Wednesday, March 31, 2010

What Mass Transit?

A Star editorial today follows up on Erika Smith's story yesterday about a $10 billion regional transportation plan being pushed by civic leaders. The editorial takes a strong stand in favor of the plan to bring light rail and more bus services to the region. If you read Smith's story, you would know that there is a bit of bait and switch going on here. Of the $10 billion proposed in spending, only $2 billion is scheduled to be spent on mass transit. The balance will be spent on new highways. The public is being tricked into supporting higher sales taxes in the region to basically fund massive highway projects for the road contractors benefit. The paltry sum proposed for mass transit will do little more than perhaps allow for construction of a light rail from Noblesville to downtown Indianapolis. Other proposed rail lines are simply pipe dreams intended to lure more regional support for the tax and spend plan.

32 comments:

Downtown Indy said...

I keep hoping they will realize that a successful mass transit solution will require REDUCTION in highway capacity. Other than the 'rush' hour, we have plenty of capacity. More than required, I think.

People will use mass transit when it is faster and easier than driving alone in their car.

When they realize that, mass transit will have a prayer of being self-sufficient (albeit slim) and we can make huge cuts in the expenditures for road construction and repairs.

Southsider said...

I'm looking forward to the PR or BS blitz to convience the 'would be' riders to park and ride.

Koz said...

The goal of the group is to update the transportation plan, which includes roads, rail, bike paths and sidewalks.

When you go to the info sessions, they are very up front about that.

If you haven't, check out the meetings and give some feedback. They are very early so maybe they will incorporation feedback.

Mike Kole said...

$2 Billion is 'paltry'? Maybe that's part of the problem in the bigger picture.

But it isn't merely a reduction in highway capacity that would make mass transit more attractive. What makes it work in NYC is that parking is virtually impossible to find once you arrive, and if you do find it, the cost can be as much as $72/day. Also, the auto insurance has to be about 4x higher, and the risk of vandalism and/or theft far greater.

In what rational world are these things 'good' or 'desirable'?

Looks like mere pushing of pet projects, not the real life solution to actual problems.

Moreover, mass transit is not self-sufficient anywhere in the USA. In most systems, 80% or more of the operating budgets come from various tax sources (true of IndyGo). Again, NYC is closest to being self-sufficient, with about 50% of the operating budget coming from fares and ads, the rest taxes.

Take a look at some of the balance sheets of the various systems to see the real numbers.

I've been blogging about mass transit for about seven years now. I hope you don't mind, Gary, but I'm adding a link to one of my posts from 2007 that has many links to balance sheets and a graph that shows where IndyGo's money comes from, via the balance sheet:
http://kolehardfacts.blogspot.com/2007/04/mindless-march-into-pit-indy-star-had.html

interestedparty said...

Here's a topic that bears education, input, and public involvement. What can be done to constructively engage people so that all sides are able to put forth their opinions and ask their questions in a way that others will listen, and the result will incorporate the best ideas? This apparently can't be done on a national level, but I think it could on a local level.

varangianguard said...

Don't hold your breath, Koz. It's their way or the highway.

Highway, mass transit promoters. Ironic.

Advance Indiana said...

Mike, Highways are very costly to maintain and are not self-sufficient unless tolls are collected. Mass transit is a cheaper alternative in the long run. As long as we keep adding more lanes and building more highways, there is no incentive to use mass transit.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

I have this hilarious acquaintance in Chicago who calls the brown line, "The Bone" because he often sees the train's floor littered with chicken bones left by filthy passengers who could care less that someone else will ride the train with their garbage.

Advance Indiana said...

I ride the train every time I go to Chicago. I've never had a bad experience with it. The City's educated and professionals ride it as much as the underclass.

varangianguard said...

It's population density as much as anything else. Mike Kole mentioned NYC several times, and I would posit that the Boston to D.C corridor is the only place where mass transit is sustainable at all over the long run in the US.

For the rest of the country, fixed mass transit isn't sustainable over the long term. It's "pie-in-the-sky" stuff. But, those promoting it won't allow for opposing viewpoints to cloud their rose-colored hopes and dreams.

artfuggins said...

What does your comment about some unnamed friend of yours referring to train as the "bone" have anything to do or to add to anything being discussed here. It seems to be just another opportunity for you to cast a negative comment which is all we ever hear from you.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

He says it is just that one train.

interestedparty said...

The metro in DC has been great every time I've used it. In fact w/o it, I would go to the suburbs from the airport and never go into DC. Also, Toronto has great mass transportation, or did when I was there a long time ago. I think when my daughter lived in St. Louis, she used to be able to hop a train to the airport from downtown. Of course, Indy isn't DC or Toronto, but no reason something can't be done well for the scale appropriate for our size.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

Art, you should talk about being negative. Please re-read what you just wrote to me.

I absolutely LOVE talking about positive things our public servants do for us.

The problem is most of what they do is seek more and more power for themselves by taking it from others.

Btw, I always thought that chicken bone story was hilarious even though I would not want to commute in a garbage can.

guy77money said...

Hey Kole, your right up until 1975 one of the best bus system in the country (Milwaukee) was private but they even sold all their assets to the county. I think it would be a whole lot cheaper to add more bus express routes from the burbs then spend billions (that no one has) to build light rail. I wonder how much it would cost to upgrade the buses to make them more comfortable and tech friendly. Of course it depends how long we can keep the price of oil under $100. Gary once again you hit the nail right on the head on the bait and switch that our politicians are trying to force down our throats. I still believe we are headed towards huge tax increases to fund these massive social programs and projects our self serving politicians keep coming up with. I still believe the Federal government will up the retirement age to 67 or 68 to keep social security from going bankrupt.

Indy Student said...

Koz, I haven't been to one of the events myself. But someone told me on Twitter that he attended at the JCC. I asked him what he thought, and he said it was informative, but little else. They hand out brochures and it's mostly a presentation rather than public input. He seemed to imply that they were in the planning stages. He said he'd go again once more details were given or if they ever have a public hearing about specific plans.

Jon E. Easter said...

I find myself in rare agreement with you AI.

Jon E. Easter said...

And, by the way, in all the times I've ever been to Chicago on all the trains, buses, and everything I've ridden in public transport...including the cabs...I have never encountered anything like chicken bones. That's ridiculous.

Had Enough Indy? said...

Where are you seeing that only $2B of the $10B is for mass transit. Good catch, it totally passed me by.

I can support $2B or $10B of mass transit - not a fan of toll roads. Real mass transit would be fantastic, and yes, even though it needs continuing support.

Citizen Kane said...

Mass Transit, other than updating the existing bus equipment and routes, is a massive boondoggle just waiting to happen. Regardless, of whether it it light rail, commuter rail, or highways, a whole bunch of money will be stolen from the rest of us and end in the pockets of the few, and there will be a never-ending wringing of hands as they try to figure out how to increase ridership beyond single digit percentages. This city, does not have the density to support any sort of fixed mass transit - no fixed system could be designed to accommodate the low-density travel needs of the city, county, region. If you want to see empty trains to go along with the many empty buses, have at it.

Transit systems all over the country are going broke for a myriad of reasons, and the ones that aren't broke will be broke soon - it's just a matter of time. Government can not force a transportation solution on people. It does not work. They will choose what is most convenient. Even if we all moved into Center Township, and had a density similar to San Francisco 17,000+ persons per square mile), we would likely end up with similar problems. Presently Center Township, our most populous township, has about 4,000 persons per square mile and can barely support a few bus routes.

Frankly, if people are having problems with commuting to work, they should move closer to work and make different choices about where they live and where they work.

For recent BART news, see here:

http://www.sfexaminer.com/local/BART-explores-more-fare-hikes-cuts-85018367.html

interestedparty said...

Guy-
Yes, I grew up in Milwaukee and the bus system was AWESOME. People took the bus everywhere: downtown, school, library, doctor, art lessons, work, etc. etc. Safe, clean, fast and FREQUENT! It was the best, and unfortunately for me, I thought it was typical. Then we moved and I found out that the rest of the country did not enjoy this system. And we had to buy our first "second" car. And then our third. I wonder how the Milwaukee system fares today. I'll try to find out, but I'm afraid I'll be disappointed.

By the way -- Milwaukee was -- and I hope is still-- a great place!

Mike Kole said...

Yes, highways are expensive to maintain. Gas taxes are a user fee, and appropriate, just as fares are appropriate for transit users. I don't know why transit advocates are always so keen to point to highways as a justification for transit, especially if their point is that highways are not self-sufficient.

Why is it, especially from the Republican advocates, not the point that the support in the form of taxation on the general public being made? There are two ways to strike a balance here- yes, taxes can be raised, but the other is to raise the fee to the user. The Republican proponents never promote a hike in user fees.

If highways aren't striking a budgetary balance, by all means I support raising the gas taxes. No reason to promote a transfer of wealth from those who do not ride to those who do.

I would expect this from Republicans. Alas.

HOOSIERS FOR FAIR TAX said...

Jon? I rode in a dirty train from O'Hare to the Art Institute once. That's the only time I've been on a Chicago train. The windows were greasy and disgusting.

I'm telling the story as it was told to me from a Chicago resident who rides all the time. He still calls that train "the bone". In all fairness, he did say it was just the brown line.

I like my nice clean car even if I have to wait in traffic and pay for parking.

Advance Indiana said...

100 years ago you could ride anywhere in Indianapolis on an electric train. The trains were all privately operated. GM came along with its buses and bought out the company that operated the trains in Indianapolis and began operating its buses in place of the train. Many of the old rail lines still exist; they've simply been paved over.

Jon E. Easter said...

My grandmother used to regale us with stories of riding the interurban. It's too bad that system is gone, and it's too bad that this city has become so dependent on the automobile.

varangianguard said...

Well, many places in Indy as the City existed back then.

Indianapolis Street Railway Co. ran services that also connected to several interurban rail services connect Indy with other Indiana towns and cities.

Indy intraurban map

Mely's Rugs said...

Thanks for posting that map. I knew the electric train ran in front of my house on Central Avenue. It's why my street is so wide. My house was built in 1921 and that map is from 1923. MK was the first suburb of Indy and we had transportation from the earliest days of the neighborhood.

Stop Indiana said...

Mass transit is nostalgic, subsidized madness. If people want rides, go to Disney World. If people want transportation, they should pay for it themselves.

varangianguard said...

Actually Melyssa, the intraurban system in Indy spurred the initial expansion of the city away from the core of downtown. Can't blame cars for that. But motor vehicles broke development away from the anchor of fixed rail routes. Now, it is very difficult to put the "genie" back into the lamp.

Gary's right. Likely the rails were just paved over at some point, though it's debatable whether they would still be usable, or not. Same with brick streets. Many are still there, under the asphalt paving. Here and there, more than several are still in use.

interestedparty said...

To Stop Indiana:

I think you would agree it's in everyone's best interest that people be able to get to their jobs. Lack of transportation may make it impossible for some to even have jobs. When people can't get to jobs everyday, then we end up subsidizing things other than transportation.

IndyDem said...

I agree...
I am a huge supporter of public transit and have been perplexed about the break down of dollars in this project for trasit versus road work.
Also, it includes an increase in bus service in and around Hamilton County. Why? Is there serious thought that they'll actually use it up there? Just adding it so they have more there is wasteful.
What you've brought up here really needs to be talked about more.

Indy Student said...

Stop Indiana,
I'm all for responsible use of taxpayer dollars. But our dollars are already going to fund highways, roads, bike lanes, and places like the Monon Trail and the Canal Towpath. Throughout history, governments have at least given their citizens some form of support in transportation. Sometimes it's providing the transportation themselves, other times it's been through the construction of roads.

The money will be spent either way. The discussion should center on which is the wisest use of it. And really, what would it take for the stigma to come off of public transportation?

I really have no problem riding IndyGo when I'm downtown. But outside of downtown, their routes and availability leave a lot to be desired. The closest bus stop is about two miles from my house.