February 19, 2005
Transit Blasphemies Feedback
Date: Thu, 17 Feb 2005 18:01:55 -0600
From: "P. W. Aitchison"
Subject: Transit Article
I almost always find your articles in the Winnipeg Free Press are very good, having refreshing, thoughtful and new insights that can improve public and private policy. However, your Light Rail Transit article in the Saturday February 12 Free Press left something to be desired and I wonder what you were really trying to show.
Almost all of Randal O'Toole's statistics and commentary showing superiortiy of cars over LRT are based on comparing urban, fast speed, limited access freeways with LRT. Winnipeg does not have any of these (except arguably a few km. of Bishop Grandin) and the cost of creating a network now will be impossibly high, with much greater costs per km. than LRT. Most LRT routes can go along existing railways but these are not wide enough for urban freeways, unless elevated. Many places that have such urban freeways in the USA and Calgary find them totally choked with traffic, often to a complete standstill, in the rush hour which negates all of their advantages and creates incredible pollution.
Poor cities like Winnipeg are stuck with their existing road systems and marginal improvements to them in the foreseeable future. It is very unlikely that the Federal or Provincial governments will provide much money to Winnipeg for new roads, but they will provide money for LRT (or BRT).
If you travel on roads from/to the south in the rush hour such as Kenaston, Pembina, St. Mary's, as I often do, then you will know that they are beyond capacity in the sense that there is a lot of stop-go-crawl traffic. Any further vehicles on these roads will create very much longer journey times and pollution. Even the consultant company N.D.Lea in their study of Waverley West, commissioned by the city, stated that parts of Pembina would need to be widened by two lanes ut they then stated immediately after that it was not feasible to do this because of the difficulties of acquiring right-of-way!! That prediction was based on a small yearly increase in traffic above current levels.
Consequently, I am a little puzzled by your promoting car travel as the best way to go in the future when you wrote such as " lets recognize the car's superiority" and "lets help them (the poor) acheive car ownership". Actually, I think that you and I had better hope that vey few extra cars get on to the roads of Winnipeg. Currently there are still about 130,000 transit passengers per weekday. Even 100 of those converting to cars in the rush hour require an extra one kilometre of roadway (at 10 metres per car).
One statement in your article seemed very odd: "An LRT is the slowest, most expensive and most dangerous form of mass transit." ? Randall O'Toole said that LRT is faster than buses and typically averages more than 30 km per hour which is more than the speed of most rush hour car traffic in Winnipeg. He did not make any comparisons of the danger of different forms of mass transit as far as I know, but he did mention that their are more deaths per passenger kilometre on LRT than on urban freeways. In terms of total costs the most expensive form of mass transportation is certainly car travel with average of 1.2 persons per car on urban freeways (and other roads). This form of travel only works because the bulk of the costs are absorbed by the individual car owners (willingly for the convenience or because they have no choice), or are not paid for at all (air pollution, noise, degradation of the environment and health of the unfortunates living close to those roads, and so on).
Your European examples of transit, such as London, were not really applicable here because it is just too different. The high density of housing, the difficulties of car travel and parking in cities and the high cost of gasoline favour transit, whether private or not,. In fact in your example city of London the number of rail and underground commuter lines is mind boggling and still being increased. London recently imposed Draconian new tolls to limit car useage - a 5 pound ($12) per day fee to travel by car into the inner part of London.
I thought that your comments about the decline of Transit in Winnipeg were right on. I have used Transit frequently for 35 years and it has declined to a state that I do not recommend it today. The reduced frequency makes it difficult to use, unreliable (there is no margin to take care of any delay or breakdown), uncomfortable (especially for those standing on almost all rush hour buses). The cost cutting has caused all kinds of other off-putting changes such as dirty buses and bus shelters, lack of supervision of bus drivers (who, for example, often drive ahead of schedule so people miss their bus) and really bad time-tabling. The design of new buses says it all - they have hard plastic seats with a thin fabric covering. The one-size-fits-all bowl-shaped seat forces you to sit in uncomfortable positions pressed against the side of the bus or against other passengers. Even paying the fare of $1.85 is difficult (requires a lot of coins) and off-putting for casual users. When I first started using transit the drivers gave change (and sold bus tickets) and drivers in Europe still do this (at least in the parts of Britain I know).
I do not think Winnipeg can afford to let Transit keep declining, because this will overload the roads too much, requiring massive road-building costs to accomodate the extra traffic. The soon-to-be built Kenaston overpass at the CN railway costing up to $30 million is a small example of this. It will not even solve much of the traffic problem because just to the north the traffic lights at Grant stop the Kenaston vehicles 50% of the time (the railway stops it less than 20% of the time).
Peter Aitchison, Ph.D (Mathematics) and Member of the Manitoba Order of the Buffalo Hunt.Randal O'Toole below responds to Peter's points (in bold)
From: Randal O'Toole
Subject: Re: Fwd: Transit Article
Almost all of Randall O'Toole's statistics and commentary showing superiortiy of cars over LRT are based on comparing urban, fast speed, limited access freeways with LRT.
Few of my statistics are on the "superiority of cars over LRT." For the most part, I don't judge whether one transportation mode is "superior" over another. My data are on the modes people choose. Those data show that, even in Canadian cities such as Winnipeg, the overwhelming choice is autos. Building light-rail lines, as Calgary has done, doesn't significantly influence that choice, as evidenced by the fact that transit in Winnipeg has about the same market share as in Calgary.
Consequently, I am a little puzzled by your promoting car travel as the best way to go in the future when you wrote such as " lets recognize the car's superiority" and "lets help them (the poor) achieve car ownership".
In the case of low-income people, I have cited research showing that the best way to help people out of poverty is to insure they have mobility -- and automobility works far better than transit mobility.
Actually, I think that you and I had better hope that very few extra cars get on to the roads of Winnipeg.
In other words, the writer hopes that poor people stay poor.
One statement in your article seemed very odd: "An LRT is the slowest, most expensive and most dangerous form of mass transit."
It is the most dangerous, but not the slowest or most expensive. Subways are more expensive. Buses that stop every couple of blocks are slower. But buses can be faster if they stop as infrequently as LRT.
He did not make any comparisons of the danger of different forms of mass transit as far as I know, but he did mention that there are more deaths per passenger kilometre on LRT than on urban freeways.
I may not have made that comparison in my slide show, but elsewhere I have noted the following:
Mode Fatalities Per Billion Passenger Miles
Light rail 11.6
Commuter rail 7.8
In terms of total costs the most expensive form of mass transportation is certainly car travel with average of 1.2 persons per car on urban freeways (and other roads).
Cars are far less expensive than any form of mass transportation. I don't have detailed data for Canada, but in the U.S. cars cost users an average of 18 cents a passenger mile. That includes taxes that pay for 90 percent of the nation's roads. University of California Mark DeLucchi estimates the total social costs of the auto (pollution, etc.) are less than 5 cents per passenger mile.
By comparison, the cost of mass transit averages 75 cents a passenger mile, of which about 18 cents is paid by users and the rest is subsidized by taxpayers. Social costs also exist but I have no estimates of those costs.
The writer errs in assuming 1.2 people per car -- 1.6 is more realistic.
The average American spends 8.5 percent of their personal income on autos. Wendell Cox estimates that to provide an urban area with a bus transit system that is only 50 percent slower than autos would cost 22 percent of the region's personal income. Rail transit would cost 108 percent of the region's personal income.
Your European examples of transit, such as London, were not really applicable here because it is just too different.
The point is that European cities already are what smart-growth advocates want North American cities to become: high densities, high intensities of transit service, pedestrian-friendly design. Yet auto driving is rapidly growing in Europe and transit ridership is stagnant.
I do not think Winnipeg can afford to let Transit keep declining, because this will overload the roads too much, requiring massive road-building costs to accomodate the extra traffic.
The question is: what is more cost effective at moving people? Transit or roads? If transit really is less expensive, go ahead and invest in it. If roads are, then invest in them. Until someone has compared the benefits and costs of a full range of alternatives, it is inappropriate to prejudge that transit or roads are superior.
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