Which one doesn’t belong?
Which one doesn’t belong, part deux?
Which one doesn’t belong?
Which one doesn’t belong, part deux?
Thanks to Lyndon Henry for finding and posting the link to the PDF.
Some important quotes:
In the Route 801 corridor, the primary impacts of the BRT project were to (1) replace an existing
limited stop service – Route 101 – with limited-stop service upgraded to BRT standards and new
evening service hours, (2) reduce the frequency of the existing local service – Route 1 – by half,
and (3) add a feeder route at each of the two new terminal stations to provide connections to
Route 801 from a wider area.
In summary, the BRT project had impacts on transit service that were very different between the
two corridors in two important ways:
• BRT MetroRapid Route 801 was essentially a modest upgrade of an existing limited-stop
route; in contrast, MetroRapid Route 803 introduced a BRT-standard limited-stop service
into a corridor where no limited-stop service had existed; and
• Service frequencies on the principal local route in the Route 801 corridor were
significantly lower – half their former levels – after project opening; in contrast, service
frequencies on the principal local route in the Route 803 corridor were only moderately
lower after project opening.
In 2016, two years after project opening, ridership on MetroRapid Route 801 was 5,800
boardings per average weekday. Ridership on the reduced-frequency local Route 1 was 5,700
for a total of 11,500 boardings on the principal services in the North Lamar/South Congress
corridor. Feeder Routes 201 and 275 added a total of 1,700 weekday boardings in the corridor,
some of which were transfers to/from Routes 801 and 1. The combined ridership on all four
corridor routes was 2,400 fewer weekday boardings than the combined ridership of 15,600
weekday boardings on corridor routes before project opening. This ridership loss is attributable
to three factors:
• The significantly reduced frequency – by half – of the Route 1 local service which meant
that riders who found the new MetroRapid stop locations to be inconvenient for their trips
faced longer wait times for Route 1 buses at local stops;
• The presence of limited-stop service on Route 101 before the introduction of MetroRapid
which meant that MetroRapid was only a modest improvement over existing service; and
• The higher fare for MetroRapid service compared to the fare charged on all other services
both before and after the introduction of the MetroRapid routes.
The result was that MetroRapid attracted only a modest number of new transit riders to the
corridor while the reduced local service caused a somewhat larger number of existing riders to
abandon transit in the North Lamar/South Congress corridor.
tldr version: The 801 changes caused ridership to DROP in this corridor. The FTA concluded so based on Capital Metro’s own numbers. It’s time for the water-carriers like “Novacek” to abandon their attempts to spin the unspinnable.
And it was easily foreseeable as I pointed out in this post from 2014…
Due to needing to work up my stamina for a secret work-related project, and I’ll explain the reason I feel free to resume biking in a later post perhaps, today I used my son’s bike and the 801 to get to my job in the horrible suburban cube factory.1 Attached are minimally edited notes I took along the way, with a couple of photographic bits of evidence.
7:00 get on son’s bike, ride about 5 blocks to the Hyde Park Station. Easy and comfortable despite massive humidity.
7:03 arrive at stop. An 801 is pulled over at the gas station 100 feet north of me while the driver gets coffee. Next arrival is in 7 mins according to sign.
7:06 changes from 3 mins to DUE immediately.
7:08 bus here. 1 got off. 1 other bike on front. When I got on total of 8 pax left on bus. Paid with 5 quarters like a BOSS. Stopped here to debunch apparently. (waits 2 minutes).
7:10 pulls away. Wonder if debunching is required only because of previous drivers coffee break
Triangle at 7:13 1 on 0 off.
7:15 stopped at light at Houston. No station yet!
7:16 Brentwood 1 off 1 on
7:18 oh god it’s so bumpy approaching Justin Ln
7:20 Justin 1 on 0 off
7:22 unfortunate diversion up above mainlanes to hit transfer stop. Looking longingly at freeway below.
Very awkward diversion into NLTC. Bus loops through and goes back southbound on frontage to make stop. Wonder how people many times people waiting here have boarded the bus going the wrong way. (just says Tech Ridge or Southpark).
7:25: 4 or 5 got off here and nobody boarded. Now bus struggling to change lanes to turn back around for NB. Weird route through NLTC and indirect cost of turns probably adds up to almost 5 minutes.
7:28 at new stop without branding (Fairfield?). 1 got on.
7:30 rundberg. 2 got off 2 got on.
I think I’m the only one to have paid cash so far.
7:32 light stops us briefly short of Masterson station. 733 we stop. 1 off.
7:35 Chinatown. Annoying lady passenger yelling into phone. She gets off and 1 other. 0 board. Short wait for red light.
Now in very long stretch with no stops.
7:38 slow and stop for queue behind light at Yager. Lots of cars turning right here. Transit priority note. Probably much worse 15 mins ago.
7:40-7:43 Wait to turn right on Parmer and slog through I35 ramp traffic. Bus turning left on i35 (I swear they used to go to McCallen).
7:43 crossing bridge. Must be a fun turn for driver. Mention this is the way I go too.
Driving fast on frontage and shaking. 7:44 turn on Center Ridge. Didn’t take special bus entrance (exit?) instead went up Center Line. Did go in special bus entrance off Center Line. Sooo bumpy.
7:46 pull up and deboard. I think there’s 3 passengers left including me.
7:54 bike up to my horrible office building (much more difficult and sweaty than the first ride on the other end), sweaty and triumphant.
Friend of the crackplog Caleb asked about time and here’s the scoop. Wait time is the average based on headway (I waited a little less this morning). I used actuals for the other components.
since there is no shower in our new facility I’m taking the 801 up most of the way and riding all the way home this evening; hopefully not through pouring rain ↩
bad news: I have a company car so I wouldn’t be paying the gas or the tire cost, so actually this trip cost me $1.25 more but an average person driving my current car would have saved the entire 36 cents ↩
If this is sufficiently well-received I may fill in more later.
This post is in response to a request from Friends of Austin Neighborhoods, an organization of which I am a member, for some transit talk leading up to a position / plan from them. My key elements follow, in outline form, with links to old writing where feasible. I expressed my concerns that this would be a waste of time due to the alliance of FAN with AURA and Evolve Austin but was assured this was not an issue, so here we go.
Cap Metro’s record for honesty is bad and not improving. Lately, they mislead people about Connections 2025 (selling it as a “ridership over coverage” redesign, but in reality, it’s cutting service to our densest areas and rebalancing towards more suburban service). Under this we have details like conflating Rapid Bus with local service; using 1/2 mile or larger catchment zones when 1/4 mile is the industry standard, etc. Project Connect 1.0 was an unmitigated disaster due to a lack of honesty about constraints and aims by the people leading it, and they have never been held to account for it. We will not make any real progress for transit in Austin until these agencies act with transparency and honesty. FAN should demand better governance of, and leadership at, Capital Metro. My basic recommendation would be that board members need to at least ride transit sometimes and have a deep fundamental understanding of what actually raises and lowers transit ridership; and top leadership must be honest and ethical. Neither of those standards is met today by any board members or anyone in top leadership of the agency.
Even AURA is on board with the Red Line being a bad investment, and I-35 BRT being a horrible idea. But that’s not where it ends.
The service just introduced for Round Rock is a horrible deal. Cap Metro is being misleading about it being a “contracted service”. Round Rock doesn’t pay overhead that supports Cap Metro’s structure in general, and their passengers can continue onto mainline routes despite not having paid taxes to support them. They’re getting a sweetheart deal in return for not paying into the system. This is bad for Austin.
Likewise, park and rides placed near the edge of the city limits or the edge of the service area are obviously going to tend to attract patrons from jurisdictions that don’t pay to support the agency. While you might want to supply them with transit anyways, this is a zero-sum game or worse. Every $25 operating subsidy paid so somebody from Cedar Park can ride the train despite not paying taxes to support it results in 5-10 Austinites not getting to ride a bus that their city did pay taxes to support.
We should not be subsidizing the suburbs’ road network and also subsidizing their transit. If we don’t get to cut one, cutting the other is not only good but necessary. Again, in Austin, transit is a zero-sum game; we have no ability to increase operating funds, so every dollar we blow on somebody in Cedar Park is taken away from a prospective rider in Austin. Friends of Austin Neighborhoods should be about supporting Austin’s interests first against so-called predatory regionalism.
In 2014, I made this warning about Rapid Bus: Rapid Bus Has Degraded Bus Service.
We were told continuously by people more credulous than I that Rapid Bus was a great deal. I went to a lot of trouble to show that its benefits accrue disproportionately to those who live the furthest out, while those who live close in suffered service degradation.
The Panglosses kept at it, assuring us that infill stops would be added any day now. It’s now looking like 2018 or later for two infill stops, and even with those infill stops, Hyde Park will still have worse service than it did in 2011. Connections 2025 will make it even worse than that!
Rapid Bus is also a suburban subsidy although it’s more of a subsidy to the worst land use INSIDE Austin (i.e. low-density sprawl inside far north and far south Austin gets better service now, by speed, than does Hyde Park). AURA hasn’t opposed Rapid Bus primarily because their president lives close to an 803 stop and saw personal benefit from the service change that screwed thousands of others. I think FAN needs to be more honest and transparent than that, and hope you agree.
Don’t ask a transit rider if the grid redesign’s requirement to add transfers will increase or reduce ridership. They have no idea; they’re already riding. Ask somebody who has a long history of being right about service changes’ impact on ridership. Ask somebody who is transit-positive but has to drive to work.
The fact is that the Connections 2025 redesign cuts local service even further for the areas of Austin with some of the highest modeshare, and yet, Evolve Austin and AURA have bought into the Big Lie from Capital Metro. I shouldn’t have to keep explaining this, but in 2011, you could pick up a #1 on Guadalupe in Hyde Park every 10-12 minutes during peak and a #101 every 20 minutes or so. Now there is a local every 30 minutes, and the distance to walk to ‘rapid’ (fancy 101) is too long to make up for the increased frequency. Actual riders are worse off today; and yet Connections 2025 proposed making that even worse under the guise of improving things. (Eliminating local service on Speedway, and originally proposing eliminating the remaining locals on Guadalupe too!)
Friends of Austin Neighborhoods generally promotes urbanist ideals. Having a transit agency which cuts service to the areas that buy into urbanism inevitably leads to pushback in the future for land-use changes as people become justifiably skeptical that new residents of infill developments will use transit at non-trivial levels.
Ridership, ridership, ridership. This is a public investment; we need our transit dollar to go as far as it possibly can.
That’s all the time I can spend now. Let’s see if FAN was serious about taking this seriously before I invest any more.
Dear mayor and council members:
My name is Mike Dahmus; I served on the Urban Transportation Commission from 2000-2005, and have written a bit on the topic of transportation (mostly transit) ever since.
You've received some correspondence recently on and on behalf of Evolve Austin that continues to claim that Capital Metro is reorienting its services to better support land use that provides the density and walkability to make transit service more feasible and sustainable at a lower cost.
This is false. Cap Metro has not changed one iota; the recent service changes continue a pattern of reorienting service to unproductive suburban areas and away from the areas that produce the highest transit ridership (and have the highest potential for additional ridership).
This presentation, from 2015, explains why the Rapid Bus shift was a degradation of transit service. Connections 2025 doubles down on this shift, removing even more local walkable transit service from the core neighborhoods where it is most heavily used.
I'm eager to communicate via email if any of you have any questions.
About two weeks ago, I had business about two miles north of my house1, at “Happy Hybrid”2, to pick up our old car3. I came home from work early, left my company car parked at the house, and thought about how I would get to the auto shop to pick up the old car and bring it home.
In the old days, before MetroRapid, this would definitely have been a bus trip. Here’s what that trip would have looked like, in the “show up and go” model where the wait time is assumed to be “half the headway”…
Walk 4 minutes a block south and two blocks west to the #1 stop. Wait there for a 13-minute headway frequent local. Get on. Ride to Happy Hybrid. Get off. (0 minute walk there).
The 801, though, is a different story. My house and the destination are both (each) about halfway between two MetroRapid stops! So the 801 trip looks like this: Walk 7 minutes west and south to the Hyde Park station. Wait 10 minutes (runs every 20 minutes midday). Ride 10 minutes to the station north of Happy Hybrid. Walk 6 minutes back south. (Yes, this is what Google Maps recommended; so the alternative stations must be slightly longer walks, even!). Total time: 33 minutes.
The current 1 is the same as the old 1, except it runs half as often (26 minute headways mid-day). So I didn’t bother. What did I do instead?
Walked the whole fucking way there on my athritic toes, and paid severely for it for the next few days.
Here’s what the decision looked like:
This is what AURA did for urbanism – they supported a rapid bus plan that made the most logical option for somebody who had to travel 2 miles on our best transit corridor to the auto shop to WALK THE WHOLE GODDAMN WAY THERE4. (No, changing the fare back to parity doesn’t affect this. Only restoring true local service on this corridor does). And I, on this trip, showed that the service Cap Metro is now providing on this corridor has degraded drastically – to the point where it’s unreliable and unusable except for those who have no other possible option.
I tweeted about this yesterday and due to time constraints will just copy it here via storify.
Earlier entries in the series:
So there was a flurry of activity two weeks ago on the Capital Metro front, thanks to our friends at KUT. First, a story titled “Austin’s Growing Fast, But Why Isn’t Its Public Transit?“, and then following the next day one titled “After Ridership Drops, Where Does Cap Metro Go From Here?“.
I found both efforts by Terrence Henry to be good, fair, articles overall (I was quoted for neither); and thought it would be a nice test-run of the (in progress) Honesty Agenda to evaluate the statements in these articles based on the “What is Honesty?” points.
First, from “Austin’s Growing Fast, But Why Isn’t Its Public Transit?“:
“There’s a few reasons to explain the dip we seem to be looking at in 2014,” saysChris Riley, Vice-Chair of Capital Metro’s board and former city council member. “First, continued reductions in UT ridership.” The University of Texas at Austin has cut funding in recent years for its share of the Capital Metro system, reducing shuttle service. “And partly because of changing transportation patterns among the students,” Riley adds. “You have more students living in West Campus today and not riding the bus.”
Next, Todd Hemingson:
“Of the overall percent in reduction [in 2014], what we found was the UT shuttle system accounted for a full 2 percent of that ridership decrease,” says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development with Capital Metro.
Hemingson and Riley say there were several other factors that led to last year’s drop in ridership: fare increases and restructuring as well as some extreme weather events. But even all those factors together don’t account for the entire drop. And when pushed a little further, Hemingson says the problem goes deeper.
“Really, any analysis of transit ridership begins and ends with how much service you provide,” Hemingson says. The actual number of hours of service Capital Metro provides per person in Austin is down, and so ridership is down as a result. “Unfortunately, the reality is we’re just not keeping up. Our service hour, as we call it, has been declining since 2004.”
Riley did not support his claim that UT’s ridership has dropped, and Henry has recently posted this tweet which indicates that the jury is still out on whether that is true. Additionally, Riley left out the fact that the Guadalupe/Lamar and Burnet corridors have seen large vertical-mixed-use developments opening up which should have resulted in increased ridership but have not done so. (I have my theory why this is the case, from “Rapid Bus Has Degraded Bus Service Overall“).
Rating: Technically true – possible but unsupported so far. The whole truth? NO. He did apparently at least mention ‘restructuring’ (see paraphrase in Hemingson’s section), but obviously did so as a second or third cause, which dramatically understates that it was the most significant, already observed and proven, ridership drop explanation shown to date – something that should have been the lead, not the footnote! Nothing but the truth? OK. No obfuscation or disingenuousness here. Riley’s quote I’d rate as “sort of true”. Not the whole truth, but not laughably false.
This Riley section gets a C+.
And also, Capital Metro as an agency gets their first F of the year here for not publishing ridership data like good transit agencies do, so we could independently verify the claim. Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano shows an example from Phoenix here. I’ve referred to others in earlier posts in this series.
Hemingson, so far, comes off OK. He at least mentions that service hours are down (contrasting to John-Michael Vincent Cortez, who insisted throughout the Red Line debacle that it wasn’t happening and doubled down on the false claim as recently as Halloween). But weather? I call that an obfuscation. It may have dropped ridership a couple of days, but Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano’s recent series of charts shows that weather events are an excuse at best, not a cause. Hemingson so far: also truthy. Not the whole truth, and the twitterati largely laughs off his weather excuse for good reason.
Hemingson gets a B- here. Mostly true but the weather thing is ridiculous.
Now on to Jace Deloney, recently elevated to chair of the UTC:
But despite those reductions in service hours, ridership has increased during that time. Deloney with Urban Transportation Commission thinks that the 2014 drop was due to something more specific to that year.
“I think a lot of it has to do with the changes that took place in 2014. Lots of changes,” he says. “We had Metro Rapid launch, which caused a lot of issues for some people.”
Deloney is talking about a very well-documented cut to the city’s most popular bus route last year. When Capital Metro launched it’s first rapid bus line, the 801, it also cut the local bus service (the 1) along the same route in half. Up until then, the 1 was the most popular bus route in the city.
There is literally nothing bad you can say about this statement other than that it may be understating the problem. Notice he doesn’t shy away from reality here. He doesn’t put the #1 cause at #5. He doesn’t do what Hemingson does next, which is belittle the honest concerns of people who are trying to get places as mere preference. Jace is an excellent example of being honest about transit. Jace gets our first A of the season.
“One of the things we knew going in was that not everyone was going to like that,” Hemingson says. “And that’s what we saw, a drop in ridership in the corridor, that’s undeniable. But since we’ve launched MetroRapid, we’ve seen that trend in the right direction, which is positive.”
Aaand here we go. This is technically true, if you define “some people in North Austin had to change jobs or get cars” as merely “disliked the change”. It’s highly misleading; it’s obfuscating (the ‘trend in the right direction’ is that current ridership is almost back up to the level it was before the change was made, which is a very low standard given that population growth and development on the corridor should have resulted in large boosts in ridership). This statement is not the absolute worst I’ve seen, but is a good solid example of Capital Metro’s lack of honesty on transportation.
Hemingson gets a C- on that quote. Technically true but too much spin.
Next, back to Riley:
There are also several factors that are out of Capital Metro’s control. Land use and density, for starters. Much of the population growth in Austin is happening outside of the city itself, or along its periphery. That development typically consists of large lots with single family homes that are difficult to make work with transit.
“If we had a code that allowed for more development along our corridors, in places that are easier to serve with transit, then I think you’d see a healthier rise in our transit ridership,” Riley of the Capital Metro board says.
Riley’s worst quote. It’s true that development on the periphery stinks. But it’s also true that even good development there would not result in large transit ridership given office sprawl.
What’s undeniable is that the VMU ordinance was specifically designed to encourage dense, walkable, midrise development along our best transit corridors on the theory that there would be self-selection going on for people who wanted to ride the good transit that was on those corridors; that development is actually happening as envisioned (N Lamar/S Lamar/Burnet), but the local bus service that would best support those new residents was cut drastically (in half for the 1, not quite as bad for the 3, but the 3’s frequency wasn’t as high to begin with). You now get a local once every half hour during peak on the #1 route and about every 40 minutes on the #3 route. That’s not development-supporting levels of transit.
Note that the benefit provided by Rapid Bus (801/803 which are basically just express service like the old 101 was) over local service diminishes the closer you get to the core; and once you’re about halfway in, the extra time spent walking will overwhelm the time savings the actual bus ride gives you (almost entirely due to fewer stops). This should have led to a transit plan where local frequencies were high and express service was gradually improved; that’s not what we did – we made the locals infrequent and the express relatively frequent, which again, is useless to residents of the VMUs that are about halfway out from the core.
Riley’s statement here is obfuscating and disingenuous, and does not tell the whole truth. We’ve added enough development along Lamar and Burnet to generate significant new ridership on transit, but the transit service those corridors have now is significantly, objectively, worse than it was before, especially in the sections a few miles from the core where most of the development is happening. In other words, the 803 makes things better compared to the 3 (even with the extra walk) once you’re past 183 on Burnet or near Ben White on Lamar, but all the new development is happening much closer in – near 2222 on Burnet or around the Alamo on S Lamar, or around North Loop on N Lamar. All of those places are seeing equal to much worse transit service now. Capital Metro punished its best potential future customers. That’s the real development-related reason we’re seeing ridership drop and not rebound.
Riley gets a D- on that quote.
“I think we are on the cusp of making a significant step in the right direction,” says Todd Hemingson, Vice President of Strategic Planning and Development at Capital Metro. The agency has laid out several goals for the years ahead, and one of them is adding frequency to some of the city’s most popular bus routes.
“What we have is a proposal to take five of the busiest routes in the system and upgrade those so they operate every 15 minutes or better, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., every single weekday.” It’s called a Frequent Service Network, Hemingson says. The initial routes being proposed for higher frequency are the 7, 20, 300, 325, and 331.
Hemingson left out the elephant in the room. The route which, even after being crippled by having its frequency cut in half and being paired with an incompatible express, still has the top ridership in the system.
Let’s take a closer look at the left side of that graph.
F for truth. Leaving out the most important fact of all gets you an immediate F. No way back from that.
Back to Jace Deloney:
“It makes no sense that they’re talking about the frequent service in 2015 while they took away that frequency on the highest ridership route,” says Jace Deloney, Chair of the Urban Transportation Commission, which advises the city on transit issues.
Deloney is talking about Route 1, which runs along the main arteries of the city: North Lamar, Guadalupe and South Congress. Capital Metro says they will not restore Route 1 frequency to where it was before the launch of the rapid bus service along the same route, even though the rapid bus costs 40 percent more, and the stops are much farther apart in many areas.
“They’re going to have to look into restoring the Route 1 frequency,” Deloney says, “or else we’re going to be hurting our best corridor going forward.”
A+ for truth. No arguments here.
That’s about it, apart from some minor quotes that aren’t controversial about real-time information being useful (but what’s more useful is frequent service so you don’t have to check).
Oh, and overall? Terrence Henry and KUT gets a solid B+, which is about the highest grade I’ll give the media in the last couple of years. It would have been nice to make Hemingson get on the record about why the #1’s frequency can’t be restored, and why we should consider Metro Rapid to be part of the new frequency network when its fares are not compatible – you can’t buy a day pass on one of the new frequent locals and transfer to the 801 or 803, so they aren’t part of the same network, man.
Note a pattern here. The Capital Metro planner gets very low grades; the Capital Metro board member gets medium to low grades. The real citizen gets high grades. KUT scores well overall compared to other, much more credulous, local media. The agency itself doesn’t provide the transparency that would actually help; just the transparency that makes them look good to state lawmakers.
When I go back and analyze Project Connect, this pattern will keep coming up again and again.
Austin deserves better.
Citations to other sites referenced above and some other suggested reading from other Austin bloggers:
Made With Notepad because paying for wifi for an hour of personal use seemed unwise. So here we go.
Honesty is more than simply “technically telling the truth”. A good place to start, but just to start, is the oath people take when testifying in court. So let’s at least look at those three parts:
Don’t say something which is obviously false. This is the easiest thing in the world to do, yet Capital Metro has gotten this wrong in the past (ref Todd Hemingson’s claim about the projection he made and then tried to claim he didn’t make, about first year Red Line ridership). The simplest attention by the media ought to catch our transit agency and city in this one, yet they rarely do (KUT being one very rare exception here).
Don’t say something which, while true, leads people to think they now know what’s going on, when you’ve actually kept a portion of the ‘whole truth’ behind so that they come to the conclusion you want them to. For instance, Capital Metro claims we’re going to have a new, exciting, frequent transit network (buses arriving at least every 15 minutes). If Capital Metro knows we used to have that, at least on the #1 route, and they don’t say so, they haven’t told the whole truth. Or, let’s say, if Capital Metro says ridership on MetroRapid is growing! (comparing 801 ridership six months ago to 801 ridership today), but overall ridership on the corridor is significantly below what it was before MetroRapid launched and staying stagnant since the initial drop, have they told the whole truth? Put another way:
Would “the 801 is doing better” be enough information without “but the overall 1/801 ridership is going nowhere and significantly below the old 1/101 ridership” for our elected leaders to make smart decisions?
Those aren’t even the most important examples though. During transit planning, this is far more critical. When the 801 was proposed, Capital Metro talked about how much faster it was going to be than the 1, while hiding the fact that it wasn’t going to be much, if any, faster than the existing limited-stop 101. It’s technically true that the 801 is faster than the 1. But it’s not the whole truth. It’s not useful in making decisions; the far more useful fact is the difference compared to the 101’s speed when it ran (and it turns out, there’s no difference except for that attributable to the downtown transit lane, which made the 1 faster and would have made the 101 faster too).
Don’t add things that might (misleadingly) shade people away from the truth. Don’t talk about highway subsidies to try to mislead people away from a serious discussion on transit operating subsidies (the subsidy on a given highway might be higher than the Red Line, but it is irrelevant to a discussion of whether we can afford the Red Line subsidy as it currently exists).
But that’s not enough for me. Public agencies, funded by tax dollars, should meet a higher standard even than the above (which, after all, is just the oath people take when in an often adversarial relationship in court, to which the punishment for noncompliance is charges of perjury). Public agencies should educate taxpayers – in a way which does not lead taxpayers to a given conclusion, but allows them to make their own educated judgements. By this I do NOT mean the opinion pieces often approving cited, referenced, or retweeted by Capital Metro employees which are actually in direct conflict with their own actions without ever noting the problem. That’s fundamentally DIShonest.
I also don’t mean Project Connect’s “data theater” exercises. “Showing your work” via PDF files, with ‘zones’ chosen and then changed, arbitrarily, by the people running the project in ways transparently obviously designed to make some projects rise to the top and others, uh, not; is not honest. Project Connect should have functioned as an open data source by which decision-makers (and the public) could make educated choices, but none of us who participated in that effort would describe it as anything except the exact opposite. In most other cities, Project Connect would have been a straight-up comparison between a few corridors (not this ‘subcorridors which are really zones which were purposefully drawn to make the route they knew they had to compete against look bad’ nonsense). Then, once a corridor was chosen, phase 2 would have been a straight-up comparison of ROUTES.
This is a big one. It happens all the time. Most of the time you know your audience and you know what they know, so don’t pretend they’re talking about something they really aren’t (don’t oversimplify or misrepresent their argument).
For instance: “There are winners and losers with any change” is not an honest answer to a detailed explanation that points out that the frequency of the combined 1/801 is no higher than the frequency of the 1/101 was – which if honestly addressed, leads to the conclusion that every single local bus rider on the MetroRapid corridor is much worse off now that the new service came along, and the old express riders are for all intents and purposes paying a little more for a little more frequency, the same speed, and the same reliability (i.e. best case = no better off). The person making that statement about ‘winners and losers’ knows it’s not honest; but they know it’s technically true also – it’s just that the ‘winners’ were Capital Metro themselves, and the losers were, uh, all the riders. The public who pays your salary deserves better than being purposefully misled. Likewise, when Project Connect published ‘data’ from a ridiculous model that was essentially predicting almost three million daily transit riders in East Riverside alone and then tried to pretend it didn’t matter because it was just sort of a starting point, that’s disingenuous. If it didn’t really matter, throw that model out of the equation completely and use something that everybody agrees on (common basis). Because when it was left in, it provided significant confirmation for the theory among participants in the process that the data were being cherry-picked and/or made up to support a predetermined plan.
Why doesn’t Capital Metro publish their ridership numbers – and on the rare occasions when they do, why never in a form that can be processed by the public? The MTA in New York does.
Why don’t they publish their operating subsidies by mode (or even by line)? They haven’t done this at all since September of 2013, and if you think it’s because the Red Line subsidy figures would have damaged the public case for Proposition 1, you’re probably right! Yes, there’s arguments over methodology that would come into play in either case – but those arguments could be had in the open light of day. Instead, we assume that Capital Metro hides behind the firewall of freedom-of-information requests because they have something to hide (in many cases they do – for instance, recent word on the fare recovery ratio of MetroRapid is pretty awful). While I appreciate Ben Wear’s efforts in seeking this information (most media outlets don’t even try), it should be published every month on Capital Metro’s website so guys like me can analyze it. No excuses. If the data tells a bad story, then have a conversation about it with people who understand how transit works instead of hiding behind meaningless platitudes that prevent any transit project from ever being declared ‘bad’.
In future chapters I will explain in more detail, with many more specific examples, where we have fallen short on these metrics; and then what an honest Project Connect would have looked like. What an honest Capital Metro would look like. And what an honest City of Austin would look like. Because if we’re ever going to see real progress, that’s what we all need.
In yesterday’s post, steroids seek I showed that transit service along our best VMU corridor (Lamar/Guadalupe) has been significantly degraded by the introduction of Rapid Bus. Along this corridor, bronchi you used to be able to count on “show up and go” local service, but now you absolutely cannot.
The vast majority of tracts directly abutting the Lamar/Guadalupe corridor are eligible for VMU development like the one I used as an example in yesterdays post, based on an ordinance passed back in 2008.1 The arguments in favor of VMU on core transit corridors, made by people including yours truly, rested on the premise that because there was frequent, useful, transit there, we should allow denser development and reduce parking requirements for that development. Since we could assume that a larger percentage of tenants of those buildings would be willing to use transit than for the city as a norm, in other words, we would not listen to the complaints of the nearby neighborhoods that they’d all be driving on Lamar and Guadalupe every day making their lives more miserable.
Now it’s 2014, and this statement:
On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful
is NO LONGER TRUE.
If we were debating the set of attempts by neighborhoods along Guadalupe and Lamar to opt-out of the VMU ordinance today, in other words, it would not be honest to make the statement above.
So what, you say? Well, remember, the VMU ordinance and the approval/rejection of the opt-in and opt-outs were not unanimously done by committed urbanists. The council at the time had one committed urbanist, one urbanist with some checkered history, one anti-urbanist, and four moderates.
Do you know what sold those four on VMU? Over the objections of neighborhood associations that tried to opt out of almost everything? After all, Hyde Park’s neighborhood association attempted to opt out of essentially all of Guadalupe!
So what worked with those four moderates? It was this:
On this VMU corridor, transit is frequent and useful
Note that we do not need to count how many people in apartments on Lamar/Guadalupe use transit to understand this point. Politically speaking, the presence of useful frequent transit allowed those moderates to make what we urbanists consider the “right decision” and not only pass this ordinance but expend political capital to reject attempts by Hyde Park and other neighborhood associations to wiggle out of it.
So now that the useful, frequent, service is gone, what happens? Most VMU projects along Lamar/Guadalupe are still very attractvie, of course; developers will pretty much build to the maximum entitlements on these corridors today given the vast demand for rental housing. But when neighborhoods find pretextual objections (and they will; nothing is ever cut and dry), future councils will be more likely to side with the neighborhoods than the urbanists, because, once again, transit service on Lamar and Guadalupe is no longer ‘frequent and useful’.
What are we likely to see instead, assuming the neighbors win more of those battles, and since we’ve decided to destroy local bus service on Lamar/Guadalupe in favor of more expensive but less useful express service? Hello, Steven Zettner’s vision of density ONLY near the major intersections (where the rapid bus stops happen to be located). No longer will we see 4 or 5 story VMU buildings along the entire corridor; instead, we’ll see 4 or 5 story buildings near the Rapid stops, and decaying single-story strip malls in the rest.2 The ‘moderates’ in the future city council will vote the neighborhood association’s way when in doubt, because, again, useful and frequent transit is no longer part of the equation.
To the right is the “Core Transit Corridors” map used to kick off VMU planning back in 2007. Note the complete absence of Highland, by the way. Honestly, only the two Rapid Bus corridors have seen any significant VMU development (East Riverside is starting to show some signs, with major flaws).
Thus, this affects not only Lamar/Guadalupe, but also South Congress and Burnet/South Lamar (which were the other corridors that got nearly completely zoned VMU mostly over neighbors’ objections).
Does that sound important to you yet? Well, we’re getting there. Next up: Urban rail.
I was hoping to have found a map of properties along this corridor eligible for VMU, but they may have aged off, and I’m not particular good with the city’s GIS. If somebody feels like doing some work, let me know. ↩
Don’t be foolish enough to think we can upzone near the rapid stops to make up for the decline of the whole corridor, in other words; we’re not going to get 20 story buildings around the stops there to make up for 1 story elsewhere; we’ll be lucky if we can get 4 or 5 ↩