HOW TO REVIEW A TRANSIT PLAN. Thomas A. Rubin, CPA, CMA, CMC, CIA, CGFM, CFM Preserving the American Dream Conference Denver, Colorado September 20, 2014. BUS. Is good. RAIL. IS Bad. Questions?. Well, perhaps a bit over-simplified ….
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HOW TO REVIEW A TRANSIT PLAN Thomas A. Rubin, CPA, CMA, CMC, CIA, CGFM, CFM Preserving the American Dream Conference Denver, Colorado September 20, 2014
BUS Is good.
RAIL IS Bad.
Well, perhaps a bit over-simplified … • Actually, rail, bus, roads, and just about all other transportation modes are never good or bad, in and of themselves – they are means, tools, that are only or bad in context, which means: • How they do in furthering transportation and related goals • In comparison to other options, and/or • After the fact, compared to the project’s own stated objectives: • Construction and/operating costs/subsidies • Ridership • Travel time • Congestion relief
Cost and Related Considerations Will it Work? Is it the Best Option? Can we Afford to Build it? Can we Afford to Operate it? Will it Negatively Impact Other Transportation System Components and/or other metropolitan objectives? Schedule – How Long to Get It Going? Risk – Financial, Political, Technical, Management? Are the projections for capital and operating costs, ridership, revenues, construction schedule, travel time, safety, congestion impact, real estate development, urban form change CREDITABLE?
WHAT WE WILL COVER TODAY • 30,000 Foot Description of the Planning Process • Types of Plans – This presentation will focus on “corridor plans” • Areas of Concern • Start Early • Get Organized • Get Technical Help • National Environmental Policy Act Challenges • Things to Look For – including a number of real world, “can-you-believe-that’s?”
WHAT IS A PLANNER? A planner is … someone who knows with absolute certainty what a wonderful world this would be if only all those stupid people out there would just live their lives the way (s)he knows they should. Yes, this description is very unfair to many fine, dedicated planners who are doing good work for the members of the public – but it is a very good description of many other members of the planning community and profession.
30,000 Foot Description of the Transportation Planning Process • Randall has discussed the regional planning process • This will be at the individual transit agency level – with an emphasis on “corridor plans” – such as those that are generally required for light rail, heavy rail, and bus rapid transit-heavy projects • Let’s start by going through the various transit modes that someone might think are ideal for your city
TRANSIT MODES THAT GENERALLY REQUIRE CORRIDOR PLANS I Light Rail: An electric railway that operates local service in mixed traffic with road vehicles, or has grade crossings with roadways. The service is characterized by short trains of one to four cars and by relatively short distances between stops for local service within a city and the immediate suburbs. Heavy Rail: An electric railway that operates local service in exclusive right-of-way. The service is characterized by long trains of six to eight cars or more and by relatively short distances between stops for local service within a city and the immediate suburbs. The Nation’s traditional subway systems are classified as heavy rail.
TRANSIT MODES THAT GENERALLY REQUIRE CORRIDOR PLANS II Streetcar Rail: Rail systems operating routes predominantly on streets in mixed-traffic. This service typically operates with single-car trains powered by overhead catenaries and with frequent stops. Hybrid Rail: Rail systems primarily operating routes on the National system of railroads, but not operating with the characteristics of commuter rail. This service typically operates light rail-type vehicles as diesel multiple-unit trains (DMU’s).
TRANSIT MODES THAT GENERALLY REQUIRE CORRIDOR PLANS III Commuter Rail: Rail service operating on either old freight railways, or on tracks that are shared with freight railways, Amtrak, or both. The service is characterized by relatively long distances between stops, for service primarily connecting a central city with outlying suburbs and cities. The service may be either diesel or electric-powered and usually has grade-crossings with roadways. Bus Rapid Transit: Fixed-route bus systems that operate at least 50% of the service on fixed guideway. These systems also combine passenger stations, traffic signal priority or pre-emption, low-floor vehicles or level-platform boarding, and separate branding of the service. This is often a lower-cost alternative to light rail.
Flavors of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) • BRT has many different types • Most common is “BRT-Heavy” • Dedicated or semi-dedicated guideway with grade crossings, usually dedicated stations, traffic signal progressions to match bus speed, limited traffic signal preference, and branding/marketing • Logical competition to Light Rail Transit • BRT-Lite: • Similar to BRT-Heavy, but no dedicated guideway or stations • Upgrade local bus service/compete with LRT
Flavors of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) II • Long-Haul Commuter Express • Long Trips, often 30 miles of more • From local suburban roads and/or park-and-ride lots, then direct to freeway to destination • Few, if any, stops, along high-speed portion of route • When operated on dedicated or semi-dedicated lanes, busways, HOV and/or HOT lanes, are the highest speed transit in existence, often far faster than drive-alone • Due to high utilization, high fares, and other factors, farebox recovery ratios of 90% and higher are possible • Logical competition for commuter rail – but, because you don’t have to fill a train, more frequent service
OTHER MODES COULD CAUSE ISSUES • Less common, but … • Monorail/Automated Guideway – Honolulu • Trolley Bus (electric catenary) – New systems and extensions of existing lines rare in recent history, but, is often of interest, at least in the beginning of studies, because it is “zero emission” (not really) • Aerial Tramway, Cable Car, Inclined Plane, and Ferryboat – with the possible exception of Ferryboat, doubtful if anyone in this room will ever run into a transit proposal for these in their areas
THINGS TO KEEP IN MIND • Do your homework – go the meetings, search the agency website, Google™ regularly, talk to people, never stop • Trust your gut – yes, there are a lot of technical things in these, but, if it doesn’t sound right to you, this is likely to be something to research – it may turn out that there is nothing to be of concern, but, many times, it is a citizen on the street who first notices a fatal flaw in the “big plan” • Keep good records, keep documents, record meetings, and file them carefully
TYPES OF PLANS • I’m going to skip over, for my presentation, the “bigger plans” because Randall has covered these: • Long-Range Transportation Plans (LRTP) • Short-Range Transportation Plans (SRTP) • Transportation Improvement Plans (TIP) • Air Quality Plans • However, when you are challenging a specific transit corridor plan, it can be best to start early in the process, before the specific corridor planning is underway
“BIG” PLANS FIRST – DON’T IGNORE • Where there are flawed corridor plans, this is often because the overall regional plans are suboptimal: • What is the mission of transit? – Perhaps, it should be to first provide mobility to those who are transportation-challenged due to fiscal or physical condition or age • If an objective is to increase transit utilization, keeping fares down and improving bus service will often be far more effective than expensive guideway projects that serve only a small portion of the community • If air quality is a concern, there is far more benefit to providing good bus service to take “junkers” off the road than trying to get yuppies out of their BMW’s
“BIG” PLANS FIRST II • If job creation and economic development are important, than a lot more can be done by increasing bus service, and hiring people to drive and maintain vehicles who actually live in the community, than spending big bucks to buy things made in other parts of the nation – and the world • Improving bus service means that people who are trying to get to jobs, or to buy things, or see a doctor, can do these next year, not ten or more years from now • These types of considerations are virtually never even contemplated when doing long-term transit planning
AREAS OF CONCERN • What are the “real” agendas of the promoters? • Costs • Schedule • Ridership • Impacts on the community • Tax increase/diversion • How good are the projections? • Are the promoters gaming the process and the public?
START EARLY • If the first you hear about a proposed light rail line through your neighborhood, or a new tax to build it, is when the formal announcement is made, you are way behind the curve. • Start early (admittedly, easy to say, harder to do) • If you have any contact with elected officials, attempt to get on advisory boards – or even the transit agency board of directors • Make contacts and keep them current; talk among yourselves, try to find someone with web skills who is willing to establish and operate a web site
GET ORGANIZED • Talk to your friends, your neighbors, your professional and other contacts, and seek out others who may share your concerns • Meet and discuss, including concerns, options, and how to make your feelings known • Start thinking about ways to raise money and/or get pro bono services • Organize • Develop an action plan, assign responsibilities, and act
GET TECHNICAL HELP • While a lot can be done without it, there are some things where technical help is a necessity • It is not just knowing how to evaluate a point, it is knowing what questions to ask • Providing such assistance is one of the main reasons why the American Dream Coalition exists • Contact ADC and we can help • Also, seek out such assistance locally, including disgusted former employees of the agency and local university experts
NATIONAL ENVIRONMENTAL POLICY ACT (NEPA) CHALLENGES • See the paper in the CD for details • In general, if there is major Federal capital funding, an Environmental Impact Statement, or lower level environmental clearance document, will be required • A NEPA challenge can slow down the project and can lead to some changes – but, if the agency wants to go ahead, it will almost never stop it entirely • For that, you will need other legal, public/media relations, and political tactics
THINGS TO LOOK FOR • This section will get into silly and stupid things that transit agencies and their planners, engineers, financial staff, and elected officials do, and claims they make • All of these are real – as in, you couldn’t make these things up • While some of these require specific technical knowledge to assess in detail, so many of these are just common sense that anyone who is willing to read the plans carefully, and think about, can identify – and then start asking about
TRANSIT IS NOT MORE FUEL-EFFICIENT THAN AUTOMOBILES – AND WILL FALL FURTHERAND FURTHER BEHIND OVER TIME
Examples of What to Watch Out For Cynthia Sullivan, Chair, (Seattle) Central Link (light rail system) Oversight Committee, “When this system is up and running, Northgate to SeaTac, in 2020, it will carry as many people every day as I-5 does today.” Center for Transportation Excellence: “It would take a twelve lane freeway going in one direction to equate the same amount of capacity of one light rail line.”
Measurement Metrics Number of Lanes or Tracks x Vehicles or Trains per Hour per Lane/Track x Vehicles per Train x Passengers per Vehicle = PASSENGERS PASS A POINT x Speed = TRANSPORTATION WORK (Passenger Miles Index)
Passenger Carrying Capacity Modal Comparisons ..L.A. Blue Line.. ……..CFTE....…. Peak Peak El Monte/ NY Port Light …Real World…. Load Trip Busway Authority LOS “E”..Rail..LOS “E”LOS “F”.Point...Ave..HOV LaneBus Term Trains/Hour 20 12 12 Cars/Train 6 2.5 2.5 Cars/Hour 2,000 120 1,800 2,100 30 30 1,218 515-779 Occupancy 1.25 125 1.15 1.15 150 80 4.36 32-48 Passengers 23,187- Past a Point 2,50015,000 2,070 2,415 4,500 2,400 5,310 34,685 Speed 55 25 15 24 56.9 Transportation Work Index 113,85060,37537,50056,700 302,166 “E” Index 1.00 .53 .33 .50 2.65 “F” Index 1.89 1.00 .62 .94 5.00
Plan Bay Area’s Transit Utilization Proposal is Unworkable 2010 “Percent Utilization” data points are incorrect – for “Daily,” in 2010: Table shows 27% for Light Rail, Actual was 33% Table shows 27% for Heavy Rail, Actual was 36% The statement, “Utilization levels greater than 80 percent reflects conditions where passengers either would have difficulty in finding a seat or would have to stand during all or part their ride,” sets the bar far too high; standing loads can occur when the utilization factor is well short of 50%. Example: The Table says that Heavy Rail (BART) morning peak period load factor is now 40% and will go to 57% in 2040 -- this would mean that BART into San Francisco in the morning peak would have 42% more passengers in each car. It appears that the people who prepared this table, and the transit loading portions of the Plan, do not understand how transit schedules are developed, the data, or both.
So, if Speed and Time of Travel Didn’t Have Much to Do with the Modal Choice, What Did? • MTA had spent $150 million to purchase the “Burbank Branch” to build the San Fernando Valley East-West Subway under – and really wanted to so something with it. • The Warner Center Specific Plan required guideway transit as a prerequisite for any further build-out. • There was a very active San Fernando Valley succession movement, based in large part, on the belief that the City was sucking all the money from the Valley to spend on the other side of the hills – so the obvious solution was to spend MTA (not City) money in the Valley. • It is all about power – we (the elected officials) want to do this and we really don’t care about the facts – or what is good for the public, or what the public wants.
So, Now What for the Orange Line? • Several power players in the Valley, ticked off that everyone else is getting light rail and all they got was this stinkin’ BRT, have launched an effort to convert the Orange Line to LRT • The stated rationale is to increase capacity and increase speed; the real one is rail envy • They refuse to understand that the limitations of the Orange Line are due to a very poor routing and cheap design, that light rail conversion would take over double the original cost of BRT – and would not increase speed or capacity without even far, far more expense on top of that
If You Want to Increase Ridership, … • Nothing works better, or faster, or less expensively, than: • Reducing fares • Increasing service • Improving service • The three largest increases in transit ridership in the U.S. post-WWII have all been due, in very large part, to these factors • New rail lines are not very associated with increases in total ridership – and often are associated with decreases
The Los Angeles Experience • For FY83-85, the Southern California Rapid Transit District fare was reduced from $.85 to $.50 as part of effort to get the taxpayers to approve a half-cent sales tax to help build eleven rail lines – and bus ridership increased over 40% • FY86-95, fares went up to $.85, $1.10, and $1.35, as over 60% of the available funding went to build rail lines – and ridership dropped 27%. • FY96-07, a lawsuit and consent decree forced a reduction in fares and increase in bus service – and total ridership increased almost to the FY85 levels, most of the increase on bus • Fare just went to $1.75 – and, despite a one-third increase in County population since 1985, mainly very poor peoples of color, ridership has not matched the FY85 peak • There are now three half-cent transportation sales taxes in Los Angeles County – and we are a very long way from seeing those eleven rail lines in operation