Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Those Evil Buses

The east and west sides of Charlotte have been afraid that the transit system the city is building will end up with classy light rail or commuter rail for all the other corridors but yucky buses for the East and West.

I’m just back from a two-day conference in Boston (Cambridge, to be precise) and one afternoon we ended up riding around the greater Boston area on the T – meaning using the heavy rail (that is, subway) system primarily but also taking a short hop on the new Silver Line. Bus. Bus Rapid Transit. In the argot of Transportation Jargon, it’s BRT.

If you travel much in Boston you probably already know the Red line goes to Harvard Square in Cambridge. The Green line goes to Fenway Park and to whatever they call Boston Garden these days. The Blue line goes to the aquarium and goes sort of near Logan Airport. Now, the new Silver Line goes to the airport, too, and depending on where you’re going it’s got a good chance of being a better choice, meaning fewer transfers, than Blue.

The Silver Line is – how to put this and still sound like a journalist? – gorgeous. The station is new and clean, which isn’t how you’d describe many of Boston’s aging subway stations.

These buses aren’t like the ones that ply the streets of Boston, Charlotte, or just about any other city of any size. They’re new, but just as important, they’re powered by overhead electrical lines, which makes them clean and quiet. They can also switch to diesel fuel. They’re designed so people hauling luggage don’t have to lift the suitcases to get from platform to bus. In the section of the Silver Line we went on, the bus had its own dedicated path, just like the subway does. In fact, part of the newly opened Silver Line runs through a tunnel that had to be carved underneath downtown Boston. Swedish boring equipment, I was told.

Some parts of the Silver Line that have to go into Boston traffic aren’t as rapid. And the Silver Line, at this point, is in two sections with no connection – a connection that will cost hundreds of millions of dollars to make.

One attraction of bus rapid transit is that it’s cheaper than laying rails. Seems to me, though, when you tunnel under a city and install electrical wires you’re making BRT kinda pricey. Even so, it was cheaper than just adding another subway link. And in 20 years or so – once the Big Dig is paid for, presumably – the Silver Line can be converted to rail if that seems important and there’s money available.

Of course, part of the reason to build the transit system in Charlotte is to attract growth to the transit corridors. Whether bus rapid transit will lure growth as well as rail is an open question and not one that should be dismissed. Plenty of other factors count, too, such as the affordability calculation, which takes into account based projected ridership and projected construction and operating costs. With fewer riders, you need less-expensive construction costs or you don’t get those all important federal dollars. The transit decision-makers can’t ignore those formulas.

But the headline is this: The bus transit wasn’t smelly or loud, like surface buses. Because it had its own path it was rapid. The transfer from rail to bus was seamless – just like switching to another subway line. If anything, the ride on the new bus transit was more attractive than the older rail.

Would it fly in Charlotte? I’m guessing it would.

34 comments:

Anonymous said...

I am glad you like the buses in Boston.

Boston = Old, congested, dense, no available land

Charlotte = New, not congested, spread out, empty land from here to the ocean.

Mass transit is dying on the vine. Study the last 10 years of virtually any mass transit system (including CATS) and you will find:

1) Skyrocketing costs
2) Flat to declining ridership (index for population growth and it is even more dismal)
3) No reduction in pollution or congestion

Light rail in Charlotte is slated to be a two-car, 9 mile toy. More people will drive through a Chick-Fil-A drive through in an hour than use the light rail.

Rob Tober gets $200,000 plus bonus to run one of the most ineffective mass transit systems in the nation. Less than 2 percent of all commuter traffic uses CATS.

Nationwide, less that 1 percent.

And all the trends are against it (other than heavy handed government attempting to force people to use it).

Sorry to rain on parade, but facts are stubborn things.

Mary Newsom said...

Mary here:

Clarifying some facts:

The previous poster is obviously welcome to his/her opinion -- I like the spirited back-and-forth that goes on.

But it's Ron Tober, not Rob. And CATS ridership isn't flat or declining, but growing. For example, in October, CATS announced that its September monthly ridership reached record levels with a 15.3 percent increase for the month and a 9.3 percent year-to-date increase.

Transit experts here (Tober, former Planning Director Martin Cramton, current director Debra Campbell, et al) have never to my knowledge said transit would mean a decline in congestion or pollution -- only that those problems wouldn't get as bad as quickly as they will without transit. If you hear someone say those people said otherwise, be very skeptical.

Anonymous said...

I've said it before, I'll say it again, light rail has been a success story in Denver, Dallas, and salt Lake City, three cities that have more in common with Charlotte then Boston. Even heir more conservative suburbs can't wait to have the lines extended their way. I think the system will be more successful than some cynics will want you to believe.

As for BRT in Boston, I moved away before the extention through South Boston and Logan opened. I did see the end that went through Roxbury which was nothing more than a dedicated lane on the street. If Charlotte goes the BRT route on some lines, it will not be near as intricate as Boston's (Imagine a 'big dig' in CLT) but I would highly encourage more speedy, sepatated roads for the buses with minimal crosses over regular streets. otherwise, a more expanded and convenient bus system would be the better option.

Rick said...

Some other clarifying facts about the silver line...

1. It cost a fortune 600 million for the second phase alone, and the third phase is in jeopardy because of the initial 700-800 million price tag. Understanding that Charlotte's would probably be much less intricate than Boston's, it would still be very expensive to build separate roads or lanes on existing roads.

ksgaccman.harvard.edu/hotc/DisplayPlace.asp?id=11635

2. Many people in Boston disapprove of the Silver Line because it is actually worse for many people than the old light-rail that they had before spending all of this money.

"''This may meet transit commitments, but it does not meet the commitment that the T made to provide 'equal or better' service when the Orange Line was torn down," said Sierra Club spokesman Jeremy Marin. ''According to T studies, it took eight minutes from Dudley to downtown, but the bus currently takes 20 minutes.""

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/02/10/new_silver_line_plan_offered_stirring_critics/

http://www.boston.com/news/local/articles/2006/03/10/officials_endorse_silver_line_tunnel/

If I'm quoting a Sierra Club radical, you know it must be bad.

I do like the lower operating costs and "cheap" busses though.

Rick said...

Links got cut off for some reason.

Added carriage returns so whole link shows...

www.boston.com/news/local/articles/
2006/03/10/
officials_endorse_silver_line_tunnel/

www.boston.com/news/local/articles/
2006/02/10/
new_silver_line_plan_offered_stirring_critics/

Anonymous said...

Mary;

I wouldn't expect the transit folks or other proponents of light rail to say that it will reduce congestion, since that's a statement to which they could be held accountable. But it's ALWAYS safe to say that program won't fix a problem but will keep it from getting worse, since it's a proposition that can't be tested. No matter what the result, that construction allows them to claim victory since it can't be proven or proven wrong.

The problem with that is that precisely the same speculative argument can be used to oppose light rail and support either increased use of buses or more road capacity. It is equally as fact based ( or in reality, non-fact based) and equally as compelling to claim that either of those alternatives would do a BETTER job of keeping the problem from getting worse.

Anonymous said...

>>But it's Ron Tober, not Rob.>>
Oops, my bad.


>>CATS ridership isn't flat or declining, but growing. For example, in October, CATS announced that its September monthly ridership reached record levels with a 15.3 percent increase for the month and a 9.3 percent year-to-date increase.>>

Cherry picking stats again. For three straight years (2002-2004, the last years with complete data), CATS passenger trips were 18 million annually. That's FLAT, despite a huge growth in population.

>>Transit experts here (Tober, former Planning Director Martin Cramton, current director Debra Campbell, et al) have never to my knowledge said transit would mean a decline in congestion or pollution -- only that those problems wouldn't get as bad as quickly as they will without transit. If you hear someone say those people said otherwise, be very skeptical.>>

Wrong again. The 2028 transit plan was SOLD on the idea of reducing pollution and congestion. If it will do neither, I think we have better uses for what will end up being BILLIONS of wasted money.

But let's not kid ourselves. Transit has nothing to do with what people want, and has everything to do with creating larger government pseudo-enterprises to employ more government bureaucrats and create ever-increasing spending accounts.

The light rail project's sole purpose is simply to reclaim and re-work large swaths of land on South Blvd. wrapped in a noble cause.

'Success' in Dallas, Denver, et al?

Don't make me laugh. They all run MASSIVE annual budget deficits and carry on a tiny percentage of commuter traffic.

They are only a 'success' if you work for the government for their transit department. You get to sit on your a$$ for another year at the taxpayers expense.

CATS' *payroll* alone is more than 4 times their annual revenue in fares.

If you scrapped the entire program, it would only add 1% more cars to the streets.

Ever wonder the private sector does not get into the 'mass transit' business? Because it is a joke, and only survives because govt. diverts huge sums on money to keep it afloat.

If CATS were a private business, it would have been bankrupt years ago, annd *RON* Tober would be working at ImaginOn putting books back in the correct place.

LOL

Anonymous said...

Given fuel costs and global demand for oil, ridership on public transit will likely grow. CATS needs to capitalize on new demand by insuring clean and efficient transport. First impressions, even among neophyte bus riders, are important.

Anonymous said...

No transit system is successful in a free market system, not even our roads, airports, etc. The Dallas, Denver and salt Lake systems have been embraced by their citizens, even when there was skepticism when they were getting built.

Each of us gets the equivilent of a $500 subsidy every time we accelerate on the on-ramp of an Interstate, etc. Does that sound like the right bang for your buck? If we halted freeway building, the anti-transit crowd would cry foul.

I wonder if the folks fighting light rail now were the same who fought I-485 in the '80's saying we didn't need more Interstates, or fought Douglas Airport expansion in the '70's because Charlotte only had 10 flights a day back then.

Anonymous said...

Automobiles do NOT get a tax subsidy.

According to the Feb 2006 Bureau of Transportation Statistics annual report, CARS return a $2 per 1,000 miles traveled SURPLUS into the public coffers. They pay MORE than they consume.

Conversely, RAIL is THE most expensive for of travel, and CONSUMES $118 per 1,000 miles traveled from goverment funds.

Attempting to increase mass transit ridership is no-win scenario.

Since you are in effect selling the service at a steep loss, providing MORE of that service simply increases the loss. That is what ALL cities ahead of Charlotte (like Denver and Portland) have discovered. The more they expand it, the bigger the financial woes. Eventually (like in Raleigh and Portland) you see projects start getting rejected becuase there is no money.

You can't subsidize a lost cause forever and fool people into thinking it works.

Charlotte needs roads, roads, AND MORE ROADS!

They are far cheaper, faster, and what 98% percent of us want. The 2% who want light rail do not even want to pay for it.

I notice there is a 48 cent per gallon gasoline tax, but no 'bus tax' when you get on the bus.

Hmmmmm.

erin said...

I can only speak for myself, and if there was a viable mass transit option in Charlotte that was saved me money and time, I would definitely take part.

Anonymous said...

Would anyone here pay $9.89 ONE WAY to ride Charlotte Mass Transit?

That's what it cost in 2004. Oh, you may think you paid less because they only asked you for $1 or so when you got on the bus, but that is what it REALLY cost.

Mass transit is welfare, plain and simple. It is supported by those who don't pay for it because they are getting something for nothing.

Anonymous said...

Erin, that makes perfect sense. It's important to factor into the cost side, however, not simply the fare, but the total cost, since assuming that you purchase goods in Mecklenberg, live in Mecklenberg and/or in Charlotte, pay income taxes in NC and to the Federal government, you ARE paying for the rest of the cost in addition to the fare.

Those costs are indeed disguised by being wrapped into the total taxes you pay to various entities, but pay you do. Government has no money other than what it takes from the people. ( And even if you rent and so pay no property tax directly, those taxes are built inot your rent.)

It may be that driving your car is more expensive, but it's pretty unlikely.

Frank Burns said...

I live in the East side and personally don't see any difference between riding on a bus or riding on a train. I know there are some in the east side who would rather have light rail instead of buses. I really don't understand why, I assume the theory is light rail will draw more ridership over buses. But light rail cars aren't any bigger than buses are they?

Or maybe the thinking is that light rail will draw in businesses. I don't see how light rail could do that. Train stops are probably perceived by businesses as being a negative influence on business.

I guess the solution would be to modify buses with benches oriented to look like a train car and paint the bus to look like a train.

Anonymous said...

Frank Burns, he answer lies in perception.

In the eyes or new urbanists like Mary Newsom and Pat McCrory, buses are for poor minorities who have no choice but to take mass transit.

Trains are for trendy urbanites who are progressive enough to leave their Mercedes at home.

Plus, any little ole town can have BUSES.

Only 'real' cities have trains.

Light rail is just more imitation of the cities Charlotte government pinheads are eternally in envy of.

They see all the shiny objects in Portland and Denver, but pay little attention to those cities skyrocketing taxes, housing costs, and lack of diversity ni transit-friendly areas.

Anonymous said...

BTW, here is a link to the 2004 data from Charlotte CATS submitted to the National Transit Database.

Any rational human being should be nauseated when reading about the waste.

Pay particular note of ridership TENDS over the last few years (both numbers and costs).

http://www.ntdprogram.com/NTD/Profiles.nsf/2004+All/4008/$File/4008.pdf

Anonymous said...

Sorry, my spelling is terrible.

Ridership TRENDS (third chart from left at the bottom).

Also note that since 1995, all COSTS go up and all ridership goes down.

You can also see a breakdown of money sources. Only 14% operating costs comes from fares. Add in capital expenditures and fares cover only about 10%.

I really whish I only had to pay 30 cents for a gallon of gas and $3,000 for a new minivan.

Why won't government subsidize 90% of that?

Anonymous said...

When you consider all the subsidies you get riding on a freeway, or any other road for that matter, you shouldn't be shocked at what bus and train riders get. Consider all the subsidies we get for water lines, parks, police and fire, and countless other public sector programs also. But no, you don't want to raise those issues, because they would debunk every other study the Locke Foundation, et al you worship. Face it, if it wasn't for various govenrnment subsidies, all of us would be driving on dirt roads and using outhouses right now. Reading what some of you have to say, it is my impression that this is how you would rather live. What a sorry world you must live in.

Anonymous said...

Facts, as they say, are stubborn things.

From the Bureau of Transportation Statistics:

" Federal Subsidies to Passenger Transportation

The net flow of funds to and from the federal government for passenger transportation varies by mode and over time (figure 10-8). On average, transit received $5.1 billion (in chained 2000 dollars1) per year in net federal subsidies2 between 1992 and 2002, more than any other mode of transportation. During this same period, highway users paid an average of $7.8 billion a year in excess of user charge payments, such as fuel taxes, over their allocated costs, making highway travel the only mode of transportation whose net federal subsidy showed negative values for the entire period"

In other words fuel taxes and other user fees paid by drivers were GREATER than the expenditures on highway transportation. There IS no net subsidy, but rather drivers, through the user fees collected subsidize other expenditures to the tune of $7.8 BILLION per year.

Anonymous said...

>When you consider all the subsidies you get riding on a freeway, or any other road for that matter, you shouldn't be shocked at what bus and train riders get.>>

You missed this again.

Autombiles and roads DO NOT get any subsidy at all.

Conversely, they supply a SURPLUS to the public sector via their fees and motor fuel taxes.

Cars are the ONLY form of travel that operates at a net plus to the government.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely incredible are the self-avowed "fiscal conservatives" who say that roads are more more cost effective than rail. This narrow view is all the more remarkable when one looks at the cost overruns associated with current road construction (NC's multi-billion dollar Highway Fund is past bankrupt thanks to cost overruns) and "fiscal conservatives" ignore the cost of infrastructure (public safety, utilities, etc.) that are directly related to the types of development spurred by road construction.

Nevertheless, this shouldn't be an either/or situation. Since a minority of Americans can actually drive their own licensed motorized vehicles, coupling roads with rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian corridors simply benefits the broadest population.

Anonymous said...

Absolutely incredible are the self-avowed "fiscal conservatives" who say that roads are more more cost effective than rail. This narrow view is all the more remarkable when one looks at the cost overruns associated with current road construction (NC's multi-billion dollar Highway Fund is past bankrupt thanks to cost overruns) and "fiscal conservatives" ignore the cost of infrastructure (public safety, utilities, etc.) that are directly related to the types of development spurred by road construction.

Nevertheless, this shouldn't be an either/or situation. Since a minority of Americans can actually drive their own licensed motorized vehicles, coupling roads with rail, bus, bicycle, and pedestrian corridors simply benefits the broadest population.

Anonymous said...

BTW, the "market" doesn't drive suburban and rural (sprawl) development...it's cheap land prices and munipical regulations created since the 1920's that drive the "market". 1300 high-rise units have sold in Uptown Charlotte alone in the past 12 months; the highest real estate values in the region are in neighborhoods once served by street cars - Myers Park, Dilworth, etc. - if you want proof of what the public wants, look at the price per square foot of real estate in these "transit-friendly" neighborhoods. In the North Corridor alone over $3 BILLION worth of real estate is under construction or proposed along the rail corridor in area's already served by utilities, roads, schools, public safety...no additional expenses are needed by local governments for public services. Amazing when one considers the impact of new development in outlying areas without public services. Rail is a fiscal conservative's DREAM!

Anonymous said...

>>Absolutely incredible are the self-avowed "fiscal conservatives" who say that roads are more more cost effective than rail. >>

Roads are by FAR the cheapest form of travel per passenger mile.

If you believe otherwise, please post some data supporting your argument. Otherwise you are just ranting (perhaps your first stop could be the bureau of transportation statistics, who keep such data).

>>1300 high-rise units have sold in Uptown Charlotte alone in the past 12 months>>

1,300? Wow.

That's a slow Sunday in Union County (which has 14,000 additional residential building permits in the pipeline right now).

Also, like many other cities who have invested tax dollars in urban renewal, the money is being made by speculators, not homeowners. Land developers are most certainly in favor of light rail, because they can pick it up land cheap, develop and sell while are you new urbanists are in a buying mood.

I have some inside scoop for you. By the time the ultimate owner moves into their new condo, it has already been owned by 2-3 different people or groups of investors. Each one marking it up a little.

This is a 'created' market to sell more product. Once the music stops, you will have a whole lot of inventory and a bunch of people who paid WAY too much for a condo.

Your observation is simple supply and demand. There are just fewer uptown condos to choose from. If there were 13,000 instead of 1,300, they would not be fetching the same price.

But back to the topic at hand.

People continue to post that cars are somehow subsidized. Can someone please explain your position and provide some data?

Mary Newsom said...

Mary here:
Just offering a few thoughts. First, Pat McCrory isn't a new urbanist. He IS a supporter of mass, rapid public transit.

Since I'm neither a planner, architect nor developer I'm probably not truly a new urbanist either, though I support much of what new urbanism is. With this caveat: If you check the Congress for the new Urbanism web site (www.cnu.org) you see that much of what developers try to market as New Urbanism (because, yes, there's a significant market for it, for all you free-marketeers) isn't really new urbanism. It isn't trademarked, so you can pretty much call anything new urbanism.

I don't think buses are only for poor minorities -- I've made our teen daughter take the bus when mom and dad couldn't chauffeur her. I take the bus when my car's in the shop.


To answer Frank Burns (Hi, Frank, thanks for reading and commenting)transit does attract development (see caveat below). Rail lures more development than buses, because once the rail goes in, it's there for good. That offers certainty. Bus transit is more, pardon the word, transitory, and so developers tend to be warier.

Finally, if you're trying to dissect whether rail or roads get more subsidy, beware. It's virtually impossible to disentangle transportation systems from the effects of land use and vice versa. For example, auto-only development begets a form of land use that requires greater public dollars, because things are farther apart. Longer sewer lines, more streets and roads, more gasoline use by police, etc. Rail is more expensive to build, and sometimes it attracts development and sometimes (especially if the city, like Atlanta for decades, doesn't change its land use rules) it doesn't.

Anonymous said...

>.Rail lures more development than buses, because once the rail goes in, it's there for good>>

Which is exacly why you should not build them.

Do you think society and the workforce is more or less volatile and mobile than it was 30 years ago?

You need a FLEXIBLE solution, not a rigid one.

Maybe South Blvd and uptown might be important now, but in 10 years when many new businesses are in Fort Mill, and people telecommute more thatn they used to, a fixed (rigid) rail line won't help much.

Frank Burns said...

Hi Mary,
I'm glad you remembered me, and I appreciate the Naked City forum that you have initiated.

Certainly the east side of Charlotte needs development and if rail does that, then that must be why some in the east side are advocating light rail.

As you know, rail is currently not in the plan for the east and west sides. Is it realistic to change the plan now and add light rail along Independence Blvd? We have just recently added the bus lane. Would the Federal Government agree to install a light rail after they have already sunk money on the Independence work?

I know some in the east are advocating a rail line on Independence but I believe that issue is a waste of time and that our efforts could be better spent on other ways to bring economic development to the east side of Charlotte.

Anonymous said...

>> some in the east side are advocating light rail.
>>

Then I 'advocate' that YOU pay for it.

Do you have $500 million for your own line, of to you just want someone else to pay for it?

Mary Newsom's proposition that transit is spurring development is false.

Development is encourage through $1 billion plus in TAX SUBSIDY via the arena, new street and intersections, condemned land being handed over to developers for pennies on the dollar, etc.

If you spent $1 billion on Wilkinson Blvd, that would look really nice, too.

Frank Burns said...

To Anonomous,
Please be courteous, note that I said that some people in the east side want the light rail. I am not one of them.

Anonymous said...

Hey, I don't like my tax dollars being spent on certain things either, but I know they benefit someone else in the long run. Welcome to living in a society. If you want to avoid Charlotte taxes, simply move over the county line. You will still benefit from everything Charlotte has to offer yet live the suburban, or exurban dream. Somebody aspiring to move Uptown, or in town, will take your place. Otherwise, we will all keep running around in circles with this debate.

Rick said...

I love that last comment from anonymous. Translation...

"If you don't like it leave.

"We are going to continue giving your tax dollars to private entities like Bobcat Johnson, NASCAR, condo developers, and arts facilities. Whatever is left over, we will give to failing schools and Ron Tober."

"I'm tired of arguing with you naysayers. Please just go away."

Anonymous said...

BTW, 1/2 of the light rail boondoggle is paid for with FEDERAL money. Much of the CMS schools and CATS are paid for with state of NC money.

You can move to Wilmington and you will still have to pay for it.

That's the problem with taxes, politicians don't care if you you move away, they are STILL going to take you money.

Ernest T. Bass said...

How many of you proponents of this sham ride the BUSES that we have now? Any of you? (Put your hand down liar.) Why are we spending billions of dollars on a ridiculous "light rail" system when there are 2 people riding every bus I see in this town?? If you people are so gung ho about mass transit, park your car and get on the buses we already have and put your money where your mouth is...especially before your money gets taken to build this boondoggle. Oh I forgot, this is Charlotte...do as I say, not as I do right? I guess when this shiny cute "light rail" is finally finished there will be 4 or 5 people on it instead of the 2 or 3 people riding buses. Wonderful. And how are all these people supposed to get to Pineville to ride this lovely train? Walk down highways 51 and 485?

Anonymous said...

to anonymous 5/8/06 @ 3:37:09PM, thank you, you get a standing ovation from me. It's just amazing how everyone wants to be against something and wants everyone to side with them and if you don't agree with them, they want to resort to name-calling. You couldn't have said what you said any better. I totally agree with everything you said. And ernest t. bass, please tell me what the word boondoggle mean, it's that another clever term that conservatives like to use to voice their displeasure for something they don't like? I'm not a liberal, nor am I a new urbanist (I do believe that we should build more roads as well as mass transit), so let's make that crystal clear, okay. I do believe light-rail will be beneficial to those who want an alternative to sitting in traffic all day. As Charlotte continues to grow, the congestion will get worse, and I bet a lot of you who are against it now, will probably be singing a different tune when it does get really bad and you have that option to ride mass transit. Let's face it, not everyone wants to get up early in the morning, travel for 30+ miles, and sit in traffic for 5 hours just to get to work on time, then have to do it all over again when you leave work for the day and have to sit in the evening rush-hour traffic. You also have to take into account that not everyone wants to live in the suburbs, tell that to a single young professional who prefers urban living to the "burbs." What I'm trying to say is, "to each is own." City life isn't for everyone and suburban living isn't for everyone either! People's views and opinions are going to be different from one another. Isn't that what America is supposed to be about? I guess it is unless you have an opinion that differs from the norm! If everyone thought the same way, this would be a very boring world.