Time for Lean Transit

San Francisco trolley
San Francisco trolley

William Lind suggests applying the principles of “lean urbanism” to rail mass transit, in effect creating a “lean transit.” Writing in the Center for Public Transportation, Lind is a rare conservative who supports mass transit. But he’s also a realist: He acknowledges that excessive government regulation drives up the cost of mass transit, especially rail, and makes it less competitive with streets and roads.

Writes Lind:

[The Americans with Disabilities Act] has proven the single most expensive, least useful mandate ever leveled on public transit.  Serving a small number of disabled people takes a large chunk of transit systems’ budgets, both capital and operating. Many of the special facilities ADA demands of transit systems are seldom if ever used.  If something intended to serve the disabled is frequently used, including by people who are not disabled but nonetheless find it helpful, I’m all for it.  But millions have been spent entirely uselessly.

ADA is only the beginning of expensive and generally useless over-regulation of transit.  One environmental revue of a proposed project makes sense, but often multiple such reviews are required.  FRA’s outdated buffer strength requirements have greatly increased the cost of rail transit equipment, with no benefit.  A single commuter train accident in California led Congress to mandate positive transit control for all railroads, at a cost in billions and with no technology yet available to do the job.  The list is endless.

We need to be able to build streetcar and light rail lines much more cheaply if cities are to afford them. … Lean rail transit, like lean urbanism, requires deregulation, and it also requires an end to fascination with complex, expensive technology that is not needed.  The goal should be streetcar lines built for not more than $10 million per mile and light rail built for not more than $20 million per mile.

Liberals love rail mass transit, and then undercut it at every turn. Their solution? Bigger subsidies. No wonder the country is going broke.


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7 responses to “Time for Lean Transit”

  1. LifeOnTheFallLine Avatar

    Indeed, it is cheaper and more efficient to run a system when you exclude people who put extra strain on the system. And here we’ve stumbled backwards into the recipe for the modest success of a modest amount of charter schools.

  2. we should do that for all ADA including schools, and METRO as well as the highway rest stops, airlines, bathrooms, etc, right?

    and let’s get rid of the handicapped parking places while we are at it. they are a terrible waste of resources also right? And WalMart ? those scooters? we’re all paying for them .. by increased charges on kumquats and the like…!!

    I “get” the point – yes they are expensive but where would you draw that line?

    the problem with “Conservatives” is – often – they don’t really have true “solutions” – when you look critically at what they are saying – it’s turns out to be knee-jerk “ideas” more than a systemic look at something and how to make it more cost effective but still function – just get rid of it – like pollution regs…or OSAH or the EPA , etc..

    Used to be – Conservatives were thoughtful folks and willing to compromise also.

    Nowdays – it’s sound-bite ideas and threats to do what they want when they finally take over all of government.

    how about we give all handicapped UBER debit cards instead!

  3. Oh wait.. Uber won’t handle handicapped either! The free market does not particularly like folks with special needs to start with..

    I did not mean to be that hard on Mr. Lind –

    is this the same Lind?


    if it is – he seems to, at least in the past, to not be an advocate of transit in an way, shape or form anyhow.

    am I wrong?

  4. Larry, did it ever occur to you that there might be more cost-effective ways to accommodate the transportation needs of handicapped people than spending huge sums to handicap-enable mass transit facilities? And did it ever occur to you to wonder how many people on wheelchairs you see on buses and trains? How many millions of dollars are you willing to spend to provide transportation mobility per handicapped individual? You don’t ask that question. You just launch into denunciations of conservatives!

    1. Jim – where are the recommendations?

      I’m all for more cost-effective solutions.

      what are they?

      It bothers me when when we take the ” this is too expensive” narrative..and basically leave it like a pile of poop on the floor.

      It’s like saying it’s very expensive to keep snake anti-venom at an ER when 9 times out of 10, you end up throwing it out and replacing it..

      Our school system has repeatedly made it clear that the cost of transporting and education kids with special needs is enormously expensive – and they are totally correct.

      Lind blames the issue on “over regulation”. It’s not “over” regulation – it’s a law that was debated pro and con – and finally agreed to…

      but Lind would unilaterally get rid of it in his world because it’s “too expensive” – at which point – what other ADA facilities would then want to get rid of theirs also?

      What is Mr. Linds REAL solution besides advocating removal of the facilities under the guise of “lean”?

      Whether it’s entitlements, immigration, healthcare, you name it – Conservatives basically advocate “repeal” and offer nothing as a real alternative – as something that Conservatives as a group would get behind as an alternative.

      basically they oppose and then as a group – they cannot even agree among themselves what alternatives they would – as a group – support.

      it’s a “tear it down” mentality…

      I jokingly suggested Uber but really – some kind of targeted service summoned by smartphones might well be a more cost-effective approach but just advocating taking it off the buses – and dropping it there is not a cost-effective solution. it’s not a solution at all other than basically saying ” handicapped people are too expensive to accommodate – screw them”

      what say you?

  5. re: ” “When Detroit went bankrupt, they couldn’t maintain the regulators.” Freed of endless, stifling regulations and red tape – all of it both expensive and time-consuming to deal with – people simply went ahead and began to rebuild. The lesson Duany drew is that we need “to strip away all but the most essential regulations to encourage more urban re-development.”

    this is the lead-in to the ” Lean Urbanism Needs Lean Rail Transit” article at the “Center for Public Transportation” of American Conservative.

    they go on – ” Nothing soaks up resources faster or more uselessly than over-regulation, which is endemic in cities. But much of that over-regulation does not originate in cities themselves; it starts at the federal and state levels.”

    One of the regulatory burdens Duany referenced was ADA, the federal Americans with Disabilities Act. According to Bacon, “the last building he designed was so festooned with regulations, he (Duany) said he had to hire a consultant who specialized in handicap-accessibility code. That one set of requirements contains as many rules and specifications as the entire development code when he got started!” ”

    so how many cities in the US have gone “bankrupt” over “over-regulation” especially from the ADA and do we really want to go back to a world where there is no ADA “festooning” useless regulations?

    I specifically refute this line of reasoning as essentially not very honest – masquerading as reasonable Conservative thought on solution-oriented cost-effectiveness.

    it’s cherry-picking ONE CITY and one law – the ADA and using it as a proxy poster-boy for Conservative ” we’re going broke” ideology. This is NOT reasonable Conservative thought in my view – it’s basically raw ideology cloaked in high minded terms.

    When you read the rest of the article – you find no suggestions for cost-effective ways to serve the mobility needs of the disabled and handicapped. Nope. Just dump their sorry butts.. for causing “over regulation”.

    Since when did efforts to address their needs – turn into “useless and expensive” “over-regulation” – across America and in turn, helped push Detroit into bankruptcy?

    This type of dialog does not shine a righteous light on Conservative “thought” especially when they take just dumb cheap shots at “liberalism” for the over-regulation and subsequent bankruptcy of Detroit and essentially warn/predict that Detroit is a precursor to the same fate for other cities if they don’t dump regulation.

    so there is this gloom and doom narrative that cities are ALL – universally over-regulated and doomed – because they, in this case, try to accommodate those who have mobility needs .. it’s “festooned over regulation” – and again – no alternative “cost-effective” approaches even hinted at – because the purpose of the article is really just regurgitating the same anti-regulation theme of Conservatives – over and over – just picking different examples of their ire.

    it does not offer solutions – it’s basically a Conservative anthem opposing the things that cities currently do – much more successfully than suburban or rural areas or 3rd world cities in other pars of the world – by the way – that, in turn, make 1st world cities incubators of jobs and wealth creation.

    Conservatives apparently can’t stand this. Cities are essentially the opposite of Conservative/Libertarian thoughts and beliefs – unless you go to a place like Mogadishu or Cairo where city services are truly “lean” ….

    American cities are where people go if they want jobs – and they are especially places where the handicapped and disabled go – if they want to live a better, more mobile, more productive life – and actually be able to find work – far better than if they lived in areas which don’t have public accommodations and they basically exist on public assistance.

    Lind – like many Conservatives – just totally disregards the tenets behind the ACA and it’s goal to provide accommodations for people so they can be productive. He picks one – that I happen to agree with – that it’s very expensive and not well used but instead of trying to understand why it’s not well used and truly look for more cost effective ways to serve the needs of those whose mobility is compromised – he takes the low-hanging fruit and uses it as a proxy to essentially attack the ADA by casting it as “over regulation” and then rolling that into the reason why Detroit went bankrupt.

    This is not genuine – PRODUCTIVE – Conservative thought that actually does seek more cost-effective solutions. It’s “solution” – reading the tome – is to get rid of the service because it’s too expensive – and to get rid of the regulations that require ADA accommodations because .. well.. because those accommodations on transit are no good – forget whether the other ADA accommodations are good or not or cost-effective – they are “over regulation”.

    This is more of the sound-bite blame game that Conservatives play these days – without truly trying to find cost-effective solutions – they just simply deny the reason why these things exist in the first place and blame regulation as sought for no real reason by liberals just to have a need “regulate” …

    try harder guys… there was time when Conservatives DID have intelligent alternative thought towards true cost-effective “solutions” but not a lot of what we see today… which are basically thinly veiled mindless attacks on institutions and regulation devoid of real alternative solutions.

    GIve me a REAL – “lean”…. solution…

  6. […] Via Bacon’s Rebellion, we find this article from William Lind at The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation. The basic argument is that Andres Duany’s principles of “Lean Urbanism” can be applied to thinking about public transit as well as urban design and architecture, and that excessive government regulation is holding back the efficiency and cost-effectiveness of America’s public transit systems. As a longtime reader of Alon Levy, Stephen Smith, and the like, I’m quite sympathetic to this view despite (or, I would argue, because of) my own progressive views. Sadly, though, Lind doesn’t examine the writing that’s built up on this topic, which may just lead him into an intellectual trap. […]

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