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Reinventing Transport in Cities: Pillar 1- Public transport should be free

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  • Richard Layman
    I wrote a paper on these kinds of issues for Washington, DC -- for a class -- but I really need to revise it once more before sending it out. As a talking
    Message 1 of 2 , Sep 3, 2007
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      I wrote a paper on these kinds of issues for Washington, DC -- for a class -- but I really need to revise it once more before sending it out.
      As a talking point, I raised the idea of free surface transportation (bus and streetcar), based on the "fareless square" concept.
      See, you can argue that Fareless Square type free services raise equity issues, because the service (justified in terms of reducing congestion) most likely serves people with higher, not lower, incomes--office workers with high incomes, plus visitors.
      To fund free surface transportation for the city, among other uses, I propse a transit withholding tax, as is done in certain counties in Oregon.  Depending on the rate, this could raise $200 annually.
      I estimated that the cost of free public surface transportation would be about $75 million beyond the current subsidy.  (That's an estimate, probably high, of the farebox revenue.  But the WMATA system has amongst the highest farebox recovery rate in North Am., 50% for buses, and 80% for subway.)
      But the issue is do you get $75 million worth of value?  I'd argue probably not.
      So extending the idea of what Arlington County VA calls primary and secondary transit networks, I added a tertiary category for intra-neighborhood transit.  And perhaps that type of transit could be free.  Below is something I blogged about it.
      But if that type of transit would cost say $30 million/year, we could spend $150 million/annually to build the separated blue line subway, $15 million for streetcar expansion, and $5 million on other system improvements (bus improvements, wayfinding and information systems, etc.).  (This is independent of the Adshel bus shelter + bike sharing program.)
      Richard Layman
      Washington, DC

      Friday, July 27, 2007

      An idea for free public transit within DC

      Alan sends a link to this article, Fare-Free Public Transit Could Be Headed to a City Near You. He writes:

      Why can't a variation of this be done here in the nation's capital? The loss in revenue could be offset with either (a) an increase in thesales tax (b) re-routing a sizable portion of parking fine and parking meter revenue to the public transit system (thereby allowing drivers to subsidize riders) (c) increasing parking meter costs (either by decreasing the time that money can buy or increasing the cost per "x number of minutes" (15?) increment). I'm sure alternate financing schemes could also be discussed but these seem least likely to run afoul of Congress.

      My response:

      This idea is in my big transportation paper, which I have to rewrite before I am willing to send it around. There are a couple issues. First I propose a transit withholding tax as done in certain parts of Oregon. Depending on the rate, that could generate about $200 million/year.

      Second, the cost of providing free surface transportation within DC (for various reasons it's too difficult to try to do this underground, not mechanically, but because how the system is funded) would be about $80 million/year more beyond the current subsidy (that is based on my estimate of revenue from farebox). It will go up as streetcar service is added.

      Third, you have to figure out if you get that much value for the $80 mil. I say no. That it is more important to spend that kind of money on creating the separate blue line subway from Arlington through Georgetown and the center city, to provide redundancy and added capacity.

      Four, however, and this is for the revision because I only figured this out the next day after I finished the paper, the thing to do is make intra-neighborhood transit free.

      I propose three service levels of public transit (and this is merely an extension of the structure laid out in Arlington's Transportation Plan, Transit Element 2nd Draft, plus thinking about BART versus and vis-a-vis the intra-San Francisco MUNI system), primary, railroad, subway, major bus lines that are intra-regional, secondary, high capacity transit that is primarily intra-city with regional connectivity, and tertiary, which could be high-utility intra-neighborhood transit services which could take people to and from commercial districts and shopping places, and include delivery, and take people to bus, streetcar, and subway transfer points, and would be more jitney like, at night would drop people off anywhere within the route area, etc. This would also get people to subway stations without their having to drive.

      I think that this kind of transit service is worth providing for free. I haven't estimated the cost, but it would be a lot, could be up to $30 mil./year or even more. But it would allow for car-free living, or at least vastly reduce the need for a car for intra-city mobilty.
      Rob Goodspeed writes about jitney-like bus service in Cape Town, South Africa in the blog entry "The Minibus Solution," and he mentions a tome which looks to be pretty interesting. Rob writes:

      Like a train system (which Cape Town also has), the buses run along fixed routes named after their final destination. Each bus is a small Toyota van with customized seats designed to maximize the vehicle’s occupancy.... The vans will stop to pick up or let off passengers at any point on their route, although bus stops and major landmarks like the supermarket are common points. The routes terminate at government-built transit depots. ...

      Two South African urban scholars have recently examined urban transport in that country in a text titled Rethinking Urban Transport After Modernism: Lessons from South Africa. Although the book is expensive to purchase in the states, Google Books has a preview with many pages from it. They conclude that current public transportation systems are not sustainable and urge a paradigm shift in the way transport is conceived, including:

      - creating a decentralized pattern of accessibility to decentralize opportunity in the city (versus the modern, radial model centered on a downtown)
      - create pedestrian friendly environments
      - link transport to high densities of housing and land use- design complete streets with a full range of uses in mind, not simply roads for cars
      - and link transportation planning with urban design and urban planning.
      Whereas I am not sure that I fully agree that it is sustainable to have "1,000 flowers bloom," with a focus on decentralization, especially given the arguments for recentralization of housing, commerce, and transit proposed in Cities in Full, the ideas dovetail with this idea of creating high-value transit service within neighborhoods, recognizing the need for a rebalancing between the center of the city and neighborhoods, just as we propose a rebalancing towards walkability, bikability, and transit whereas the mobility system today is overfocused on serving automobility.

      Rob writes about the cost structure in South Africa being much lower (and this is true of South America too, where many public transit systems have buses run by the driver-operators), but the idea of that kind of intra-neighborhood transit can work in DC neighborhoods as most places within neighborhoods are located within one mile of major transit service, either high-frequency and high-use bus lines or the subway, and eventually the streetcar.

      NOTE THAT EVEN I GET BORED WRITING ABOUT TRANSIT ALL THE TIME, it's just that urban form, healthy neighborhoods, successful commercial districts, and efficient transit are intertwined.

      Such are the "technologies" that make center cities successful, vibrant, and competitive for the 21st century.

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