Category Archives: Transportation

Bacon Bits: In Non Gun-Related News…

In the Virginia political world, everyone’s attention is riveted today upon the gun-rights rally in Richmond. We are all hoping that everyone behaves himself and the event remains peaceful. But other things of interest are happening around the Commonwealth.

Washington Metro ridership back up. The years-long downward slide in Washington Metro ridership reversed itself in 2019, increasing 4% over the previous year — about 20,000 trips per weekday on average, according to the Washington Post. One possible explanation for the turn-around: People now can use their cell phones as fare cards. Also, Metro now offers a money-back guarantee that credits riders whenever a rush-hour trip is delayed more than 10 minutes. The greatest growth occurred in Saturdays and Sundays. Metrobus ridership continues its steep fall, down 2.5% last year. But it’s encouraging to see that the Metro, after years of effort to improve safety and on-time performance, may be pulling out of its slump.

Cherokees will have skin in the game. With the surge in proposals by Indian tribes to build casinos in Virginia, a central question I have been asking is what value the tribes are providing. Do they contribute anything beyond bartering their privileged status as a federally designated tribe? Are outside investors doing all the work and taking all the risk? Or do the tribes actually have skin in the game? Well, in the case of the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, which is proposing a resort and hotel in Bristol, it appears that the tribe is willing to invest $200 million of its own money. The Bristol Herald-Courier quotes tribe chief Richard Sneed: “Looking at the potential customer base and what the market would support, we’re estimating about a $200 million investment. The Eastern Band could come in covering the full cost of the investment as an owner operator.”

Well, there’s always home school. The culture wars in Loudoun County public schools are roiling around the appropriateness of LGBTQ literature in elementary school libraries and classrooms. Should public schools being legitimizing gay relationships and trans-sexual identity as early as elementary school (or at all)? Many parents, especially those of a fundamentalist Christian persuasion, object to books they consider “leftist propaganda” and “moral corruption”? Said one parent, according to the Washington Post: “They’ve removed everything with a Christian influence … and replaced it with smut and porn.” In a nation with irreconcilable value systems, this kind of conflict seems inevitable in public schools. Perhaps the best way to deal with the conflict is to let the majority’s values prevail (in this case, those who promote the LGBTQ agenda) while making it easier for those with minority views to opt out of the system, either through private school or home schooling.

— JAB

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

As the Richmond Times-Dispatch recently reported and summarized, the Northam administration has introduced a comprehensive bill covering a wide range of transportation issues. The proposal is being carried in the House by S[eaker Eileen Fuller-Corn (HB 1414) and in the Senate by Sen. Saslaw of Fairfax (SB 890).

This bill (the introduced House and Senate bills are identical) covers subjects ranging from the use of cellphones while driving to a major reconfiguration of how transportation revenue is disbursed to a decrease in vehicle-registration fees to an increase in gas taxes.  The scope of the topics covered in the bill’s 86 pages is mind-boggling.

It would seem that the bill would be in clear violation of the “one-object” rule of the Virginia Constitution:  “No law shall embrace more than one object, which shall be expressed in its title.”  To be fair, the bill does express in its title one object: transportation. That is comparable to saying that a bill expanding Medicaid and reforming foster care would have one object: social services. Nevertheless, the bill is safe from challenge on this score. In the House, the Speaker rules on whether a bill violates the “one object” rule, and I have no doubt she would rule in favor of her bill. Continue reading

Yet Another Tax Increase Proposal

Del. Delores McQuinn. Photo credit: Richmond.com.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, has submitted a bill, HB 1541, that would raise taxes in Central Virginia by 2.1% on wholesale fuels (about 7.6 cents per gallon of gasoline) and 0.7% on the sales and use tax to fund regional transportation projects.

The taxes would raise an estimated $168 million a year. Fifty percent would be returned to the localities for projects that would “improve local mobility,” including roads, sidewalks, trails, mobility services, or transit; 35% would go to a Central Virginia Transportation Authority; and 15% would be dedicated to mass transit in Planning District 15.

McQuinn said the dedicated funding is critical to improving access to public transportation, especially for low-income residents who have no other way to get to jobs or amenities in the region, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Said she in a meeting with leaders from four localities in the region: “Transportation has become to me almost a civil rights issue.”

A civil rights issue? Wow! I always thought of “civil rights” as ensuring that all Americans enjoyed the same constitutional and legal protections. Now, it seems, the concept of civil rights has expanded to the idea of redistributing income from motorists and consumers, many of them low-income themselves, to trendy priorities favored by urban white elites under the guise of helping minorities and the poor. Continue reading

2020 Assembly May Not Vote on Carbon Car Tax

By Steve Haner

It now seems unlikely the 2020 General Assembly will act directly on Virginia’s membership in the proposed Transportation and Climate Initiative, an interstate compact to cap, tax and then start to ration fossil fuels that add carbon dioxide to the atmosphere. Virginia would be the southernmost member.

While six pieces of pending legislation (so far) mention the similar Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative, which caps, taxes and rations CO2 from power plants, the silence continues on TCI. It has been conspicuously absent from gubernatorial pronouncements on these issues. A Virginia Mercury story this week on various environmental proposals cited a December statement from him that “no decisions have been made,” although it wasn’t clear on what.

When organizers of the TCI compact released their draft memorandum of understanding last month, they clearly were pointing to action in the various states in the near future. But the MOU itself is only an outline, with many blanks to fill in. An argument that the issue is not ripe for the legislature could be valid. What is the actual goal or schedule for forced supply reductions?

An argument that it doesn’t need legislative blessing at all, however, would not be valid. Virginians should not be subjected to this tax, cap and ration regime without a recorded vote by their elected representatives.

What people can do now, if they care, is register an opinion with the TCI organizers on their public input portal. Their last round of comments included many who dislike this idea, so they are asking again now that more details are out.

Continue reading

Will Charlottesville Regulations Kill the Scooter Market?

by James A. Bacon

Of all the places in Virginia to favor “dockless micro-mobility devices” — e.g. scooters and bicycles — you’d expect Charlottesville to be at the top of the list. After all, the city is home to thousands of University of Virginia students who could benefit from the boost to mobility, and local government is sympathetic to any scheme that would reduce the number of cars on the streets. But the People’s Republic of Charlottesville, as peoples republics are inclined to do, may regulate these transportation alternatives out of existence.

Lime, which has operated Internet and app-powered electric scooters in Charlottesville for a year, has declared its intention to pull out of the market — citing the cost of new regulations on e-scooters and e-bicycles, reports the Daily Progress.

“We love Charlottesville and we loved serving Charlottesville,” said Robert Gardner, of Lime. “It was working well for us, but the reason we’re leaving in 2020 is due to regulation changes.”

The root of the problem: City regs require Lime and competitors to put 50 e-bikes in the field for every 100 scooters. To exceed the 100-scooter cap, Lime had to add another 50 e-bikes. Here’s the problem: It is not cost-effective to operate bicycles, which are frequent targets of vandalism and require significant maintenance. Said Gardner: “People can remove and take the bicycle seat, wheels and other parts and it really isn’t cost effective to have them in the fleet.” Continue reading

At Last: Zoning Restrictions on “Middle Housing” Are Coming Under Scrutiny

A neighborhood of detached single-family dwellings in Arlington.

by James A. Bacon

Arlington County plans to study the “missing middle” in its housing market: homes that fall between apartment-sized units and single-family dwellings — in its housing market.

Ninety percent of the county’s residential land is zoned for detached, single-family houses. The median housing price in the county falls between $530,000 and $640,000, and the arrival of Amazon is likely to drive prices even higher. A big part of the problem, says Richard Tucker, acting coordinator of Housing Arlington, is restrictive zoning. WAMU summarizes his thinking:

Too much single-family zoning is leading to a proliferation of teardowns, Tucker says. In neighborhoods throughout the county, property owners are bulldozing smaller single-family homes to make way for mansions that swallow up entire lots. Teardowns are common in neighborhoods where zoning is restricted to single-family construction, Tucker says, but they’re expensive to build and own, so they don’t contribute affordable housing to the county. They also take up a lot of land that could be used more efficiently, he says.

If owners had the option to build duplexes and triplexes instead of McMansions, Tucker says, maybe they would. “What we hope to do is identify other options for these property owners,” the planner says.

Continue reading

Can a Cap-and-Trade Tax Salvage Mass Transit?

Charlottesville bus — endangered species?

by James A. Bacon

While social engineers plot ways to increase the cost of driving single-occupancy vehicles and push people into low-carbon transportation alternatives like bicycles and mass transit (see the previous post by Steve Haner about the Transportation & Climate Initiative), Virginians stubbornly stick to their cars. Mass transit ridership is down sharply across Virginia — even in the People’s Republic of Charlottesville with its environmentally conscious electorate and super-woke elected officials.

Five years ago Charlottesville Area Transit (CAT) had a ridership of 2.4 million. This year the transit expects to serve only 1.7 million riders, reports Greater Greater Washington (GGW). The situation is so dire that CAT’s new director, Garland Williams, says the transit agency is in a “death spiral.”

The transit system, in Williams’ estimation, is plagued by unreliability, decreasing coverage, and one-way routes. A housing-affordability crisis is pushing lower-income residents into surrounding counties that the transit system doesn’t reach.

GGW quotes Charlottesville-area transit advocates as suggesting the solution may be closer collaboration between the City of Charlottesville’s system, the University of Virginia service, and a program that serves regional commuters in outlying counties. Functioning as a regional transit authority might allow these entities to unlock new state and federal funding.

Yeah.  Maybe. But, then, there’s the problem that people would rather drive their own cars: going where they want, when they want, taking the passengers they want, playing the music/talk radio they want, and carrying whatever gear they want. Continue reading

The Carbon Car Tax Nobody Is Discussing

By Steve Haner

So far there appear to be about six schemes before the 2020 General Assembly to save the Earth and its inhabitants from the fiery holocaust of climate catastrophe. The one that is going to cost you the most money in the shortest period of time is still missing in action. Finally we have details, but not from anybody in Richmond.

The organizers of the Transportation and Climate Initiative (TCI) met and held a streamed webinar in Washington, D.C. Tuesday, releasing their long-anticipated draft memorandum of understanding and quite a bit more information about the impact of this new carbon car tax. See the slides here. Does a starting bid of 17 cents per gallon on gasoline get your attention? Do not confuse this with the separate proposal from Governor Ralph Northam to add 12 cents onto the existing state excise tax.  Continue reading

Keep the Inspections

Tucked into the Governor’s transportation package is a relatively little item that is shortsighted. He is proposing to eliminate the requirement for an annual vehicle inspection. This idea has been floated before, but defeated.

One justification offered is financial.  The argument seems to be that the elimination of this requirement will result in savings for drivers that will help offset the proposed increased increase in the gas tax.  The fee for the annual inspection cannot exceed $20, and inspection stations can charge less. A savings of $20 per year is not going to matter to many people.

The Governor also seeks to justify the elimination by pointing out that studies show no correlation between safety and inspections. I have heard this argument before and, while I have not seen the studies, I have no reason to doubt them, other than my own experience. Continue reading

Bacon Bits: Guns, Tolls, Evictions

You’ll have to pry my gun from… More than 90 governing bodies in Virginia have voted to declare themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries, reports WDBJ. Ninety! Unbelievable. Thousands of citizens have appeared at board meetings across the state to demonstrate their support for the resolutions. Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave said the sanctuary movement is unlike anything he has seen in his years of advocacy. “It’s like the difference between driving a car and being in a rocket ship.” Sigh. I personally don’t have a problem with these resolutions. But if only rural Virginians cared as much about pocketbook issues.

More transportation cross subsidies in the works. Virginia officials and the Northern Virginia Transportation Commission are negotiating a proposal to dedicate a portion of toll revenues on Interstate 66 inside the Beltway to construction of new Metro facilities near Rosslyn and construction of a second freight/commuter rail span between Virginia and Washington, D.C. The toll revenues would back the issuance of bonds to pay for construction of the rail projects, reports WTOP. Virginia drifts further and further away from a user-pays transportation funding system. This idea can be justified only on the grounds that mass transit can provide more mobility than a comparable investment in other road projects. I wonder what light VDOT’s Smart Scale ranking system could shed on this.

Evictions down. Since a New York Times article highlighted the high rate of evictions in Virginia cities, state and local officials have been allocating resources to reduce the number. Through September of this year, the incidence of evictions has dropped about 19% in the City of Richmond, where it was the worst, and 14% across Virginia, according to a Capital News Service analysis of court data. This is encouraging news… as long as it doesn’t have the unintended consequence of dampening the supply of low-income rentals.

— JAB

Bacon Bits: Adventures in Transportation Policy

How “complete streets” helped revive a small town. Hopewell, best known for its kepone spill in the James River, is nobody’s idea of a progressive community. But perhaps it should be. The city of 22,000 is leading the way in designing bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly “complete streets,” writes Greater Greater Washington‘s Virginia correspondent. Three years after City Council committed to boost the health of its population by encouraging walking, outdoor recreation and nutritious food, its streetscape improvements have won a designation as a Healthy Eating, Active Living (HEAL) platinum standard community. The shift to walkability has coincided with the creation of 25 new businesses downtown and 70 new jobs. Said Evan Kaufman, executive director of the Hopewell Downtown Partnership: “Hopewell is one of those cities in which 10 years ago not many people had much hope for the future, but following Main Street and complete streets principles have changed the city in a way few people thought possible.”

Richmond’s fare skipper problem. By one measure, Richmond’s transit system is doing great: Ridership is up 15% since the launch of the Pulse Bus Rapid Transit system in June 2018. But lax enforcement on the transit line has lost revenue for the cash-strapped system, reports the Richmond Times-Dispatch. The transit system, GRTC, cannot even quantify how prevalent fare skippers are. “Without an accurate fare evasion rate, GRTC may be unable to assess the severity of fare evasion and its financial impact,” states a new report from the Richmond city auditor. GRTC estimates that riders who evade the $1.50 fare account for 12% to 14% of the Pulse’s 5,400 average daily ridership. On paper, then, fare skippers account for some $360,000 a year in lost revenue. But who knows… if forced to pay their fares, how many would bother to take the Pulse in the first place?

Metro, Union strike contract deal. The Washington Metro has agreed to a four-year labor contract with its largest union. The transit agency will give up its strategy of privatizing some operations in exchange for… what… well, that’s not exactly clear, According to the Washington Post, Metro General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld moved to privatize several Metro operations in order to contain expenses and stay within a 3% cap on the annual growth in subsidies negotiated as a condition for a boost in financial support from Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C. ATU Union Local 689, with about 800 members, has been on strike, shutting down or reduce Metrobus routes used by about 8,500 riders daily. Continue reading

Watch Out! Here Comes a Gas Tax Hike!

Shannon Valentine

by James A. Bacon

Bacon’s Rebellion predicted that the change of political power in the General Assembly from red to blue would bring a raft of proposals for tax increases and revenue enhancements.

Because the General Fund is expected to see healthy revenue growth in the next biennial budget, I speculated that the Northam administration and its legislative allies would be restrained in their quest for new money, most likely pushing for sources that were either too opaque to understand (such as changes to tax deductions in response to the federal tax law) or too fragmented and obscure for anyone to notice. But it looks like I was wrong (hardly for the first time). According to WTOP, Secretary of Transportation Shannon Valentine suggested yesterday that the state could raise gas taxes next year.

Without a change to increase the gas tax or some other transportation funding source, the administration projects a decline in funding for road construction and other projects. In a development that takes absolutely no one by surprise, it turns out that fuel-efficiency improvements in Virginia’s automobile fleet are cutting into gasoline tax revenues. Continue reading

Reasonable Regulations for Scooters

Is “scooting under the influence” a thing?

by James A. Bacon

So, I was sitting at a stoplight the other day, and some guy came hauling butt through the intersection on a scooter. Like a bicyclist or motorcyclist, he leaned hard left as he took the left-hand turn. I can’t say how fast he was riding, but if he took a spill, I’m pretty sure he would have wound up as road kill. Needless to say, the scooterist (or whatever you call a scooter rider) was a young male with a much higher tolerance for risk than the average Henrico County resident.

With this image still vivid in my mind, I now read how Arlington County and Fairfax County have enacted ordinances regulating the use of scooters on public streets and sidewalks. While I err toward a light hand of regulation for the business side of scooters — not imposing excessive taxes, fees, levies, and restrictions, etc. — I find it perfectly reasonable to regulate their use to ensure safety on public byways.

In Arlington, “micro-mobility devices” will be required to have speedometers, reports Arlingtonva.us. (Hat tip: Rob Whitfield.) Motorized scooters and skateboards will have a top speed of 15 miles per hour, and e-bicycles of 20 miles per hour, on streets and trails. On sidewalks, top speeds are restricted to six miles per hour. Continue reading

Metro in the Age of Crazy

by James A. Bacon

The chronic problems of the Washington metro system can’t be blamed entirely upon its dysfunctional, multi-state governance system or even the poor choices of its governing board. Any realistic appraisal of the Metro must take into account the fact that the country is increasingly populated by friggin’ lunatics!

The Metro board came up with the idea of selling off the naming rights to Metro stations. Most recently, the board waived its existing naming rules in order to finalize a deal with a “Fortune Global 500 company” to rename the soon-to-open Innovation Center station (near the Center for Innovative Technology building) to a name selected by the unnamed corporation. Now members of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors are in a snit that the county wasn’t consulted.

People, get a grip. As WTOP states succinctly, “Metro hopes station naming rights deals could help offset losses from ridership declines to help keep the budget in line without more significant fare increases.”

Speaking of significant fare increases… fare jumping in the Washington Metro is already a significant problem, accounting for $29 million in losses.  That could well get worse, depending on whether local riders heed calls for an international transit fare strike. Proclaims the “It’s Going Down” website: Continue reading

Chesterfield’s Slow-Motion Suburban Suicide

by James A. Bacon

The traffic engineers, it appears, have won. Chesterfield County is doubling down on suburban sprawl with plans to build a series of “superstreets” at a cost of tens of millions of dollars over the next decade. While the massive infrastructure investment likely will reduce traffic accidents and improve traffic flow on the streets themselves, they will literally cement into place the county’s dysfunctional land use patterns.

This article in the Chesterfield Observer lays out the rationale behind the superstreet concept. “It provides for a high-capacity roadway, and also safety because you don’t have these intersections where [cars] cross paths in front of each other. It’s a way to eke out additional capacity without widening,” says Jesse Smith, the county’s transportation director. According to the Observer, work on the first project, on Iron Bridge Road (Route 10), will cost $64 million and is scheduled for completion in the spring of 2022.

Greater Greater Washington critiques Chesterfield’s superstreet in a recent blog postGGW questions whether the added transportation capacity is needed, argues that the superstreet design rules walking and biking in the corridor, and contends that the money could be spent more effectively elsewhere, such as mass transit. The critique is worth a read. I agree with much of it, but differ in important respects. Continue reading