The Case for Rail

A nice post on the Intermodality blog reviews a ridership survey for Houston’s transit system and makes some nice points about the demographics of rail riders, including the ability of rail to attract new users to transit

12 responses to “The Case for Rail”

  1. “12% of METRO local bus riders said they started using transit because of the rail line.”

    I thought they were supposed to be competing with each other, and that all that light rail did was take riders that would have ridden the bus anyways, and made their trips a little faster. Now it turns out that light rail is also a very successful marketing tool for the bus system? Wow, who knew?

  2. High quality bus transit can attract riders who would not otherwise take transit. Some statistics for the suburban park-and-ride system, which uses HOV lanes to provide frequent, reliable, fast, nonstop service: 50% of riders have household income over $81,000, 87% had a car available for the trip, and the average rider drove 6.4 miles to a park-and-ride. (A reminder, though: high quality bus isn’t cheap: the park-and-ride system cost three times as much to build as METRORail even though it has the same ridership, and has much higher operating costs.)

    Hmm, invest in High Quality Bus Service?!! A concept totally lost on TriMet, when TriMet has exactly ONE route that would remotely come close to the above description (the 96 Tualatin/I-5 Express; and it doesn’t have HOV lane access or other improvements that would be considered “quality” in my book.)

    As for the Park and Rides, there is a simple solution. Charge a daily rate to park in them. I say $10/day or $150/month.) I live in the “burbs” (although still in Portland city limits) and I can walk to a bus stop. Heck, when I lived in Tualatin with the poor service there, I walked to my bus stop. Occassionally I would have my wife drop me off or pick me up and she would continue on her trip (dropping off the kid at day care and parking at her work).

    Given the hatred of motor vehicles, I’m surprised there isn’t a huge cry for support to actually charge people to park. Then again, since MAX derives a significant amount of ridership from Park and Ride users, that might actually discourage transit ridership…

    According to TriMet’s fact sheet there are 8,221 TriMet owned parking spaces (not including spaces owned/operated by shopping centers, churches or movie theaters).

    Assuming that 70% of the spaces were occupied by a monthly parking holder (5,755), that would raise $10,359,000 annually in revenue!! That amount would be a 14% increase in TriMet’s annual passenger revenue (assuming, of course, that there was no ridership drop.)

  3. Charge a daily rate to park in them. I say $10/day or $150/month.)
    The only problem with that is that’s on par with parking prices in downtown, with the added disadvantage of the cost of transit fare on top of that. The Park & Rides exist to try to convince people to not park downtown. For some, if there’s no incentive for them to not park downtown and/or at their destination, they won’t ride transit – they’ll drive to their location.
    (Personally, I really wish people were willing to ride local routes to get to transit centers or other locations to board either MAX, WES [when it opens] or other bus routes… people don’t, so they get canceled due to low ridership and people that need said local routes are out of luck. Who knows, the ridership that could be generated on those routes could be enough to keep them operating.)

  4. Part of the problem is that people value their TIME. TIME wasted on riding in a crowded bus that takes over an hour to get from Sherwood to downtown could be better spent. If I lived in Sherwood I’d just drive the 15 minute drive to Portland and pay to park. Even at $200 a month to park my time is more valuable than that. I tried the whole parking at the park and ride in West Salem and my drive from Dayton, to the park and ride in West Salem, and riding the bus to walk to work takes 1 1/2 hours. To just drive in usually 20-30 minutes. Sure, I have to pay $48 for parking but oh well…..

  5. Ross Williams Says: Is there some reason that the price of hydro power will double?
    JK: In case you didn’t notice, we quit building dams years ago. Now people like you want to tear them down.
    About ½ of our electricity, locally, is coal, nuke & gas. Nationally, around 70% of the power comes from the fossil fuels that you want to make more expensive.

    Ross Williams Says: Its not even clear that coal with co2 sequestration will cost anything, it may even turn out to be more efficient.
    JK: What world are you living in? Please provide evidence.

    Ross Williams Says: And its not clear that even reductions in overall energy consumption will require changes in lifestyle,
    JK: Please provide evidence that this claim is correct.

    Ross Williams Says: they may be achieved by new technology or investment in cost-savings energy efficiencies.
    JK: Care to name a few new technologies & cost saving efficiencies. Will they be available before your price raises cut in? Please tie these into the required CO2 reduction.

    Ross Williams Says: But you are correct. Fear is one of the driving forces behind global warming denial.
    JK: You side is the one specializing in fearmongering. You even go to great lengths to scare little children in school. Shameful.

    Why don’t you address the facts? What are you scared of – the truth?

    AL M Says: Nah, I really want to understand how JK thinks, I already had my pie!
    JK: Just look at the facts (I know that is hard for your type of personality, but ultimately your feelings cannot alter the truth):
    * the 1990s are NOT the warmest decade, and 1998 IS NOT the warmest year”
    * The warmest years of the century are NOT in the 1990s.
    * The “hockey stick” that features so prominently in Al’s movie is FALSE
    * CO2 IS NOT PROVEN to causes temperature to rise.
    * Historically it was temperature that rose first, then CO2
    * CO2 is not even responsible for most of the greenhouse effect – water is.
    This simple set of facts, completely disproves the scaremonger’s claim that global warming is even occurring, let alone man is causing it to careen out of control. The earth DOES NOT have a temperature. You have NO EVIDENCE.

    I do understand what a blow this truth is to your side, as it removes yet another reason to try to shove people into Homer’s holes and TriMets’ cattle cars.


  6. The post mentioned:

    54% of rail riders transfer to or from a bus. That’s remarkable for a line only 7.5 miles long: 68% of Houston bus riders transfered on their trips. But it also points to the importance of linking light rail and bus lines well.

    The 7.5 mile figure interested me, because looking over the convenient Wikipedia chart on light rail usage, Houston’s rail line gets about 6,000 riders per mile, compared to 2,208 for Tri-Met (figures subject to the usual disclaimers about Wikipedia reliability). If Tri-Met could achieve similar per-mile numbers, it would have the highest overall LRT ridership in the nation.

    What’s Houston doing right here? Is it just that their comparatively short line runs through a very dense area of town that supports a lot of rides? Is traffic congestion near the destination so bad that more people use park & ride? How do they get a “per mile” figure more than double that of Portland, Los Angeles or San Diego?

  7. djk –

    I think you are correct that it has to do with the short segment running through a somewhat dense corridor.

    I have stop-by-stop boarding counts for MAX … I don’t have time today but it might be a useful exercise to see if there is a similar 7 mile segment along MAX with similar boarding density.

    – Bob R.

  8. Bob –

    I was thinking that after I posted. Can Tri-Met’s busiest seven-mile segment (or L.A.’s, or San Diego’s) match Houston? If so, there may not be all that much of a lesson here beyond “density generates ridership.”

  9. djk –

    According to Gmaps Pedometer, the stretch from Goose Hollow east to Gateway (inclusive) is 7.7 miles. That might make a good first try.

    I’ll bet that the next few stations east of Gateway have higher ridership than the 3 near Goose Hollow, so it might be possible to shift this test eastward a couple of iterations and get even higher results.

    – Bob R.

  10. OK, I said I didn’t have time to do this, but clearly I lied. :-) (The friends I’m supposed to hang out with today at “10-ish” still haven’t organized themselves) … so here are the results:

    Using Fall ’06 ridership figures for the Red and Blue Lines, which share all of the stations from Goose Hollow to Gateway (inclusive), you get 50,216 boardings. You could also include Yellow Line boardings in the total, from Galleria/Library to Rose Quarter, which gives you an extra 5,835 boardings, but I’m leaving those out under the assumption that the origin/destination pairs are too disparate from the Red/Blue lines and therefore don’t count as part of that corridor.

    With the 50,216 boardings over 7.7 miles, you get a boarding density of 6522, better than Houston’s. (But not _that_ much better, considering a number of those boardings would not be served if the MAX line was only 7.7 miles long.)

    – Bob R.

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