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Posts Tagged ‘public transportation’

Three transit related items today. 

First, this Slate article on the idea that telework may not be all its cracked up to be makes the very common mistake of just not getting it when it comes to driving. The benefit of telework is not how much the teleworkers drive, its when they do it. Even if teleworkers do drive more overall, they’re off the road during the morning and afternoon peak commuting times. Scaled appropriately, this reduces traffic, which shortens the amount of time people spend commuting and increases their fuel efficiency. Although I haven’t actually done any calculations, I would be willing to bet that the environmental benefits of this far outweigh the additional driving by the teleworkers, if it in fact exists. Environmental impacts aside, shorter commuting times and less traffic make everyone happier. Its a big quality of life issue. 

Next, there was actually something good in the fiscal cliff deal. The transit subsidy for commuters was returned to $240 per month. It had been lowered to $125 last year, while the subsidy for parking remained at $240 then as now. Whatever you think about subsidizing public transportation or parking, it’s perverse to set the parking subsidy at twice the transit subsidy in a program designed to encourage the use of public transportation. It’s even more perverse when you consider the National Capitol Region (fed-speak for DC and the ‘burbs) which features an excellent public transportation network, horrible traffic, and insufficient parking. 

Finally, Amtrak will seek a change to Federal Rail Administration regulations that require it’s trains to be very heavy, for crash safety. The regulations are a major stumbling block to the adoption of high-speed rail service in the US. The increased weight makes trains more expensive to operate, significantly impacts their top speed, and makes them more expensive to purchase in the first place, as the standardized models on the market have to be redesigned to meet the regulations. If you think we need high-speed passenger rail in this country (and you should think that), then this is where you start. 

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Here’s a good example from Seattle of what can be done wrong when your city wants a BRT line. In short: inconvenient payment methods, lack of signal priority, and general bad planning.

Maybe, if the politicians and others that planned transit actually used it, we could do this right. But instead, we’ll spend boatloads of money to turn a bus line into a shinier bus line, with no meaningfully improved service.

Edit: added the link

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Hidden City Philly has some cool photos, dated 1898 – 1915, from the construction of Philly’s subway system. Check it out.

See the “hot lunch” sign behind the street urchins? I like to imagine those guys are running the 1903 version of Wawa.

Mmmm… Century old hoagies…

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I often hear folks on the right describe public transit as an “expensive boondoggle”, job killing big government, etc. But the reality is anything but. Public transportation is a fantastic investment for a city to make if it wants people to have jobs. Yglesias, for example, wrote this post about a company cancelling plans to hire 150 people after Pittsburgh reduced bus service.

The mechanism here is really, really simple. The transit agency has to hire people. Drivers, mechanics, engineers, office staff, etc. So that creates jobs directly. But more importantly, it allows people to have greater access to jobs. Don’t have a car and can’t afford one? Your job search is limited to your neighborhood. Good luck. But if you can take public transportation somewhere, then your opportunities increase significantly. Additionally, a thriving transit system necesarily involves large numbers of people passing through certain places, often in the morning. Those people will buy magazines and coffee and sandwiches and so opportunities will exist for transit oriented small business near stations. Property values will rise as housing and office space within walking distance of a station is desirable.

People often say things along the lines of “ill never use it so why should I pay taxes to support it?” Well, that’s why. It’s broadly beneficial to a city’s economy. And you shouldn’t be so sure about not using it. A recent study showed that when gas prices rise significantly, transit ridership goes up. Not surprising. But when gas prices drop again, ridership decreases less than it increased. In other words, some people made the switch, then realized that hey, this is actually pretty convenient, and so they stick with it.

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