Project Connect’s “response”

In the last several weeks, approved many people, recipe most notably Central Austin CDC, have pointed out a series of errors in the “Map Book” presented as data in various public meetings by Project Connect. I myself found and commented on several at a public meeting downtown, which seemed designed to make the Mueller route look far more attractive than the facts would merit.

But the most egregious ‘error’, by far, though, was apparently discovered a day or so ago by Jace Deloney and then confirmed by the CACDC. It has to do with the “here’s how many people currently board the bus at various locations” map, which is a key baseline for anticipated rail ridership (which is, quite frankly, the most important map of all).

First, let’s see the Project Connect version.

Project Connect Map Book version of 'bus ridership 2011', courtesy Jace Deloney
Project Connect Map Book version of ‘bus ridership 2011’, courtesy Jace Deloney

If you were a novice to civic affairs trying to make up your mind, or a city staffer or council member who doesn’t ride the bus and trusts the information they’re receiving, this map makes it look like bus ridership in the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor is of roughly the same magnitude as currently exists in the corridors heading out to Mueller. But if you read this blog, or spend time on the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, you would tend to think that can’t possibly be right, could it?

Well, it’s not. They left out the ridership from the #1L, the #1M, and the #101; three little routes that between them comprise the most heavily used lines in the entire Capital Metro system at 17,000 boardings/day. 8.5 times the boardings achieved by the Red Line, by the way. Oops.

Here’s a more accurate depiction of ridership, courtesy of Jeff Wood in a blog post last year:

Jeff Wood's visualization of bus ridership in the core (also density), courtesy Jace Deloney
Jeff Wood’s visualization of bus ridership in the core (also density), courtesy Jace Deloney

With an error this egregious, one might expect an IMMEDIATE response like “this is unacceptable. We’re going to pull the maps and do them all over again.” If, that is, you cared about giving the correct data to support an actual data-driven decision-making process, and it had been an actual error; rather than, oh, I don’t know, a willful continuation of past transparent attempts to mislead people into thinking Lamar/Guadalupe isn’t worlds ahead of Mueller in terms of existing and potential ridership.

 

 

The only actual response from people at Project Connect, so far, at the time this post was written 24 hours later, has been this one response in two tweets immediately after being confronted for the second time yesterday:

Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 12.36.05 PM

Friend-of-the-blog JMVC was asked on twitter and just said he’d look into it. 24 hours later, and nothing’s been heard from either party.

Yes, you heard right. It’s just a minor issue of the 2011 ridership being “less complete”. Yes, leaving out the top line(s) in the city on this map, but somehow leaving in the lesser ones, was just a minor blip.

Jennifer-Lawrence-ok-thumbs-up

 

If you want to do something about this – tell your city council member that you see what’s going on, and you don’t approve of the wool being pulled over your eyes by people who are supposed to be giving us the data to make an educated decision about what to pursue. Or sign yesterday’s petition. Or both. I’m going to SeaWorld.

 

Update – let me frame this more clearly: Either:

1. This is a ‘mistake’ and the people at Project Connect and Capital Metro think it of so little importance that they view it as just ‘incomplete data’, which calls into question their judgement, their commitment to the process, and, frankly, their intelligence; OR

2. This is not a ‘mistake’ but a ‘plausible deniability’ kind of scenario, and the fix is in (as I’ve thought with some of the other map issues I’ve brought up with them).

Note that others’ feedback about the map issues he’s had have received zero information back (not even confirmation) over the past few weeks from Connect Central Texas. Zero. This, in what’s supposed to be a transparent, open, public, data-driven, process. So it’s not just mean old M1EK with his crazy crackpot ways getting this treatment. Bear that in mind.
Doing this quickly at the car dealer to get it out. Thus, page this is going to be a lot of screencaps ‘n’ paste action and poorly formatted. You are forewarned.

First, some background, via cheap and dirty screencaps of some twitter conversations; click to embiggen:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.55.28 AM

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.55.48 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.09 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.21 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.45 AM

 

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.56.55 AM

Notice how many people immediately saw the problem with this map (as soon as they looked).

Then, Project Connect finally issues an initial response; more than 24 hours later. Note that these four are in reverse order (oldest at the bottom).

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 7.58.17 AM

Realizing right about now I should have done this in storify, but pressing onward. The first point to see here is that Project Connect is more than happy to send out updates on everything via twitter where everybody can see, but they don’t seem happy to engage with people giving feedback on that mechanism. While I understand at this point whomever’s behind the account (JMVC used to be, don’t know if he is now) is feeling a bit set upon, the fact of the matter is that if you ask for more feedback via email you’re not being transparent. People need to see both the question AND the answer for it to qualify as transparency and as Austin CDC noted earlier, previous feedback via email had been ignored.

Over the weekend and early the next week, the incredibly busy people at Project Connect who were treating this issue with the seriousness it deserved spent all their time fixing the data. Or did they?

No, they didn’t. They presented at, with the previous map book:

  1. University Area Partners
  2. Planning Commission
  3. Barton Hills NA
  4. Oak Hill Parkway Open House
  5. Mueller Neighborhood Association (link may require registration there)

About halfway through this schedule they noted:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.07.37 AM

Here’s what that release said:

It was brought to the attention of the Project Connect Central Corridor team that there was a potential
issue with the Central Corridor Map Book. The team reviewed versions 1 through 4, confirmed an error
and has made the necessary corrections.
After further review of the Bus Ridership Map featured on page 36 of Map Book version 4, we
discovered that the map had been populated using the wrong data field (bus stop rankings instead of
stop boardings). The source data set posted to ProjectConnect.com was not incorrect or incomplete, but
the map in the Central Corridor Map Book displayed the wrong data field.
The project team will publish version 5 of the Map Book online in the Central Corridor Resources, on
Wednesday Oct. 23, 2013. It will include the corrected map with fall 2011 Ridership Data as well as a
new map with spring 2013 Ridership Data. Both data sets are populated using boardings (or “ons”) at
each stop; data by route is not specified on the map.
The Central Corridor Map Book is a working document that is subject to frequent updates. We
appreciate interested community members taking a vested interest in the project and providing
feedback. The Central Corridor team reviews every comment, critique and compliment received by
members of the public, regional leaders and interested parties as part of our inclusive, deliberative
process. The Project Connect Twitter and Facebook accounts continue to be great resources for
community input but if your feedback exceeds 140 characters, please email info@projectconnect.com

The map was indeed released on Wednesday, five days after initial feedback was given. Many many people were misinformed by the previous map during that period; many more people missed the opportunity to be correctly informed by the actual data during that period; and Project Connect thinks this is no big deal.

Do you think it’s a big deal? Here’s the original map:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.10.24 AM

 

If you saw this map, your likely reaction (if you took it for the truth) might be: “Why are those Guadalupe/Lamar guys asking for rail when there’s so much existing transit demand out towards Mueller?”

Here’s the corrected map:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.12.11 AM

If you were a resident of Mueller and saw this map, you might even be honest and say “we don’t deserve rail over the obvious high-demand corridor here”. If you were on the Planning Commission, you’d definitely say so. But Project Connect robbed you of the opportunity to form that opinion with correct data.

Was it a simple accident? Well, it’s conceivable. But is that any better?

Let me make an analogy for you.

Suppose you’re a college student back in the day when we turned in physical papers instead of via email. You got an assignment to write a 500 word paper on why the Federal Transit Administration views existing bus ridership as the most key metric in determining the viability of rail service.

You write your paper. You print it out, and hand it in.

The professor returns it a day later with an F, indicating that you didn’t write enough words.

“I did,” you insist; “I remember writing for hours!”

The professor shows you the paper you turned in. It looks like this:

Screen shot 2013-10-24 at 8.15.57 AM

 

Your initial response is “that looks like my term paper, but I’ll look into it!”.

You take five days to look into it.

You finally come back to the professor and say “It looks like I only handed in the third page of my paper by accident. Here’s the next iteration of the paper” and hand the full 3 pages in.

Any professor worth their salt is going to say “Did this look like 500 words when you handed it to me? Did you even check? If this is how seriously you take my class, I’m going to explore whether I can issue a grade lower than F”.

Project Connect, if they cared at all about the data that’s theoretically informing opinions in this process, would never have let the old map go out. It was SO OBVIOUSLY WRONG that it was immediately spotted by everybody who knows anything about transit in Austin as soon as they looked at it. It’s the equivalent, for instance, of putting out a road map with Cedar Park labelled as Austin and vice-versa. There’s only two reasons this would have gone out that way – and again, the most positive one to PC is that they don’t care that peoples’ data is crap, because they don’t care about the opinions generated by those data, because they don’t intend to actually take those opinions into account.

Yeah, that’s the BETTER interpretation. The worse is that, like many other modifications to maps many of us have found, they’re messing with the data on purpose to try to get the public to actually support a lesser rail route.

Obviously I’m not among those who have, either as a political calculation, or otherwise, just politely thanked Project Connect for their corrections on this matter. As I noted above, this is not nearly enough. What would it have taken to get me not to open up on these guys?

1. An immediate and strongly worded apology last Friday for the obviously wrong map. There is no way that anybody who knows anything about transit in Austin would look at that map and say “looks fine to us!”, but that’s what they did.

2. A loud and large public relations campaign with the corrected map – show everybody who you misinformed with the old map the new map and explain the error and what it signified, instead of burying it in a PDF press release issued only from your web site. Remember, for instance, lots of people at the Mueller NA now actually think they have more bus riders going there than up Guadalupe! And they’re talking to their friends about it as we speak.

3. An immediate and serious commitment to handle all future issues of this type in a truly transparent fashion – for starters, show Austin CDC’s questions and provide answers in PUBLIC. Don’t let them go down the e-mail hole. If you feel like you can use twitter to advertise your meetings and maps, then reasonable people expect you to answer issues about them in the same forum in a timely fashion – indicating that you’d prefer such feedback via email is not acceptable.

My car’s almost done, so this is going to have to be it for now. Suffice to say these guys have not learned their lesson at ALL, and thus have not earned my trust, and they should not have earned yours either. Continue to take every thing these guys do with a hefty dose of skepticism.

 

 

 

 

Project Connect and Capital Metro need to answer some serious questions, right now

is very low.

I keep having to drag up this old Chronicle article so much I finally thought I’d better link to it AND excerpt the relevant parts in case it ever disappears down the memory hole.

February 25, check 2000 in the Chronicle:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, gynecologist serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The key here is that from about 1997-1999, Capital Metro’s plan of record was to take the entire Red Line (what we use now for commuter rail), build two new tracks, put up electric wire, and run light rail trains on it all day long at high frequencies.

The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today, and hinted to Capital Metro that they would not fund that line. Capital Metro quickly switched to what became the 2000 light rail proposal – the “Red/Green” line, using the Red Line’s ROW only from Leander to Airport/Lamar, then going in the street from there.

You can use the 1997 proposal as, effectively, a ceiling for what can be accomplished with further investment in the Red Line we have today. Nothing has truly changed since then – Capital Metro anticipated infill then around the stations in the far northwest, and they anticipate it now, and it still turns out to be low-density crap if it ever gets built. No more jobs have moved to be close to the MLK station instead of at UT.

Folks, there isn’t that much more that can be accomplished with a train that doesn’t go very many places worth going. The real action is, as it always has been, around Congress Avenue downtown (not the Convention Center); at the University of Texas (preferably its front door on Guadalupe), and at the Capitol; and no, you aren’t going to convince suburbanites to transfer to a shuttle-bus(*) to get to those places (as we’ve finally, I hope, proven by now).

lowceiling

This is why further investment in the Red Line is best characterized as wasting money trying to disprove the sunk cost fallacy. There’s very little new ridership there, even if the train gets a little faster, or runs a few more hours on the weekend.

* – no, urban rail doesn’t help either. Suburbanites own cars. Two train trips in our commuting environment, even if the second one goes closer to where they want to go, is fundamentally uncompetitive. Believe me, or not, but remember: I’m the guy who predicted the Year 1 ridership correctly, and called that nobody would want to ride shuttlebuses when everybody else said they would.

NAILED IT!
Top is ideal, generic bottom is as inevitably implemented; and how it will be on the Drag in Austin

Don’t bother clicking to embiggen. I had to make that in five seconds with PowerPoint.

Original for lower picture from StreetsBlog; I forget where I got the upper.
Yes, patient I know I never got to “the formula”. Things went to hell at work. But I can’t pass on the chance to pass along this link. Relevant quote first:

The takeaway here is that it’s better for transit to be reactionary – that is, cardiology serving travel demand that already exists – than it is for it to be anticipatory – that is, this web serving travel demand that may theoretically exist in the future.

Relevance to Austin is that the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor has travel demand that already exists today; AND an equal or greater amount of travel demand that may theoretically exist in the future than Mueller. Despite this, certain elements at the city and Capital Metro are, as we speak, stacking the deck in favor of a supposedly data-driven decision for Mueller over Lamar/Guadalupe (the latest effort to do so involves eliminating “West Campus” as a separate subcorridor and instead lumping it in with “Core”, which basically allows a Mueller route to pretend to serve West Campus by touching somewhere in the (now very very large) “Core” box – as if somebody living a few blocks west of Guadalupe would ever walk all the way to San Jacinto just to ride a train two miles or so back to downtown – the trip would be quicker if they just walked straight there). But I digress.

Full story here: Make Your Light Rail Look Like LA’s
This has come up frequently in the past in regards to the idiocy of claiming that major retail belongs out on the frontage road (where I have claimed in the past that it’s impossible to practically provide good transit service). Here’s a much better version than my previous one, pilule and as a bonus, remedy MS Paint was still tangentially involved!

(For non-Texas readers who may have wandered in from Jeff’s excellent transit portal, hospital almost all limited-access highways in this state are built from pre-existing major arterial roadways – where property access is maintained via the construction of new “frontage roads” which unlike perimeter roads often used for that purpose in other states, also serve as on-and-off-ramps. The incredibly wide road footprint that results makes it far more expensive to build new or maintain existing crossings over or under the highway).

Both images from google transit; click through for full details. This is basically the “how do I get from the drop-off for the express bus at the park-and-ride on the west side of the road to the entrance to all the office parks on the east side of the road”. Note that the address for the park-and-ride you sometimes get (12400 Research) doesn’t match the actual location, which is on Pavilion Boulevard back towards Jollyville.

First, the transit directions, which look pretty good at first:


Then, the driving directions, which look like this:


Huh. Wait a minute. If I can just jump across the road, why do the driving directions have me go down a mile and back? Let’s look at the satellite image:


(Get more current satellite view here)

Oh. Now I see. Note that the bus stop images you see on the other side of the road are for a poorly performing cross-town route which suffers from the same basic problem – if you need to leave an office on that side of the street and go southbound on 183 back home, you get to walk to the next crossing – which on a normal street wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but crossings of frontage roads are few and far between. Farther to the northwest, crossings are even less frequent – you face a walk of close to 3 miles in spots to make this trip across the freeway. Taking that cross-town route would be even worse than taking the express plus the incredibly long walk, because it would require a long slow trip down the frontage road and then a transfer to a second bus, and because the service on the frontage road is inevitably low-demand, it doesn’t run very often either.

Keep in mind that this is just to cross the freeway. If you work at the Riata office park, you then face another walk of a half-mile or so inside the complex. I used to do this commute on my bike, with bus boost in the morning at times and am very familiar with the area – ironically, proximity to the Pavilion transit center was supposedly touted as a positive for this development when it was originally proposed. I was always pretty sure Pavilion used to connect with what is now called Riata Trace Parkway when 183 was just a six-lane divided arterial but have never been able to find a clear enough old satellite image to confirm, but our Tennessee correspondent has already confirmed in comments that it did cross.

For reference, my last job before this one was also on US 183, but between Balcones Woods and Braker Lane, which was much more accessible by transit – and yes, I did sometimes take the bus even on days where I wasn’t biking. I tried the bus commute once to Riata and never did it again – that walk, in addition to being far too long even for a nice comfortable express bus, is just dreadful, even compared to conditions down by Braker.

And, yes, there’s a personal reason this is coming up now too. All I can say now is dammit, dammit.
Folks, store the deck is being stacked against rail on Lamar/Guadalupe – as I alliuded to yesterday – the data-driven process is being co-opted by the people who want and need it to go to Mueller for political reasons. leading to a set of ridiculous assertions in the map book, and then a set of ridiculous changes TO the map book when the map book wasn’t ridiculous enough the first time.

The only thing that you can do right now to help right this is to sign this petition. Please do so as soon as possible. Stay tuned for further actions.
So I spent about three hours around lunch yesterday for a 1.75 hour meeting moderated by AURA where we could ask questions of Project Connect staff. One of my questions was following up Lyndon Henry by complaining that the size of the subcorridors (or in Lyndon’s better term, discount “sectors”) was ludicrous and pushing us away from a more sensible decision-making process.

At one point later on, pulmonologist a very good pal of mine who is working on the program answered John Lawler (UT student government)’s question about why that decision was made to suddenly include UT and West Campus with the Core with a blistering diatribe about how inappropriate and offensive it was to be so cynical about the motives behind said change, while occasionally looking right at yours truly. Message received, loud and clear. (Not just by me; others asked me if I thought you were speaking to John or to me when you went there).

Before I link to my brand new slide deck you just motivated me to write this morning, know this: Before this meeting, I only mentioned this change in an aside in a couple of places. I never talked to the University Area Partners or Mr. Lawler; they didn’t get their complaints from me. If anything, I may actually have heard about it from them, indirectly. I was like the tenth person in the scene to even notice the change.

But by incorrectly assuming that just because it was a complaint, it must have been only from me, or by trying to score points by making an attack about it by tying it to me, whom you presumed was held in low regard by the room, you just brought me into it. Congratulations, now I’m all-in.

If your (paid to do this) feelings were hurt by the implication that the motivation for the change might have been less than aboveboard, consider the converse: I took vacation time to spend my lunch hour only to get attacked by you (who, again, unlike me, is getting paid to do this).

Click the little expanders in the lower right to embiggen.

 

 

The last gif is animated in my version but not on slideshare. Imagine Colbert sarcastically clapping, or don’t.
Project Connect Map Book version of ‘bus ridership 2011’, page courtesy Jace Deloney
In the last several weeks, rx many people, cialis 40mg most notably Central Austin CDC, case have pointed out a series of errors in the “Map Book” presented as data in various public meetings by Project Connect. I myself found and commented on several at a public meeting downtown, which seemed designed to make the Mueller route look far more attractive than the facts would merit.

But the most egregious ‘error’, by far, though, was apparently discovered a day or so ago by Jace Deloney and then confirmed by the CACDC. It has to do with the “here’s how many people currently board the bus at various locations” map, which is a key baseline for anticipated rail ridership (which is, quite frankly, the most important map of all).

First, let’s see the Project Connect version.

Project Connect Map Book version of 'bus ridership 2011', courtesy Jace Deloney
Project Connect Map Book version of ‘bus ridership 2011’, courtesy Jace Deloney

If you were a novice to civic affairs trying to make up your mind, or a city staffer or council member who doesn’t ride the bus and trusts the information they’re receiving, this map makes it look like bus ridership in the Guadalupe/Lamar corridor is of roughly the same magnitude as currently exists in the corridors heading out to Mueller. But if you read this blog, or spend time on the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor, you would tend to think that can’t possibly be right, could it?

Well, it’s not. They left out the ridership from the #1L, the #1M, and the #101; three little routes that between them comprise the most heavily used lines in the entire Capital Metro system at 17,000 boardings/day. 8.5 times the boardings achieved by the Red Line, by the way. Oops.

Here’s a more accurate depiction of ridership, courtesy of Jeff Wood in a blog post last year:

Jeff Wood's visualization of bus ridership in the core (also density), courtesy Jace Deloney
Jeff Wood’s visualization of bus ridership in the core (also density), courtesy Jace Deloney

With an error this egregious, one might expect an IMMEDIATE response like “this is unacceptable. We’re going to pull the maps and do them all over again.” If, that is, you cared about giving the correct data to support an actual data-driven decision-making process, and it had been an actual error; rather than, oh, I don’t know, a willful continuation of past transparent attempts to mislead people into thinking Lamar/Guadalupe isn’t worlds ahead of Mueller in terms of existing and potential ridership.

 

 

The only actual response from people at Project Connect, so far, at the time this post was written 24 hours later, has been this one response in two tweets immediately after being confronted for the second time yesterday:

Screen shot 2013-10-18 at 12.36.05 PM

Friend-of-the-blog JMVC was asked on twitter and just said he’d look into it. 24 hours later, and nothing’s been heard from either party.

Yes, you heard right. It’s just a minor issue of the 2011 ridership being “less complete”. Yes, leaving out the top line(s) in the city on this map, but somehow leaving in the lesser ones, was just a minor blip.

Jennifer-Lawrence-ok-thumbs-up

 

If you want to do something about this – tell your city council member that you see what’s going on, and you don’t approve of the wool being pulled over your eyes by people who are supposed to be giving us the data to make an educated decision about what to pursue. Or sign yesterday’s petition. Or both. I’m going to SeaWorld.

 

Update – let me frame this more clearly: Either:

1. This is a ‘mistake’ and the people at Project Connect and Capital Metro think it of so little importance that they view it as just ‘incomplete data’, which calls into question their judgement, their commitment to the process, and, frankly, their intelligence; OR

2. This is not a ‘mistake’ but a ‘plausible deniability’ kind of scenario, and the fix is in (as I’ve thought with some of the other map issues I’ve brought up with them).

Note that others’ feedback about the map issues they’ve found has resulted in zero information back (not even confirmation) over the past few weeks from Connect Central Texas. Zero. This, in what’s supposed to be a transparent, open, public, data-driven, process. So it’s not just mean old M1EK with his crazy crackpot ways getting this treatment. Bear that in mind.

The ceiling for the Red Line

Later this week, physiotherapist stay tuned for a new formula which takes into account service quality (measured by miles per hour), traumatologist frequency, and, and this is the new part, end-user payment (fare).

Hint: MetroRapid’s going to cost $1.75 each way. Today’s #1 service costs $1 and today’s #101 service costs $1.50. Next year, the #1 will be cut in half and go up to $1.25; while MetroRapid will replace the #101, add frequency to the few stops it serves, and cost $1.75.
is very low.

I keep having to drag up this old Chronicle article so much I finally thought I’d better link to it AND excerpt the relevant parts in case it ever disappears down the memory hole.

February 25, illness 2000 in the Chronicle:

The prevailing wisdom has been that a project in Smart-Grown Austin, pharm serving major trip generators like UT and the Capitol complex, website like this supported by Cap Met’s ample sales tax revenue, would be a slam dunk for a “highly recommended” rating. (Conversely, the original Red Line, which had far lower ridership and — even though it was on existing rail right of way — only marginally lower projected costs, was headed, Cap Met insiders say, for a “not recommended” kiss-of-death rating, which is why the transit authority switched tracks at the 11th hour.)

The key here is that from about 1997-1999, Capital Metro’s plan of record was to take the entire Red Line (what we use now for commuter rail), build two new tracks, put up electric wire, and run light rail trains on it all day long at high frequencies.

The Federal government said the ridership would be low, negligibly higher than what we’re seeing today, and hinted to Capital Metro that they would not fund that line. Capital Metro quickly switched to what became the 2000 light rail proposal – the “Red/Green” line, using the Red Line’s ROW only from Leander to Airport/Lamar, then going in the street from there.

You can use the 1997 proposal as, effectively, a ceiling for what can be accomplished with further investment in the Red Line we have today. Nothing has truly changed since then – Capital Metro anticipated infill then around the stations in the far northwest, and they anticipate it now, and it still turns out to be low-density crap if it ever gets built. No more jobs have moved to be close to the MLK station instead of at UT.

Folks, there isn’t that much more that can be accomplished with a train that doesn’t go very many places worth going. The real action is, as it always has been, around Congress Avenue downtown (not the Convention Center); at the University of Texas (preferably its front door on Guadalupe), and at the Capitol; and no, you aren’t going to convince suburbanites to transfer to a shuttle-bus(*) to get to those places (as we’ve finally, I hope, proven by now).

lowceiling

This is why further investment in the Red Line is best characterized as wasting money trying to disprove the sunk cost fallacy. There’s very little new ridership there, even if the train gets a little faster, or runs a few more hours on the weekend.

* – no, urban rail doesn’t help either. Suburbanites own cars. Two train trips in our commuting environment, even if the second one goes closer to where they want to go, is fundamentally uncompetitive. Believe me, or not, but remember: I’m the guy who predicted the Year 1 ridership correctly, and called that nobody would want to ride shuttlebuses when everybody else said they would.

GAME-CHANGER Part One

(I still owe a response to Novacek’s very long comment on this post but have to decide if I want to spend the energy to format it into a table first. Dude, sick there’s a reason people have blogs of their own sometimes).

So Jace Deloney posted a couple of pics of what’s realistically one of the BEST MetroRapid ‘stations’ downtown. One example here:

MetroRapid, Lavaca near 3rd, taken and posted by Jace Deloney
MetroRapid, Lavaca near 3rd, taken and posted by Jace Deloney

Here’s a shot I snapped last week of a more typical one (obviously still under construction) – this is in front of Natural Grocer on northbound Guadalupe near 39th. Note the lack of room for a bike rack, and the intrusion into what’s already a very narrow sidewalk. I took this picture originally to counter a claim by a Capital Metro representative that all stations would have bike racks – which they’ve now dialed back to “unless there’s some nearby”.

MetroRapid 'station', NB Guadalupe near 39th

Compare to an existing southbound local bus stop pretty much right across the street:

Local bus stop, SB Guadalupe near 39th via Google StreetView

I don’t have pictures yet, but the northbound MetroRapid stops at UT are only a little better than what you saw at Natural Grocer. The stop at 23rd is just OK – along the lines of a good local stop – but the stop near Dean Keeton is a tiny alcove where the bike racks will block pedestrian traffic on the existing sidewalk if they get used. I will likely be urging the city to force Capital Metro to get rid of those racks as they present a safety hazard for pedestrians there; and for those of you who have known me a long time, for me to advocate against something bike-related is a big deal.

Now, just for comparison, a light rail station in Houston, in the median, of course, where it didn’t have to compete with existing sidewalk demands:

Houston MetroRail station near Hermann Park
Houston MetroRail station near Hermann Park

 

Now, if your argument is “this is going to be as good as rail for Central Austin”, you’ve got to compare to Houston’s MetroRail above, which is similar to what 2000’s light rail plan had planned for ‘stations’ – i.e. long boarding platforms in the median where they wouldn’t compete with existing sidewalk users.

If your argument is “this is going to be a signature bus service which blows through the constraints old bus service had and be ALMOST as good as rail for Central Austin”, then you have to explain the fact that the best MetroRapid stations aren’t much better than existing good local stops, and the worst are far worse. In fact, it looks like they accepted whatever scrap they could carve out of existing ROW.

But if this is too much for you, and you’re feeling kind of negative again, feel free ignore all the analysis above, plug your fingers in your ears, and chant “GAME CHANGER!”.

Game Changer graphic by Jon Henshaw
Game Changer graphic by Jon Henshaw

Note: Jace replied to me on twitter that I’m selling the new ‘stations’ short by not mentioning the arrival boards (the “next bus comes in X minutes” thing). That’s true; this particular post was referring more to the spatial aspects of the station. One thing that current bus service does not have in any way, shape, or form, is a way to know how long until the next bus gets there. This is not a selling point for MetroRapid, though, so much as it is an indictment of current bus service – because this has been technologically feasible for at least a decade. It will be nice that I can know when the next Rapid Bus will arrive, in other words, but there’s no reason I should have had to wait for Rapid Bus to get that information – I should be able to know right now when the next #1 or #101 arrives.

Some pretty pictures

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.

(Edit: I had a LOT of trouble with an interaction between the javascript in the wordpress composition page and the plane’s wifi; this is best viewed as a first draft or part one).

background

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:

 

8:00 in the morning; top two choices
8:00 in the morning; top two choices

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!):

From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro
From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro – click to embiggen

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.

42nd and B, "show and go"

 

Hmm. A little difficult to pick out. Let’s sort from best to worst and re-display.

42nd and B "show and go" - sorted

 

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.

KEY POINTS

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.

In response to yesterday’s post:

Classy guy on twitter

 

Some things I found in five seconds on the internet (I’m on vacation – got back from the beach a minute ago and am about to go to the grandparents’ old age home in 5):

From Capital Metro's page

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 1.40.19 PM

Also from Capital Metro

From the Austin Post

Screen Shot 2013-06-22 at 1.41.27 PM

From CapitalMetroBlog

 

But I know, guys, it’s all my fault for focusing too much on travel time, right?

MetroRapid on Lamar/Guadalupe: the REAL breakdown

Having seen somebody very recently and very approvingly point to this somewhat credulous piece on the Austin Post as “a breakdown” of MetroRapid, 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.

(Edit: I had a LOT of trouble with an interaction between the javascript in the wordpress composition page and the plane’s wifi; this is best viewed as a first draft or part one).

background

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:

8:00 in the morning; top two choices
8:00 in the morning; top two choices

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!):

From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro
From 2011 MetroRapid presentation by Capital Metro – click to embiggen

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.

42nd and B, "show and go"

Hmm. A little difficult to pick out. Let’s sort from best to worst and re-display.

42nd and B "show and go" - sorted

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.

KEY POINTS

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.

It’s time to talk about Rapid Bus again.

In response to this site and calls to support it. Some links added as I find them. The post to which I replied, erectile misbirth paraphrased, this site pilule is something like “We believe in urban density but not these boarding houses / dorm duplexes”. Don’t want to quote without permission, cheap but that was the gist.

My response was:

So I too believe in urban density, and these buildings stink. I’m eager to meet new converts to the cause! Having lived for years on E 35th next to a big duplex and across an alley from a small apartment complex, I can tell you that even with a wonderful, responsive, landlord; the apartments beat the duplex hands-down for being good neighbors.

In the past, both Hyde Park NA and NUNA fought VMU on Guadalupe and then retreated to a position of demanding no parking reductions when the first battle was ‘lost’ (which effectively prevents all but the most high-dollar developments from materializing). The neighborhood plans call for minimal increases in density (in NUNA, it would be impossible to even rebuild some of the older apartment complexes on Speedway, for instance). NUNA fought the Villas on Guadalupe. Apartments and renters are demonized on this list. On and on and on.

So, I’m assuming those against these ‘dorm-style duplexes’, which are catering to an unmet-for-decades demand for student housing close enough to ride bikes to UT are going to be in favor of increased MF development not only on the edges of our neighborhood but on good transit corridors such as Speedway and Duval, right? New morning and all?
So the PR machine is out in force trying to make Rapid Bus sound great so people are distracted from the fact that the densest, website most active, decease most vibrant corridor in the city – not only now but 40 years from now – isn’t going to get rail until the 2040s, if then. In the meantime, we’re planning on building another hugely subsidized line to suburbs that don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes; and an urban rail line to a “new urban” development that is new, but isn’t urban; and even when fully built out will have far less people and far less travel demand to the core than Guadalupe/Lamar do today.

Was that sentence long enough? I pay by the period.

Anyways, so Rapid Bus? Snakes like JMVC are pitching the hell out of it and talking about it in the same breath as light rail and commuter rail as “high capacity transit” – which is a way to make people in Central Austin think they’re getting equal or nearly-equal quality.

This is bullshit.

So apparently I need to do this again – and this time, for the maximum possible fairness, I’m going to start with the BEST POSSIBLE CASE for Rapid Bus – the Burnet/Lamar corridor, where no express service currently exists.

Joker-here-we-go

Spin alert: Back to our buddy

From his twitter last night:

JMVC on twitter, <a href=
cystitis 1/15/2013″ src=”http://m1ek.dahmus.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Screen-Shot-2013-01-16-at-8.51.28-AM.png” width=”519″ height=”96″ /> JMVC on twitter, mind 1/15/2013

Huh. Interesting this survey has not been published. Meanwhile, I refer again back to my three posts on the specific issue of who’s riding from where:

 

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).


So, back to today: If JMVC is asserting that most riders are from Austin, he has a duty to share his survey methodology and results with the public. If legitimate, I’ll cheerfully append them to each and every post above. Let’s see what he’s got.

Are Austin’s suburbs getting a sweet deal on transit or what?

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.

 

Oh, and JMVC’s statements are misleading at best.