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Re: WorldTransport Forum Re: [NewMobilityCafe] "the next Jane Jacobs"??? - Road to hell is paved with public transit

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  • Dennis McClendon
    ... A more honorable tradition in Western discourse is to offer arguments in refutation of the facts cited or the conclusion drawn, rather than ad hominem
    Message 1 of 6 , May 22, 2008
      On May 22, 2008, at 4:41 AM, Michael Yeates wrote:

      > Too often these types of stories appear to be the almost inevitable
      > result of lazy journos copying press releases ... long gone are the
      > days when the journos or "hacks" can do in depth critical
      > investigatory journalism ... with of course, some welcome exceptions.
      > Presumably the best strategies for those who disagree with (t)his
      > article will involve discrediting the two authors ... primarily Mr
      > Reynolds for not checking other sources and "experts".

      A more honorable tradition in Western discourse is to offer arguments
      in refutation of the facts cited or the conclusion drawn, rather than
      ad hominem arguments to discredit the speaker. Do you claim that any
      of the factual statements or statistical measures cited are erroneous?
    • Todd Alexander Litman
      See my reports, Evaluating Rail Transit Criticism (http://www.vtpi.org/railcrit.pdf ) and Evaluating Criticism of Smart Growth
      Message 2 of 6 , May 22, 2008

        See my reports, "Evaluating Rail Transit Criticism" ( http://www.vtpi.org/railcrit.pdf ) and "Evaluating Criticism of Smart Growth" ( http://www.vtpi.org/sgcritics.pdf ) which discuss these issues. Transit service provides many benefits (congestion reduction, parking cost savings, consumer savings, basic mobility for non-drivers, energy conservation and emission reductions, to name a few), so its cost efficiency cannot be evaluated based on any single objective, you must consider the value of the full set of benefits. Yes, U.S. transit service is not very energy efficient, due to relatively low ridership and the goal of providing basic mobility for non-drivers which requires operating buses in locations and at times when demand is low. However, the marginal energy cost of public transit is very low, so policies that increase ridership  (such as parking cash out and distance-based insurance), and policies that increase operating efficiency (such as bus rapid transit systems) can increase energy efficiency. Also, high quality transit service, such as a well designed light rail system, has a leverage effect, so each transit passenger-mile reduces 2-7 automobile vehicle-miles of travel, as discussed in "Evalaluating Public Transit Benefits and Costs" ( http://www.vtpi.org/tranben.pdf ).

        Best wishes,
        -Todd Litman

        At 05:18 AM 5/22/2008, Richard Layman wrote:
        The one advantage the right commentators have is the time to be negative, when we are spending our time working on projects to make mobility work better.  Randal O'Toole and others (Wendell Cox, people from the Reason Foundation) are the ones who most frequently write and are quoted on these issues.  Maybe Randal has to featured in Australian newspapers, because more and more his commentary is challenged in the U.S.  (The Victoria Transport Policy Institute, in British Columbia, has challenged his work and others in a variety of publications.)

        The difficulty of course is that a single light rail line in itself is not capable of reshaping regional land use and transportation policies and practices.  Because many of these single line "systems" are being sold that way, it does provide ammunition for transit opponents.

        To make mobility work optimally, transportation and land use policies have to be planned and executed in concert, otherwise it doesn't matter.

        Plus, transit systems have no impact on parking policies, which is a major factor in making transit competitive--because typically all the costs of driving are not borne by the driver either within a single trip, or overall, plus most drivers aren't very good about calculating and understanding the difference between fixed and variable costs.

        And it can take decades to see the impact.  Washington, DC is fortunate to have a transit _system_ rather than an isolated line or two.  While certain writers such as Steve Belmont justifiably criticize the WMATA system for being polycentric and promoting sprawl, at the same time you can see the impact within DC and Arlington County Virginia in terms of either a high density of stations (DC) or the ability to shape mobility when ensuring that land use and transportation policies in total are synchronized (Arlington).

        Most of the inner city neighborhoods in the core of DC are either healthy or revitalizing, although it has taken other changes to make the risk climate work (different political leadership, improved municipal services, etc.).  In large part that is because at the core of the WMATA system, in DC, the system acts monocentrically, promoting density and intensity, rather than deconcentration, and the critical mass where transit + walking (and to some extent bicycling) becomes part of every day living, rather than a special thing to do when going to work.

        But for both communities, it has been a 25 year process to see and be able to measure the results.

        I imagine as U.S. gasoline prices are so much higher now, and are likely to stay higher, that this process won't take as much time going forward.

        But yes, in and of itself, one transit line doesn't reshape a region.

        Richard Layman
        Washington, DC

        Eric Britton <eric.britton@...>
        This is a despicable hatchet job from the rabid right. What is unforgivable is not the tilted argumentation -- fair enough that is to be expected from these well known quarters -- but the gall of labeling O’Toole, as having “impeccable environmental credentials” or, can you believe it?, as "the next Jane Jacobs"???. What do you think Mr. Reynolds (pic just below and address right here: nreynolds@...) was smoking anyway? Strong stuff I would say.
        But it is important that we have this kind of argumentation fully in our sights. I think it is useful to hear these voices, because there are always small hints of truth or valid questions lurking behind the stark political agenda.
        There has been an excellent private commentary on this over the last few days which I hesitate to post her without the approval of the senders. May I suggest that discussion of this be via the New Mobility Café, of which the posting address is NewMobilityCafe@yahoogroups.com.
        Eric Briton

        Road to hell is paved with public transit

        Headshot of Neil Reynolds
        May 21, 2008
        OTTAWA -- The average public transit bus in the U.S. uses 4,365 British thermal units, a measure of energy, per passenger mile and emits 0.71 pounds of carbon dioxide. The average car uses 3,445 BTUs per passenger mile and emits 0.54 pounds of CO{-2}. Whether you seek to conserve energy or to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, your public policy decision here appears remarkably obvious. Get people off buses and get them into cars. The decision to do precisely this will get progressively easier. By 2020, the average car will use only 3,000 BTUs per passenger mile; by 2035, only 2,500 BTUs. By this time, the car will be - by far - the greenest option in the 21st century urban transit system.
        Thus calculates Randal O'Toole, an Oregon economist with impeccable environmental credentials. Senior economist for a number of years with the Thoreau Institute (an environmental think tank in Portland) and lecturer in environmental economics at Yale and at the University of California at Berkeley, Mr. O'Toole has been described as the next Jane Jacobs, the influential contrarian environmentalist who ironically worked in more innocent times to keep cars out of North American downtowns. Author of provocative books such as The Vanishing Automobile and Other Urban Myths and The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Mr. O'Toole is now a senior fellow at the Cato Institute, the Washington-based libertarian think tank. He reportedly cycles to work every day.
        Most public transit systems, Mr. O'Toole says in a research paper published in April, have never done the job that governments entrusted to them, which was to move large numbers of people safely to work in the morning and to move them safely back home at night. (On the basis of every billion passenger miles, he asserts, "light-rail [public transit] kills three times as many people as cars on urban freeways.") Judged on either environmental or economic efficiency, he says, public transit systems consistently produce diminishing returns.
        New York operates the most energy-efficient system in the U.S. - but only because its buses carry an average of 17 passengers, or 60 per cent more "load" than the 10.7 passengers carried by the average public transit bus nationwide. (The average public transit bus has seats for 39 people and standing room for 20.) New York keeps losing market share to cars, too. In 1985, the public transit share of passenger travel in New York was 12.7 per cent, far ahead of the No. 2 system (with a 5.2 per cent share) in Chicago. By 2005, though, the public transit share in New York had fallen to 9.6 per cent; Chicago, in the same period, had fallen to 3.7 per cent. At the lower end, Buffalo fell from a 1.2 per cent share of the passenger market to 0.6 per cent; Sacramento fell to a 0.7 per cent share from 0.9 per cent.
        The great boondoggle of the past few years, Mr. O'Toole says, has been light rail, a fashionable alternative to heavy rail, the underground subway train.
        "Most heavy-rail systems are less efficient than the average passenger car and none is as efficient as a Toyota Prius," Mr. O'Toole says. "Most light-rail systems use more energy per passenger mile than an average passenger car, some are worse than the average light truck and none is as efficient as a Prius." Curiously, the Prius delivers exceptional mileage but emits roughly the same greenhouse gases (per passenger mile) as the average car and average public transit train.
        Perhaps because they remain market-driven enterprises, cars and trucks have eclipsed buses and trains - by a wide margin - in energy-efficiency advances in the past generation. Americans drive four times as many miles as they did 40 years ago but produce less than half as much automotive air pollution. Some new cars pollute less than 1 per cent as much as new cars did in the 1970s.
        Public transit buses are a different story. In 1970, the average bus used 2,500 BTUs per passenger mile; by 2005, it used 4,300 BTUs, a 70 per cent increase. In 1970, by way of contrast, light trucks used 9,000 BTUs per passenger mile; in 2005, they used 4,300 - a decrease of 50 per cent. The average pickup truck is now as energy efficient now, per passenger mile, as the average bus.
        "The fuel economies for bus transit have declined in every five-year period since 1970," Mr. O'Toole says. Why? U.S. public transit agencies keep buying larger and more expensive vehicles - and then driving around town with fewer people in them. In 1982, the average number of bus occupants was 13.8; by 2006, it was 10.7.
        "Since 1992, American cities have invested $100-billion in urban rail transit," Mr. O'Toole says. "Yet no city in the country has managed to increase [public] transit's share of commuters by more than 1 per cent. No city has managed to reduce driving by even 1 per cent. People respond to high fuel prices by buying more efficient cars - and then driving more."

        Todd Alexander Litman
        Victoria Transport Policy Institute (www.vtpi.org)
        Phone & Fax 250-360-1560
        1250 Rudlin Street, Victoria, BC, V8V 3R7, CANADA
        “Efficiency - Equity - Clarity”

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