Red Line weekend debate, in pictures

WHEREAS most riders of existing Red Line service are likely not residents of the City of Austin and the majority likely don’t even reside in jurisdictions which pay Capital Metro taxes

and

WHEREAS the City of Austin already excessively subsidizes the existing Red Line operations, this as the overwhelming taxpayer to Capital Metro, contributing over 90% of Capital Metro’s revenue to allow the Red Line to be subsidized at a cost of nearly 34 dollars per ride

and

WHEREAS such funds as proposed to further subsidize the Red Line cannot possibly result in a positive economic outcome for the City of Austin given that weekend traffic on the highways is not substantial, and the city can only recover 1% of spending by visitors in the form of sales taxes

THEREFORE BE IT SUGGESTED that everybody reading this contact everyone you know and your city council members and advise AGAINST the City of Austin paying for expanded weekend service on the Red Line and saving the money, instead, for the city’s urban rail proposal – which, unlike the Red Line, will serve primarily Austinites and which desperately needs the money.
Here’s what I just sent.

Honorable mayor and council members:

Please reject efforts by some to use additional tax revenue from the city of Austin to subsidize service on Capital Metro’s Red Line. As a strong supporter of rail transit in general but also an Austin taxpayer, surgeon I don’t want to spend our scarce local transportation dollars on a service which primarily benefits non-Austin residents, thumb and definitely not at such a high cost.

The most recent operating subsidy information available from Capital Metro shows weekday service requiring an operating subsidy per ride of approximately 34 dollars. This is abominably high compared to good rail lines in other cities – and ten times the current bus subsidy across the system. But this subsidy, at least, is paid for by all Capital Metro members (including Leander residents, for instance). Not so the case with this new proposal.

Even if we exceed weekday numbers by perhaps double, my own quick estimates show we would likely be spending around 20 city tax dollars per rider to bring them downtown and take them back – and a reasonable expectation is that they might spend 40 or 50 dollars while here – meaning the city is asking taxpayers to spend 20 bucks to return 40 or 50 cents to the tax coffers (and this is assuming they wouldn’t have driven and paid to park were the Red Line not an option).

This money needs to be saved for the city’s own urban rail plans.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
UTC 2000-2005
mike@dahmus.org

Since sending this I realized I should also have included a point I made on the phone to KUT an hour or so ago: that during the week, you can make an argument for (some) subsidy by referring to scarce space on highways and roadways and in parking lots and garages. This is not the case on the weekend – plenty of space to get into downtown, and plenty of places to park, some of which even make the city additional revenue.

Here’s what I just sent.

Honorable mayor and council members:

Please reject efforts by some to use additional tax revenue from the city of Austin to subsidize service on Capital Metro’s Red Line. As a strong supporter of rail transit in general but also an Austin taxpayer, melanoma I don’t want to spend our scarce local transportation dollars on a service which primarily benefits non-Austin residents, about it and definitely not at such a high cost.

The most recent operating subsidy information available from Capital Metro shows weekday service requiring an operating subsidy per ride of approximately 34 dollars. This is abominably high compared to good rail lines in other cities – and ten times the current bus subsidy across the system. But this subsidy, ophthalmologist at least, is paid for by all Capital Metro members (including Leander residents, for instance). Not so the case with this new proposal.

Even if we exceed weekday numbers by perhaps double, my own quick estimates show we would likely be spending around 20 city tax dollars per rider to bring them downtown and take them back – and a reasonable expectation is that they might spend 40 or 50 dollars while here – meaning the city is asking taxpayers to spend 20 bucks to return 40 or 50 cents to the tax coffers (and this is assuming they wouldn’t have driven and paid to park were the Red Line not an option).

This money needs to be saved for the city’s own urban rail plans.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
UTC 2000-2005
mike@dahmus.org

Since sending this I realized I should also have included a point I made on the phone to KUT an hour or so ago: that during the week, you can make an argument for (some) subsidy by referring to scarce space on highways and roadways and in parking lots and garages. This is not the case on the weekend – plenty of space to get into downtown, and plenty of places to park, some of which even make the city additional revenue.

The city wants to spend this much:

per rider bringing people from OUTSIDE the

to come into town in the hopes that they’ll spend

of which the city gets back 1%, ampoule or this much:

Let’s repeat. Spend this much:

to get this much:

Here is how this all made me feel:

Write the City Council on Red Line weekend subsidy

WHEREAS most riders of existing Red Line service are likely not residents of the City of Austin and the majority likely don’t even reside in jurisdictions which pay Capital Metro taxes

and

WHEREAS the City of Austin already excessively subsidizes the existing Red Line operations, this as the overwhelming taxpayer to Capital Metro, contributing over 90% of Capital Metro’s revenue to allow the Red Line to be subsidized at a cost of nearly 34 dollars per ride

and

WHEREAS such funds as proposed to further subsidize the Red Line cannot possibly result in a positive economic outcome for the City of Austin given that weekend traffic on the highways is not substantial, and the city can only recover 1% of spending by visitors in the form of sales taxes

THEREFORE BE IT SUGGESTED that everybody reading this contact everyone you know and your city council members and advise AGAINST the City of Austin paying for expanded weekend service on the Red Line and saving the money, instead, for the city’s urban rail proposal – which, unlike the Red Line, will serve primarily Austinites and which desperately needs the money.
Here’s what I just sent.

Honorable mayor and council members:

Please reject efforts by some to use additional tax revenue from the city of Austin to subsidize service on Capital Metro’s Red Line. As a strong supporter of rail transit in general but also an Austin taxpayer, surgeon I don’t want to spend our scarce local transportation dollars on a service which primarily benefits non-Austin residents, thumb and definitely not at such a high cost.

The most recent operating subsidy information available from Capital Metro shows weekday service requiring an operating subsidy per ride of approximately 34 dollars. This is abominably high compared to good rail lines in other cities – and ten times the current bus subsidy across the system. But this subsidy, at least, is paid for by all Capital Metro members (including Leander residents, for instance). Not so the case with this new proposal.

Even if we exceed weekday numbers by perhaps double, my own quick estimates show we would likely be spending around 20 city tax dollars per rider to bring them downtown and take them back – and a reasonable expectation is that they might spend 40 or 50 dollars while here – meaning the city is asking taxpayers to spend 20 bucks to return 40 or 50 cents to the tax coffers (and this is assuming they wouldn’t have driven and paid to park were the Red Line not an option).

This money needs to be saved for the city’s own urban rail plans.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
UTC 2000-2005
mike@dahmus.org

Since sending this I realized I should also have included a point I made on the phone to KUT an hour or so ago: that during the week, you can make an argument for (some) subsidy by referring to scarce space on highways and roadways and in parking lots and garages. This is not the case on the weekend – plenty of space to get into downtown, and plenty of places to park, some of which even make the city additional revenue.

Quick note on the city’s proposal to subsidize Red Line weekend service

In today’s Letters, syphilis valeologist allowed to be published uncritically and without challenge:

Bicycle lanes are dangerous on Austin roads for both drivers and bikers. Burleson Road is a classic example of where the car lanes were narrowed to accommodate bikers. Bikers should have to purchase an annual permit that has toll tag technology.

Since they pay no gas tax, this site medstore this fee should pay for their road use. These tags should be able to be read by police to identify if their tag is current, and they could also identify the bikers, should they be involved in an accident.

Anne Clark

Lockhart

My response on the way to them via various intertubes:

Anne Clark, in her letter on 10/27/2011, is woefully misinformed. Most roads in our area, even most major arterials, receive no funding from the gasoline tax, as the state prohibits its portion of the gas tax from being used outside the state highway system, and most federal gas taxes are similarly directed only to roads with a route shield on them. In fact, since some local (general) funds are also used for state and federal highways, it is likely cyclists who are subsidizing motorists in Austin, not the other way around.

Regards,

Mike Dahmus

City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005

Things are going crazy at my day jorb. So this might be all I get to post. This is a comment I just left on the Statesman article:

Almost nobody inside the city limits of Austin has a reason to use this thing on the weekends – because the stations with parking primarly serve those outside city limits, sale and the stations without parking aren’t pedestrian-friendly (and buses that might connect to them don’t run much on the weekends).

Combine this with the fact that we’d be giving up the $5-$10 the person from the non-Austin jurisdiction would otherwise pay to park their car downtown and this is a truly STUPID move for the city of Austin to even contemplate.

This is something the cities of Leander and Cedar Park and Round Rock and Pfluygerville should be subsidizing, illness not Austin.

Update from a few months later:

Who is riding the Red Line?

and

How much are we subsidizing passengers on the Red Line?

Rapid [sic] Bus Fact Check: Will It Improve Frequency?

So it turns out I’m so busy now I can’t even keep up on twitter most days – but this deserved a momentary break.

People, salve and by that I mean Capital Metro and their cheerleaders, assured us that the Red Line would be “as good as light rail” once it ran all day. Instead, we have one or two ‘full’ trips per day and a lot of empty ones. And the full trips are misleading – express bus competitors were cancelled, a ton of free passes were given out, and a peak trip was dropped (IIRC), concentrating slightly more people on slightly fewer trains.

Well, anyways, it’s running all day now – and yet is achieving 1700 boardings per day compared to the 25-30K mediocre light rail lines that run all day are pulling (and that the 2000 light rail route would easily have pulled).

It’s time to ask again: WHY? Why are the tens of thousands of people within walking distance of the 2000 route who Capital Metro assured us would ride shuttlebuses not riding?

Well, wonder no more.

Alon Levy of Pedestrian Observations forwarded me this study with this short summary (summary from him):

@mdahmus tl;dr version: commuters don’t mind transfers at the outer end, but hate transfers in the CBD.

So there you have it. Too bad Capital Metro and cheerleaders not only didn’t listen in 2004, but still won’t listen – not even today. Yes, even now, I’m having to fight this battle in the comments section of their very own blog.

So, in summary, it’s important to remember: lots of people don’t mind taking a bus from their house to the train station, but almost everybody minds taking a bus from the train station to their office. Never forget.

Background, mostly from yours truly over the years:

 

 
Please excuse the quick and multiple likely edits. Trying to squeeze this in just a few minutes.

The PR guys at Capital Metro have surfaced again – trying to convince us that MetroRapid is a real improvement for Central Austin (you know, cure where light rail should have gone). One of the claims gaining traction lately (in addition to the disproved claim that it will provide measurable speed and reliability benefits – please excuse link to old site but I have not yet imported the last 6 months of posts here) is that frequency in the core will improve dramatically.

Pure and simple: This is bullshit.

Current service on the #1 bus during the day is every 12 minutes (once you leave the core, disease very generously defined as the North Lamar Transit Center to the South Lamar Transit Center, symptoms it splits into 2 routes, each one of which runs every 24 minutes).

Full #1 schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=001

 

Here’s a snippet:

Note that the #1 runs every 12 minutes here. This continues all day until 2:45 PM, when it switches to every 13 minutes (due to worse traffic in the PM); only reducing frequency below that after 7:15 or so – gradually to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes.

Now what about the #101, you know, the bus route that the Rapid [sic] Bus is actually replacing?

Full schedule here: http://www.capmetro.org/riding/schedules.asp?f1=101

Here’s a snippet:

A little tricker since only some of the trips go all the way to the South Congress TC, but it does run at 15 minute frequency basically all day long.

What does this mean? It means that in an average hour, if you are on the #1 corridor anywhere in Central Austin, you will see 5 #1 buses and 4 #101 buses go by. For instance, this is what you would see southbound between 7:00 and 8:00 AM at The Triangle, where you can pick up either bus:

From Capital Metro’s interactive data:

101: 07:04am 07:24am 07:29am 07:44am

1L: 07:10am 07:34am 07:58am

1M: 07:22am 07:46am

Or, arranged in order:

 

Now here’s what frequency might look like with Rapid [sic] Bus if we run the 801 every 10 minutes and eliminate, let’s say, half of the #1 trips (Capital Metro is saying all #101 and some #1 trips will be eliminated):

 

Does anybody here think 8 is more than 9? Or, if you don’t like which 1L/1M trips I proposed for elimination, make your own choice – keep the first and third 1L and lose the second one; and keep the opposite 1Ms, and you still end up with 9. Oops.

Even if you kept all the #1 trips (i.e. did NOT take Capital Metro at their word that they plan on reducing #1 service), and you end up with 11 trips versus 9 – hardly a major improvement in frequency.

 

Now, will the service improve frequency for users of the #3? Yes, a little bit, but this is not the primary corridor being advertised – nor is it where most of the current travel demand exists.

So, on this fact check, Capital Metro fails. MetroRapid will NOT dramatically increase frequency in the urban core.

PS: This is the kind of analysis you should expect out of the Alliance for Public Transportation – who purports to be an independent voice for public transportation in our region but are really nothing but uncritical cheerleading lap-dogs for Capital Metro. I have the guts but not the time; they have the time but apparently not the guts. If you want more of this kind of stuff, ask THEM why they’re not doing their jobs, OK?

 

 

If “not going far enough” was the only problem…

I wouldn’t be campaigning against this thing.
This entry is good for people seeking back-story; the linked articles form a “best of” collection from this blog explaining various supporting arguments for the Pro-Transit But No vote on Capital Metro this time around.

Today kicks off with another Chronicle mention in which they say:

Opponents like Mike Dahmus, a member of the city Urban Transportation Commission, say the current commuter rail plan does not go far enough.

The real problem here, as I’ve covered again and again and again, is that this line (unlike light rail) will require shuttle-buses for all commuters every single day and will thus fail miserably at attracting passengers from the suburban (non-bus-riding) population. Since this line, unlike light rail in 2000, doesn’t run anywhere near the areas of central Austin where transit enjoys high use and overwhelming popularity, it can’t make up the difference with progressives either.

Simply not going “far enough” could be fixed with some hard work. But this plan not only goes the wrong way, it precludes light rail from being built to “fix” it. Additionally, it’s SO INCREDIBLY CRAPPY that it’s going to “show” pretty conclusively that Austinites “don’t want rail”. Which, I think, is what Mike Krusee and Fred Gilliam had in mind the whole time….

If I win, what do we do

Phil Hallmark from the austin-bikes email list asked for a clear description of what my “next referendum” would look like, since I’m asking people to vote no on this one. A good point; while I’ve made some recommendations scattered through this blog, I haven’t ever written it down in one place.

My referendum would be, legally, the same language as this one (since ballot language just says “operation of a rail system”) but the notice of election would state that the starter line would be a light rail line running from Leander to downtown Austin (sound similar?). I don’t know if it’s even legal to state “running past UT and the Capitol”, but I’d give it a whirl.

The difference is that the routing would follow the 2000 election’s route. I would drop South Congress completely from the long-range plan; the starter line would use the existing rail right-of-way from the northwest; entering Lamar Blvd at its intersection with Airport Blvd (as in 2000); switching to Guadalupe; running by the Triangle, Central Park, West Campus. It would run next to UT on Guadalupe.

The line would transition to Congress Ave. around 11th; then run down Congress to 4th St., terminating there (for the time being). The long-range plan would continue that line west to Seaholm and then south on the UP right-of-way into south Austin (this solves the South Congress opposition in 2000). (Is there enough space for the train to turn on/off Congress at 4th? I think so; but I’m not sure).

The long-range plan would also include spurs to Mueller and Bergstrom. But as wth commuter rail, you only vote on the starter line.

Isn’t this a small change? Well, my position on the 2000 election is that you could put the EXACT SAME PACKAGE up for a vote again, and there’d be a 60% chance of passage (with Dubya voters energized in 2000, it lost by less than 1%). With the South Congress change made to avoid opposition from that sector, I’d estimate an 80% chance of success with my plan.

Shouldn’t Capital Metro have tried something like this? Any one of a few changes could have brought the 2000 light rail line over the top, after all (another option is avoiding Crestview/Wooten). Well, as I’ve said, they weren’t motivated by the voters, but by one particular state legislator.

If this sounds good to you, you’d better vote against commuter rail; because light rail on this corridor is effectively precluded by the implementation of commuter rail.

Another opinion

In the spirit of “get something posted today with a minimum amount of time”, I also present an email from a friend of mine who works in the business (transit) who commented a while back to me on Capital Metro’s plan. Note that he’s more sanguine about streetcars than am I; he also mentioned in a follow-on that streetcars on both 4th and Congress wouldn’t necessitate a transfer in all cases, since there are models out there that could easily navigate that turn.

Here’s his note to me (this was a couple of months ago):

Hey M1EK,
Good stuff about the Cap Metro plan. I agree with you: it’s flawed.
The transfer penalty for choice riders is significant regardless of the type
of transfer – if it’s not a one-seat transit ride to work, it’s usually not
going to compete, in the mind of the choice rider, with driving to work.
Some folks will tolerate having to transfer between trains (which is how
commuter rail generally works), but much fewer will tolerate transferring
from a bus to a train to get to work. For example, the park and ride bus
that used to run from north Houston to the Texas Medical Center was
truncated when the rail line opened, and people who used to ride the bus all
the way to the TMC are now forced to transfer to the train in downtown.
Needless to say, ridership on that route has fallen.
As you correctly note, almost nobody will tolerate a rail-to-bus transfer to
get to work.
About eight or so years ago, when TxDOT was doing the Major Investment Study
on the Katy Freeway (I-10 west), they looked at using the existing MKT
railroad right-of-way running parallel to the freeway as a possible commuter
rail corridor. It would have been a quick and smooth trip into the central
city, but there was no way to distribute the passengers to major activity
centers such as downtown or the Texas Medical Center once they got there
(because Bob Lanier the highway lobby whore was still mayor, the Main Street
rail line wasn’t even on the drawing board at the time). Passengers would
have been forced to get off the train at the Amtrak station just northwest
of downtown Houston and continue their journeys by bus. Even if the bus trip
from the train station into downtown was relatively short, you can imagine
what the ridership models looked like when the transfer penalty was factored
in. The commuter rail idea was dropped and the MKT right-of-way was used to
expand the freeway itself instead.
What kind of ridership predictions is Cap Metro making for this system?
The streetcar idea intrigued me. This plan might work if a downtown
streetcar network were implemented to distribute passengers. People might
not transfer from trains to shuttle buses, but they’ll transfer from trains
to streetcars. Such is the nature of mode preference.

The real danger

I’ve been busy at work and playing landlord, so I haven’t had time to write any new material, but I will share a response I just wrote to Fred Meredith on the austin-bikes list. Fred’s among the people who wants good mass transit in this area, but believes that voting yes on commuter rail is the best way to do it.

Fred Meredith wrote:

I will vote for this plan for the following basic reasons.
1.) We need a “first step” project in order to have any further advancement in mass transit through consideration of rail or other option to the single-occupant motor vehicle that increasingly gridlocks Austin. It may not be the best beginning, but it would be a beginning rather than a mandate to keep all rail plans off the horizon and just throw money at more lanes of concrete in a misguided attempt to overcome congestion. Once a first step is taken, I feel it is more likely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue. I think it is a foot-in-the-door situation.

I don’t know how many more times I can take this argument without assuming that I’ve become invisible or inaudible (fat chance, huh?), but I’ll try to remain calm once more.

The danger here is that a starter line that is bad ENOUGH will completely destroy the momentum among the public (that actually WANTS rail right now by at least a slim margin, in Austin itself). This is what happened in South Florida with a system which is identical in every way that matters to the one proposed by Capital Metro. (Their demographics are a bit more liberal than ours, if you include the entire Capital Metro service area, but still far more conservative than Seattle or Portland).

Aspects of Tri-Rail’s service which are important:

  1. It doesn’t go anywhere people actually want to go, but relies on high-frequency circulators (shuttle buses) to take people to their final destinations.
  2. What happened was that people who were potential new transit customers stayed away, in droves, when they heard about the shuttle-bus transfer. (This transfer makes the entire trip noncompetitive with the private automobile – i.e. not even close).
  3. Hundreds of millions have been spent and are being spent to double-track the corridor, but now after 15 years of no real penetration among new transit customers, the people in charge are finally talking about moving or adding service to a far better rail corridor which actually goes through the major downtowns. (This is in their new long-range plans – meaning next decade or two).
  4. In the meantime, nothing else could be done (in terms of transit) for 15 years, and for at least another 10-15.
  5. Transit-oriented development has been pursued vigorously along Tri-Rail’s corridor for at least ten years now with no results whatsoever (no construction; only some plans, most of which died on the vine).

Compare (and contrast if you can) to Austin. Here’s the danger:

  1. We’re exactly the same as Tri-Rail. Unless you think drivers in Leander are in love with transfers to shuttle buses. I don’t.
  2. Capital Metro comes back to the voter in 2008 with plans to “expand” (either build the next commuter line down Mopac; build a streetcar system downtown; or if you don’t believe me that commuter rail precludes light rail, even rail down Lamar/Guadalupe).
  3. The voters, who were told in no uncertain terms back in 2004 that they should evaluate the line’s actual performance before voting on extensions/expansions, see that basically the commuter rail line is handling the old express bus riders (Capital Metro closed down the 183-corridor express buses in 2007 as commuter rail came online).
  4. The voters come to the (understandable) conclusion that “we tried rail, and it didn’t work; so we’re not going to spend any more money on it”.

So no, the position that “Once a first step is taken, I feel it is more likely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue. I think it is a foot-in-the-door situation” is not an accurate representation of what we face. It’s more like “once a first step is taken on rail, it is very unlikely that better plans can be brought to bear on the issue unless the first step is a success in the minds of the voters. It is an out-on-a-limb situation”.

How you’ll use commuter rail

Or won’t, if like most people you don’t like shuttle buses.

At the last panel at which I spoke (LBJ school), Scott Polikov claimed that the commuter rail line DOES stop within walking distance of most of downtown. I’ve cut and pasted the image off the flier for showing the downtown station for commuter rail. Notice the labels on the shuttle buses on the right. From front: CAPITOL, DOWNTOWN, UT

This also marks the first post to this blog where I’ve included a picture. Man, I’m slipping.