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.

Where did the missing 2000 riders go?

Image of Mueller "Market District" from 2010
Urban or suburban?

This image is from the 2010 presentation of the Mueller “market district”. The big box in the lower right is the grocery store, physician which is now apparently going to be an HEB.

But the most important question by far: will it be urban or suburban? Let’s ask our old friend David Sucher of City Comforts:

Urban Starts With The Location Of The Parking Lot
Urban Starts With The Location Of The Parking Lot

 

As Chris put it,

The parking lot will be much nicer than average, but this makes the development merely suburban chic not urban.

Sadly, par for the course for our supposed ‘new urban showcase’. I’ve covered Mueller irregularly in the past as has Chris. Notice we’re in 2011 now; no sign of the Town Center; relatively little multi-family development; but the single-family homes and strip malls – they are still there and doing fine. Sigh.

As for how green and sustainable this will be, what with energy efficiency, water efficiency, etc.; a wise ass man on twitter once said this:

Green building vs. sustainability
I set up this new site in January and did the big import back then and promptly failed to finish. It’s still a work in progress but I plan on posting new content here now and migrating the January-through-August content over when I get some time. My friend Baba’s done a great favor to me over the years by hosting this blog; but since I got tired of Movable Type and have had my own hosting for quite a while, esophagitis it seemed like time to get my act in gear – especially since I finally got the crackpot sports blog up and running a few weeks ago over here already.

The current masthead as of 9/1 is a real picture of the downtown station my stepson took for me while we did a quick detour on the way to Austin High so I could count riders one morning last Spring. It was glorious. Click below for the full image.

phthisiatrician unaltered – sometime in the spring” src=”http://m1ek.dahmus.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/09/JustinPhone-068-150×150.jpg” alt=”Talk about 1000 words” width=”150″ height=”150″ />
Talk about 1000 words

I set up this new site in January and did the big import back then and promptly failed to finish. It’s still a work in progress but I plan on posting new content here now and migrating the January-through-August content over when I get some time. My friend Baba’s done a great favor to me over the years by hosting this blog; but since I got tired of Movable Type and have had my own hosting for quite a while, visit it seemed like time to get my act in gear – especially since I finally got the crackpot sports blog up and running a few weeks ago over here already.

The current masthead as of 9/1 is a real picture of the downtown station my stepson took for me while we did a quick detour on the way to Austin High so I could count riders one morning last Spring. It was glorious. Here’s the full link:
So it turns out I’m so busy now I can’t even keep up on twitter most days – but this deserved a momentary break.

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

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

It’s time to ask again: WHY? Why are the many tens of thousands of people who live and/or work within walking distance of the 2000 route who Capital Metro assured us would cheerfully ride shuttlebuses not, in fact, riding?

Well, wonder no more.

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

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

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

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

Background, mostly from yours truly over the years:

 

 

Short Shot

I’m hosting a bunch of people from other companies at work, and about as busy as you’d expect at home with 2 little kids, a teenager working on college apps, and school about to start. Here’s a quick surfacing and shot just because I got pissed off enough this morning to spend a minute.

As you may now, Cap Metro is cancelling most rail shuttles. Their mouthpiece JMVC and various hanger-on cheerleaders are claiming this is because “nobody needs them” (paraphrasing). Set the wayback machine to 2004-2008, when I was telling you that choice commuters would, mostly, not use a service that required them to transfer to shuttle buses. I’ve written so much about shuttle buses over the years that I should have made a category for it a long time ago, but here’s a search that should get you started.

Anyways, I was attacked repeatedly and from multiple fronts for this claim that shuttlebuses would drive away most potential non-currently-bus-riding passengers and the ridership would mostly be limited to the (few) people within walking distance – it would never and could never be a light rail-like-line with light-rail-like ridership.

Fast forward again to 2011. The shuttles are, mostly, empty. Why? Because some of (the few) people within walking distance are using the Red Line, and people outside of walking distance are, mostly, not. Why not? Cap Metro won’t tell you – but it’s because I was right back then, and deserve a fucking apology now. Won’t hold my breath.


And don’t hold your breath for more blogging – I’m too busy to waste much time and energy on a populace, and especially, intelligentsia that seems hell-bent on making the same mistake over again – except, this time, JMVC and crew have convinced decision-makers not to listen to the guy who was right before. Notice this stupid rail debate last night – not invited; turned into another typical Cheerleaders Vs. Neanderthals useless exercise like the last 100 times.

Y’all are about to get precisely what you deserve.

Commuter Rail Use Case #2: Leander

Continuing yesterday’s post, here are a couple of use-cases from Leander; the endpoint of the line. Since the train trip would be the longest here, one might expect the train to do well – let’s see.

Each table below is again based on a commute leaving the origin point at roughly 7:30 AM (for bus scheduling). I’m still taking Capital Metro at their word that the average shuttle bus trip length will be 10 minutes even though I suspect it will be worse. It certainly won’t be reliable – but the train schedules will. In each table, a row just indicates a step (a travel or wait step).

Train times taken from page 4 of the PDF. Note that I now include a drive to the park-and-ride. The last example, folks, was supposed to be the “let’s pretend we believe that Crestview Station will really be a TOD that people will really walk to the train station from”.

Updated walk time for UT for car case to 10-15 minutes based on input from Kedron et al. Note I’m assuming faculty/staff here, not students.

Leander to UT

Step Drive Express Bus (#983) Rail
1 32-60 minutes Drive to park/ride (5-15 minutes)2 Drive to park/ride (5-15 minutes)2
2 Walk 10-15 minutes to office3 Wait for bus (10 minutes)2 Wait for train (10 minutes)2
3   Bus: 45-80 minutes5 Train: 48 minutes
4   Walk 0-5 minutes to office Transfer to shuttle bus (5-10 minutes)4
5     Bus: 10 minutes5
6     Walk 0-10 minutes to office1
TOTALS
Total Time 42-75 minutes 60-100 minutes 78-103 minutes

Notes from superscripts above:

  1. Offices are more likely closer to the Guadalupe end than the San Jacinto end of campus, but that still presents a range of walking times.
  2. For the train you’ll really want to be out there 10 minutes early (penalty for missing is a 30-minute wait), and 10 minutes for the bus (unlike the Crestivew case, these buses don’t run very often), and the bus is less reliable to boot, but I’m including “late time” in the bus range for the actual trip.
  3. The walk from parking around UT to office is going to vary widely, but almost nobody gets to park right next to their office, whereas some people get dropped off by the bus essentially that close.
  4. A load of passengers headed to UT will actually require more than one bus to service. In other words, if we assume that the train has 300 passengers, and a third are going to UT, those 100 passengers are going to require several shuttle buses – and loading even one bus from zero to full is going to take a few minutes. Of course, if relatively few people ride the train, the bus loading would be quicker.
  5. The shuttle bus is going to drop off on mostly San Jacinto, so no need for a range here. The express bus varies widely (from personal experience) – so big range here. These express buses actually will run ahead of schedule if traffic permits – the 40 minutes is my estimate of a “quick” run based on driving time of 32 minutes uncongested. On my old reverse commute on a similar route (but only to Pavilion P&R), in no-traffic conditions, the bus took about 20 minutes compared to 15 for my car. Note that in uncongested conditions, the bus will actually get you there faster than the train leg alone – that’s because the bus goes straight to UT; while the train goes quite a bit farther east, and the bus actually has a higher average speed in uncongested conditions than the train will (since the express bus goes on 183 and Mopac for miles and miles with no stops).

Conclusions for trip to UT:

  1. Like yesterday, if the destination was really anywhere near the “UT station” out east on MLK, the rail trip would be a slam-dunk winner, even with its low frequency. Even with the 10 minute wait on the front-end, it’s competitive with the car and would destroy the bus. (A guaranteed 58 minutes versus a car trip which ranges from a bit better to a lot worse). Remember this when we talk again about light rail. Too bad we’re not trying to build offices around that station – only residential TAD.
  2. A multi-door vehicle will be essential for loading/unloading. But even with two doors, it’s going to take a few minutes to fill the seats. And the claim that the bus will always be there waiting for the train is not likely to be true based on experience with Tri-Rail in South Florida.
  3. A transfer to a streetcar would improve this only slightly. If running on reserved-guideway for most of its route, it would be more likely to be there on time, and the trip to UT would be a bit more reliable (although I’m being charitable right now and just accepting “10 minutes” for shuttle-bus anyways), but on the other hand, a streetcar that carries 1.5 to 2 busloads of people is going to take longer to load too. There’s a reason transit people talk about the “transfer penalty”, folks.
  4. Remember, the shuttle bus is dropping people off on San Jacinto, not Guadalupe. Go to UT sometime and see how many offices are along SJ sometime. Big mistake – but the administrators who run UT are apparently more interested in providing another spur to eventual rejuvenation of that side of campus than they are at actually serving their staff’s needs.
  5. If I were in their shoes, I’d be taking the #983 already, but would actually try the train when it opens Unless you had to pay a ton for parking, though, practically zero drivers would likely not give up the drive for this train trip. If you valued being able to read/work instead of drive to this extent, in other words, you’d already be taking the express bus.
  6. Effect of future congestion increases? Much bigger than in the Crestview case. A much larger portion of the rail/shuttle trip is on the train itself – and the drive to the park-and-ride probably doesn’t change; so the train ends up inching closer to the car as congestion increases – but only until we put an HOT lane on US183 and Mopac, assuming they don’t do the stupid current design which wouldn’t actually work. Again, though, it becomes clear that it will take unrealistically large time savings on the one leg to begin to make up for the fact that you don’t get taken anywhere useful on it.

Downtown will have similar enough results that I’m not going to cut/paste for now, unless somebody really wants to see it.
Next: Mueller!

Our circulators won’t work either

From Christof in Houston:

Notice a pattern? Passengers don’t want to transfer to a circulator service to get to work, even a high-quality circulator like Denver’s. And serving suburban employment densities with rail transit is just about futile: 80% of Houston’s bus routes have higher ridership than Denver’s suburb to suburb rail line.
Trains aren’t vacuum cleaners. You don’t just put them next to a freeway and hope they suck people out of their cars. People will ride transit if it gets them where they want to go conveniently. If we want to maximize the number of people who will take transit (which should be the goal) we need to find places where transit will serve as many people as possible as conveniently as possible. That means serving density, particularly employment density, directly.

Note that, as Christof further backed up in the forum, Denver’s circulator is far superior to the one we’ll be delivering here in Austin – it actually has some reserved right-of-way (which even our future maybe streetcar line won’t have). In Austin, just about every daily commuter on the commuter rail line will have to transfer to a shuttle bus to get to their office. Not a shuttle bus which has some segments of reserved right-of-way, like in Denver, but a shuttle bus which is stuck in the same traffic the train was supposed to bypass.

That’s why Tri-Rail in South Florida failed. Some credulous fools here think we’re radically different from everybody else – but if we were so different in the “people with real jobs dislike uncomfortable, jerky, slow bus rides” department, we wouldn’t need to build rail in the first place.

Rail, TOD, etc.

Responding to a comment on this old entry:
Jonathan, that’s not accurate.

  1. There ARE more lines in the “long-range plan”, but NONE of them go anywhere near UT or the capitol or Mueller. There’s one that might go down Mopac to Seaholm, here it will have the same exact problem that the starter line does; namely; that it’s too far away from any destinations for people to walk; they’ll have to take shuttle buses. And the starter line will be such a visible example of rail’s supposed “failure” that no follow-on lines will be built for a very very very VERY long time. The whole reason I opposed the ’04 plan was this danger – if you build a crappy enough starter line, it will become, as one of my UTC colleagues put it, a “finisher line”.
  2. TOD can’t work if the line doesn’t have good ridership without the TOD. Otherwise, real estate investors are going to be leery about spending more money for TOD than they would for traditional development.
  3. These projections DO take into account all prospective density in east Austin, which has generally OPPOSED such projects. In fact, the TOD ordinance had to be watered down to nearly zero because of that part of town’s virulent opposition to what they see as gentrification.
  4. The only other area in this country which chose to run a rail line through a low-density area instead of running one from where the people are to where they want to go is: South Florida, whose 20-year experiment with Tri-Rail has plumbed new depths of failure. Shuttle buses are so unattractive to the “choice commuter” that even most of the transit-dependent in South Florida don’t use Tri-Rail; they just stay on the normal bus; and NOBODY rides it who could have chosen to drive.

Compare/contrast to light rail, which is what Dallas, Portland, Houston, Minneapolis, Denver, Salt Lake City did; and what we almost did in 2000. We could easily have passed a scaled down version of the ’00 plan in ’04, but Mike Krusee kneecapped Capital Metro into this abomination instead.
Relevant entries in my blog which you might want to look at:

More on Tri-Rail and why shuttle buses matter

The current brou-ha-ha with Lyndon reminded me to go check if anything’s up with Tri-Rail in South Florida. As I’ve previously written, they’re the best example out there of the kind of rail line Capital Metro is going to build here in Austin, in that

  • they don’t run trains very often
  • most destinations require a shuttle bus ride
  • they chose to run on a cheap existing track rather than building lines closer to those destinations (like light rail systems usually do)

Well, in the process I found an updated version of an old article I think I already used, but I hadn’t noticed one important paragraph before. The context is that they’re finally talking seriously about moving to the FEC corridor – which is where the service should have been built all along, since it allows passengers to walk to a non-trivial number of office and retail destinations. We’re even worse off here, though, since building this commuter rail line basically prevents us from building anything like the 2000 starter line. Here’s the quote:

Without a FEC/TRI-Rail alliance, McCarty sees the need for continued subsidy because of the “inherent fear of feeder bus reliability.” The buses “are often late,” she explained.

Since Tri-Rail trains only run about every half-hour during the commute peak and less often the rest of the day (like Austin’s commuter rail trains will), missing your train on the way home from work is a big deal. The “feeder” buses they’re talking about are the same kind of shuttle buses we’re going to be stuck with here in Austin, if you work downtown, at the Capitol, or at UT. And guess what? They’re going to be unreliable too – they’ll be stuck in the same traffic as your car.


Even if streetcars are used for the “high-frequency circulators” which will take you from your office to the train station, the same problem exists – since streetcars won’t have their own lane and won’t be given green lights over cross traffic. The chance that light rail will come out of the Future Connections Study is zero, since commuter rail precludes it from being built in the 2000 alignment, which is the only one good enough to merit Federal funding.


So just like in South Florida, people will experience a couple of missed trains and then, if they have any other options, will stop riding. Nobody wants to sit around for even a half-hour waiting for the next train home. And if all you’re doing is catering to riders who don’t have a choice, you might as well just dump the money into more buses.

A Picture Is Worth A Thousand Shuttle Buses

Here’s what those of us who live or work in Central Austin are getting out of commuter rail. Stations in far east Austin and the Convention Center, with a handy transfer to a slow, stuck-in-traffic shuttle-bus to get you to where you might actually want to go. Image below is from one of two new documents up at the Future Connections Study site:

Capital Metro is starting rail service here in Austin in a couple of years NOT by doing what success stories like Portland and Dallas did (light rail straight through and to the densest parts of town) but what South Florida did (commuter rail where tracks already exist, requiring transfers to shuttle buses to actually get anywhere). Fifteen years later, Tri-Rail in South Florida is an unmitigated disaster: no choice commuters despite heavy promotion by an enthusiastic community, no transit-oriented development despite heavy subsidization (below-market attempts at land sales around stations and the like). Unlike in Dallas and Portland (and Minneapolis and Houston and Denver and Salt Lake…), drivers in South Florida aren’t trying Tri-Rail because they know that transferring to shuttle buses every day for your commute overwhelms any speed advantage the train might have bought you up to that point.

In short, commuter rail as your starter line just plain doesn’t work. And the picture ought to make it clear why – even the nominally downtown station is too far from the 6th/Congress intersection for most people to walk, and all other major activity centers in our area will require people to say hey, I’ll drive to the park-and-ride, board a train, get off the train, get on a bus, wait in traffic with all the other cars, get off the bus, and walk to my office. Even promotional images used in the pro-commuter-rail campaign show that they expect downtown workers to have to transfer to shuttle buses, as seen below.


Notice in the handouts that they’re still pretending that all options are on the table. But believe me, there is zero chance that light rail will end up as the circulator, and near-zero chance that streetcars will make it, not that streetcars would work anyways. It’s going to be shuttle-buses in mixed-traffic. Mark my words.

Commuter Rail Is Not Light Rail, Part 851

Or: A letter I just wrote to the Statesman which they probably won’t publish:

Many of your readers and a significant number of public boosters of the commuter rail proposal on the ballot November 2nd appear to be confused as to the nature of the project. Referring to cities such as Salt Lake City and Portland as rail success stories is misleading in this context, ince those cities are succeeding with LIGHT RAIL (like we narrowly voted down in 2000), not COMMUTER RAIL. The only recent example of a system like the one we’re voting on comes from South Florida – it relies exclusively on “high-frequency circulators” (shuttle buses) while all the success stories mentioned have stations within walking distance of existing offices and shops. South Florida’s line has been an unmitigated disaster that after 15 years still carries only 12,000 passengers a day on a far longer corridor than the one we’re contemplating building.

How you’ll use commuter rail

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

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

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