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 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

L.A.: Rail Transit Works, Cars Don’t

February 19, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Car Stop 

I recently spent a week visiting friends in Los Angeles, and I quickly learned a basic fact about that city: rail transit works, cars don’t.
Every time we tried to go somewhere by car on L.A.’s famous freeways, we ended up taking forever because of stalled traffic. The time of day did not matter, although weekends offered an improvement. We were able to use the HOV-2 lanes, which also helped. But even with those lanes, going anywhere on a weekday was a nightmare. My friend’s marina is about 40 miles from his house. One weekday, using the HOV lanes, the trip took us 90 minutes inbound and two-and -a half hours home. The latter would have been longer but with the freeway going nowhere we got off onto arterials. Those were lightly trafficked. Unlike us easterners, when the freeways jam up, the locals just sit there. Using arterial streets and roads does not seem to occur to them.
In contrast, whenever we used rail transit, the journeys were speedy and relaxing. It was my first time on Metrolink, and I was impressed. The trains were on time and fast, the equipment was in good shape and off-peak the ridership was strong.
Metrolink does something other commuter rail authorities might want to emulate, to the benefit of their riders. Each Metrolink ticket contains a chip that gives a one-day, unlimited-ride TAP card, the card for L.A.’s subway and light rail lines. It made riding Metrolink a great deal. We saved more on light rail fares than the Metrolink ticket cost. I was greatly surprised that our combined ticket/TAP card was good the whole time we were in the city; I thought it might be valid for an hour or two, like a transfer. Score one for Metrolink for offering great value.
In the city we took advantage of the light rail lines. Again, then trains were in good shape and well-patronized outside the peak hours. My earlier experience of disorder on the Blue Line, a problem the system’s leadership acknowledged, do not recur, although we rode only in the immediate downtown area.
The transit critics did everything they could to block the creation of rail transit in L.A., swearing before the gods that people they would never give up their cars. Well, many of them have, because on the freeways the cars don’t move. L.A.’s rail transit does move, and people ride it in large numbers. Over and over, the critics’ predictions of failure prove wrong. Why does anyone take them seriously?

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

The “Sick Passenger” Problem

January 4, 2016 by · Leave a Comment
Filed under: Car Stop 

The November 24th New York Times carried a front-page story titled, “Hated Words Subway Riders Are Hearing More: ‘Sick Passenger.” It is not just in New York City that transit riders (mostly rail) are encountering this problem. It is everywhere, and it is growing. The Times reported that in New York,

Sick passengers have accounted or about 3,000 train delays each month this year . . . a figure that has grown drastically in recent years, from about 1,800 each month in 2012, according to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority.

I don’t have figures for other cities, but I suspect the trend is similar. The interesting fact is that say, 30 years ago, this problem was rare. I rode Washington’s Metro every day back then, and I rarely had a train delayed for this reason (or any other; Metro was reliable in those days). I suspect that if we went back to the 1930s or 1940s, we would find it never happened. Transit operators then had the common sense not to let one person delay thousands.

The delays can be substantial, over half an hour, and they affect not only the hundreds of riders on the train where a passenger has a problem, but many of the trains lined up behind that one. Absent a convenient crossover or third track, all those trains are also stopped. The delays can then ripple through the system for hours –  – all because of one person.

These delays are unacceptable, and also unnecessary. The problem is current procedure, which is to pull the train with the sick passenger into the next station and hold it there until medical personnel can arrive and attend to the individual. Just the arrival can take half an hour, and more time is usually lost before the EMTs can remove the person from the train.

There is a better way. Transit systems should adopt a policy whereby the trains continue on to the nearest stop where medical personnel can be waiting when it gets there. Time will still be lost as EMTs remove the individual from the train, but all the time spent waiting for them to arrive will be saved. More, because the train will continue on farther than at present, there will be more opportunities to put it in a pocket track. That would reduce the delays to follow-on trains, perhaps even eliminate them.

I can already hear the response of transit authorities. “Our lawyers won’t let us do that. It would increase the danger somebody could sue and collect, because some sleaze-bag lawyer will encourage them to charge that they suffered more than they would have if the train had stopped at the nearest station.” As is so often the case, we see here the desperate need for tort reform.

But again, I think there is an answer. If the city or cities the transit system serves were to pass this policy as legislation, the transit agency’s back would be covered. They could say, “We were just following the law.” Don’t like it. Get City Council to change the law.

I’m sure the mewling “advocates” for the bungled, the botched and the bewildered will howl if cities do their duty and pass legislation along the lines I’ve suggested. In their eyes, a “victim” has some right to whatever he wants; while the thousands of people trying to get to work or home from work have none (they’re not “disadvantaged”).

Tell ‘em to go to hell. Ever more frequently messing up transit systems’ operations, often during rush hours, for one “sick passenger” is absurd. There is a better way, one where the sick passenger gets professional assistance just as quickly as he does now. The only losers are the lawyers.

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

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