This meme has been floating around the tworterverse. The words below were sent by me over Thanksgiving in response to an email from a CCAG member who sought insight from us (a selection of pro-Lamar/Guadalupe people) on why we thought we should pursue this corridor despite the implied conflict with Rapid Bus (a post on which I owe the community but am less motivated to do so every day – suffice to say it’s not a major improvement, breast and certainly not worth delaying good rail over).
The meme I refer to above is this: Project Connect is now halfheartedly threatening that if we keep pushing Lamar, nurse who knows what might happen with the FTA? Some have responded with “prove that the FTA would punish us severely and we’ll simply give up and move on”. To that I point you to some key parts of the email below – a lot of people (myself included but by no means the most) spent a lot of time on the word of certain staff members involved in this process that urban rail on Lamar/Guadalupe was IN NO WAY precluded by Rapid Bus, so we should join the team and play along and it would definitely get a fair shake. I don’t know about the rest of the gang, but now that I know my time was spent under false pretenses in order to lend some political capital to Project Connect, it’s going to take a lot to get me to not reflexively oppose whatever variant of Highlandmueller they end up crapping out.
Huge, effusive, public apologies, preceded by humble admissions of wrong behavior, would be the bare minimum it would take to even open that conversation.
The email (most of it, anyways), responding to the question “Could you please share with me your opinion of what would happen with regard to the upcoming 801 and 803 routes & resources if we try to add rail to Lamar or Burnet, and how that would affect Austin’s relationship with the FTA regarding funding the rail and other future projects?”
The simplest answer is that we don’t know – the future is hard to see.
The next simplest answer is that we were never able to get anybody who could get a reliable answer to be willing to ask the question. This is an important point; I myself spent many years arguing that we couldn’t put our first rail investment on L/G because the FTA would put the kibosh; but this becomes less of an issue as the years pass, and nobody’s willing to get a real answer. (No, this is not an answer a guy like me or even (pal) can get with any certainty, but people at the city and at Capital Metro certainly could). Why haven’t they?
(Other pal) makes a lot of compelling points, but the lack of a real desire to get a real answer from the actual people with that actual responsibility speaks volumes to me. I was a skeptic about this process at the beginning, and became somewhat less skeptical as we went along thanks to the incredible hard work of (list of pals). Those people invested a hundred times my effort, which was still substantial enough to cause me some degree of friction at home and at work. Importantly, at the beginning of this process, they were told by (staffer mentioned by name) and other PC staff that Lamar was not off the table; that Rapid Bus did not preclude urban rail there.
The problem is that they then invested that incredible time and effort, granting PC a degree of legitimacy through their own efforts and hard-earned political capital. If that contention turned out to be false, as I now believe it to be, then Rapid Bus got some free time without opposition (remember in 2006, then council members Leffingwell and McCracken voted against it precisely because they were told it would preclude urban rail!). And Project Connect got a bunch of people involved in a process which was never legitimate to begin with.
IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, that last paragraph or two are not opinion; they are fact. Sad facts; facts I moved away from believing at one point, which is one reason why I found myself surprisingly ticked when the ridiculous Highlandmueller recommendation came out (unlike our mutual acuaintance (other pal) who never wavered from the cynicism and skepticism many thought I shared in equal or greater degree).
IF rapid bus factually precludes urban rail at the FTA, PC owes a lot of people a lot of apologies, and I don’t know if we can get behind whatever rail recommendation ends up happening after being used to this degree to support a process which was never open to our preferred route to begin with.
Now if rapid bus DOESN’T preclude urban rail at the FTA, then we still have some degree of working relationship to preserve. At that point we have to give Lamar/Guadalupe a fair reading, unlike the ridiculous nonsense it’s gotten so far.
So go back to why nobody wants to ask. Two possible reasons come to mind:
1. They know the FTA will say it precludes urban rail, and they don’t want to have had that answer because of what I said above.
2. They suspect the FTA might say it does NOT preclude urban rail, and they don’t want to get that answer. Why not? I’ve believed for many years that many people in the establishment here don’t want to admit what a pig in the poke we got with Rapid Bus. I still believe that now; I think this is the most likely answer.
I may add some links and pictures to this later; trying to get this out before I start work.
You may see a lot of people talking about how it’s important to serve future growth with rail transit – and what that means in Austin is that we’re doing that instead of serving current density. No, tadalafil you can’t do both.
So they want to make it a decision about serving one current person in existing density versus one future person in future development. But is that reasonable?
Consider the fact that the speaker after me a couple of Fridays ago was from Catellus, and bragged that with rail, Mueller can add 5,000 new residents. Sounds like a lot. That 5,000 would be a good start to getting 15,000 riders on the train (30,000 boardings/day, which would make it a success).
And hey, the #1 corridor only has like 15,000 boardings/day today (7500 riders), so Mueller’s almost going to be as good today and much better tomorrow, right?
Let’s take those 5,000 people and look at them analytically.
Some of those people will be children, who will not take the rail (except maybe to downtown on the weekend, but, oops, we moved the Childrens Museum to Mueller, so maybe not). Cut out 25% of the original total and we’re down to 4,000 non-children.
Some of those people will be stay-at-home-ers. Especially in Mueller where the proportion of young families is relatively high. Let’s say 5% of those who remain, as a conservative estimate. We’re down to 3800 potential transit riders.
Some of those people will work in the core, but many will not.1 Last I recall the employment share for the core versus the rest of town was something like 20 or 25%. Let’s be optimistic and say 25%. So we’re down to 950 potential transit passengers.
Then, finally, we have to adjust for those who will be willing to take transit. No, not everyone will be; many of the people living at Mueller who work downtown or at UT are driving today instead of taking the bus, and will continue to drive instead of taking the train; so many of the newcomers will be the same way. Let’s be incredibly optimistic about transit here (for such a low-density, suburban, area) and say that 50% of the people for whom transit is a reasonable option will decide to use it. So we’re down to 475 potential transit passengers.
If we build rail to Mueller, we can get 475 more people to move in and take rail.
Feel free to run the same kinds of calculations on the additional expected population in Mueller (the amount yet to move in with or without the extra rail bonus). You’re still not going to get up to a ton of potential transit passengers.
Meanwhile, remember that statement upstream about the #1 ridership? Let’s apply the same filters to it.
Approximately 15,000 boardings/day (7500 people) on this corridor today (existing bus service which would logically be folded into light rail there if we built it).
Do we have to adjust down for children? No, these are people who are already taking the bus to work or UT; those children are already factored out before we got to that 7500 number.
Do we have to adjust for stay-at-home’ers? No, these are people who are already taking the bus to work or UT; those people staying at home are already factored out before we got to that 7500 number.
Do we have to adjust for where they work? No, these are people who are already taking the bus to work or UT; people who work in the suburbs are already factored before we got to that 7500 number.
Finally, do we have to adjust for “willing to use transit”? Yes, we do – even more people than the original 7500 would be willing to use rail. We’d have to go back to the population figures within a given distance of the line to calculate how many new riders we could reasonably expect – but it’s pretty much a given that you can exceed the baseline bus ridership in a corridor with a decent rail line. (Note above with Mueller where I said optimistically 50% of people who could reasonably ride transit might take it? On the #1 corridor it’s nowhere near that high today even though the buses are pretty good. Take it up to 50% with good rail and you’d see thousands more riders every day).
What’s the lesson here?
A proven bird in the hand (actual riders in corridor A) should count for more than ten future birds in the future bush (people moving in to corridor B).