A light rail analysis

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A light rail analysis
Posted by charlie hebdo on Saturday, January 18, 2020 1:09 PM
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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, January 19, 2020 3:10 PM

The problem with this is that she never quite gets around to explaining why this kind of light rail is supposed to be 'better' than ... let's say, trolleybuses on a similar set of routes, or enhanced plug-in hybrid or electric buses that can serve a wide variety of routes off-peak.  And that conversation does have to be had, and the numbers have to be run: that specifically includes the provision of better services or amenities on the "light rail" bus substitutes to make them attractive to choice riders who aren't trolley buffs (likely a very large cross-section of them).

I know the guy who did the engineering to put the rails in the street for the Cleveland Av. extension in Memphis.  He's even presented to the Engineer's Club on how careful a job they did.  You do not want to drive on that street, and I tremble to think what a 'typical' rail installation might do.

Of course I have commented on the light-rail system to the airport, producing 40-minute trip times on a convoluted route with multiple stops and heavy inconvenience to both vehicular and foot/bicycle traffic ... for north of $4B.  That's an awful lot of hybrid air-conditioned buses on 15-minute or less headway (and multiple routes with reasonable wait time on any one of them) straight to the terminal gates...

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 19, 2020 3:43 PM

I always thought the trolley bus was a great idea. A major part of mass transit here in Baltimore was trolley buses until the late 50's. They went away with the regular trolleys.

I also think it really does not matter to the users, it simply needs to go from where they are, to where they need to go, at times that suit their need to go there, in reasonably effective travel times? Then they will use it.

Otherwise they will not.

It is a pretty alien idea to me that one would plan their life around a bus schedule?

Or a train or airplane schedule? 

Here is a thought for you, if I was a frequent user of airplanes, the one place I would like to take mass transit to is the airport........I drive nice cars, I will not leave a car parked at an airport........

So flying then includes the added inconvenience getting a friend to drop you off, or the added expense of a car service. Then there is the same problem at the other end.......

And they wonder why people just get in their car and drive? Again, you leave my house and go to the airport, and I will leave in my car, and I will beat you to Detroit, and I will spend less money........

Baltimore has light rail, I have never been on it. It only makes a straight north/south line thru the city. It does not connect any two places I have ever had to go, not once in 20 years......

For the last 25 years I have lived out in the rural suburbs/country side, but before that I lived in the metro area, close to the city, were the buses run.

Never made much sense to use them then........

Remember, I am all in favor of people other than me moving back to the city, using mass transit, burning less fuel, and not building more cardboard and vinyl boxes in corn fields out here where I live..........

I like the peace and quiet.......

Sheldon

 

    

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Posted by Overmod on Sunday, January 19, 2020 5:55 PM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
It is a pretty alien idea to me that one would plan their life around a bus schedule? Or a train or airplane schedule?

That is because your whole life has been structured around having your own business and making your own scheduling choices.

That is most certainly NOT characteristic of most airport workers who depend on mass transit to get them to, and from, work.  They can't walk or bike it, even with good electric support; they can't register for flexible time or 'work from home'; often their work commences well before 'regular business hours' or may end long after.  I suspect much of this is extensible to most 'nine-to-five' workers who can't afford cars, with all their costs, or who can arrange carpooling or the other kinds of 'sharing' in getting to work.

The vision I had for the Memphis airport line was, instead of having the fast train stop at all the local areas 'convenient' to airport workers underserved by other modes, to establish a couple of 'transfer stations' that could be served by a combination of bus, paratransit, and even Uber or kiss-n-ride, with indoor facilities and heat/air conditioning, with the shuttle scheduling coordinated to 'meet the trains'.  There would then be a mix of relatively frequent shuttle buses or other vehicles to get you directly from the 'airport end' of the transit line through primary security to the various places of work ... which often as not were NOT terminal entrances as reached by car.

I still think this approach is both workable and preferable if you want true rapid transit between locations not well served by low-congestion routes.  But it does preserve a certain elitist priority for customers who want to get to and from the airport quickly and reliably with minimum uncertainty or delay... not worth spending incentive billions to get.

Here is a thought for you, if I [were] a frequent user of airplanes, the one place I would like to take mass transit to is the airport........I drive nice cars, I will not leave a car parked at an airport...

I don't know anyone who does; I don't know anyone who would.  I even bend over backward not to have to use the parking garage when meeting someone, almost a functional impossibility in today's cluster of an airport facility.

There is slight additional attractiveness in parking in nominally-secure satellite lots at a cheap price, then taking a reliable shuttle from there to the terminal.  At present this is much more slipshod than it has to be, or ought to be, but there is likely to be a sweet spot where transit dwell time equilibrates with required margin for improving and then parking on remote land.  Note that this shuttle system can tie very effectively into accommodating poorer riders who can be 'dropped off' and 'picked up' somewhere, but not all the way into the airport and its road network.

So flying then includes the added inconvenience getting a friend to drop you off, or the added expense of a car service. Then there is the same problem at the other end...

At the other end you'll rent a car.  Or if Uber is cheaper, do that.  Nice if you have a friend who can drive you all over, or let you use one of his or her cars for the duration, but how practical is that?

A much better solution (at least for me) is the provision of regional shuttles, like the old Bette Bus that would get you at Interstate speed out to Little Rock (where with Southwest, many fares were hundreds lower than via Memphis) or back again.  These can easily make a short loop around downtown (or other areas) much the way B&O's buses would in Manhattan, or serve transportation centers like the Memphis downtown bus terminal or the satellite terminals that are the departure points for 'discount' long-distance buses that are cheap.  Or that take you to where you can rent a car without the airline agio and hassles...

Now, as you note, it's usually less expensive just to drive.  I just got back from a round-trip between Memphis and Erie, in the snow and rain, and I haven't been good for much in the past few hours.  When we have autonomous vehicles that can run long highway distances, much of the problem will change ... and the marginal cost still remain reasonably low.  There wouldn't be much of a market for the Auto-Train if everyone going to Florida from the Northeast area opted to drive the whole way.  

Again, you leave my house and go to the airport, and I will leave in my car, and I will beat you to Detroit, and I will spend less money...

And this is precisely where zunum and the other potential providers of 'regional' air access see most of the opportunity.  I take regional transit to one of the FAA's registered all-weather satellite facilities, board a hybrid aircraft the rough size of a shuttle bus that whips me across 400 miles or so, where I find regional solutions that forward me where I need to go, at an aggregate cost probably half what you'd spend on fuel alone in the Flex.

Now that does assume you don't have passengers and luggage packed in the Flex, which is much the same reason I drive to and from Erie.  And that's especially true when at least one of your passengers is a co-driver.  None of those things apply, though, to the discussion at hand...

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 19, 2020 6:44 PM

Well, I did get off on a tangent when you brought up airports........

I have used the DC Metro for sightseeing, and it was actually pretty nice. It was years ago, but we parked at Union Station and spent the day touring the city.

I think cities should have good mass transit, I think the biggest problem is the real world, this is not Disney World, we can't just plan the whole city and build it from scratch.........

Mass transit works really well there. I have spent a total of about 6 weeks of my life on that property, and only started a car about 6 times.

But mass transit in the Baltimore area sucks, and the only thing worse is the excuss for bus service we have out here in the little rural towns........

And we have people out here who can't afford cars as well........

Yes, the Flex pretty much always has at least two people, and often more.

Hence this tidbit:

Do SUV's (or 4800lb crossovers) guzzle gas?
 
Honda Insight
2 seats x 63 mpg = 126 seat-miles per gallon
 
Ford Explorer
7 seats x 18 mpg = 126 seat miles per gallon
 
Transit Bus
35 seats x 3.6 mpg = 126 seat miles per gallon
 
My dads 69 Checker Marathon wagon - loaded with the 5 of us, our stuff and pulling our Apache camper at 65 MPH
7 seats x 18 mpg = 126 seat miles per gallon
 
2015 FORD FLEX Ecoboost
7 seats x 18 mpg = 126 seat miles per gallon, and 0-60 in 5.5 seconds......
YOUR MILEAGE MAY VARY

I don't know the solutions to all these problems, but I know the highways would be better with more truck trailers on trains.

I know the fuel economy of ours cars would be better without ethanol.

I know the old returnable bottle system is better than post consumer recycling.

I know paper bags are better than plastic.

I'm pretty sure trolley buses would be as good or better than battery or hybrids, at least until the next level of battery is invented, and would cost way less than light rail.

I know a better property tax system could help reverse urban decay and slow suburban sprawl.

I know we should have torn down all those gas and time wasting toll plazas long before now.

And I have a bunch more simple, doable, save the planet, improve the quality of life ideas.....

Sheldon 

    

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, January 19, 2020 7:04 PM

I have doubts about your driving from the Baltimore environs to Detroit in less time than flying,  even allowing for getting to and from airports and an hour or so for security and boarding. Or do you actually live somewhere  in western Maryland? 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 19, 2020 7:24 PM

charlie hebdo

I have doubts about your driving from the Baltimore environs to Detroit in less time than flying,  even allowing for getting to an from airports and an hour or so for security and boarding. Or do you actually live somewhere  in western Maryland? 

 

Charlie, I don't know how well you know the Baltimore area or its traffic patterns, but I live northeast of Baltimore near where I-95 crosses the Susquehanna River in Harford County.

It takes an hour for us to get to BWI airport south of Baltimore or PHL airport to the north.

We have relatives in the Milford/Highland areas west of Detriot.

We have driven there many times, and decades ago I took my daughters to Summer Music Fest competitions in Frankenmuth near Saginaw. I know that area and the drive from here pretty well.

We can generally make the trip in 8 hours or less.

Our niece has always chosen to fly when coming to vist here, portal to portal she has NEVER made it here in under 8 hours.

By the time your flight takes off, I will be 3 hours or more on the road and have little urban traffic to contend with......

Sheldon  

    

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, January 19, 2020 8:16 PM

So an hour to the airport,  an hour for security and boarding,  1:45 for the flight,  40 minutes to Milford.  So 4.5, round up to 5 hours vs 8 hours driving if you are lucky. 

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 19, 2020 8:42 PM

charlie hebdo

So an hour to the airport,  an hour for security and boarding,  1:45 for the flight,  40 minutes to Milford.  So 4.5, round up to 5 hours vs 8 hours driving if you are lucky. 

 

So I think your estimates for check in, security, boarding, disembarking, baggage claim and getting out of the airport are very opimistic, and not based on actual experiance at these airports. And it assumes no traffic woes to and from the airports, an easy way to miss a flight if you don't allow some extra time.

We have to drive thru/around Baltimore to get to BWI, better to take a midnight flight.......

But in any case, my lifestyle does not require much air travel, and recently has not required much long distance travel of any kind, so it is of little concern to me.

The whole airport thing has become offensive as far as I am concerned, just one more reason to drive unless I am going more than 1,000 miles and need to be there fast.

As for light rail, I'm all in for anything that keeps more people in the city and away from here........

But I still think a combination of suburban light rail and trolley buses would work well and cost less to build in most cases.

As for who should pay for this and how, that is another question......

I know how to pay for it, and put the slum lords out of business in the cities, and stop urban decay and suburban sprawl. But some rich people would be very unhappy when they had to pay property taxes on the pontential use of their properties, not the depressed markert values they have manipulated.

I have rental properties in the close in county suburbs, the property taxes are sky high, properties in the city that rent for the same or nearly as much pay much less, even with the higher tax rate in the city, because there is no retail market for those properties making the market values low. This is fundamentally wrong.

A fair property tax, not based on market value, would fix a lot of things in this country. As would a fair income tax...........or no income tax.........

But I am about to get my money out of that real estate, so I'm really not concerned about that either.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, January 20, 2020 10:58 AM

A well-engineered and operated and maintained light rail system will provide better ride quality than any bus.  Above 20,000 or 25,000 passengers during morning and evening rushes, or about 50,000 riders per day, a light rzil line will have lower operating costs per passenger than any bus, electric or diesel or whatever.  This includes long-term costs of track maintenance and replacement.   A modern light rail vehicle can be counted on to last twice as long as a bus, more if rebuilt and upgraded.

Our single Jerusalem light rail line is now handling 160,000 riders per weekday, possible because of multiple employment and educational institutions and retail areas, with a seat usually seeing two occupants on each single=direction trip.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Monday, January 20, 2020 11:11 AM

daveklepper

A well-engineered and operated and maintained light rail system will provide better ride quality than any bus.  Above 20,000 or 25,000 passengers during morning and evening rushes, or about 50,000 riders per day, a light rzil line will have lower operating costs per passenger than any bus, electric or diesel or whatever.  This includes long-term costs of track maintenance and replacement.   A modern light rail vehicle can be counted on to last twice as long as a bus, more if rebuilt and upgraded.

Our single Jerusalem light rail line is now handling 160,000 riders per weekday, possible because of multiple employment and educational institutions and retail areas, with a seat usually seeing two occupants on each single=direction trip.

 

Completely agreed, but that assumes there is a suitable right of way that is not in an already crowded public street. And that is a fundamental problem facing old cities like Baltimore who never built subways or other fixed mass transit beyond trolleys to any great extent.

Baltimore has one light rail route, and one subway/above ground route, the rest is buses.....

Then cost becomes a new greater factor, condemning and paying for high value real estate to create the right of way.......

Sheldon

    

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, January 20, 2020 1:32 PM

 I agree.  I was referring to costs once the line is built.

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Posted by PJS1 on Tuesday, January 21, 2020 8:47 AM
According to the DART 2019 Reference Book, the farebox recovery rate for the light rail system in FY18 was 14.9 percent compared to 11.5 percent for buses and 14.8 percent for commuter rail. 
 
The operating subsidy per passenger in FY18 was $5.13 for light rail compared to $7.48 for buses and $11.75 for commuter rail. 
 
The operating numbers for light rail probably are better than those for buses because of denser passenger loads.  Labor, which is the biggest single operating expense, is spread over more units. 
 
The cost of the light rail system was approximately $6.75 billion before debt service expenses.  Approximately $1.3 billion of the capital costs were funded by the federal government.  Most of the balance was funded by DART issued debt.    
 
Passenger fares don’t cover any of the system’s capital costs; the debt service costs driven by them - depreciation - are being funded by sales taxes and federal mass transit funds.
 
The large capital investments did not end with the opening of DART’s light rail system.  The 20 year capital replacement budget as of FY19 estimates it will take $2.8 billion to maintain and/or replace the system, i.e infrastructure, rolling stock, etc.   
 
The estimated capital costs to replace all the buses, as well as upgrade one bus service facility and install compressed natural gas fueling capabilities, over the next 20 years is $1.1 billion.  
 
While the light rail system was being built, DART operated express buses in the HOV lanes from participating suburbs to Dallas.  They were MCI coaches.  They had reclining seats with individual reading lights.  They were more comfortable than the light rail cars. 

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 8:34 AM

Including ride quality, ability to read newspapers and textbooks?

Were they handicapped accessable?  Baby carriages?

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 9:01 AM

I'm just so happy I live a rural lifestyle...............

Sheldon

    

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Posted by PJS1 on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 9:25 AM

daveklepper
 Including ride quality, ability to read newspapers and textbooks? Were they handicapped accessable?  Baby carriages? 

Yes, to every point.  

The ride quality was superior to that on DART's light rail vehicles.  They had reclining seats with an overhead light and ventilation control for each seat.  They had a lift near the center of the coach that could handle wheel chairs, motorized scooters, etc.  Baby carriages and luggage could be stored under the coach.

The coaches were similar to those used by Greyhound.  I believe MCI at one time was a subsidiary of Greyhound.

The NYC MTA uses similar buses on 30 routes into Manhattan from Brooklyn, Queens, etc.  My sister-in-law, who lived in Rockaway Park, rode them for the last 15 years that she worked in Manhattan.  She got tired of the subway, i.e. dirty, nasty people, etc.  When the MTA began the express bus service, she jumped on it.  It cost more than the subway, but she was willing to pay for a better-quality ride.  

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Posted by PJS1 on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 9:29 AM

ATLANTIC CENTRAL
 I'm just so happy I live a rural lifestyle............... Sheldon 

Me too!  Until I cannot drive anymore!  Then I am stuck!  No public transport! 

Oh well, maybe I'll get lucky and drop dead of a heart attack without any warning.  Or be shot by a jealous husband when I am 96 while attempting to escape through the bedroom window. 

Rio Grande Valley, CFI,CFII

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 9:33 AM

Well, under Andy Byford, the subway is a lot better now, especially cleaner.

But most modern light rail systems don't have "bowling alley" interiors like all recent New York subway cars and don't have hard plastic seats with only the virture of vandalizm and graffiti resistance.  No pre-WWII subway or elevated car was as uncomfortable as the modern ones.  Rattan seats were standard, and nearly all elevated cars and IND and BMT subway cars had a mixture of side and forward and backward seats.

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 10:06 AM

I do not have personal experience with DART.  I cannot claim that DART was a wise investment.

I do know that the San Diego = San Yesidro line is a success and was an excellent idea.  Ditto Bsltimor's line or lines.  Ditto LA - Long Beach.  And Portland, OR.  From reports,, Salt Lake City.

And Jerusalem definitely.   Not only better public transportation in everey way, but instead of a grand total of five restaurants with sidewalk seating on Jaffa Road in downtown Jerusalem, we now have 35 because of the far better environment of a traffic-free pedestrian and electric transit street.  (Emergency and police vehicles can use the light rail lanes.)  160 rides per weekday.

s

di

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Posted by daveklepper on Wednesday, January 22, 2020 10:19 AM

And going back to the original analysis, that put down downtown streetcars totally.  Apparently the writer never visited San Francisco. The F Castro - Market - Embarcadaro - Fishermans Warf heritage line, with an even mixture of PCCs and Milan Peter Witts. is a big success in every way, now 25 years old, with an occasional appearance by other restord historic equpment, the gondola-Blackpool "boats" being the most popular.

But wherei is the local Philadelphia support to keep the Garard PCC operation running?

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Posted by PJS1 on Sunday, January 26, 2020 12:42 PM

daveklepper
I do know that the San Diego = San Yesidro line is a success and was an excellent idea. 

How do you define success? 

In 2018 the trolley system recovered approximately 48 percent of its operating expenses from the farebox.  Its system wide farebox recovery ratio was approximately 23 percent, which includes the trolley and the other modes of transit supported by MTS.

As is the case with DART, the San Diego trolley is heavily dependent on the taxpayers to cover slightly more than half of its operating expenses and all of its capital expenditures.  

The MTS trolley is a good way to get around San Diego, unless you are going to Balboa Park, in which case the Number 7 bus on Broadway is a better option.  The bus is a good option to get from the airport to downtown and from downtown to Coronado. 

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Posted by charlie hebdo on Sunday, January 26, 2020 12:59 PM

Some writers only use a narrow criterion to measure the success,  which largely miss social utility factors.

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Posted by 54light15 on Sunday, January 26, 2020 4:56 PM

If the streetcar is crowded, it's a success. Simple, don't you think? 

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Posted by York1 on Sunday, January 26, 2020 5:09 PM

charlie hebdo
Some writers only use a narrow criterion to measure the success,  which largely miss social utility factors.

There is a lot of room in that wider criterion of "social utility factors".  Who gets to decide?  You?  Your circle of friends?  The taxpayers?  The legislators?  The courts?

John  --  Saints Fan  

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Posted by York1 on Sunday, January 26, 2020 5:12 PM

54light15
If the streetcar is crowded, it's a success. Simple, don't you think? 

Simple?  Maybe.  What if it's crowded with people who have no problem using other people's tax money to commute?

At what point does the "public good" overcome the individual's rights to keep his own money?

John  --  Saints Fan  

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 26, 2020 6:39 PM

York1

 

 
54light15
If the streetcar is crowded, it's a success. Simple, don't you think? 

 

Simple?  Maybe.  What if it's crowded with people who have no problem using other people's tax money to commute?

At what point does the "public good" overcome the individual's rights to keep his own money?

 

And there we have it, trying to find the balance between the public good and personal responsiblity.

People in cars pay lots of fuel taxes, registration fees, sales tax, to contribute to the infrastructure they use, and they still have to buy, maintain and operate the car at their expense.

So it is a fair question to ask how much does mass transit cost, and how much do riders pay?

Airlines get 3/4 of their infrastructure built on the public dime, even if they do pay "rent", their capital expenses and fixed infrastructure cost is not like the railroads, but do the railroads get a break?

Yet the airlines can sell one person a seat for $400 and then sell the seat next to him for $40. If anyone else in business did that there would be a congressional investigation.......here in Maryland it is against the law to sell gasoline below "cost"......

And yes there are those among us who think all of us who never go to the city should somehow pay not just for the infrastructure we might sometimes use there, but for the operating expenses for others to use those serivces?

Trucks, as much as I think more of them need to be on trains, also pay some pretty high use fees.........

Why should the trendy urbanites who pay way to much for their downtown apartments get a free ride to work?

Now maybe something should be done to provide affordable transportation to the urban blue collar class...........especially if it helps them get off other public assistance.........how about a work fare transit pass?..........

Sheldon 

    

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Posted by daveklepper on Sunday, January 26, 2020 10:49 PM

Most rail expansion for public transit has had one purpose:  To prevent highway congestion from getting completely out-of-control.  That is why you see a well subsidized bus system with frequent service in Hartford and only a sketchy system in Omaha.  A driver who never uses public transit subsidizes those that do so he can drive without gridlock.

Up to about 60 years ago, the answer was more highway lanes and more roads.  But cities and suburbs are running out of land for more highways and more roads.  And productive real-estate is taken from the tax roles.

Hope this answers your question. 

The subudization of public transit to avoid the need for massive highway expansion begain in Philadelphia with Ed Tennyson and the purchase by Philadlephia of the original Budd Silvlerliners for use by PRR and Reading that were still private companies.  SEPTA came later.

And just because you never go to the city and live a perfectly rural life does not mean that you do not benefit from certain public services that the city provides all citizens.

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Posted by ATLANTIC CENTRAL on Sunday, January 26, 2020 10:55 PM

daveklepper

Most rail expansion for public transit has had one purpose:  To prevent highway congestion from getting completely out-of-control.  That is why you see a well subsidized bus system with frequent service in Hartford and only a sketchy system in Omaha.  A driver who never uses public transit subsidizes those that do so he can drive without gridlock.

Up to about 60 years ago, the answer was mare highway lanes and more roads.  But cities and suburbs are running out of land for more highways and more roads.  And productive real-estate is taken from the tax roles.

Hope this answers your question. 

The subudization of public transit to avoid the need for massive highway expansion begain in Philadelphia with Ed Tennyson and the purchase by Philadlephia of the original Budd Silvlerliners for use by PRR and Reading that were still private companies.  SEPTA came later.

And just because you never go to the city and live a perfectly rural life does not mean that you do not benefit from certain public services that the city provides all citizens.

 

I was not suggesting that I do not benefit from it, I'm just suggesting that it is a fair question to measure the equity of the costs.

But here in Baltimore, mass transit has done nothing to relieve traffic......

Glad I am pretty well removed from the urban center, and ony have to go there occasionally.

Sheldon

    

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Posted by 54light15 on Sunday, January 26, 2020 11:06 PM

(Simple?  Maybe.  What if it's crowded with people who have no problem using other people's tax money to commute?

At what point does the "public good" overcome the individual's rights to keep his own money?)

My point is, is that it's part of the infrastructure. Why do you pay taxes? Who benefits from sewage treatment plants? Who benefits from streetlights or fire and police departments? You are getting the benefit of the fact that every single person on mass transit of whatever type, is one less person in a car on the road. 

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Posted by daveklepper on Monday, January 27, 2020 3:08 AM

I disagre with you completely about Baltimore.  You failed to account for a great increase in suburban population.  Sure it is just as congested as before the initial light rail line opened.  But if those using both the light rail lines and the one heavy-rail line, and the limited state-subsidized commuter operations were added to those now using the highways, you would have gridlock.

I don't know much about Dallas, but I will defend Baltimore's investment in rail transit.

And Dallas 20 years from now might be in the same situation and be glad they made the investment at a time when it was easier to do so.

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