Thursday, March 12, 2009

Transit Ridership Baloney and the Kapolei Choo Choo

"Nationally, Americans made 10.7 billion trips on public transit in 2008, a 4% increase over 2007, according to data released yesterday by the American Public Transportation Association." Then, APTA suggested that America's transit usage reached a new 50 year high.

This is in the same class of misinformation like the Hannemann administration’s propaganda for the "benefits" of the proposed rail from Kapolei to Aiea. Aiea is right because it will take a miracle to reach downtown and Ala Moana Center. Basically no one east of Aloha Stadium is in favor of elevated rail, even if they are in favor of rail transit. It is too expensive, too noisy and too ugly for the communities to allow it to go through.

Headlines also showed up in the local press about the booming transit ridership. But what do these numbers really mean?

Remember that public transit in America serves only a tiny portion of people and most of them are served by buses. So, these numbers mean that in 1956 the average American took 0.26 trips per work day in a public transit system. In 2008, the average American took 0.14 trips per work day in a public transit system. Note that the average American takes more than three trips per day, and basically all of them are done on a road system paid with gas taxes and other user taxes, but not by general taxes.

Although the gas prices and the beginning of a recession boosted public transit ridership from 2007 to 2008, these statements are true:
(1) Most transit agencies expect a decline in 2009, largely due to general workforce reductions (larger unemployment), and transit service reductions due to budget cuts.
(2) Americans used public transit way less in 2008 than in 1956. The rate of usage is about half and the overall tend is declining. Similar decline applies to TheBus.
(3) Rail transit carries a tiny proportion of commuters in the nation. Something in the order of 2% commute by rail, counting all streetcar systems too.
(4) The nation has a huge backlog of maintenance of existing rail systems and cannot afford any "New Starts." In the last few months the U.S. taxpayers were saddled with an extra two trillion in spending, which is roughly an extra $4,000 taken from every American worker.
(5) Now more than ever Oahu cannot afford a multibillion dollar tax bill with phantom benefits for our general economy.

As you know, the excise tax went up and property taxes will go up, zoo entry fee and other fees will go up. Not to improve city services or to get more lions or to fix our terrible roads or to pay for the billion dollar EPA sewage treatment requirement. But to pay for the proposed Kapolei Choo Choo! Lucky we live Hawaii? For how much longer?