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English Script Request

Complete / 3447 Words
by kengo 0:00:00 - 0:03:22

According to the Federal Highway Administration, our transit systems have a $78 billion maintenance backlog. And the reason for that is very simple. Rail transit systems like the Washington Metro and the Atlanta rail system and most other recent rail systems have been built with federal dollars, local dollars paid for the operations, and nobody is paying for the rehabilitation and replacement that must be done every 30 years or so, just like we need to rebuild the interstate highway system every 50 years or so. So as anybody here who rides the Washington Metro knows, it's falling apart because nobody has the money to fix it. Chicago, believe it or not, is actually far worse than the Washington system. Boston is far worse than the Washington system. New York is probably in a little better condition but between Boston, Washington, and Chicago, and San Francisco, those four cities alone probably have a $40-50 billion maintenance backlog. The total $78 billion maintenance backlog includes all the other transit systems in the country combined.

Now one reason why we have serious problems with transit is because transit insists on following a backwards technology system. For example, we have cities, Atlanta, recently got approval to build a streetcar system. That's an 1890's technology. Here in Washington, they're talking about building the Purple Line light rail. That's a 1930's technology. And then, of course, somebody -- I forget his name -- was talking about building high-speed rail. And that's really a 1930's technology, too. Most of the high-speed trains that what's-his-name, Obama, wanted to build were going to be 110 miles an hour. This is a 1939 train from Minneapolis to Chicago, went 110 miles an hour. He also wanted to build some faster trains, a couple of faster trains. That was 1960's technology, as used in Japan. So we're talking about backwards technology, applied to today's problems. These technologies don't work. They were rejected primarily because they were far too expensive, and in most cases were too slow and inconvenient compared to driving. Well why do cities insist on adopting these backwards technologies? Well one reason is that the vast majority of funds for transit come from taxes. Only about 20 to 25% come from fares. And so, if you're a transit agency, you care about what your transit riders need a lot less than you care about what the taxpayers are willing to pay, or what you can convince the appropriators to give you. And trains are sexier than buses, and so you want to build a train because you'll get more money out of it, not because it provides better transit. It doesn't. In most cases, it provides worse transit than buses. Even where it is a little better, it's far, far more expensive and not worth the extra cost.

by lingua_pura 0:03:22 - 0:07:11

Cities have played a game of trying to capture as much money as they can out of the federal government, and the federal government has played along, such that even though transit only carries about 1% of all passenger travel, it's been getting more tax subsidies a year - this is total federal, state, and local subsidies - more subsidies a year than highways, which carry about 85% of all passenger travel and about 28% of all freight in the United States. Despite all of these subsidies, transit ridership hasn't really grown all that much. Since 1970, in fact, per capita transit ridership has actually declined, which means we've been throwing, we've blown about a half a trillion dollars on transit, a lot of it building obsolete rail systems, in the United States since 1970 and seen a decline in ridership. That's not a symptom of a good thing. Meanwhile, even though we haven't been spending that much on new highway construction, highway driving has increased dramatically, whereas transit - you can see on this scale - is just a flat line. One of the problems is that transit agencies have huge taxing districts. This is the tax district for Portland, Oregan's transit agency. Almost all the people who want to ride transit are in that circle, but, because they tax a much bigger area, they feel compelled to send buses and other forms of transit out into every corner of the area they tax. And the buses they send tend to be very large buses because, after all, the federal government paid for the buses, and so you might as well get a big one because the operating costs, it's the same driver whether it's a big bus or a little bus, right? That's the way they reason. Actually it does cost a lot more to operate a big bus, but they reason that it's one driver per bus, so, they get a big bus, so they end up with empty buses. The average number of boardings per bus mile has steadily declined since 1970. The same is true with rail transit, as we build more and more rail lines, in lower and lower density suburbs, we see the average number of boardings per rail line decline and we end up with empty trains and empty buses.

Now, one solution to this is not public/private partnerships. Shirley talked about public/private partnerships for highways. That's where we transfer the risk to the private sector. But what transit agencies call public/private partnerships does not transfer any risk at all. The Hudson-Bergen Light Rail was built with a public/private partnership. It had a huge cost overrun and it was all paid for by the public. The difference is, with our highway public/private partnership, the private partner pays for the road, collects the tolls, and repays the cost of the road out of the tolls. With a transit public/private partnership, the private partner builds the rail line, then operates it and collects the fares, and then also collects a whole huge tax subsidy that guarantees them a profit whether or not anybody actually rides the train. So they have no incentive to be efficient compared to a highway public/private partner. So I actually resent the fact the transit agencies have tried to co-opt the term public/private partnerships for their transit projects.

by bluepetermum 07:11 - 0:17:50

Now to see what ought to be done with transit, we only have to look at intercity buses, which have experienced a resurgence. They're growing, they're the fastest-growing mode of passenger travel in the United States today, they're growing almost twice as fast in ridership as Amtrak today. Megabus is one, Bolt is another, you've probably seen them if you haven't ridden on them.

One of the ways that new intercity bus services have changed is they've changed how buses work. You know, instead of going to a bus station you often go to a kerbside. But you also, instead of having a bus that takes you from, say, Washington to New York, with stops in Baltimore and Wilmington and Philadelphia and maybe a bunch of other places, you now have a choice. You can take the bus from New York to Philadelphia, the bus to Wilmington, the bus to Baltimore, or the bus to Washington, so you get a non-stop service whichever your destination is, and it's much faster and more convenient.

Plus, the bus company can then orient the number of departures to the demand for each city. So for example there's 139 to 155 different buses connecting New York and Philadelphia a day, depending on the day of the week. 155 would be Saturday or Fridays and Sundays, and 139 would probably be Tuesdays and Wednesday. Wilmington - only 2 to 5 buses a day. Not many people going from New York City to Wilmington. 50-60 to Baltimore, 139 to 211 a day to Washington DC. So the bus companies can customize it and they can provide the kind of service that people want.

The average passenger load on an urban transit bus is about 9 people. That's 9 passenger miles per vehicle revenue mile. The average passenger load on an intercity bus is more than 30 people. The difference is that the intercity buses go where people want to go, because they're trying to earn a profit. The transit buses go where the taxpayers are, because they're trying to justify charging them taxes. So we end up with all these empty buses. If we privatize transit, we will be able to fill up the buses because they'll go where people want to go, instead of to every nook and cranny, every suburb where it already has 3 cars in every garage, and nobody's going to ride transit.

Because the intercity buses are full, they're just about the most efficient form of motorized transportation we have today. Van pools are the one kind of urban transit that's more efficient than intercity buses. Transit buses, because they're empty, are the least efficient motorized transportation we have today, energy-efficient transportation we have today. It's actually more energy-inefficient than an SUV, and emits more pollution and carbon dioxide than an SUV. Light rail is more energy-[in]efficient than cars, because they're empty for one thing, and because trains are really really heavy, and the heavy weight of the train makes up for the fact that steel wheels are a little more efficient than rubber tires.

So if we privatize transit, what's is going to look like? Well, a lot of transit to more remote areas is going to look like SuperShuttle. You've probably taken a SuperShuttle to the airport or something like a SuperShuttle. SuperShuttle will come and pick you up at your door and take you to the airport, pick you up at the airport and drop you off at your door. The problem is in most cities, companies like SuperShuttle are not allowed to take you anywhere except to and from the airport, and so you end up being stuck on metro or driving your car or whatever. But if SuperShuttle could compete anywhere, we'd see a lot more door-to-door shared taxi service.

And in fact we do see that in a few cities, where there's no limit on competition. In Miami for example, most states guarantee their transit agencies a legal monopoly, but Florida does not, so Miami actually has a dozen different private bus companies competing with the public bus agency. The public agency charges a dollar fifty a ride, the private companies earn a profit charging a dollar a ride. Oftentimes they run their buses in front of the public buses to capture their customers, and there's a little bit of tension about that.

If you go to Puerto Rico, there's something called the "publicos". They are shared taxis, they compete against the public bus company and the public train system in San Juan, and yet they carry more riders and more passenger miles a year than the public buses and trains combined. Again they're a door-to-door service, with somewhat flexible routes, they're somewhat fixed routes but somewhat flexible, and they charge more than the public buses, but they get more riders because they go where people want to go.

If you go to Atlantic City New Jersey, it's the only city I know in America, in the United States that still has a private bus system. It's called the Atlantic City Jitney, they connect people to hotels, to casinos, they have designated routes. Some of their buses are free because the casinos are paying for them, and some of them you pay a dollar fifty. They're all owned by the drivers and they all earn a profit, they get absolutely no subsidies, you won't find them in the national transit database.

Houston is a city that allows this kind of a system by its ordinance, but when people asked for a permit, they wouldn't give them a permit. So after several years of litigation, they finally gave someone a permit. Her name is Lauren [Barrash], she runs what she calls the Washington Wave, because it started out going up and down Washington Avenue in Houston, but now it goes to many other places, and that's a very successful and growing service.

In New York City, we have trains and buses connecting New York to New Jersey, and nobody ever thought that anybody would ever want to ride a ferry boat again, so the ferry services were all left to decline and disappear. And then some guy bought some land, his name was Arther Imperial, Imperatore, and he bought some land on the New Jersey side and he wanted to develop it, and he thought, "well if I have a ferry service, I'll be able to develop my land." So he started something called the New York Waterway, and actually never managed to develop his land very much, but the New York Waterway proved extremely successful, with routes connecting all kinds of places in New Jersey with several different places in New York. Once you get to the New York side, you can catch a free bus or a bus as part of your fare that takes you to a lot of different places in Manhattan, and that system is working very well. Again, it's entirely private, it did receive a little bit of a subsidy after 9/11 to help it make up for the loss of the past service, but other than that it's not gotten any subsidies.

In Clayton County Georgia, the county was providing a subsidized bus service between Clayton County and Atlanta, and it went out of business. The county said, "we can't afford the subsidy any more!" so they just stopped doing it, the buses stopped running. And a private party came along and said, "we're going to take over." They took over the routes, they charged 3 dollars and 50 cents instead of the dollar fifty that was being charged by C-TRAN, but so far as I know it's still running today, it's still successful and it's taking people to work where they want to go.

Now people have this image of buses as being for the poor and homeless people. You know, you don't want to be seen riding a bus. Reputedly somebody once said, "anyone over the age of 30 who's still riding a bus is a failure." Well all that is just absurd. If buses don't have to compete against subsidized trains, they will provide a wide variety of services. This is the Hampton Jitney, it connects the Hamptons on Long Island with Manhattan, the buses have only 3 rows or 3 columns of seats, so they're very plush. It's a first-class service, some of them have galleys in the back so you get food. The fare is enough to cover the cost, I think it's 27 dollars or something to get from Manhattan to the Hamptons, and it works very well. You'll get different classes of service. Between New York and Washington you have the regular bus service, but there's also the Vamoose Gold Service, like this only three rows of seats. Between Washington or New York and Boston, there's something called the LimoLiner. It only has 27, 28 seats on the bus as opposed to this which has 36 seats, it has food services, movies and of course free WiFi and all kinds of other things.

So you can get classes of service with buses if we privatize it. And then it won't be a kind of a stigma where only poor people ride it. Now some people are going to say, "but what if we privatize it and everybody doubles the fares, how are poor people going to get to work?" Well, if we really are concerned about low-income people, we shouldn't be supporting transit bureaucracies and railcar construction companies and railcar manufacturers, we should support poor people. We can give them transportation stamps, and that might be one way to take care of transportation for low-income people and disabled people, rather than having these gigantic subsidies that aren't working at all. Then we'll get a whole variety of different transit systems, we'll get a whole variety of different transit options, and we'll probably have much better service, especially for the people in the inner cities that really need transit.

I discuss all this in a lot more detail in my policy paper which I think there are copies outside, called "The case for privatizing transit". You might also be interested in taking a look at my blog where I discuss these issues quite often, it's called The Anti-Planner. Just Google "Anti-Planner", and I'm the first thing on the list. Thank you very much.


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