Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Rail Transit: Are we Creating New Life or Resuscitating a Dinosaur? (part 2 of 2)

This second part provides excerpts from the last 12 commentators and our brief conclusions.

12. Ed Wytkind, President, Transportation Trades Department, AFL-CIO
"Transit investment will relieve road congestion and offer environmentally sound transportation alternatives to increase economic efficiency and global competitiveness." Sad to see that unions simply copy-paste boilerplate half truths.

13. Steve Van Beek, President & CEO, Eno Transportation Foundation

"Input straight-line assumptions about behavior today and out will come results which suggest public transportation will play a marginal role in the future. (Such an analysis when the Model T was invented would have led to a future replete with horses and buggies and with underbuilt road networks.)" Unfortunately Mr. Van Beek not looked into Bureau of Transportation Statistics showing that public transit share of trips is very small and diminishing, and that the increasing share of telecommuting begins to dwarf rail transit.

14. John D. Porcari, Secretary, Maryland Department of Transportation

"We have to start by leveling the playing field. While we get highway funds by formula, states and metro areas fight for transit monies primarily through earmarks, and the race to the bottom known as the New Starts program. End the false dichotomy between highway and transit funding by making system preservation needs the first call on federal dollars (whether highways and bridges, transit, aviation or port needs) and then using local, regional and state land use plans to drive new capacity (transit or highway) investment decisions with the remaining unified federal formula dollars." Highways, bridges, airports and harbors generate their own revenues from user fees and are rarely subsidized by taxpayers. Electricity, telephone, water and sewer services break even and can be profitable. Where is the revenue stream for rail and bus? It is remarkable that people who charge one dollar for a trip that costs over ten dollars are in leading and expert prositions.

15. Greg Cohen, President and CEO, American Highway Users Alliance

"The current funding arrangements are set up so that federal highway user fees subsidize transit expenses -- thus creating the unfortunate reality that transit does compete for funding at the expense of highway programs. It is important for policy makers and the public to recognize that (excluding air travel) between 98 and 99% of all passenger miles and vehicles miles of travel occur of our nation's aging roads. Both private auto use and efficient public transit use in most areas is largely dependent on a good network of safe and efficient roads."

16. Robert L. Crandall, Retired Chairman and CEO, AMR and American Airlines

"In the furor over finding ways to increase and sustain employment, and the understandable desire to use infrasturcture investment to attach that problem, we need to remember that money invested in the wrong tools is the equivalent of money wasted.
Bob Poole's thoughts on how to use buses and rapid transit lanes strike me as worth very careful thought."

17. Bob Poole, Director of Transportation Studies, Reason Foundation

"For the 22 Metropolitan Planning Organizations whose long-range plans were reviewed, transit spending averages 41% of the total, while transit’s projected mode share is just 5.5%. Something is wrong with this picture. First, MPOs project only modest increases in transit’s mode share by 2030, despite devoting more than 40% (on average) of all transportation dollars to transit. Second, they project that traffic congestion in 2030 will be significantly worse than it is today. There is a direct connection between under-funding the highway infrastructure that buses, car-poolers, and individual motorists depend on and continued increases in congestion. The key is to use congestion pricing for these express lanes. More than a decade of experience with HOT lane projects in half a dozen states has demonstrated the power of congestion pricing to provide reliable, high-speed, uncongested traffic flow on such lanes. Transit agencies would love to have exclusive busways, but a congestion-priced lane is, in fact, the virtual equivalent of an exclusive bus lane. The pricing simply allows enough paying automobiles to share the use of the lane, without degrading its uncongested performance."

18. Geoff Anderson, Co-chair of the Transportation for America Campaign, President and CEO of Smart Growth America

"There is an undeniable linkage between our broken economy, our broken energy/climate policy, and our broken transportation system. Investing in a 21st Century transportation system with an emphasis on mass transit solutions – while creating safe streets for walking and biking to with them -- is a three for one deal: it kick starts our economy and generates jobs, gives hungry Americans transportation options, and begins to solve our climate crisis." Pure "smart growth" nonsense. There is no significant link between broken economy, walkable streets, bikeways and the ozone layer. You can, however, wordsmith good looking paragraphs and drive up the deficits in the absence of cost-effectiveness and accountability.

19. Deron Lovaas , Federal Transportation Policy Director, Natural Resources Defense Council

"The short answer is that yes, the time is ripe for making a larger commitment to public transportation than has been the case in the last 50 years."
Why? Spending 20% of the transportation budget in the last 20 years on transit systems that carry 5% of the public has not been bad enough?

20. Paul M. Weyrich, Chairman and CEO, Free Congress Foundation

"I have my doubts about the effectiveness of stimulus bills, but since it is clear President elect Obama is intent on advocating one,I certainly hope the Congress will include $8 billion of American Public Transportation Association short-term transit projects in whatever bill they come up with."
This is $8 billion nationwide. Relatively tiny Honolulu would like to build a $5 billion rail ... pretty please Mr. Obama.

21.Robert Puentes, Senior Fellow and Director, Metropolitan Infrastructure Initiative

"Although almost all of our buses serve the top 100 metro areas but half are concentrated in just 10 large metros. Heavy rail (subways) exist in only 11 metros like Philly and San Francisco. Commuter rail is in only 14 metropolitan areas – primarily in the Northeast and California. And light rail can be found in only 26 – like Minneapolis, San Diego, and Denver. Based on the admittedly simple inventory of transit infrastructure available, 54 of the 100 largest metros do not have any rail transit service and also have relatively weak bus systems.
As employment has dispersed through metro areas, lower income workers are finding themselves increasingly isolated and therefore need to spend higher proportions of their income to reach their jobs." So how can a single rail line with 20 stations help them? Did I mention that it costs $5 billion?

22. Rich Sarles, Executive Director, NJ TRANSIT

"At NJ TRANSIT, we have experienced five consecutive years of record-high ridership with nearly one million trips taken on the system each weekday. Ridership continues to be strong, despite lower gasoline prices, especially on rail service on our busiest lines serving Manhattan. In the next 25 years, we expect ridership on these lines to more than double, creating new challenges to acquire the infrastructure (station capacity, track, rail yards, etc.), rolling stock (rail cars and locomotives) and resources needed to support this demand."
This is really where the nation should be spending its transit monies.

23. Pete Ruane, President and CEO, American Road & Transportation Builders Association

"According to the U.S. Department of Transportation (U.S. DOT), there is $20 billion annual shortfall at the federal level between current highway investment levels and what is necessary just to maintain road conditions. For public transit at the federal level, the shortfall is about $4 billion annually." It is too obvious that priority one is maintenance and restoration of what we have, and cautious investment in new priced roadway capacity including exclusive busways and exclusive truckways.

To answer the original question in the subject line: All cases of rail transit in the U.S. excluding Chicago, New York City, and a few other legacy systems have been hyper expensive dinosaur
resuscitations at taxpayer expense.

It would be a remarkably poor and expensive choice of President Obama to sink taxpayer dollars in rail transit New Starts. We can barely afford to keep the CTA, MARTA, BART and other metro rail systems alive. Let's please leave all future dinosaur resuscitations to the movies.

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