rail in South Florida. As I’ve previously written, they’re the best example out there of the kind of rail line Capital Metro is going to build here in Austin, in that
- they don’t run trains very often
- most destinations require a shuttle bus ride
- they chose to run on a cheap existing track rather than building lines closer to those destinations (like light rail systems usually do)
Well, in the process I found an updated version of an old article I think I already used, but I hadn’t noticed one important paragraph before. The context is that they’re finally talking seriously about moving to the FEC corridor – which is where the service should have been built all along, since it allows passengers to walk to a non-trivial number of office and retail destinations. We’re even worse off here, though, since building this commuter rail line basically prevents us from building anything like the 2000 starter line. Here’s the quote:
Without a FEC/TRI-Rail alliance, McCarty sees the need for continued subsidy because of the “inherent fear of feeder bus reliability.” The buses “are often late,” she explained.
Since Tri-Rail trains only run about every half-hour during the commute peak and less often the rest of the day (like Austin’s commuter rail trains will), missing your train on the way home from work is a big deal. The “feeder” buses they’re talking about are the same kind of shuttle buses we’re going to be stuck with here in Austin, if you work downtown, at the Capitol, or at UT. And guess what? They’re going to be unreliable too – they’ll be stuck in the same traffic as your car.
Even if streetcars are used for the “high-frequency circulators” which will take you from your office to the train station, the same problem exists – since streetcars won’t have their own lane and won’t be given green lights over cross traffic. The chance that light rail will come out of the Future Connections Study is zero, since commuter rail precludes it from being built in the 2000 alignment, which is the only one good enough to merit Federal funding.
So just like in South Florida, people will experience a couple of missed trains and then, if they have any other options, will stop riding. Nobody wants to sit around for even a half-hour waiting for the next train home. And if all you’re doing is catering to riders who don’t have a choice, you might as well just dump the money into more buses.