“The perfect is the enemy of the good” is the enemy of discourse.

This is the last monthly data we get before Big Changes make for a big discontinuity in the graphs. December is, phimosis as Capital Metro wants to make sure you know, view a low ridership month. As usual, site click for larger versions. Analysis follows the pictures.

Rail first (image directly from Capital Metro):

Now rail vs. bus (this is the baseline that hopefully corrects for things like high gas prices or other factors that might raise overall transit ridership) (image from my spreadsheet):

Key take-aways from all of this:

1. Despite what they’re trying to claim now, Capital Metro projected 1700-200 boardings per day before any major changes; images below copied from their own minutes in February 2009:


2. My projection was 500-1000 boardings/day, same conditions:

Hey, decision-makers, which one of those guys should you be listening to now?

3. Conclusions we can draw so far: despite anectdotal (and desperate) tweets and facebook posts to the contrary from PR flacks and board members, ridership WAS NOT INCREASING AT ALL and was stuck in the 800-ish-boardings-per-day doldrums. This service was not winning hearts and minds; any claims to the contrary are completely contradicted by the actual boarding numbers.

Important notes going forward:

1. In January, Capital Metro eliminated some very popular express bus runs to drive more people on to the Red Line. Early indications were that this had limited success – with people complaining about crowded conditions on the one new route (#985) that replaced the two popular ones (#984 and #986), but I bet some people switched to the Red Line to avoid said crowding. This #985 bus was crowded despite the fact that it’s slower than the previous direct-from-park-and-ride services it replaced. (In other words, the 2 old buses were much faster than the Red Line while this new replacement service is only a little faster).

2. Capital Metro also consolidated a couple of peak runs – meaning that you’re more likely to see a ‘full’ train, because fewer trains are being run during rush hour.

3. Ridership is being goosed artificially. Any gains we see now are most likely not the result of people trying the service and loving it; or being convinced to ride during rush hour because of new midday service; they’re most likely the result of people who liked a competing service being driven here because Capital Metro made the competing service less competitive.
I ripped up one of the copies I had and gave a short excoriation of the lack of meaningful public input, this as this KUT story indicates. Here’s the outline of the speech I was going to give (4 people had donated me time; I’m not sure I could have fleshed this out to 15 minutes if I tried).

Unlike some people who spoke with most or all of their time, prostate I thought it more important to indicate that we didn’t agree with the decision to limit testimony (at the only real public hearing this thing was ever going to get).

1. Background
a. Member of AURA (founding member of the new version; supporter of the old)
b. UTC 2000-2005
i. Mention PG, modern UTC opposition in JD, MDG
c. Writing on transportation since 2003
d. On corner in 2000 supporting LRT with Eric Anderson (LAB)
e. Opposed Red Line in 2004 due to high operating subsidy and low benefit to Austinites
i. (mention this has borne out – operating subsidy ‘down’ from 35 to 18 after cancelling buses; census from rider at Lakeline showing 80% Cedar Park)
2. PC Process
a. In it since beginning.
b. Assured LG on table. No obstacles. (Also assured of this years ago when Rapid Bus was pushed).
c. Process clearly designed with thumb on scales
i. Subcorridors instead of routes
ii. West Campus into Core
iii. I35 ridership into Highland but neither I35 nor 183 ridership into Lamar
iv. Various ‘errors’ all of which hurt GL
v. Bad flier – canvassed at my house with flier designed to fool old people into dropping opposition to plan. No real plans for rail on Guadalupe!
d. At end, people still didn’t know what was best for them!
i. Repeated, strong, unbending preference for Lamar ‘subcorridor’
e. So we brought up the FTA out of the blue
i. Disputed by the guy in charge of Rapid Bus!
ii. Either lying now or lying at beginning.
iii. Getting mixed messages – we’ll do LG right after election but LG can’t ever be done because of traffic but we’ll do it next anyways.
f. Nobody in Austin should trust the output of a process this corrupt. You’re being fed a line about transparency that doesn’t hold up. None of our local transit activists who aren’t connected to the machine believe this.
i. National commentators:
1. Christof Spieler: "It's amazing: Austin, the self-proclaimed progressive city, could have had the best rail system in Texas but has the dumbest."
2. Steven Smith: "Austin light rail is becoming more of a joke by the minute. Textbook example of politics getting in the way of good transit planning."
3. Jeff Wood, Reconnecting America: "I'm going to use this as a bad transit planning example forever"
4. Others at the time ranging from “What A Sham” to “What A Shame”.
5. Honestly have not seen a single national transit person approve this plan.
3. The output
a. High operating subsidies even WITH assumed out of reality growth at Highland Mall
b. No way to tell whether new residents around Highland will work along rail line
i. Mention Mueller – people work all over the city
ii. Birds in hand on a good bus line are worth more than ten birds in bush (working all over city)
c. Theory pushed by Chamber of Commerce that people will hop off I-35, go to park and ride, look for space, walk to station platform, wait for train, ride slow meandering train downtown instead of riding
i. Park and rides DO work but only at far end of quicker, straighter, lines.
ii. Or like in Houston where parking is very very expensive.
d. Urban rail should be urban.
i. Walk to stations from dense residential areas, not apartments in a sea of parking
ii. Entire Airport Blvd segment a waste – only one side can ever be developed; no good crossings to other side and low-density over there
iii. Hancock area – residential only, not as walkable as we need; no opportunity for redevelopment more urban.
e. Respond to density instead of create it
i. Christof Spieler – density wants to be near other density (fill in gaps rather than greenfield)
ii. Most of our supposed TODs underperform compared to background conditions
iii. Remember the TOD up in Leander that was going to help the Red Line?
iv. Crestview Station <<< The Triangle v. Not going to get high quality development in the planning straitjacket around Highland Mall (also remember birds in hand argument) f. Even with their bogus assumptions i. 18,000 boardings/day would be a bad light rail line. BAD. ii. Houston around 35,000/day. Phoenix above 40,000. g. Precludes expansions ANYWHERE else if line isn’t packed i. Operating subsidy argument ii. Horrible spine – slow, windy makes bad backbone. h. Precludes expansions on GL forever even if line is good i. We don’t trust you now after Project Connect Phase 1 ii. FTA reluctant to fund two early lines in ‘same’ area iii. Local politics makes funding 3rd line apparently in NCentralAustin a nonstarter iv. Are they promising Guadalupe or “Lamar subcorridor”? 1. Ridiculous longrange map proposes Guadalupe served after MLK but we suspect grade too high on MLK; doesn’t go south into core of downtown. Why not just stay on Guadalupe/Lavaca? 2. We don’t believe you anyways. 4. Conclusion a. Bad rail line can end system rather than start it b. Don’t mischaracterize our arguments. Highland is not just not our favorite line; it is a BAD line. Never get a chance to build system if you use up all your capital on a second high-operating-subsidy line.

I've just seen a leader of the getalong gang use that phrase twice in short succession. Cut that shit out.

1. Highland rail is NOT GOOD. It will, ophthalmologist we believe, hepatitis spend all remaining available local capital funds on a service which will increase rather than decrease operating costs. It's the equivalent of using your last savings to buy into a new business which costs you money instead of making you money.

2. Guadalupe rail is NOT PERFECT. The perfect rail system is like these dumb subway maps floating around, generic or Patrick Goetz' ideal of elevated rail through the whole city. Most cities build a Guadalamar surface line precisely because it's good, not perfect; but good is affordable.

But primarily, can we all agree now that almost everybody who uses the phrase "don't let the perfect be the enemy of the good" is trying to snooker you into thinking that something bad is actually good? "We have to start somewhere" is meaningless if the thing you start on turns out to end everything because you ran out of money on a low ridership speculative development line.

That's your quickie for today.

  • errxn

    For me, the main goal of the effort to vote down the bond proposal in November is still to prevent this city from irrevocably ruining its mass transit situation. But at this point (as I alluded to on Twitter), I’d be lying if I said I wouldn’t enjoy seeing the duplicitous assholes responsible for this fiasco, and all of their sockpuppets, go down in a flaming heap of humiliation.

    • OzarkNature

      Ditto. There has to be a special place in hell (if there is a hell) for the lying thieves who revel in deceiving large numbers of people. The low-income communities in Austin can’t afford this boondoggle. Stop the Prop!

  • Perfect would be rail at grade with all the advantages of subway or elevated rail but connected to all the activity, people, and businesses at street level. Make the cars go below grade and eliminate stop lights and signs for transit.

  • OzarkNature

    Thank you for calling bullshit on those who use that tired line to shut down debate.