Mass transit = inefficency

Via Digg:

There are plenty of good reasons to encourage mass transit, but arguments about the hidden costs of the automobile fall on deaf ears because people, unconsciously or not, factor time and convenience into their decision making. The average driver knows perfectly well why she drives.

The cost of a transportation system is first of all, any flat fare. Call that F. Then there’s a cost per mile (call it C) and the mileage (M). The value of your time we can call S (salary per hour), and the time it takes to travel is T. So we have Cost = F + CM + ST. Time will be mileage divided by your speed (V), so we have Cost = F + CM + SM/V = F + M(C + S/V). We can see that cost increases with mileage (obviously), high time value (every minute traveling costs more) and low speeds.

This is a pretty interesting article, and provides some chewy food for thought. Time = money/happiness. Until mass transit can provide real efficiency, it’s doomed (in addition to many of the other reasons). I am glad that there are people out there who write papers like this.

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  1. peda-gogo September 4, 2006 at 09:50

    Well this is certainley a surprise, a real estate agent who is attacking mass transit in favor of building more roads.

    What you don’t mention is that while you are a car you can’t do anything but drive and listen to the radio or maybe talk on your cell phone if you want to be dangerous. On a bus you can read, relax, even take a nap. So there’s your time right there, you can get even get things done on the bus so you can relax once you get home.

    Finally, there’s the issue that mass transit allows us to build less roads (which saves tax dollars), reduces traffic (so that we get where we want to go faster), and saves the environment by preserving open space and slowing the pace of global warming.

    I’m not surprised at all that a real estate is attacking mass transit, after all its the current real estate market that relies on sprawl instead of more centralized, clustered development that makes effective mass transit for all so difficult to implement.

  2. Jim Duncan September 4, 2006 at 10:10

    Really? Attacking mass transit? With what part of the article do you disagree? Where is mass transit efficient in this region? The bus system? That is closed today?

    For the record, I would love to be able to take a train, metro, monorail, whatever … it just has not yet in our country been proven to be:

    1) desired by a critical mass to allow for retro-fitting our society to accommodate mass transit,

    2) been proven to be efficient enough to convince the populace to give up their autonomy – their cars.

    3) been demonstrated to be an economically viable option.

    How does the current market “rely on sprawl”?

    The local government (and state) have decided that sprawl is the best option because they are the ones advocating for clustering. I am for the best transportation method that benefits most of the people – whatever that may be. In my perfect world, I would wake up, walk to the metro/tube/tram, listen to my iPod to the morning news and read the paper. That however, is simply not an option.

    I have written about the need for efficient transit many times before, like here.

    Until transit is both more efficient and economical than driving, it will not be a viable option, at least in our region.

  3. Ray Hyde September 4, 2006 at 18:54

    Because they haul so many empty seats around, the actual cost per passenger mile for mass transit is barely less and sometimes more than the cost per passenger mile in autos. And they travel half as fast, which means you are polluting twice as long.

    At least in your car you are guaranteed a seat belt, and a seat.

    Mass transit carries round 5% of the traffic and almost none of the freight. In spite of Metro, Washington has the second worst traffic in the nation, so where is the evidence that Metro has reduced the need for additional roads?

    What actually happens is that Metro provides some service in additon to the roads, but eliminates none or almost none of the other traffic. Therefore the cost is in addition to the roads, not instead of. Neither is there any evidence that we are using land more slowly since Metro was built. Those are nice ideas, but they are not supported by the evidence.

    Nearly everone who rides mass transit still owns a car, and frequently they use the car to get to mass transit, so mass transit actually saves very little of your auto costs, and mass transit depends on the auto to bring it riders.

    But the argument over mass transit vs autos is silly. Mass transit cannot possibly compete with the convenience speed and flexibility of autos, but that isn’t the point. What we are talking about is a transportation SYSTEM that includes trains, buses, cars, and airplanes. The point is to develop a total system that moves the most goods and people to the most places at the least cost. Mass transit is and ought to be a small portion of that system, because it only works where it works best.

    Any attempt to expand it beyond what it can do well is just stupid. If you privatized mass transit tomorrow, most of it would shut down, and the rest would operate at a profit, just as the airlines and trucking companies have done.

    The following statement is not mine, but I’ve forgotten where I found it, may apologies to the author for not giving him credit.

    “One of the arguments that critics use to derail rail projects is that subsidies for rail are greater than subsidies for road construction if you measure cost per passenger mile traveled. Part of the reason for this is that our low-density sprawling residential neighborhoods make it inconvenient for people to walk to a rail station and use it. Therefore, demand for rail is low.

    Here is where the dilemma about rail comes in. What should come first, density or rail? If you put in a rail system, you can build ‘transit oriented developments’ around the rail stations that would be higher in density than our current residential developments, within walking distance to the rail station – typically no more than a quarter mile – and have a mix of uses such as retail and entertainment. If you wait until densities are increased to the point where rail would be feasible, you may never have the densities required by the federal government to receive funding. Why would people want to live in a high-density area with no alternative transportation options?

    This is where leaders in Charlotte were forward thinking. They planned their land-use with an eye towards building a rail system, so as their population increased, it grew in the places along the proposed rail line. Unfortunately, the Raleigh-Durham area did not do the same. Research Triangle Park, one of the largest employment centers in the area, is an industrial park in a spread out pastoral setting that makes it difficult to locate a rail station that would be within walking distance to a sizeable number of employees’ offices.

    It is an interesting case study in the making – a tale of two cities – Charlotte and Raleigh. One with rail, the other without.”

    So, whether you build the railroad first, and then build density around it, or whether you plan the density and then build the rail, what is really happening is that density itself is a hidden subsidy, and a required one, for rail to work. If you believe that rail actually helps preserve open space, then what is happening is that the land you “saved” has been made less valuable and the land you planned for density has been made more valuable.

    Not everyone whose land you “save” is going to be jumping up and down for joy at subsidizing mass transit which is defined as being too far away for him to use.

    Mass transit is a fine idea, but if you want to support it, you will need a lot better arguments than the ones that are usually put forward. If you want to tout the benefits of mass transit, then make an apples to apples comparison, and make it fair to everyone involved.

    Yes, autos are terrible, they are killing us and our teens, they pollute the air and they use a lot of land. They use a lot of land because they serve a lot of land. If mass transit provided equivalent service, it would use a lot of land, too. Cars can and will be improved immensely, but they are still the best mode of travel ever invented, which is why almost all of us use them, and all of us depend on them.