Libertarians’ False Numbers Exposed Again

June 11, 2013 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Car Stop 

One of the many ways in which some libertarian transit critics falsify statistics about public transportation is to take initial ridership of a new rail transit line and compare it to projected ridership years in the future. An article on Los Angeles’ Expo Light Rail line by Axel Hellman in the May 1, 2013 Annenberg digital news edition caught them again at that dishonest game. It reported,

When the Expo line, Los Angeles Metro’s newest light rail line, opened in April, 2012, initial ridership numbers were low, starting at about 11,000 per average weekday . . . One libertarian think tank even used these numbers to argue that light rail systems in general should not be built.

But now, one year later, the picture is very different. Ridership on weekdays has been increasing at a steady clip of about 1,000 per month, reaching an estimated 26,000 per day during the week. Given that Metro projected about 27,000 riders per day by the year 2020, that number is very good. The number of people riding the Expo line may pass that benchmark in the coming months.

Quelle surprise! The libertarians will, no doubt, be quick to admit their mistake and correct their statements about the failure of the Expo line. Sadly, they won’t, because like all ideologues, “truth” is determined by their ideology, not by facts.

As bad numbers, distortions, and at times bald-faced lies about rail transit continue to pour forth from some libertarian transit critics, the question should be, why does anyone take these people’s work seriously? The sad answer is that it is all too easy to fool the press and the public on issues they know little or nothing about. Just roll into town, spew lots of wrong numbers and then leave before anyone can say, “Wait a minute . . .”

The reality of rising rail transit ridership, even in car-centric LA, is a fact. The Annenberg article states,

A Metro spokesperson [ed: that’s “spokesman” in English], Jesse Simon, disputed the line’s naysayers, cautioning that ridership will rise with time. “A favorite tactic of rail critics used to be [ed: they still do it] to take statistics from a year or two after the opening date of a rail [line] to show that out-year estimates of rail patronage were grossly exaggerated. But changing to rail involves a longer process of changing habits. Our experience with rail patronage, and I believe experience elsewhere, is that rail growth is incremental.”

Simon said that in the long term, ridership has been slowly increasing on Metro‘s other rail lines. “Rail patronage has increased steadily almost every year since the first line opened in 1990; and not only because more lines came on line – – within each line then growth has been steady and it has not reached a stable endpoint.”

Could LA’s Metro perhaps coax Jack Webb of Dragnet fame to make an earthly appearance to say to libertarian rail critics, “Just the facts, ma’am?”