Tuesday, August 12, 2008

City Propaganda on Rail -- Hanneman's Fake Facts 4 to 6 out of 10

Myth 4: Rail is green.

Unlike cars or buses which become more efficient and green every year, a rail system would use the same increasingly inefficient technology (oil or coal to electricity) for the next 30 years. Cars like the 2009 Toyota Prius are beginning to move even further ahead, with solar panels being installed to recharge the car’s battery when not in use. Honda is offering a fuel cell vehicle in California; its emissions are water vapors. Cars are environmentally neutral as soon as they are turned off, unlike a rail system which runs nonstop for 20 hours a day, regardless of the number of people riding it. Typical passenger loads for metro rail outside two to four peak hours per day are very light. But the escalators, lights, ticket machines, etc. are all on, and station attendants and security are on-duty making it a very low productivity, low efficiency and high energy impact system.

Another startling observation is that in midday one can look at a stretch of a five billion dollar guideway. A train with 20 to 30 people passes by and then nothing happens for about 10 minutes. Now compare this to the hassle and bustle of a 6-lane freeway which in 10 minutes moves over 6,000 cars, over 10,000 people, several hundred tons of freight, and perhaps a couple of emergency vehicles. One can visualize the utter uselessness of a metro rail line as a transportation investment and the huge environmental impact of building it in the first place.

New York City's rail system carries about two thirds of all urban rail trips done in a typical work day in the entire United States. Based on national statistics, if New York City is excluded, for all other cities with rail combined, rail is far less green that today’s relatively inefficient vehicle fleet.

Myth 5: Rail can move the equivalent of 6 lanes of freeway traffic

Fact: According to city’s website honolulutransit.com [Note: Between the time this post was drafted and the time it was posted, the city changed the information presented on honolulutransit.com. The text of what was there originally can be found at http://www.gorailgo.org/benefits-of-mass-transit.html], each train can carry 300 people, and during the peak times, there is expected to be one train every 3 minutes, for a total of 6,000 people per hour on the peak direction. It is important to note that 4,000 of these 6,000 passengers will be standees.

Managed freeway lanes, such as HOT lanes, are designed to carry 2000 vehicles per hour per lane at free flow speeds, and since they carry express busses and high occupancy vehicles, the average occupancy would be well over 3 people per vehicle, for a total of 6,000 people per hour per lane. (All of them seated.)

So rail has the capacity of about one HOT lane. If Honolulu builds three reversible managed lanes (as can be seen here: http://www.eng.hawaii.edu/~panos/UHCS_ES5.pdf) the capacity advantage of the managed lanes is obvious.

Recall that in the 2006 Alternatives Analysis the city's consultant built a 2-lane managed lanes system and simultaneously removed the morning zipper lane for a net gain of one lane. This one 10 mile HOT lane performed only a little worse than 20 miles of rail line.

Myth 6: Rail is more convenient than driving or catching the bus.

Fact: For most prospective rail passengers, this is not the case. Under Hanneman’s plan, once the rail system is implemented, express bus routes will disappear, and existing bus routes will be reconfigured into feeder systems, where buses will pick people up from the neighborhoods, drop them off at the rail station, where they would then take a train to their destination station, then catch another bus to their final destination. That's two transfers per direction.

Transfers and the inconvenience of exiting and re-entering vehicles, waiting for them, going up and down escalators and through turn styles etc., and then repeating this for the trip home are an impractical routine at this day and age; a routine that was tried and progressively rejected through the times. This routine is practical only for 19th century breadwinners that only made a routine home-work-home trip. For this reason, the 2000 Census shows that only 2.09% of all urban trips in the U.S. are made in rail systems.

The Federal Transit Administration is strongly in favor of Bus Rapid Transit systems, particularly for cities under two million in population. The most recent publication cited below makes a strong case for BRT and the concept presented ties beautifully with my idea of an integrated HOT + BRT system presented in the UH Congestion Study linked above.

Advanced Network Planning for Bus Rapid Transit: The “Quickway” Model as a Modal Alternative to “Light Rail Lite”, Federal Transit Administration, February 2008,


Anonymous said...

I have a hard time believing that cars and trucks are more green than rail, considering that national environmental groups like the Sierra Club, Friends of the Earth, etc, all endorse rail as good for environment and essential to energy savings.

And to me, even more compelling that that is the straight-forward economics of rail. Realistically, gas prices are never falling below $4.40 a gallon on Oahu. Now that the oil companies have the prices up, they will continue to squeeze us. Rail, the bus and even my newly purchased bike are a way to get around without paying through the nose at the pump. I don't see the point of building more roads when no one can afford to drive on them.

Panos Prevedouros said...

Sierra Club simply has not done its homework.

I will shortly post data that show that sales of the Ford F-series truck are down more than 30% and sales of the Ford Focus are up over 55%. Switching from an F-150 to a Focus is like gasoline price dropping from $4.50 to under $2.50 under identical use.

People will find an independent way to commute which will be environmentally responsible too.

It is likely that prices on Oahu will be below $4 by November.