The Slow, Inevitable Demise of Traditional Mass Transit?

WMATA's problem in a nutshell: Expenses, particularly labor expenses, are out of control. Source: WMATA

WMATA’s financial problem in a nutshell: Expenses, particularly labor expenses, are out of control. Source: WMATA

by James A. Bacon

The 2010s were supposed to be the era of mass transit in the Washington metropolitan region. Millenials were jettisoning their automobiles in favor of walking, biking, buses and rail. Localities were zoning for denser development around transit stops and Metro stations. State and federal governments were channeling more money into new rail projects. Real estate developers were plowing billions of dollars into transit-oriented development. But something unexpected happened along the way.

Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority ridership actually declined by 17 million between fiscal 2013 and 2015, to 362 million trips, despite the Silver Line expansion of Metro rail. Given the deteriorating fiscal condition of the rail and bus network, which has a $3 billion capital and operating budget this year, that number does not seem likely to improve. In a system dogged by safety incidents, poor on-time performance and broken escalators, customer satisfaction is declining. Meanwhile, capital spending can’t keep up with depreciation, suggesting that service is likely to get worse, not better.

WMATA projects 1% revenue growth over the next five years but 6%  growth in expenses, requiring a relentless increase in state and local subsidies. To balance the current budget, eight county and city jurisdictions jacked up subsidies from $780 million to $877 million. Not only does WMATA propose to lock in those higher subsidies, it proposes increasing them at the rate of 3% annually over five years.

In a FY 2017 budget guidance document, WMATA management acknowledges that local governments will be hard pressed to deliver. “Some jurisdictional representatives have made it clear that they cannot sustain such high levels of subsidy growth year over year given their own revenue growth and competing needs for investment in tools, public safety and other priorities.”

So, what can be done? As Martin Di Caro writes for WAMU.org, rising personnel costs account for 70% of the cost growth in the 10-year outlook. The current contract with the Amalgamated Transit Union expires June 30. Given the potential for disruptive strikes, however, it’s not clear that management has the stomach to extract significant concessions from the union, either in reduced compensation or reform of productivity-sapping work rules.

Another option is raising fares — charging riders a higher percentage of what it costs to provide a ride. Di Caro considers a fare increase “likely,” although higher fares are likely to depress ridership, undermining the goal of raising revenue. Yet another alternative is pruning money-losing bus lines, although cutting service would not endear WMATA to the localities it is asking to pay bigger subsidies.

As WMATA rightly observes, a system failure is unthinkable. WMATA provides a critical service; the Washington-area transportation system cannot function without it. But it’s clear the system is in a slow-motion train wreck.

Bacon’s bottom line: WMATA should be a warning to every Virginia jurisdiction about what can go wrong with mass transit. The blue-state mass transit model is broken. By “blue state,” I refer to a set of attitudes that are most prevalent in blue states: a sympathy for transit unions, which means high compensation costs and low productivity; a reluctance to charge riders the full costs of providing their service, which depresses revenues; and a proclivity to seek federal aid, which comes with expensive regulatory strings attached.

The only good news in this picture is that transportation is undergoing a shared-ridership revolution, in which private companies use smart phone apps, savvy algorithms and flexible routes to provide bus and van service at a competitive price. Instead of increasing subsidies for a failing business model, Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation and local governments should be asking themselves how they can foster the rise of the new mass transit paradigm.

(Hat tip: Tim Wise.)

There are currently no comments highlighted.

22 responses to “The Slow, Inevitable Demise of Traditional Mass Transit?

  1. is there such a thing as a red-state transit model?

    😉

  2. The biggest problem mass transit has is that the political class is always looking to get credit (and raising huge campaign donations) for bringing in the money to build new fancy projects, like “high-speed rail” or building unneeded brand new transit lines in areas already covered.

    The new projects always cost much more than proposed and they end up sucking out huge sums of money that should otherwise be directed for maintenance, repair and improvement of existing lines. And the new projects also have to be maintained with no money allocated for that purpose.

    Until money for maintenance and repair is considered as politically fashionable as building new projects, transit ridership will inevitably continue to decrease.

    • I agree, although the same criticism applies to the financing of roads and highways. Our funding system for all modes of transportation is a mess. It remains to be seen whether the new project prioritization system will improve matters.

  3. The red state model is cruising on I-10 in your 14 mpg truck across the desert at 90 mph, with no cop within miles because budget cuts reduced the force….

    As for the rise of the new mass transit paradigm, the best you can hope for is that government just leaves it alone. Good luck with that.

    As to WMATA’s problems, you really can’t disregard the impact of federal spending cuts, sequestration, etc. on all that. As the federal workforce and federal contracting budgets shrink and as telework grows, those problems will get worse. Are there similar patterns in other large cities? Nor can you ignore that the assumption always was that gasoline would go to $4 per gallon and keep rising. I sure didn’t see this return to $2 a gallon coming.

  4. Like biking is today even more foolishly, mass transit has been over hyped to decades. The truth is that most American simply do not want to use mass transit so long as other options are available and often for good reasons.

    Some of these reasons are outlined in Jim Bacon’s article, but many are not. And although the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is and long has been a major culprit, the failures of local authorities and governments extend far beyond the DC subway system.

    Particularly inexcusable is the fact the mass transit systems now failing in and around the DC region did not and never should have failed. Never.

    The truth is that many of our local urban and suburban governments and authorities by their irresponsible actions of all sorts and varieties have been causing these failures to grow ever larger for decades and never be fixed.

    Indeed this negligence and misconduct has been hidden (often in plain sight) for years, is never admitted to, much less fixed, only covered up.

    And NO one ever is held accountable, no one, not one, ever, not once.

    There is an immense conspiracy of silence going on. And now it is deafening if only because it is too big to fail and it is too rewarding for those in the know to want it to stop or to do anything about. The party is still in swing. So instead of fixing things, it is much better now for those in the know to just go along and/or to keep playing the game that has been played now for so long by so many that now no one can afford to stop and most don’t even notice any more what is really going on anyway.

    But some day decades from now, somebody, a historian perhaps, will look at these times that we live in now and say to himself –

    “My God, how did they spent so much of other peoples money and do so much harm to those people they took so much money from, and get away with it and keep on going, Amazing!”

    Yes, the truth is that the gross dysfunction of these governmental authorities and those they play their games with (and that is a whole bunch of people) – this system and the obviously incompetent and corrupt manner in which it has violated its obligations and mission to properly and efficiently design, price, build and thereafter operate, manage and care for their share of these mass transportation systems and the urban and suburban grid that it is woven into, is now and has been a long term scandal that badly needs fixing.

    Why? Because: The ongoing and huge (indeed incalculable) damage that it now daily and hourly inflicts on its public citizens trying to commute and otherwise travel in and around the DC Beltway every day is inexcusable.

    And the means to fix it through or with the help of technology could now also be at hand. All we need is courage and will and integrity to clean house from the top down, and start over if we have to, going about fixing things so they work and last for most peoples benefit and not their harm, instead of working only to benefit of those very few who to date have either made the mess or refuse to fix it.

    Regarding the subway, the great underlying cause of failure there is the local governments gross incompetence in managing the essential task of insuring the needed growth of commercial and residential uses at subway stops. This failure, and the wastage it has caused for decades approaches the criminal.

    Such gross incompetence, corruption and huge wastage of public assets involving mass transport and violation of the public trust includes not only the inexcusable, long term and ongoing ruination of the DC subway but the ruination of Dulles Airport and the Interstate and inter regional road net and the destructive land use planning and development that feeds into the damage that grows daily within and throughout the DC region.

    All this is an ongoing scandal about which incredible few seem to care. For example, who has stood up like any honest individual public servant should and told the tax paying public of Arlington County the truth about where their million dollars went for that Million dollar Bus stop in Arlington. That is important, quite likely its the tip of an iceberg in Northern Virginia. Indeed maybe that is reason an honest public servant has yet to stand up.

  5. It’s hard to tell where WMATA is compared to other US transit systems or for that matter other nations metros transit systems.

    transit is one of those things that Conservatives can’t seem to deal with in that by any measure, it’s horrendously expensive – 3 billion is as much or more than Va spends on new roads.

    but Conservatives – per their current “know nothing” behavior – they have no real alternatives to it … they do not even have a model for what is an “efficient”, “cost-effective” system is – they oppose the concept that it is “subsidized” ( as if other public services like police, prisons, and schools are not “subsidized”.

    so basically they have no solutions – none they can point to on the planet that suits their sensibilities..

    basically all counties that have transit are, by definition, “welfare states”.

    So if you are a Conservative – and you hate the concept as well as the operational finances of transit – are you a hypocrite is you do not call for it to be shut down and let the private sector (like Uber)take over the job of moving people?

    It seems like Conservatives run around with their hair on fire with regard to transit and those nasty unions – but I’ve never heard a better plan nor do they advocate shutting it down.. just blather and blame.

  6. As I have posted many times, the construction of the Silver Line has nothing to do with the movement of people safely and efficiently. It has always been about allowing well-connected landowners, who happen to make big campaign contributions, extreme levels of density that, in turn, is making them huge profits. (Note, I regularly use Metrorail virtually every time I go to Washington, which, fortunately, does not happen that often. I generally took rail even when I had access to free parking in D.C.)

    The Final EIS for the Silver Line prepared by the then-Warner administration in late 2004 shows the Silver Line will not alleviate traffic problems. All of the many studies, including the 527 TIAs filed to support the urbanization of Tysons and internal Fairfax County studies, show the very same results. Indeed, Fairfax County concluded that, even with rail, billions in road improvements, high quality mixed use development and pedestrian and bike improvements, the increased SOV traffic in, out and around Tysons will cause Routes 7 and 123, a widened DTR and a Beltway with an additional traffic lane than it has today, will fail consistently in the PM rush once Tysons hits 84 MSF. We are paying billions for a rail line that will not fix traffic and is becoming too expensive for the quality of service.

    The Silver Line is being built on the backs of DTR drivers, who appear to be declining in numbers as tolls increase. Many are driving on local roads to avoid tolls.

    When we spend billions on a new rail line that has never been cost justified under grandfathered federal standards, that was constructed by an agency (MWAA) that has been cited for project management problems and is operated by an agency (WMATA) that is generally regarded as totally mismanaged and with an unsustainable cost structure, why are we surprised transit is in financial trouble?

    And if you were to look toward the future, such as on the Metro Washington Region Transportation Planning Board, you will see more and more transit projects proposed.

  7. @TMT – I’d presume the density does get leased and occupied though – right – as opposed to it getting built and staying vacant.

    In other words – the demand for the office space is there – it just becomes a game of where to put it and if it gets put where it is wanted.

    or would that office space be built somewhere else if not for the Silver Line?

    Safe to say I’m not passionate about where to put or not put transit and not even passionate about the existence or non-existence of it – other than to accept the obvious reality that it is built in many metro areas around the globe and I presume done so by folks who believe in it as a mode of transport.

    in other words, it’s hard to believe that transit in all the metro places in the world and in the US was some bad crony-capitalism idea foisted on citizens who did no want it, did not want to pay for it.

    I note that a Republican Govt in Md – IS going forward with Md.’s version of the Silver line – the Purple line. You would have thought if WMATA was such a colossal failure that the Md GoV would have, could have easily bailed out on the idea, right?

    or are there crony capitalist in Md also doing the same thing?

    I dunno – I sort of like to ask these questions when there appear to be contradictory things in evidence.

    • My point is not to try to undo what is done, but rather, to remind us all again what the facts were. The Silver Line was never cost justified. Now that it is here, however, I support its use and the addition of density immediately around the stations when coupled with enforceable TDM measures.

      Also, note that, under the Silver Line PPP, not a single dime of private money was invested unlike the Beltway Express Lanes.

  8. Slugging (flexible car pools) is another NoVA shared ridership success which seems to be thriving, at least in my area. Suddenly this article makes me start to feel a little better living on the VRE line instead of on the Metro line, but I don’t think VRE does for town’s development what Metro does. Maybe someday. In view of the Dulles extension of the Silver Line (alluded to above), it is in Virginia’s and perhaps WMATA best interest to see the Metro system improve. Would be my impression Gov McDonnell supported the Silver Line too.

  9. Thanks TMT for your Post. It matches my concerns generally.

    This is the kind of private featherbedding and self-dealing behavior that can harness and go into league with the corrupted focus of a public or quasi public authority to create a shadow venture that ends up serving narrow private interests while it skims $millions from public coffers and credit facilities and uses other publicly granted benefits to enrich only a few at enormous cost to everyone else who often receive little or nothing in return, all done in the name of the Public Interest.

    Sometimes too it is called a public private partnership.

    Its a culture long ago built into the DNA of Virginia.

  10. VRE is about to open a new station further south of Fredericksburg in Spotsylvania and they have extended the platforms to handle 8-car train sets.

    The Fredericksburg Area has dozens of carpool lots holding thousands of cars and is building many more to accommodate the folks who want to slug, van and bus.

    There are folks who are asking to extend the HOT lanes all the way down to Fredericksburg.

    but like TMT/Reeds belief about the Silver Line – developers also love the I-95 Interchanges and the VRE stations for venues for thousands of new homes and commercial businesses.

    We have 5 interchanges that are going to be modified to acommodate more capacity for the commuters who move here.

    I don’t see that much difference between the developers who support the Silver Line and the developers who support more interchanges and more VRE stations.

    They will tell you that they are responding to the market – and if they can encourage transportation projects – rail or highway to enhance their projects – they will. Not sure it’s that unique to WMATA.

    I know there are a lot of cynics but in order to believe several Govs and several Senators and Congressmen, and other local leaders and the FHWA were all crooks in a scam to build the silver line – it’s a bridge too far for me.

    We have the same conspiracy theory folks down here over the Transurban Toll lanes and now for the I-66 planned Toll lanes.

    Apparently many folks believe that there are many, many unethical and dishonest elected and appointed officials behind these projects.

  11. JB, TMT, and RF, this is a depressing exchange! Yet from what little I know, it is correct. Putting aside the huge issue of why the subway lines were built where they were built, both originally and lately, and putting aside the apparent gross mismanagement by (some?) jurisdictions of the land use process set in motion by these lines, is there nothing that can be done to clean up the immediate operating budget mess? We have public and press attention like never before on safety and operational screwups and inter-jurisdictional governance gridlock; can this be harnessed and focused constructively? We have an opportunity here already forced upon us to remake WMATA by way of rebuilding top management because of those problems; but evidently they won’t address the prime mover here, an abusive labor relationship (that I recall goes way back to the federal insistence on Davis-Bacon Act labor requirements in the Compact and similar terms in all the original construction contracts from the Johnson/Nixon era). Is it time and is it possible and does anyone have the political guts to blow this labor relationship to smithereens in the course of renegotiating the union contract wages and work rules that quite evidently are the major cause of current and projected subsidies?

    I’m not holding my breath. In fact, I live in NoVa, but leave it as often as possible for a part of the State where traffic of all sorts is a minor concern.

    But fix WMATA we must, because the roads are full, budgets to do more than tweak them do not exist, Uber and telecommuting together are no substitute for moving large numbers of people during daily rush hours to and from our concentrated workplaces, and I just don’t see any alternatives in NoVa to a working mass transit system — except, people moving away from the area because it has become unlivable.

    Is that where you think we are, also?

  12. I personally think when anti-union sentiment is thrown into the discussio about transit – it takes on a different flavor – more partisan and more ideological .. doctrinaire.

    it transforms a discussion about efficiency and cost-effectiveness into one about political philosophy and folks who are anti-union, fairly typically are opposed to transit in concept also so it just becomes a anti-transit kitchen sink argument.

    If we think WMATA is not cost-effective or is badly operated – then compare it to other systems and support that argument by the numbers and go about reforming and improving the system to operate similarly to other systems.

    On the other hand – if one is opposed to transit on concept – then make the argument on that basis – AND show that other systems in the US and Europe and Japan are ALL not cost effective – money wasted

    AND

    show that there are better ways to achieve mobility.

    I have little patience for folks who are philosophically opposed to the basic concept of transit – then cite operational and fiscal problems of a given system to essentially impugn the idea of transit itself.

    If you think GOOD transit is a GOOD solution then SHOW Good Transit compared to WMATA and cite it’s flaws at it ‘s mission.

    If you are truly opposed to transit as a concept – disclose that up front before you launch into the litany of sins from broke escalators to unions.

    • There is nothing “doctrine” in Jim Bacon’s comments on public service and related unions.

      And of course his comments are a rightful part of any intelligent discussion of the failings of mass transit, just like it is part of the any discussion wherein one is to figure out and fix what is going so wrong in our public schools where our children can’t even get the bare bones basics of an education they deserve, or why our public service employees of all sorts from the IRS to Homeland security appear to be growing increasingly inept, or why generally so much in this country and its infrastructure is falling apart all around us.

      This long time plague is now metastasizing to gigantic portions, threatening our health, welfare and security.

      See for example its roots:

      http://inthesetimes.com/working/entry/12208/the_patco_strike_reagan_and_the_roots_of_labors_decline.

    • August 16, 1937

      Public Papers and Addresses of Franklin D. Roosevelt
      Franklin D. Roosevelt 1937
      Franklin D. Roosevelt
      1937 The American Presidency Project

      Mr. Luther C. Steward,
      President,
      National Federation of Federal Employees,
      10 Independence Avenue, S.W., Washington, D.C

      My dear Mr. Steward:

      As I am unable to accept your kind invitation to be present on the occasion of the Twentieth Jubilee Convention of the National Federation of Federal Employees, I am taking this method of sending greetings and a message.

      Reading your letter of July 14, 1937, I was especially interested in the timeliness of your remark that the manner in which the activities of your organization have been carried on during the past two decades “has been in complete consonance with the best traditions of public employee relationships.” Organizations of Government employees have a logical place in Government affairs.

      The desire of Government employees for fair and adequate pay, reasonable hours of work, safe and suitable working conditions, development of opportunities for advancement, facilities for fair and impartial consideration and review of grievances, and other objectives of a proper employee relations policy, is basically no different from that of employees in private industry. Organization on their part to present their views on such matters is both natural and logical, but meticulous attention should be paid to the special relationships and obligations of public servants to the public itself and to the Government.

      All Government employees should realize that the process of collective bargaining, as usually understood, cannot be transplanted into the public service. It has its distinct and insurmountable limitations when applied to public personnel management. The very nature and purposes of Government make it impossible for administrative officials to represent fully or to bind the employer in mutual discussions with Government employee organizations. The employer is the whole people, who speak by means of laws enacted by their representatives in Congress. Accordingly, administrative officials and employees alike are governed and guided, and in many instances restricted, by laws which establish policies, procedures, or rules in personnel matters.

      Particularly, I want to emphasize my conviction that militant tactics have no place in the functions of any organization of Government employees. Upon employees in the Federal service rests the obligation to serve the whole people, whose interests and welfare require orderliness and continuity in the conduct of Government activities. This obligation is paramount. Since their own services have to do with the functioning of the Government, a strike of public employees manifests nothing less than an intent on their part to prevent or obstruct the operations of Government until their demands are satisfied. Such action, looking toward the paralysis of Government by those who have sworn to support it, is unthinkable and intolerable. It is, therefore, with a feeling of gratification that I have noted in the constitution of the National Federation of Federal Employees the provision that “under no circumstances shall this Federation engage in or support strikes against the United States Government.”

      I congratulate the National Federation of Federal Employees the twentieth anniversary of its founding and trust that the convention will, in every way, be successful.

      Very sincerely yours,
      [FDR]

      Wages and benefits for WMATA union employees need to be frozen until they become affordable. Union members are receiving 4% raises for three years in a row. Obama just said the highest raise possible for federal employees in 2016 will be 1.3% including locality pay differences. When is the last time private sector employees received compounded 12% raises over three years? Coolidge, Roosevelt (FD) and Reagan were all correct when they stood up to public sector unions.

  13. “I know there are a lot of cynics but in order to believe several Govs and several Senators and Congressmen, and other local leaders and the FHWA were all crooks in a scam to build the silver line – it’s a bridge too far for me. We have the same conspiracy theory folks down here over the Transurban Toll lanes and now for the I-66 planned Toll lanes. Apparently many folks believe that there are many, many unethical and dishonest elected and appointed officials behind these projects …”

    … I have little patience for folks who are philosophically opposed to the basic concept of transit – then cite operational and fiscal problems of a given system to essentially impugn the idea of transit itself … If you think GOOD transit is a GOOD solution then SHOW Good Transit compared to WMATA and cite it’s flaws at it ‘s mission … If you are truly opposed to transit as a concept – disclose that up front before you launch into the litany of sins from broke escalators to unions.”

    xxxx

    With regard to these comments of yours, Larry, I suggest that these sorts of comments on other people’s motives and intentions typically miss the point.

    For example, in the early 1980s, I build and fully leased to first new fully spec. major office building in Ballston Virginia, a building that helped jump start what today is Arlington’s new downtown. In doing that project I with partners and lenders bet a small fortune in time and money on the brand new untested subway through Arlington, including its subway stop that opened a block down the street after I started that office building. Since then, my respect and appreciation for mass transit and the benefits it brings daily into peoples lives remains unchanged since Ballston’s 1980s rebirth.

    But, like everything in life in the real world, mass transit and its success and its failures are all about how, when, why, where, and by whom, it is planned and designed and built, and how and by whom it is thereafter maintained, improved, and looked after, and even then it is also subject to the vagaries of luck and chance. And also to many other unexpected circumstances (related and unrelated) including the ever present Murphy’s Law. This also is how the real world works, Larry. As earlier I pointed out.

    With regard with that approach to how the real world actually works in real time and in what it takes to get major things accomplished in that world, it is typically wise for any player to look at and appraise those developers, bureaucrats, politicians, labor bosses, and everyone else involved in any major project in which he is involved or counts on, and do so as one might appraise a doctor about to operate on him or an opposing Indian Chief he might have to go to war against and with – namely:

    At the end of the day, each and every one of them is a human being. As such each and every one of them is among the most complicated, variable, and inexplicable of all living things. All we have is their record if available.

    But as humans beings they, like everyone else alive, makes mistakes. Always remember that and also that:

    They make mistakes “for reasons good and bad, some beyond their control, some unconsciously made, others not … and many for a wide range of reasons, with and without good cause, and many do more damage, pain and harm than is necessary, or more than they otherwise would have done had they done their job better, more wisely, with excellence, and/or properly.”

    This is true in most everything people do. And so people do it in real estate development, including the building and operating of mass transit systems, which like so many things in this world is an inherently complicated and risky venture that requires a vast and varied array of talents that span the full spectrum of human talents, all of which are far more subjective than all humans (including engineers) by their nature are typically willing to admit.

    And so its true that all those who build mass transit systems or influence how they are built, whether for good or ill, are all “human beings susceptible to frequent error, bad judgment, off days, and are good at some things while bad at others, and sometimes most all of them shade the truth and/or spin it and/or hide it and or outright lie for good reason, bad reason, and misguided reason …

    And even the best of those involved in mass transit systems can go bad. This happens for many reasons – their age or health or finances or issues at home to flaws in their character ranging from hubris to narrow mindedness to rampant prejudices, to greed and envy, to sudden desperation or outright evil, and much in between.

    These truths are everywhere around us, in all we do, and in everyone we meet or otherwise encounter, friend or foe, or the guy passing by. All these truths and their consequences impact us. Every one of us every day. All we can do is take what responsibility we can and do with it the best we can. And keep it in mind when we judge other people, particularly by group.

    Adapted from:
    baconsrebellion.com/2015/09/fresh-thinking-on-the-end-of-life

  14. Meanwhile here at The Beach we contract to buy trolley cars for a line that doesn’t exist … oh my.

  15. Not a bad article. A few thoughts I’d like to add:

    First, I agree with the author that one of, if not the primary, problems with transit in the US is that is viewed as “welfare transportation”. This means that it is treated largely as a niche form of transportation for the poor, requires significant subsidization, and should be run like a government program.

    The places where transit is most successful are those cities and countries where public transit is treated as the primary form of transportation for most people in urban areas and is operated like a business, regardless of whether it is owned and/or operated by a government organization.

    As to the point mentioning that increasing fares reduces ridership, yes, this is marginally true, all else being equal. However, if you poll 100 American commuters who do not ride transit and ask them why they do not, price is usually pretty far down the list of reasons. Far more important than cost to transit ridership are service quality, reliability, speed, convenience and social normativeness.

    Ultimately, the way to have the most cost efficient transit systems is to have them be the focus of a broader transportation policy which properly prices all modes, both cars and transit, and which makes transit investments with long term O&M costs and ridership potential in mind. In a broad sense, investments in high quality, grade-separated rail induce much greater ridership and cost efficiency than lower capital cost alternatives such as buses.

    Of course, part of DC’s problem is that the subway is so deep underground and the damn escalators break all the time. I think Honolulu’s elevated, driverless light metro rail system will be the best example in how to do transit in the 21st century in the US.

    • Shem, I agree with you 100%. WMATA is treated as an extension of the welfare state; that’s why fares are kept low. If you’re right, if riders are not all that sensitive to fare increases, then WMATA ought to jack up fares. I don’t understand why it doesn’t. (I would also argue that a very bad labor contract is a big part of the problem.)

      Also, you are absolutely right that U.S. and Virginia transportation policy mis-prices all modes, so it’s impossible to know which routes and modes make the most economic sense. Until we move the entire transportation system closer to a user-pays system, we will continue to misallocate billions of dollars of transportation resources.

  16. I suggest the larger problems lie elsewhere. Like for example:

    Why do we spend more than a $BILLION DOLLARS to build a 4.7 mile track “world class people mover” to move people 2200 feet at high speeds to save them seconds while moving them 2200 feet?

    Why spend $BILLIONS on such foolish and unnecessary things?

    AND, in building such a foolish unnecessary thing, why do we build it in the most expensive, costly, inefficient and harmful way possible.

    AND why, when building such a foolish and unnecessary thing do we also spend several more $BILLIONS of other peoples’ money to house and otherwise accommodate the unnecessary people mover thing given that:

    1/ it was not needed in the first place,
    2/ it does not work well in any case, and
    3/ the building of it, and what is necessary to accommodate it, has the potential to ruin AN ENTIRE AIRPORT for generations into the future.

    And finally, why, when that happens, like it has happened at DULLES AIRPORT, and like it is still goes on every day at DULLES AIRPORT:

    WHY IS IT THAT NO ONE WANTS TO TALK ABOUT THE PROBLEM BUT TRIES INSTEAD TO FIX THE BLAME ON SOMEONE ELSE?

    AND THEN WHILE HIDING THE PROBLEM AND SHIFTING THE BLAME FOR IT ONTO OTHER PEOPLE, DOES ONE TRY TO FIX THE HIDDEN PROBLEM BY INFLICTING MORE PAIN AND COST ON THE VERY PEOPLE WHO WERE FLEECED IN THE FIRST PLACE?

    This is what is happening all around us NOW. And it is everywhere – these monster versions of Arlington County’s MILLION BUS STOP. And so is the hiding of real problems and the shifting of blame for them onto others.

    It’s gross and it’s a collective irresponsibility of our entire culture today. It is the product of a corrupt system, and it’s one that is reflective of the nearly TRILLION DOLLARS that the US federal government said it was going to be spend on SHOVEL READY PROJECTS that did not exist.

    Or the government that said that our ambassadors death in Benghazi happened because some guy made a video in California.

    This continual sort of conduct, moving up and down the food chain, quickly infects whole cultures, whole ways that people then spend their lives.

    It’s a business system and it’s a culture and a society out of control. One that is ruining our children’s future, if it has not done so already.

    My God, today we can’t even build a 19th century technology trolley down the street of a town without spending most of a $Billion bucks. That is how corrupt we’ve become. So now we are helpless. And timid. No one takes responsibility for anything anymore. No one is accountable anymore. No one stands up and tells the truth or demands that things be done right.

    For example:

    Today far too many people who are given Board Seats on Public Transportation Authorities do not consider them positions of public trust. Instead far too many people consider them political and/or BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT OPPORTUNITIES, a position of power (instead of trust) to be used to exchange favors and gain private advantage at public expense.

    Now board seats can become a prime way for your company to feed at the Public trough, a way to gobble up public money while issuing bonus reports, and/or building things for private advantage that don’t work for anyone but those on the board, and those who are most likely doing nothing useful for the public, while at the same time things fall apart for everyone else.

    How do we fix all this Ackbar asks? Good question.

  17. The Mass transit model is fundamentally economically unsound, and the service is low quality. No amount of political fingerpointing, or jursidicional funding redistribution can fix the problem outlined in the graph. It has nothing to do with welfare pricing, crony board seats, corrutption, third arty income due to development, or labor contracts: the basic model is fundamentally flawed. and th graph at the top of this article shows why.

    EMR and I had a marathon disagrement over every aspect of this from the environmental impacts, the cost effeciency of mass transit the gowth and changes in density and job distribution etc. and by now it should be clear that all of his wishful thinking and fantastic rationalizations have turned up false.

    At this point the only justification for keeping Metro running is that the cost of shutting it down and replacing it withwhat should have been done is even more costly. And certainly there is ZERO justification for expanding it.

Leave a Reply