By on May 17, 2011

A study released earlier this month by the Cascade Policy Institute questioned whether pricey mass transit options in Portland, Oregon are really being used by the public. The city has been a leader in securing funding for various forms of passenger rail and trolley systems. The Obama administration, for example, pledged $745 million in federal gas tax dollars to pay for the construction of a $1.5 billion, 7.3 mile light rail project connecting Portland to Milwaukie. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood has singled out the city’s priorities as for praise.

“By adding innovative transit opportunities, Portland has become a model livable community, a city where public transportation brings housing closer to jobs, schools, and essential services,” LaHood wrote in March.

The Cascade Policy Institute wanted to verify the claim that the TriMet transit system was able to move more passengers than a standard bus line. The researchers did so by attending five special events where use of mass transit would make the most sense, including the final playoff game for the Portland Trail Blazers. The events were spread throughout the year to examine the effects of different weather conditions on transit use. City officials have never made a study of this sort.

“This is important because transportation planners at Metro, TriMet, ODOT and other agencies routinely make multi-billion-dollar decisions based on travel surveys, computer models or simply their own personal beliefs about how people should travel,” Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr wrote in his report. “They rarely have any direct knowledge of how people actually travel under specific conditions of time, mode availability, parking pricing and geographic constraints.”

The Cascade team counted a total of 47,666 individual attendees, noting how many headed toward the venue from a light rail station and how many arrived by automobile, bicycle or foot. At best, 21 percent arrived by rail to see the Trail Blazers. At worst, the opening of the Gresham Civic Station saw just 2 percent arrive by rail. On average, rail accounted for just 11 percent of the trips recorded.

“The field research shows that continued use of the phrase ‘high-capacity transit’ by local planners to describe the regional rail program is Orwellian,” Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr. said in a statement. “Light rail is actually a low-capacity system, and the streetcar is simply irrelevant. TriMet’s buses carries two-thirds of all regional transit trips on a daily basis, and that’s the service that should be recognized as high-capacity transit. Unfortunately, bus service is being sacrificed by TriMet in order to build costly new rail lines that carry relatively few people.”

A copy of the report is available in a 1.2mb PDF file at the source link below.

Source: PDF File Light Rail, Streetcars and the High Capacity Transit Myth (Cascade Policy Institute, 5/2/2011)

[Courtesy:Thenewspaper.com]

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109 Comments on “Oregon: Study Finds Light Rail System Rarely Used...”


  • avatar
    aristurtle

    Libertarian think tank believes that public transit is a waste of time! More on this shocking news later, after the equally-startling developments that Arnold Schwarzenegger had sex with someone other than his wife, Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was a silly publicity stunt, and that the sky is, in fact, blue.

    • 0 avatar
      DweezilSFV

      That’s the problem with central planning: people keep getting in the way.

      And note: the “experts” who have been making the decision on where to spend the money have never even bothered to conduct their own study.

      None of this is surprising.

    • 0 avatar
      chris_2

      If we’re reading the same article, “Libertarian think tank believes that transit services people use [buses] are being underfunded to pay for shiny new ones they don’t [light rail]“, surely?

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        The study doesn’t actually look at bus use in Portland, they just pull that suggestion out of their ass in the last paragraph.

        Or wait, I’m sorry, this is from a think tank, so in their language: they produced rectally-extracted data with a robust olfactory profile.

  • avatar
    M 1

    …which is why it died out the first time. Welcome to the 50s!

  • avatar
    Ubermensch

    When automotive transportation is already massively subsidized, it is going to take even greater spending to make mass transit more appealing. Welcome to obvious-ville.

    • 0 avatar
      Robert Schwartz

      I didn’t know that. What subsidies are there for automotive transportation?

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        The first three results if you Google “automobile subsidies”:

        http://www.assmotax.org/Releases/AMCT%20release:%20The%20Automobile%20Subsidy.php

        http://www.slate.com/id/2196340/

        http://pubs.its.ucdavis.edu/publication_detail.php?id=1170

        Any of those is a good starting point. Also Remember we pay subsidies and give tax breaks to oil companies and automobile companies. And the ARRA included billions for infrastructure work which did not come from a single user fee so is a 100% subsidy.

        Every jurisdiction is different, but here in Portland metro, we pay for streets & roads with:

        Federal Highway Trust Fund (funded mostly by “user fees” of gas taxes – but some money comes from general fund so a small part subsidy).

        State Highway Fund (Funded with federal dollars (see above) and state gas taxes, as well as state general fund which is income tax – so partly a subsidy)

        State and County auto registration (100% user fees)

        Property Taxes: 100% subsidy

        Bonds and Levies: 100% subsidy

        Sewer funds: 100% subsidy paid via Portland water bills

        Environmental funds: 100% subsidy

        City general fund: 100% subsidy

        System Development Charges and Fees: part user fees, part subsidies

      • 0 avatar
        stuki

        Public, tax funded, roads.

        Still, with roads already in place and perfectly capable of carrying both cars and buses, building an entire parallel system of rails, is just another display of the progtard childishness that in little over a century has demoted America from a decent place to live to just another dump Hardy distinguishable from the European backwaters it’s founders once fled so far, and fought so hard, to escape.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        In addition to the roads, the military costs of protecting oil tankers at sea.

        Oh, and the tax breaks given to oil companies.

        Yes, you could argue that all forms of energy and transportation are subsidiesed, but then we’d have to dig in to the actual details to see whether the subsidies are appropriate and fair. The details are fascinating, but that takes effort on the part of the reader to dig that deeply.

      • 0 avatar
        findude

        @valkraider:

        Identifying some of the Portland “subsidies” you identify as 100% “subsidy” versus “user fees” is confusing:

        Property Taxes: 100% subsidy (NO, the roads facilitate getting to and from my property and the properties where I work and do business. Access is a large part of what gives my property worth taxing.

        Sewer funds: 100% subsidy paid via Portland water bills: (NO, the sewers share the right of way with the roads for the most part, and the roads are the way maintenance and repair crews get to the sewer access points)

        City general fund: 100% subsidy (NO, the city, county, and state governments legitimately uses general funds to maintain and operate infrastructure which, literally, keeps things moving. Keep in mind that said roads are used not only by motor vehicles but also by bicyclists, pedestrians, and even the zoo-bomber skateboarders.)

        I don’t argue your general point about subsidies, but getting t% on these is truly an exercise in accounting legerdemain. Any discussion of the taxation and budget process in Oregon must be discussed in light of it not having any state sales tax.

        What kills me most whenever I drive in Oregon is the user fee/tax/subsidy? of requiring me to let some pump jockey put gas into my car instead of doing it myself. New Jersey is the only other state to make motorists suffer this ignoble fate.

  • avatar
    Sam P

    Next we’ll hear about how the earth is really 6,000 years old.

  • avatar
    DC Bruce

    I suspect this is the case in lots of cities which have built expensive “light rail” systems. Too often these projects are exercises in social engineering (trying to dictate how people should travel) rather than attempts at meeting an existing transportation demand.

    That said, new transit systems sometimes will generate their own demand, given enough time. Metro Washington DC’s subway system, which first went operational 35 years ago, took a while to build up heavy usage. Sadly, even running pretty much at capacity during weekday rush hours and even with a complicated time and distance based pricing scheme, the system still requires large subsidies from local governments . . . and is not that cheap for the rider.

    It also has caused under-investment in the bus system, at least until recently.

    • 0 avatar
      aristurtle

      In my experience, Baltimore’s light rail system is generally heavily-used during your typical rush hour times.

      I mean, I don’t have a study from a “Policy Institute” in front of me, but this study didn’t make any attempt to compare usage to capacity, or to study its usage during, I dunno, a daily working commute cycle, instead just comparing how many people took the train to a sporting event or a circus or whatever vs. how many people took a car there.

      News flash: unless the streets are filled completely to capacity (as they are in NYC and DC), mass transit will generally be used by the working poor. Poor people, as a general rule of thumb, can’t afford tickets to an NBA playoff game, so the fact that we saw even 21% of the audience show up on the train is shockingly high and probably indicates truly mind-boggling parking fees during the event. And then we have, what, that on the opening of a new station, few people showed up? By train? Wow, you mean when you open a new route, there’s a lag before people incorporate it into their routine? Who would have ever guessed?

      Look, any study by a policy think tank (of any political persuasion) is ethically bankrupt. They start out with a conclusion and then pick their case studies to match it. Nothing to see here, move along.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        @aristurtle:

        “if people can’t get to work, either because the roads are at capacity or because they can’t afford a car, then they can’t generate taxable income for the region”

        I know that public transit systems (including public roads) DO generally benefit the public and stimulate the economy.

        However … Some economists might argue that, if a person’s employment doesn’t generate enough income to cover the costs of getting to the job, that they are engaged in an unproductive enterprise, and that their time would be better spent doing something else.

        Of course, it is possible that there are enterprises that are productive, just not productive enough to justify certain modes of transportation, or commutes above a certain length.

        In that case, if it is possible for a government to reduce the cost of transportation enough to allow those enterprises to function and generate income, then the transit scheme could be a net benefit to society.

        However, nothing is free, so the benefit obviously has to be weighed against the cost. If all the more productive businesses are weighed down by the cost of higher taxes, is there a net benefit to society? Gotta do the math.

        I think that is where a lot of the arguments start. (Settling the questions of plain accounting is hard enough, let alone the questions of intangible costs and benefits.)

        Now, if a scheme increases efficiency of transportation, that would generally seem to be a winner. Like a limited light rail system that focuses on the most common trips, which might reduce the need for both car and bus trips. Of course, again, it’s not going to be free.

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        “Some economists might argue that, if a person’s employment doesn’t generate enough income to cover the costs of getting to the job, that they are engaged in an unproductive enterprise, and that their time would be better spent doing something else.”

        Portland’s transit system operation is largely funded by the three county metro area payroll tax, so it _is_ the jobs which are funding the transit.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        @SP
        “better spent doing something else” doesn’t really touch on the problem. A city’s economy is constrained by its transportation infrastructure. If people can’t get from homes to businesses, either as employees or customers or both, the city’s economy stops growing. Likewise, if people can get to businesses, this allows the economy to grow. (Note: I said “allows”, not “causes”; it’s a necessary but not sufficient condition).

        A city’s physical road capacity is only part of the problem. Yeah, in DC the roads are, for all intents and purposes, full: that’s why you have upper-middle class people taking the MARC train on a daily basis. If the MARC wasn’t available, those people would do “something else” where “something else” is “not work in DC”. DC would certainly lose jobs that were worth more than whatever subsidies it pays for the train.

        But even when the roads are not at capacity, the working poor use public transit when it’s less expensive. Car ownership is generally more expensive in a city because of extra costs in parking, insurance, reduced gas mileage and increased wear and tear. If public transit is not available, some subset of these people will bite the bullet and get a car (probably from some predatory BHPH-type outfit) which means they’ll be spending more of their money on fuel and less on the local economy, but it’ll work; it’s not that big a deal. The real problem is the other subset of people: the ones who can’t get a car even if they wanted to. Then the government pays welfare for these people because the conditions are such that employment doesn’t cover the costs of overhead. So here, “something else” means “be unemployed”.

        So, really, what you need to do is not compare the costs of a mass transit system to its fares and then say “hey, we’re subsidizing something, ohnoes!”, but instead compare the “subsidy” to the opportunity cost of either a) a stagnating local economy due to an overloaded road system (in the first case above) or b) the cost of higher unemployment because low-income workers don’t have a viable way to get to work.

      • 0 avatar
        SP

        @aristurtle

        I think you missed my point there …

        I understand that freedom of movement is good for society. I already agreed with that.

        I understand that if you start counting pennies, you have to count ALL the pennies.

        That was one of the main points of my entire post.

        Yes, getting people to work is good.

        My point was, if you want to use economic analysis, then consider …

        If the job doesn’t generate enough income to pay for transportation, then wouldn’t an economist wonder about the value of the work being performed?

        Economists love to publish those statistics like per-capita GDP and worker productivity. Those metrics are ways to judge how much value society receives for the work performed. Yes, they are flawed, but we don’t have an accurate way to track happiness and goodwill.

        Cheap transportation is obviously a good thing.

        When you look at light rail, of course, you don’t only compare fares to tax expenditures. But you can’t ignore that comparison!

        The fare people are willing to pay gives you a clue as to how much the service is worth. If people tell you that your service is worthless to them, you should listen. Or if they tell you that it’s worth a lot to them, you should listen. Because it’s all supposed to be about empowering people and building communities, right?

        So, like I said, of course you have to factor in the additional benefits beyond the fare receipts alone. But there are lots of other little effects that may be positive OR negative. It just depends.

      • 0 avatar
        Luke42

        “News flash: unless the streets are filled completely to capacity (as they are in NYC and DC), mass transit will generally be used by the working poor.”

        That’s certainly not the case in my town, unless you count students as “working” “poor”. But I live in a college town, and the public transportation options are used mostly by students, graduate students, and upper middle-class folks like me who choose to live in town take advantage of what living here offers. (Out here in my part midwest, the farmland is so valuable that the towns are small but very dense.)

        My employer subsidizes the bus system, and so I get to use it free of charge. I have the choice of paying for gas, repairs, and a parking pass (and I would have replaced my old Ranger years ago if I had to drive it every day) — or I can just hop on the bus that goes by my house. If your employer gave you a free lift to work, you’d take advantage of it, too!

        From what I’ve gathered, Portland is probably culturally a lot like a college town. When my wife lived in Baltimore, she rode the bus a few times and the working poor really did ride the bus there. But, that’s not true everywhere — it really depends on the nature of your town. And, if you don’t live in a real town (planned residential communities designed for car-only living don’t count), then public transportation isn’t relevant to you anyway.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      …the system still requires large subsidies from local governments . . . and is not that cheap for the rider…

      Every method of transit requires subsidies. Someone has to build roads. Someone has to secure oil fields. Someone has to clean up spills. Et cetera. Et cetera.

      The difference is that, with public transit, the subsidies are neither structural nor opaque. With gas, roads and cars we don’t realize what we’re paying.

      • 0 avatar
        DC Bruce

        Well, a road system whose construction and maintenance is paid for by motor fuel taxes (as is the case in the US, at least) is not “subsidized.” The users pay the full cost of the system (the vehicle, the fuel and the roads).

        “Subsidy” refers to an external financial input. So, in the case of the DC Metro system, a taxpayer ends up paying for part of it, regardless of whether he/she uses it or not. Conversely, the person using it does not pay for all of its costs.

        I am familiar with the arguments that mass transit benefits motorists by reducing congestion, but this is just a make-weight. A properly priced system would give both drivers and transit riders accurate price signals (including traffic congestion as a “price”) allowing them to choose which mode to use.

        And I would say that the hidden subsidy given to mass transit (that is, the block grants of tax dollars) is far more opaque than the fact that the retail price of motor fuel includes road use taxes, in that it prevents taxpayer/voters from making informed decisions about authorizing public works projects like that.

        A similar example is the University of the District of Columbia, DC’s pathetic excuse for a public college, if you take the taxpayer subsidy to UDC and allocate it equally among the students who attend, you will find that it would be cheaper to fund each of them on a full scholarship (tuition, room & board) at the most expensive private college in the U.S. What UDC really is is a sinecure for certain retired DC politicians and their friends . . . and even they don’t dare make the argument that UDC is a source of serious scholarship that has other benefits than educating their students . . . unlike just about any other public or private university or college.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        Federal fuel taxes pay for the Interstate Highway System, but local roads are usually paid for out of a state’s general fund. This can come from state fuel taxes or from any other source, depending on the state.

        In any case, it doesn’t really matter if fares cover the complete cost of public transit anyway; if people can’t get to work, either because the roads are at capacity or because they can’t afford a car, then they can’t generate taxable income for the region; and if customers can’t get to businesses for those same reasons then they can’t sell (taxable) goods, so focusing on the costs of the buses and trains vs. receipts in fares (or, alternatively, the costs of roads, traffic control devices, etc vs. income in fuel taxes) is not really the point; you also need to factor in the economic activity that the transit facilitates.

        (This, by the way, is why I always get a good laugh whenever I hear an Austrian School economist type start spouting the idea that all government spending is a net negative: you’re really trying to tell me that the IHS doesn’t facilitate more economic benefit than the costs of the highways themselves?)

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        “The users pay the full cost of the system (the vehicle, the fuel and the roads).”

        That is absolutely not true. Roads are paid for by a variety of funding mechanisms, _one_ of which is fuel taxes. Many roads are funded by property tax, general funds, and bonds/levies. Just recently, for the first time since it’s inception, general tax dollars had to be injected into even the Federal highway fund as fuel taxes are not covering the cost of roads.

      • 0 avatar
        aspade

        “Just recently, for the first time since it’s inception, general tax dollars had to be injected into even the Federal highway fund as fuel taxes are not covering the cost of roads.”

        Diverting a full third of federal gas tax revenues to urban public transportation and academia, running out, and then declaring that general fund dollars are subsidizing roads because the gas tax is too low is a bit disingenuous.

  • avatar
    Dr Lemming

    The Cascade Policy institute is a libertarian think tank. It does not do “objective” research — it promotes a specific political agenda. In a decidedly doctrinaire way.

    There is a debate to be had between mass-transit strategies that emphasize high-speed rail versus buses. You can find a lot of credible research in the urban planning field. But this isn’t it. It saddens me to see TTAC so slavishly hype libertarian dogma.

    • 0 avatar
      Apollo

      This is a terrible line of reasoning that negates the possibility of reasoned decision-making. Whether the research is “objective” is a completely different question than whether the researchers are “objective.” Of course researchers aren’t going to be objective – the only people who could possibly be objective about a subject are those with no interest in it, and those people aren’t going to be doing research. However, truthful and accurate research can be done by people who are themselves not objective. It happens all the time.

      People have political beliefs because they think those beliefs will produce a better system. When they do research that supports their belief, that research isn’t wrong simply because it supports a belief. Sometimes – believe it or not – people with political beliefs can be objectively correct. Facts can establish that if we follow a particular policy there will be a better outcome. And when people’s political beliefs are based on objective facts, that is actually the opposite of “doctrinaire.” That’s as close to objective as we can get.

      We should applaud people who, rather than simply spouting their opinions and insisting reality will conform to their expectations, do research that aids in forming a correct policy. The research can be judged on its own merits, but by refusing to consider research done by people who themselves have an agenda, you are the one being doctrinaire.

      There are facts, and there are opinions. Adjust your opinions to take account of the facts; don’t dismiss facts because of your (or someone else’s) opinion.

      I’ll get off my soapbox now.

      • 0 avatar
        charly

        But asking the question X and answering the question Y is proof that the “research” isn’t objective.

        ps. Q. Can rail move more people during rush hour than bus transport?
        A. During special events few people take light rail

  • avatar
    snabster

    The other benefit of mass transit for TTAC readers:

    1. Gets poor people out of buying cars so we can buy our beaters at a cheaper price
    2. Gets women and idiots who don’t know how to drive off the road
    3. Less money for roads means more bad roads = more cougar love.

    • 0 avatar
      Dukeboy01

      All together now:

      Monorail! Monorail! Monoraaaaaaaaaaaail!

    • 0 avatar
      stuki

      I my experience, the number of bad drivers on the roads go up with availability of public transportation. I always assumed it was from so many drivers getting so little practice.

      Compared to the way too many horrible drivers I encounter in LA, Portland, SF and NY are still an order of magnitude worse. In SF, the use of turn signals would not change observably if instead of being controllable by the driver, they were just wired to a random generator. And at least in LA, even if technically incompetent, people are sufficiently aggressive to manage to get more than two cars across a one minute red light, unlike in Portland. While New Yorkers are, of course, simply incompetent, no qualifications required. That place has to be the rear ending capital of the world. Even the cabbies haven’t figured out how to coexist with other road users there.

      I do realize that my thesis do fall apart a bit if one takes certain European countries into consideration, like Germany and Switzerland. God public transport, AND decent drivers. What a treat!

      • 0 avatar
        Ubermensch

        Remember, you are on TTAC, you should make sure when you include any reference to European countries that you mention that they are socialist hell-holes filled with dour effeminate automatons struggling to escape.

  • avatar
    John Horner

    Wow, the Libertarian advocacy group (started by a public university graduate, irony alert) is opposed to public transportation. I’m shocked, just shocked.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cascade_Policy_Institute

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Better yet, our beloved editor and chief saw fit to post it as a real news story!

      • 0 avatar

        TTAC has a syndication deal with TheNewspaper, who wrote this piece. I could have chosen not to syndicate this piece today, but because I take TN’s good with its bad, I ran it anyway. As a Portland resident, I enjoy using out light rail system and I’m glad we have it, but I really don’t use it that often. In light of that reality, I think it’s worth listening to the CPI’s critique rather than writing it off out of hand.

  • avatar
    psarhjinian

    A study released earlier this month by the Cascade Policy Institute questioned whether pricey mass transit options in Portland, Oregon are really being used by the public.

    So, what this means is perhaps these transit methods don’t work for Portland. This isn’t uncommon: many newer cities are designed in such a way that transit is guaranteed to be a failure, especially the light rail blanketing low-density areas

    People on the Left can be very stupid about transit**: it’s often seen as an carte-blanche answer, when in reality it’s one of many tools an urban planner can use. Buses work well enough in medium-density suburbs, provided those ‘burbs are walkable and bus service is frequent (often this isn’t the case). Light rail (or subways) works as spokes for the bus system; heavy rail as spokes for that.

    The stupidity starts when people a) design “Agrestic” communities that require either massively expensive or ridiculously inconvenient busing, b) try to use LRT where you really should use buses, c) make heavy rail stop every few miles, and/or d) use buses because rail is too expensive up-front, despite the capacity requirements being there.

    Public transit works, but you need to think holistically and give up on the idea that it solves every problem, and give up on sacred cows like monorail service to every neighbourhood. Sometimes, if you’re stuck with Agrestic, you’re better off with parking lots and light- or heavy-rail stations. Sometimes, you just gotta run buses. Almost always you’d be better off designing communities sustainably.

    ** in the way that people on the Right can be stupid about it, too, though for completely opposite reasons.

    • 0 avatar
      Dr Lemming

      You should spend some time in Portland before taking the Cascade study too seriously.

      • 0 avatar
        Scoutdude

        Yeah did that study note that those trains stopping across from the Rose quarter are packed to the limit going to and from those Trailblazer games. 20% of the attendees is pretty impressive by my standards since the Trailblazers tend to fill their arena. Or how the ones going into down town are usually pretty full during the normal commute times?

  • avatar
    Junebug

    Ok how many of you would give up your car and take the train (if availible) uh huh, thought so.

    • 0 avatar
      psarhjinian

      When I need to take the train, I do. Or rather, I bike to the bus station, strap my bike to the front of the bus, take the bus to the train, get on the train with my bike, get off the train downtown, and bike to our DC.

      And hey, now there’s a rent-a-bike system, so I don’t even need to schlep my bike on the train anymore. Awesome!

      The point is that a good transit system doesn’t require a car (or require me to give up my car) any more than it requires a bus, train, trolley, monorail or jetpack. It can use any of the above, provided it does so sensibly. It’s not a zero-sum game.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Geesh, I got tired just reading your description of that trip!!

        And to you, thats a GOOD transportation system?? sweaty bike ride, waiting for a bus, riding a bus, waiting for a train, riding a train, then another sweaty bike ride? What about rain? snow?

        You just clearly described why light rail (and any other mass transit for that matter) fails in almost anyplace in the US besides New York and DC. Especially in FL where if it isnt brutally hot or humid, its probably raining. :)

      • 0 avatar
        psarhjinian

        And to you, thats a GOOD transportation system??

        The alternative is waiting in an occasionally-parked car for an hour on the major expressway and crawling through downtown traffic (assuming I don’t get a fender dinged), only to spend $35 to park? Thanks, but no.

        sweaty bike ride, waiting for a bus, riding a bus, waiting for a train, riding a train, then another sweaty bike ride? What about rain? snow?

        The bike ride is hardly sweaty; it’s five minutes to the terminal from where I live now, and since I, you know, can read and all, I wait at most five or ten minutes for the scheduled GO Transit bus.

        In snow I can walk. Again, it’s not that far (~15 minutes). Oh, perish the thought of walking in the snow! How can I, as a Canadian, survive in such conditions! The humanity!

        That bus arrives at the GO station in Oshawa, at which point I wait maybe 10 minutes for the train. The train takes me right downtown. In bad weather, I can walk the PATH system, or walk topside if it’s nice, or (now) bike it (which I couldn’t do unless I arrived off-peak hours, but now that there’s a bike rental carousel at Union I can). Or I could take the subway, but it’s just as quick to walk.

        During this period, I can fire up my laptop on the train and get some work done. I also get some exercise in. Were I driving, I couldn’t do either. It works for me, though I suppose if I was commuting back and forth in an Lexus LS, or, better yet, in the backseat of a Lexus LS, I would choose differently.

        I mean, it would be nice if I could telecommute, or if I could work only in the small town in which I live, or if I could afford a house in Toronto and not commute, or if I made $millions and could be chauffeured. But none of those are the case.

        The whole system more or less works, and works well. Why cram an ideal that works for, say, a rancher or farmer whose job it is run supplies/livestock/whatever around a podunk little township and try to force it on people everywhere? Isn’t that what anti-car Orwellians are always being accused of? Telling other people how to live?

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Hey dont get me wrong, I am glad you have the option, and I am happy for you that you find it acceptable. I am most definitely NOT suggesting that we dont offer some types of mass transit, or even that we dont try to improve on it! I was merely pointing out why the vast majority of people wouldnt use the system you described.

        Now that I know you live in Canada the bike makes more sense… the cooler weather makes it much more conducive to biking. But like I said, in FL even 5 minutes on a bike in the summer and I would be stinky. 15 minutes walking would result in the same problem. BTW, since I am from FL I would perish the thought of walking 15 minutes in snow :) but I can see why you wouldnt mind it so much. Rain can still be a problem though. The fact that you have covered or indoor areas to walk shows that your city was designed more for commuters, like when I lived in DC, I always used mass transit. That isnt the case here.

    • 0 avatar

      For commuting I’d stop driving in a heartbeat if bus/train/etc. was reasonably efficient. I’d much rather spend 40-45min a day reading on a train than 25-30min sitting in traffic. Sadly Rhode Island’s bus system is completely useless for where I happen to live and work.

      Car fans should be promoting the *hell* out of proper mass transit. Think about it, how much money could you save if you didn’t need a commuter car (or didn’t need to commute in whatever you one vehicle is) and could instead ride a train or bus and only need you car for the *fun* stuff. How cool would it be to have *only* a classic car, or sports car or 4-wheeler or whatever in your garage because mass transit is good enough you don’t *need* the boring responsible car to get you to work or to the store?

    • 0 avatar
      JellyMunchkin

      Three weeks ago, I sold my only car and now rely solely on public transportation, my bike, and the occasional Zipcar. Next.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Thats nice if you happen to live where they even have Zipcar, let alone decent public transportation thats convenient to where you live. I am guessing you live in a city? Next.

      • 0 avatar
        JellyMunchkin

        I thought that the fact that I live in a city was fairly obvious. But if I do need to be more explicit: Yes, yes I do. I’m not deluded enough to believe that dumping one’s car is a viable or even remotely practical option for everyone. I would argue, though, that that is precisely the problem–too many people (in the U.S. at least) live in places served by little or no public transportation. Further, I can’t imagine that bogus “studies” like the one cited by this post are doing anything to help with that problem.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Yes, you did make it obvious, I was just clarifying that the only reason you were able to “dump your car” is because you choose to live in an urban environment, which are generally specifically designed to allow you that choice. Actually, they are generally designed to force you to make that choice, since parking in many cities is either non-existant or very expensive. So because you live in a city, you are not representative of the people who would be using commuter rail, which is what the article, and Junebug’s comment, was referring to.

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        The article is *not* talking about “commuter rail”. Commuter rail and light-rail are very different, and serve different populations. The Portland metro area only has one commuter rail line, and it is in a poor location and doesn’t actually connect any real places. The article is talking about our light-rail system (MAX) which runs through a variety of dense urban areas, and some less dense suburban areas. The stops are placed closely together and frequency is high.

        Generally going from smaller more local – to larger more regional it works like this:

        Street car -> Light Rail -> Subway/Heavy Rail -> Commuter Rail -> Passenger Rail

        Street Cars are small and run in the streets with other vehicles, and are generally only local circulators (although due to a quirk of fate Portland will have one street-car which runs out to a suburb due to historic rail alignments – see Lake Oswego Streetcar for more info).

        Light Rail (which is what this article is discussing) is generally at-grade but still separated from vehicle traffic. It uses slightly larger cars, and moves slightly faster than streetcar. However stops are still placed close and designed for walkability, and they run at high frequencies most all hours of the day.

        Subway or heavy rail will almost always be completely grade separated, have large cars and long trains, move very fast, and have stops placed far apart. Good examples are Atlanta and DC. Subway are very good people-movers but are expensive to build.

        Commuter rail usually are like small regular passenger trains, and connect large metro areas or regions. They often run infrequently only in peak hours and directions. The Los Angeles area and the New England region has LOTS of commuter rail. Portland has one line (WES) which is pretty much useless (nice but useless).

        And of course passenger rail is Amtrak like service.

      • 0 avatar
        mnm4ever

        Ok, thanks for clarifying, I was mistaken. Just so you know, I still think this study is completely bogus, I agree with all the comments that it actually sounds like a success.

        But if they were just measuring the people who rode “light rail” to the game, what does that even prove?? I would guess that a pro sports event would attract people from all over the region, not JUST people who live near the light rail stops and would use it. Thats just useless information.

      • 0 avatar
        JellyMunchkin

        @mnm4ever I didn’t really need clarification on why I’m able to live a car-free life. Until two years ago I’ve lived in places where a car was a necessity and have owned cars since I was 16, so I’m fully aware that I’m in the minority.

        Just to clarify, I don’t use commuter rail at all; I use a combination of a subway system and buses. I’m also not sure how you discerned from Junebug’s short post that he was “referring to” commuter rail.

        In general, I would simply say that the “choice” you refer to–to avoid the relatively high costs of purchasing and maintaining an automobile in favor of alternatives–should be made available to more people.

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        mnm: For sporting events, the people using the trains usually are the people from the far outer parts of the region. For many of those riders, the *only* time they will use the train is going to a big event in the city. They will drive to one of the park-and-ride lots out in the far outer reaches of the MAX lines (like Hillsboro, Gresham, and Clackamas) and ride them in to the game or event. Also, tons and tons of bus lines service that same spot – so events are well served.

        It is actually kind of interesting how the transit agency “stores” trains out along the lines and then tries to coincide the “release” of the trains so that they will all hit the arenas when the game lets out. Some times if the teams go into overtime it totally blows plans – all the trains converge on the arena while people are still inside – then when the game does let out all the trains are heading out to the burbs…

        Our light rail lines serve 3 of the 4 quadrants of the metro area. The Portland-Milwaukie line discussed here serves will serve a new area, and the next corridor planned will head southwest towards the only completely unserved quadrant (but will be tricky because it is over a mountain and through a well developed set of areas).

        Portland’s transit system is fairly different than many cities in that we have a large number of “choice” riders – people (like me) who own cars and still ride transit.

        Heck, I have a 2011 Camaro, a 2009 Jetta TDI, and two fancy motorcycles. I like to enjoy them to go places, not sit in traffic. Around town I like to ride my bicycle, walk, or use busses and trains…

        I am also an citizen transportation activist, I serve as a citizen representative on several committees and I work on projects helping to design projects which are compatible with cars, pedestrians, bicycles, and rail/bus systems. (You have no idea how hard it is to try and please even half the people half the time!)

    • 0 avatar
      dswilly

      I would use a train in a heartbeat if we had one (Kansas City) I bike when I can for my 23 mile commute. As for the train usage issue, isn’t it proven that most light rail systems when first up and running see light use? But over time they become more popular, say in 5-10 years. I believe one of the development concepts and struggles is to get the train up and running before you really need it, which is why they are a hard sell. The naysayers say its not needed or nobody is will use it stalling developement. But if you do so you don’t compromise the quality of your transportation system by then needing it and not having it, and then waiting to develop it for say 5-20 years like here in KC.

    • 0 avatar
      mcs

      I have a free indoor parking space in the same building as my Boston office, and I still will shell out money to take the train. I can’t stand the traffic. I would rather kick back on the commuter rail and get a jump start on work using the free wi-fi. Once in Boston, I take the light rail green line and it is very heavily used.

      While it’s definitely not perfect, I think our public transit system in Boston is pretty good. For example in the morning at rush hour, the commuter rail trains leave the station I use every 15 minutes. Subway is even more frequent. The locals complain about it, but I’ve lived other places so I have different standards.

      Traffic gets much lighter in the summer in Boston, so I’ll switch back to the car, but other times forget it. Heavy traffic here in the Northeast sucks the life out of you.

    • 0 avatar
      geozinger

      @Junebug: When I lived in Atlanta, I lived by the airport, but had a job in Buckhead, in the center of the city. I had my choice of three train stations I could use to get uptown from my home base. It was a nice easy commute, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching the traffic jams while I rode in comfort on the train. Unfortunately, the real estate the business was on was worth more than the business itself, so the owner moved us to the far northern suburb of Norcross. This made my one way commute 38 miles, or at least an hour each time.

      Since I moved to Grand Rapids, I’ll admit I’ve taken the bus only occasionally in the 12 years I’ve been here. There is only bus service here, however. I live 8.5 miles from work, and can usually be home or at the office in 15-20 mins. at the worst time of day, while the bus will take at least an hour in dry weather.

      We recently passed a millage in the metro area to increase the frequency of service on the bus lines and to add an express line on the main route from the southern suburbs to downtown. Once that is in place (and if I continue to work at my present location), I will be taking that route. The local bus just takes too long.

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      “Ok how many of you would give up your car and take the train (if availible) uh huh, thought so.”

      I do every day; before considering gas parking in town’s $14 and the train works out to around per $4.50 round trip. And that’s for days when I don’t ride my bike. Or I could pay $5 a day for a bus that’s almost door to door but it is a bit slower than the train.

      My car spends most of the week in the garage.

      All that said I’m not impressed by a lot of new light rail systems, particularly the weirdness that Denver’s been building. Moving tracks *away* from Union Station downtown and still not building a link to the airport is insane.

    • 0 avatar
      zigpenguin

      I live in SF Bay Area, and I take Caltrain to work. I walk to the train station, take the train, and meet a shuttle that takes me to work.

      It costs less than taking my car. It takes more time, but I can read for most of the trip. It’s less stressful, as I’m not dealing with all the traffic. It’s less flexible; I need to arrive and leave at the same time everyday. For the most part, I can’t run small errands along the way.

      For me, it is a net positive. I don’t expect that to be true for everyone. I have a Miata for weekends and for times when I need to run errands. If I had to commute by car, I probably would not be able to own a Miata.

    • 0 avatar
      chris724

      I already take the train. But why should I give up my car? I still drive to the train station. It’s about 4 miles round trip, vs. 60 miles to drive to work and back. The worse the weather, the nicer the train ride. I can watch the traffic jams out the window as I fly past. When I get off the train in the evening, I can run errands around town, and then drive home. Last year I put 3,900 miles on my car, vs. 16,000 when I drove exclusively. I’m saving money, along with my sanity. The next thing I want is an electric car. I want some of that sweet instant heat in the wintertime! Range anxiety is a non-issue for my short drive.

    • 0 avatar
      cackalacka

      I’d love to. Particularly in the summer months when the temps climb >100, and I’m stuck inching along and it takes me 60 minutes to inch <20 miles on the interstate (which occurs on ~75% of my commutes.)

      I'd imagine that the level of stress I'm putting on my drive train on hot days (when I'm rowing from N to 1 to maaaybe 2) is several orders of magnitude higher than when I'm dusting down a country road. This would probably cost me money, thanks to cheap gas and free parking, but would save me serious wear in the long-term.

      I could bring my laptop and do an extra 30 minutes of work each way, and further shorten my office workweek. Hell, I constructed an electric bike 3 years ago with the express purpose of summer commuting until I changed jobs outside of it's two-way range.

      Despite the fact that I live 1/2 a mile from a train track that runs 1/4 a mile from my office, this is not a possibility, as most people in this area of the country associate mass transit with subsidizing 'the other.'

    • 0 avatar
      Ubermensch

      I don’t take the train, but I take the bus every day and it is awesome. My bus pass is subsidised by my employer and only costs me $10 a month. In the warmer months I usually bike as it is a little faster and I am not constrained to bus timelines, plus the excercise benefit. Many of my co-workers live outside of town and fight with driving to work where there is no parking and have to use commuter lots and take a bus from the lots to work anyway? What is the benefit to living far from work again? The wife and I only own one car and plan to keep it that way.

  • avatar
    HayHay

    How could anyone think that spending 1.5 billion for 7.3 miles makes any sense? It’s just ridiculous.

    • 0 avatar
      valkraider

      It includes a brand new bridge over a large river in a dense downtown area, and will be used for much more than just light-rail. The bridge alone which makes up around 50% of the entire project cost.

      Building systems in densely populated areas with mountains and rivers costs more than building in flat dry sparsely populated places… This line goes through downtown area which is a dense urban core including a university, across a large river. That is not cheap – whether it were a road or a train line…

  • avatar
    mike978

    “The field research shows that continued use of the phrase ‘high-capacity transit’ by local planners to describe the regional rail program is Orwellian,” Cascade President John A. Charles, Jr. said in a statement. ”

    The system is high capacity – they just mixed up high usage with high capacity.

  • avatar

    as a portland resident, my experience usually is as follows:

    any and every time i use the MAX (our lightrail system) to go to downtown portland, the damn cars are filled to capacity. it doesn’t much matter what day or what time — getting a seat is kinda hard. it’s usually standing room only.

    i don’t doubt one could fudge the figures to say the MAX isn’t carrying as many passengers vis-a-vis the various bus routs — simply because the buses cover the entire portland metro area (which really isn’t all that small) like a grid, whereas the MAX only has but so many ‘hogh-traffic’ routes (3, more or less. the one up into north portland really just got hosed because the people in vancouver, wa didn’t want to play along with the expansion) to cover.

    going to either gresham or hillsboro, which is 10 and 20 miles from where i live, respectively, is just a s snap on the light rail and by personal observation, i would say a lot of the people who work in tech jobs out in hillsboro (i.e. intel) make good use of the lightrail as well.

    the tram cars in downtown portland are somewhat irrelevant, i would agree with that. i think of them more as a novelty/easy way to get up to NW 23rd.

    i’d truly would like to know what these people think would be a better solution than expanding the lightrail. running express busses down I-205 and I-84 and pray to god they don’t get stuck in a traffic jam?

    • 0 avatar
      Advance_92

      It may be that light rail cars aren’t a good fit for traffic and the line should use heavier equipment like you find in New York, Chicago, DC and so on. Dainty tram cars look nice in town but they don’t move people as efficiently.

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        You are correct.

        However Portland is constrained because our downtown blocks are small – only 200 feet long. So any train system that runs at-grade can’t be longer than 200 feet.

        While running at-grade can be a constraint, it is also a benefit – keeping people actively on the streets and participating in the community.

        There are always trade-offs. Some day the Portland metro may grow to the point where a subway or elevated line may be appropriate, and at that time the trains can get bigger. :)

  • avatar
    GuernicaBill

    I’m confused, how does 10,000 Trailblazers fans using transit for a single game constitute a failure? How is it bad if 1 in 10 use transit instead of cars for special events? It sounds like less traffic on the roads for those who want to drive.

  • avatar
    JellyMunchkin

    I’m confused about why people who love cars and driving would be opposed to transportation options that free up more road for them.

    • 0 avatar

      Those crazy H. sapiens often don’t know how to use their brains. The damn thing doesn’t come with an owner’s manual, and it’s hellishly complex.

    • 0 avatar
      vww12

      Because the centrally-planned “options” aren’t free. From day one, they’ll tax you on their boondoggle, probably via sales and income taxes. At the end, you’ll pay for the “free” option via sales, income, and fuel taxes.

      Bad all around.

      • 0 avatar
        aristurtle

        I’m curious, now: what transportation is not centrally-planned and not paid for via sales, income, or fuel taxes? Roads generally need some planning, and they ain’t free, either.

  • avatar
    segar925

    Federal Gas Tax dollars should not be used for building light rail systems or sidewalks, these tax dollars should be used to build & maintain roadways. It’s no wonder this country is going broke.

  • avatar
    Sinistermisterman

    Public transport just needs to be properly planned and built in the right area to be effective and a viable alternative to the car. Check out the new ‘Canada Line’ Skytrain in Vancouver BC – it’s clean, fast and efficient, and absolutely cuts down on commuting times. It’s ridership is at levels well above what was expected. Skytrains in Vancouver do not run at street level (either above or below ground), meaning there is no conflict with street level traffic – but the Achilles heel of the Skytrain system is the cost of building it and the disruption. The Canada line alone cost around 2 billion dollars and screwed up roads and businesses along the route where it was being built for over 2 years.

  • avatar
    Zackman

    Rail transportation has to go where the people that will use it live.

    Cincinnati is trying to get a streetcar system off the ground linking the University of Cincinnati area with downtown and end at the riverfront where the sports and concert venues are with lots of stores, restaurants, homes, condos and such along the way. It will be tricky, as UC’s community is up on a hill and Cincinnati has lots of hills. This is only a start and I believe it would eventually be very sucessful. Where the money will come from to build it is anybody’s guess.

    Buses have a very negative stigma for one reason or another – probably due to some of the people who frequent them and the frequent stops, like it or not, but that’s often their only choice, as a bus route must try to serve everyone along its route. I’m sure some prejudice comes into play as well, unfortunately. Dedicated non-stop commuter bus routes are another matter, however – if they serve the right areas to maximize ridership. We have a dedicated express non-stop bus that runs from my community direct to downtown. It’s always packed, too. I can’t use it, however, as my commute diverges two-thirds of the way and I go east a couple of miles, so it doesn’t work for me.

    The main issue with rail is changing demographics, similar to what happened to the original streetcar systems in place in most larger cities many years ago. The people who could afford to ride them moved on, leaving the poor behind who couldn’t. Simplistic comment, I guess, but in a nutshell, accurate.

    • 0 avatar
      OldandSlow

      Inner city buses haul mainly poor folks. Hence, the negative stigma regarding the normal bus system. Also, the normal bus system is slow, with lots of stops to let folks on and off.

      I live within 2 miles of downtown in a medium sized metro area, Austin, TX. The Express Buses with WiFi and reclining seats run routes that best suit the suburbs 10 miles from the city center. The light rail which passes nearby is also upscale and not worth the cost for my use. It is run by the same transit system, which is heavily subsidized.

      That said, I do take the bus when heading downtown rather than drive or by bike. Parking downtown is a hassle and expensive. Second, I don’t like driving in gridlock. Third, I can drink without worrying about a DWI and ride home to a bus stop a half block from my house. It’s not paradise, but I deal with it.

      • 0 avatar
        Zackman

        “Third, I can drink without worrying about a DWI and ride home to a bus stop a half block from my house.”

        Yeah, especially nowadays when two drinks can award someone a DWI. Nice.

      • 0 avatar
        cackalacka

        Ahh yes, the DUI. Man. I’d take the bus over a $30 cab fare or a $5000 lawyer fee (and the crippled ability to make a living without being able to effectively get there.)

        Curiously, in my circle, the ones that stridently oppose mass transit are the ones that drink the heaviest…

        …until they get their second DUI.

      • 0 avatar
        A Caving Ape

        That’s the best thing about the Portland MAX! Also the parking meters don’t kick in until 1PM on Saturdays and Sundays, giving you plenty of time to find your way back to your car the morning after.

  • avatar

    So they went on five trips to five events and somehow “counted” almost 50,000 riders.

    And that’s a failure.

    1 in 5 people took the train to a Trailblazers game.

    And that’s a failure.

    So, I suppose all the people stuck in gridlock after the game were feeling successful?

    I went to a NY Giants football game last year at the New Meadowlands, and I had a serious case of train envy after watching all the people hop on to the train and stream back into the city.

    I spent FIVE HOURS sitting in traffic on the ride home. I left the game at 5pm and didn’t get home to CT until almost midnight.

    More trains plz.

    • 0 avatar
      Philosophil

      “So, I suppose all the people stuck in gridlock after the game were feeling successful?”

      I had a good chuckle at this. Very good.

    • 0 avatar
      Slow_Joe_Crow

      Using events instead of commuting also adds a distortion. Since I live in Beaverton and can easily reach a light rail station I base my decisions on relative costs and the hassle of parking. A case in point is the auto show held at the Oregon Convention Center. or one or two people it’s cheaper and easier to park for free and take the MAX, for four people the cost of train tickets is greater than parking and gas (even at inflated “special event” rates) so we drive.
      Of course the fact that it takes twice as long to take the train to my office for the same cost means I don’t commute by train, although I do know people who do.

  • avatar
    anchke

    I work in an Eastern city in which the planners have been working on mass transit for, oh, 30 years or so. I have used the commuter bus. I still have to drive to the bus stop. Even with high-speed lanes, the bus takes longer to get me to work. The joke is that bus riders are wonderful barometers — if it’s summer, they arrive in need of a shower; if it’s raining, they’re wet; in winter, they’re covered with snow. If I take the bus, I can’t leave work dring the day and “working late” is awkward. The worst is that low lifes know cars in commuter lots are unattended all day, so they’re used as a free substitute for Auto Zone.

    On the other hand, when I drive, I just whip into the garage, say hi to the security guard and take the elevator to my office.

    Once, as a frequent user of public transit,I was sent to show the flag at a Big Meeting at which suits who didn’t use public transit were prescribing it for the proles. Their plan was to persuade employers to charge for parking. I innocently raised my hand to enquire, “Pray, sir, when will state and city employees begin to pay for their parking like private sector employees?” (hereabouts, acres of land are reserved for free public employee parking.) The non-response was accompanied by great huffing and puffing and instruction to the event’s MofC to require questioners to state their name and the company they represented before speaking.

    I’ll decide how to get to work. Them that don’t like it can leave me alone.

  • avatar
    valkraider

    CPI is overtly anti-transit, always have been. I use the Portland transit system regularly, as does my entire family. It is very well used.

    It is interesting that people will compare a road system that the government has spent hundreds of trillions of dollars on and spent 100 years developing, to a transit system which has had a few billion dollars spent over a couple decades. Of course the road system seems more complete and accessible…

    As far as the billion and a half for the Milwaukie light rail line, a very large chunk of that is for a new bridge over the Willamette river which will be used by much more than just the light rail line. It will be used by the light rail line, busses, street car, bicycle, pedestrian, and emergency vehicles. The Emergency vehicle one is pretty valuable as it will be the only bridge over the Willamette built to modern seismic standards – as most of the other bridges are 50 to 100 years old.

    I don’t understand why in America providing a CHOICE for Transportation, having options, is so controversial.

    • 0 avatar
      chuckR

      Its controversial because the proponents so blatantly steal from the road tax revenues for light rail, trolleys, high speed rail, bike paths etc. Use tax-free bonds for those and make sure you pay the bondholders back. It may be too late for that option – I know I’m not buying any new muni bonds – I don’t trust that they won’t default.

      Nobody has asked why more people don’t live in urban areas. Best way to reduce car use. I was a Providence resident for 15 years, and when I had kids, I moved to avoid the execrable schools, general political corruption, high taxes and lack of kid friendly spaces that didn’t require – wait for it – a trip by car for the kids to play.

      ps – if you think I’m kidding about the corruption, Prince of Providence is a vastly entertaining quick read. Years on, the immediate past mayor was elected to Congress in 2010 just before it came out he cooked the books and left his successor with a monster deficit and debt. Bet there are plenty of city dwellers who could tell similar stories.

      • 0 avatar
        valkraider

        Portland metro *has* asked why more people don’t live in urban areas. And Portland is a very well populated central core. We have a huge effort underway to develop affordable housing in the central core, and we coordinate our transportation and land-use planning. We have very successful programs for Transit-Oriented-Development and we have even recently had developers begin building developments that don’t even have parking because they are in areas with such good access to transit and bike-ways. Our “inner city” schools are very good when compared to most urban areas, and we have tons of places that our children play without needing a car to get to (Heck, the local “hipsters” even nicknamed a park in one of our most dense neighborhoods “pampers park” because so many kids play there – and it is right on a streetcar line and a couple blocks from light rail and has zero parking).

        Again, most readers of this story who are NOT in Portland are only getting one very biased and non-objective view of the situation.

        The majority of the population here does not find it controversial. However, Tri-Met (our transit agency) could operate a bit better. They tend to focus on capital development and then operations suffer.

        Again – people are commenting about how it sucks who have never even been to Portland. Portland is not perfect, but it does have a lot of success stories that are not reflected by this minor blurb from the CPI…

      • 0 avatar
        chuckR

        valkraider

        I did not mention Portland. I do object to the typical funding mechanism for a lot of these projects. I did object to the problems with the city I lived in and ultimately voted with my feet, as voting at the ballot box proved futile. Many of my issues were caused by poor government. Its popular to blame cars and mobility for the urban exodus, but not popular to blame government shortcomings. Had decent school systems been in place, with additional parks and recreational facilities and with clean and efficient municipal government, I might have stayed.

  • avatar
    CJinSD

    San Diego has street cars. They go nowhere near anywhere I’ve lived or would want to live. I’d inquired about their apparent uselessness and was told they were put in place to carry Mexicans from the border to their jobs at luxury hotels. The trolley map bears this out, so I just accepted that I live in the sort of state where the leftists in control do that sort of thing. One day I was downtown on business, waiting for someone who was running late within sight of the trolley tracks. The gates at a level crossing apparently mal-functioned and blocked street traffic for more than twenty minutes. This caught me attention, so I started watching the trains. They have dark tinted windows, so you really need to look carefully to notice that nobody is on them at 8:30 AM on a weekday. Approximately every third car had a passenger. It is a crime. How much better off would we be with no street car tracks wasting real estate, tying up traffic, and hitting the occasional pedestrian or cyclist? We could send limos to pick up the occasional American-employed Mexican. The only problem would be that people would actually use such a service, so it would rapidly become oversubsribed. I suppose it is better that we waste billions on light rail and then try to make people’s lives so expensive and devoid of quality and options that they have to use it.

  • avatar
    obbop

    Gotta be an embedded moral or two in the following anecdote.

    Perhaps 40 or more years ago in an arid southwestern state that had added to the college campus to absorb the horde of new students.

    The architects/builders had mostly finished several new buildings at the edge of the existing campus.

    As the expected new students flocked in and the existing students whose classes were now held within the new buildings the higher-ups whined and moaned “Well, that’s very nice but where are the concrete sidewalks, the pretty swaths of green grass and the other things to make our taxpayer-paid-for adornments a palace worthy of our esteemed oversight” or what were likely similar babblings from bureaucrats who seldom regard anything other than what pleases their pleasure centers within their bureaucratic mind-sets.

    The head architect requested patience… there WAS a method to his “madness.”

    In a relatively short period the tramplings by the herd of students had made “trails” traversing the area. Routes connecting buildings, parking lots, etc.

    The architect told the construction crews… “There are the “plans” for paths. Build the walk-ways there and the seats, flower beds, etc. go where those obvious marked-out by many feet are where the concrete walks will be placed.

    The bureaucrats whined that the results would lack “creativity.”

    The architect won.

    And the most efficient results for walking REAL people resulted.

    Something to ponder, I suppose.

    I would make a lousy bureaucrat.

    • 0 avatar
      valkraider

      The architect was actually quite smart. But it only works in a place where not much is already built. Most cities are very well built out at their core – and as such we can’t just tear down buildings because it would be shorter to get from here to there if the building weren’t in the way.

      In already built cities it is a bit trickier.

      The principle is valid though – planning should *include* watching where and how people like to go… And it tries to, generally. The main problem is that in our society everyone tends to think their own problem or anecdote is more important than anyone else’s.

      There is a good set of research done about how networks get more inefficient as you allow more freedom of choice. I will have to try and find it, but basically our current road systems allow people to always be trying to seek out a faster way which in itself causes the congestion they are trying to avoid. It is very interesting.

  • avatar
    DearS

    I kinda hate how train stations are so incovinient to travel through and from, buses aren’t my cup of tea either. A low budget car is much cooler. The human ego has an issue with that though. We want cupholders, leather and heated seats and a super sound system with touchscreen. Never mind that the economy is going to hell and more people are losing their standards of living. We want luxury.

  • avatar

    I rode Portland’s street cars when I was there on a weekend a few years ago and was shocked at how full they were. And “only” 11 percent attending events rode a train? Around here only 3 percent of people use the bus so it sounds pretty good to me. There are a lot of folks that wouldn’t ride transit if you paid them.

    John

  • avatar
    obbop

    http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/blogs/inthemission/detail?entry_id=89130

    Relevant link.

    Bay Area Rapid Transit.

    Good and bad.

    BART was supposed to be a panacea.

    A necessity for some.

    Berated by some, condemned, sneered at, few “love” it but to some extent many are grateful it exists.

    Too bad USA society has so many anti-social uncivil scum vermin who reduce the quality of modern life.

    A pox upon the do-gooders who forced the masses to “embrace” the mentally ill and the drug- and alcohol-addled small portion of society who reduce general civility.

    Sadly, too often, the various gang banging types perform their deeds within and around mass transit when those vermin should, in my opinion, be placed upon rope’s end from convenient tree limbs for the villagers to happily gaze upon.

    Anyway…………….

    the link awaits thine curiosity-driven click.

    • 0 avatar
      Zackman

      “…when those vermin should, in my opinion, be placed upon rope’s end from convenient tree limbs for the villagers to happily gaze upon.”

      Kind of like an old friend of mine in Missouri many years ago who advocated public hangings under the Gateway Arch every Sunday at noon!

      Many controversies surrounded the BART system when it was being built. Now many Bay Area commuters are forever grateful.

      EDIT: Obbop; after reading the link, that’s another problem with public transport. Lack of civility, moral standards and general cleanness. State of the current world we live in, isn’t it?

      • 0 avatar
        Sinistermisterman

        It’s the ‘general cleanness’ of quite a number of public transport users which generally puts me off. All it takes is one stinky SOB to be on the bus and everyone gets a whiff of their wonderful body odor. In mid summer it’s even worse, some people’s body odor is positively barfworthy. When combined with the occasional drunk and/or mentally disturbed fellow passenger, it makes riding public transport a thoroughly miserable experience.

  • avatar
    Scoutdude

    Definitely the people who did this study really failed to look at the system and it’s true ridership patterns, volume, and efficiency. I travel to Portland 1 a year for a 3 day event at the Rose Quarter and stay at a hotel right on the main line where all the lines converge. During peak daytime hours the multiple car trains are often to the point of standing room only and are moving as many people as 4 buses in a much quicker manner. It may be far from perfect but it is far from being underutilized or inefficient in terms of the number of people it moves.

  • avatar
    HoldenSSVSE

    Similar boondoggle in Puget Sound. Most expensive per mile light rail transit project in the country and already fare increases, service reductions and not even at 40% of the projected ridership. That is even after killing the parallel bus lines in an effort to get people to ride the train.

    Total joke; and the war on the car continues. Puget Sound and the I-5 corridor down to Portland is ground zero for the war.

  • avatar
    jpcavanaugh

    Indianapolis is exploring light rail. I don’t hold out high hopes. On one of the heaviest commuting routes into and out of the city, there has been an express coach designed for use in the morning and evening commutes. The problem is that it cannot break even on the fares that people are willing to pay. Even in times of high gas prices, it requires a subsidy. And this is a motor coach that requires no upfront investment in infrastructure.
    I constantly hear about how established systems with high ridership (Chicago, New York, Philadelphia) are chronically losing money and cannot maintain and replace equipment. And then there are the periodic transit strikes.

    If mass transit were so fabulous, 1) it would run at a profit and 2) people would not be (in the aggregate) moving out of areas served by mass transit to areas not served by mass transit.

  • avatar

    Stop wasting our gasoline taxes on this crap!

  • avatar
    kamiller42

    7.3 miles for $1.5 billion? What a rip off. Dallas Area Rapid Transit recently finished a 28 mile expansion for $1.8 billion. http://www.dart.org/news/news.asp?ID=946

    • 0 avatar
      valkraider

      First, the Dallas Light Rail system is a very good system which is currently very under-utilized but will be very very valuable in the future. It is something for Dallas residents to be proud of, and to keep building out.

      However, that is a bad comparison dollar for mile. There are significant differences in the lines.

      1. Dallas is largely flat, Portland is not.
      2. Dallas Green line used existing light rail lines through the entire central city core. Portland’s Milwaukie line involves building an entirely new segment through densly populated areas in the south end of downtown, including a large university.
      3. Portland’s line has to construct a new bridge over a major river high enough to accommodate river traffic and built to stringent seismic standards, Dallas’ green line did not cross a river which makes up 50% of the project cost and will accomodate busses, streetcars, bicycles, pedestrians, and emergency vehicles.
      4. It looks to me, based on satellite photos, that Dallas’ green line was built along a lot of existing right-of-way, which makes construction cheaper and less land needs to be acquired. Portland’s Milwaukie line does not have such luck, although it does share most of it’s distance with exiting rail lines but any ROW savings get eaten up by bridges over the rail lines to the light-rail stations (because in the USA we are apparently incapable of looking both ways before crossing a train line so someone has to hold our hands the whole way). Since some of that is federal law – then we can blame a little of the cost on federal regulation, right?

      Those things alone make the projects a poor comparison.

  • avatar

    So a think tank funded by Exxon Mobil and Koch Industries hates public transportation?

    SHOCKING!

    Next up, a story on how researchers have discovered that water is, in fact, wet!

  • avatar
    Russycle

    As other have noted, the “study” is crap. They look at 5 scenarios:
    Home Show at Expo Center: 21% day 1, 18% day 2
    Cirque de Solei: 8%, via streetcar, which is hardly a “high-capcity” system
    Blazers game: 21%
    Cascade Station on Black Friday: 2.2%
    Cascade Station is far from downtown and has tons of free parking, it has a Max station because it’s on the airport route. People from downtown don’t shop at Cascade, they have plenty of shopping downtown. There’s no Max from the ‘burbs to Cascade, so of course people drive.
    The Gresham station does sound like something of a boondoggle, but that hardly invalidates the concept of light rail. For those that don’t know Portland, Gresham is on the eastern edge, so we’re talking about the end of the line here.

    So tossing out the outliers and red herrings, we have about 20% of attendees to events near the city core. Sounds pretty good to me.

    I’ve taken the Max to couple Blazer games and yes, it’s standing room only. I’ve also taken it from western Portland to the airport. 35 minutes by car (if no traffic, including 15 minutes for parking and shuttling to the terminal), an hour on the Max, and I’m guessing the better part of a day by bus.

    Sure buses get more use, they cover a lot more territory. While we’re at it, let’s compare the number of people who fly every day with those who drive. Hey look, jets are obsolete!

  • avatar
    carve

    Why the hell are these things so expensive. This new line will be $39,000 PER FOOT!

  • avatar
    Conslaw

    Twenty years ago my wife and I rode on a shockingly efficient city bus in Ottawa, Canada. The big difference from the US systems that I’ve been on was that in certain areas this the best way to get from Secaucus, New Jersey to Manhattan, because of the dedicated bus lane from the Lincoln Tunnel to the Port Authority bus terminal near Times Square. I suspect that dedicated bus lanes are much cheaper than light rail. In Seattle, they have electric lines above the streets and the buses connect like a trolley car when on an electric route and act as diesel buses where there is no electric line. The electric lines aren’t pretty, but train tracks aren’t either.

    • 0 avatar
      CJinSD

      That’s a painfully good point about dedicated bus lanes being more economical than light rail. Surely, somebody advocating mass transit knows this. It just goes to show that the best solutions are excluded from consideration to serve a lower purpose.

  • avatar
    A Caving Ape

    Portland mass transit is great, and I’m happy to pay for it with my taxes. That said, I hardly ever use it. Public transit is still public transit, regardless of how well-executed.


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