Free Tracks For Transit

June 17, 2017 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Car Stop 

Wouldn’t it be great if transit operations got free tracks? All they would have to buy would be the rail vehicles, stations, and car barns. Well, according to a recent story in the New York Times, the City of New York is about to re-discover the free tracks that lie all around Manhattan. What are they? Waterways.
The Times reported that Mayor de Blasio plans to inaugurate a much-expanded ferryboat system that would connect all five boroughs, in order to relieve the overcrowding on the subway system. The ferries, eighteen of them, each capable of carrying 149 passengers, would be owned by the city but run by a private operator. The city would also build thirteen new ferry landings and a home port for the boats at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.
For most of their histories, cities such as New York that lie on waterways made extensive use of them for passenger transport. Around the world, many still do. Passenger boats were one the many nice ways of travel that got sacrificed on the altar of the automobile. Now, they are coming back, and for good reason. The tracks are free.
Just how dramatic the savings are from free tracks is illustrated by the projected cost of new ferries. The estimated total price is “more than $325 million,” according to the Times.
That may sound expensive, until you realize that the new waterfront streetcar line Mayor de Blasio wants for Brooklyn will cost upwards of $100 million per mile. The total cost estimated for the ferries would cover about three miles of the 18-mile streetcar line. Why the difference? Obviously, because for the ferries the tracks are free.
The mayor estimates that the new ferries (a few ferries already run in New York) would carry 4.5 million people annually, which works out to a bit more than 12,000 people a day. A streetcar line that carries that much is considered a success. Of course, the planned Brooklyn-Queens streetcar line is in a league of its own, expected to carry about 50,000 weekday riders.
There are very few issues on which I, as a conservative, agree with Mayor de Blasio, one of the most liberal politicians in the country. But in this case, by using free tracks to keep transit costs down, he is doing something conservative. Conservatives hate wasting money almost as much as liberals usually like spending it.
Other American cities would do well to learn from what New York is doing. Because water transport is always the cheapest, many of our cities are built on waterways. Virtually all used those waterways at some point for moving people, not just freight. Now, few do so. By resurrecting ferries and other water transport, they could expand transit options cheaply with a mode most people enjoy riding. High-quality transit with free tracks; what more could anyone ask?

William S. Lind serves as Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation

President Trump May Be a Friend to Transit

July 26, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Car Stop 

While many Republicans politicians oppose public transportation, especially rail transit and intercity rail, Donald Trump appears to be a supporter. Perhaps that should not surprise us given that is a New Yorker. While he may not often use New York’s subways, he certainly knows the city would come to a halt without it. What would his New York real estate investments be worth if New York’s rail transit ceased to operate? Businessman are aware of this sort of thing.
Trump’s few statements on infrastructure and passenger rail also give cause for optimism. He has repeatedly called for a massive program to rebuild America’s crumbling infrastructure. In the speech announcing his candidacy, he said, according to Business Insider, “Rebuild the country’s infrastructure – – nobody can do that like me, believe me. It will be done on time, on budget, way below costs, way below what anyone ever thought. I look at these roads being built all over the country and I say, ‘I could build these things for one third.’ We have to rebuild our infrastructure: our bridges, our roadways, our airports.”
This is a point he has repeated. According to nymag.com of May 5, 2016, Trump said on CNBC’s Squawk Box, “Maybe my greatest strength is the economy, jobs, and building. We do have to rebuild our infrastructure.” The same source quotes Trump calling for a “trillion-dollar rebuilding plan” which would be “one of the biggest projects this country has ever undertaken” and create 13 million jobs. It further quotes Trump’s book, Crippled America, as saying, “A few years ago, Moody’s. the financial investment agency, calculated that every $1 of federal money invested in improving the infrastructure for highways and public schools would generate $1.44 back to the economy. On the federal level, this is going to be an expensive investment, no question about that. But in the long run it will more than pay itself.”
Of course, as public transportation advocates know only too well, “infrastructure” could mean just highways. What has Trump said about rail? Time magazine of March 3, 2016 quoted Trump as saying some encouraging words:

In a freewheeling speech Thursday afternoon, Republican frontrunner Donald Trump stumbled into a riff about how great trains are. It’s sad, he said, that the American rail system is so dilapidated while China’s is now slicker than ever.
“They have trains that go 300 miles per hour,” the populist billionaire exclaimed, “We have trains that go chug…chug…chug.”

All this certainly is certainly more encouraging than anything said by any of the other Republican candidates. More, because Trump is a businessman, as President he might do what Democrats have shown they will not, namely put a cap on the explosive and unjustified escalation of building rail transit. We now see proposals for streetcar lines coming in at more than $100 million per mile, when they can be built for much less.
What is needed is a common business tool called “should cost” limits. In relation to transit, “should cost” means the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) would set limits on the cost of building new rail transit lines, limits based on internationally-derived best practices. If a city wanted to pay more, it could, but all the money above the “should cost” figure would have to come from state or local resources. The feds would not pay for more than the line should cost. This would create a now-absent incentive for consultants and contractors to keep costs down.
Establishing FTA “should cost” limits is something a President with a business background would be more likely to do than would one with a previous career as a politician. Too often, politicians care only that the money go into the pockets of their political friends.
The current rapid escalation in rail transit costs threatens to put rail out of business. If, on the other hand, construction costs were to be forced downward, we could expand the amount of rail transit we could afford to build. From that perspective, President Trump might prove a better friend of transit than President Clinton.

William S. Lind serves as Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation based in Washington, DC

What’s New!

April 29, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: What's New 

The Norfolk Virginian-Pilot published a guest editorial on Sunday, March 20, by Glen Bottoms supporting an extension to the Hampton Roads region’s light rail line (The Tide) to the Virginia Beach Town Center. The editorial, which lays out the reasons why the extension should make sense to conservatives, can be found here: http://pilotonline.com/opinion/columnist/guest/glen-d-bottoms-light-rail-a-wise-choice-for-hampton/article_3d43a53c-5b5d-5170-bd46-41b92bd0363a.html

Bill Lind and Glen Bottoms have collaborated on a penetrating article printed in The American Conservative entitled Don’t Railroad Amtrak: Americans Love Trains. So Should Conservatives. Lind and Bottoms tender persuasive arguments detailing why Amtrak deserves the strong support of conservatives across America. It can be accessed at http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/dont-railroad-amtrak/

Bill Lind and Glen Bottoms have penned an incisive article in the Texas Tribune urging Texas conservatives to support rail transit in the Lone Star State, including a private initiative to build high speed rail between Dallas and Houston. With expanding rail systems in Houston and Dallas, and a viable high speed rail initiative to connect Dallas and Houston making progress, Texas has the opportunity to demonstrate the transforming power of rail passenger transportation. Lind and Bottoms also describe the high speed rail project as a real game-changer with enormous potential. The article, entitled The Conservative Case for Public Transportation can be viewed at http://tribtalk.org/2015/07/19/the-conservative-case-for-more-rail-transit-in-texas/

Glen Bottoms has written a review of Benjamin Ross’ provocative book, Dead End: Suburban Sprawl and the Rebirth of American Urbanism. The review provides revealing insights into Mr. Ross’ research and oftentimes unconventional but firmly supported conclusions. The review was published in The American Conservative and can be read at: http://www.theamericanconservative.com/articles/how-to-reclaim-suburban-sprawl/
The book was published by the Oxford University Press and is available at local bookstores or through Amazon.

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