Archive for the ‘transit’ Category

Sound concept, everything else wrong

Argyle station, one of the platforms to be widened. Graham Garfield photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 2.0 generic license

Argyle station, one of the platforms to be widened. Graham Garfield photo from Wikimedia, Creative Commons Attribution Share-alike 2.0 generic license

[The following was written in September 2016, but for some reason was not published until January 2017.]

If good transit increases land values – which it does – then shouldn’t the increase in real estate values should be used to fund transit infrastructure?  Yes, if you do it right.

Case in point is CTA’s “Red Purple Modernization Project” and, in particular, the “Lawrence to Bryn Mawr Modernization.”  The structure is nearly 100 years old, been maintained somewhat, it seems reasonable that it might need rebuilding.   Maybe it’s even reasonable to widen the platforms (which must account for a lot of the >$1 billion cost), even tho we know from Granville and Loyola that elevator access can be achieved on existing narrow platforms.  It would be interesting to know of any evidence that narrow platforms actually are associated with more accidents or injuries than wider platforms.

We’re already stuck with a federal funding system thru which skilled local politicians have milked federal taxpayers for over $1 billion just for this 1.3 mi segment. But a local match is needed.  It’s not clear from the posted documents how much this match would be, but under new laws the State permits “Transit TIF’s” which can be used to raise much of it.

According to the CTA documents, “Transit TIF funds are created by growth in property value, known as increment, that occurs because of the investment in transit.” That’s almost certainly a lie, as a TIF absorbs the entire increase in assessed value that occurs during its life.  Increase due to better schools goes to the transit TIF.  Ditto for increase due to more effective policing, sanitation improvements, libraries, flood control, fire protection, or anything else the government does and pays for. Ditto for increases due to private activity that makes the area more desirable (for instance, good private schools have been shown to raise land values). Ditto for inflation, which has already returned to real estate values and will doubtless continue, on the average tho not every year, for decades.

So where will governments get the money to pay for schools, sanitation, libraries, and everything else including pension costs resulting from past services? The land value increase is already taken, as is the increase in improvements and from inflation.  So it’ll have to come from other taxes.  We’re already seeing higher taxes for nearly every kind of productive activity, and we’ll just see more.  It’s been pretty well demonstrated that people will put up with this.  Not a lot all at once, but a bit more every year.

We’re stuck with this, it is going to happen, the current crew will be re-elected repeatedly or similar ones put in their place. But, just for fun, we might consider what should have been done instead.

Well, first, a proper evaluation should have been done of restoring the third track on the parallel Metra line a mile or so west. Restore a couple of the stations which existed there sixty years ago, integrate the fare structure, and  we might find that two tracks would have been sufficient. But that would have required more coordination than legislators seem to feel is necessary.

Second, CTA needs to fix operational problems that constrain its capacity.  At Clark Junction, for instance, it takes about 18 seconds to reset the switches and signals after the route clears. Similarly, at Howard trains approaching from north and south are often held out because nobody can get empty trains out of the station, or perhaps sometimes because nobody got around to changing the signals. How could this be fixed?  How many more trains handled?

People are willing to pay more than fares for transit

This is really nothing new, except that it is a new data about an old truth:

from the Econsult report

from the Econsult report

Analysis of Philadelphia suburban data shows that people are willing to pay more than fares for rail transit, as indicated by house prices in areas near the stations. These are really land prices since characteristics of the houses are already filtered out. Interesting to see that people living more than a half-mile from the station seem willing to pay more for frequent service than for extensive parking, but I wouldn’t want to conclude too much from this limited analysis.  The study considers only parking and frequency of service, nothing about travel time, availability of feeder bus, or anything else, but the main point remains.  See the full report here.

CTA Continues Investment in Employee Comfort

click for full article (from CTA's employee newsletter)

click above for full article (from cta’s employee newsletter) as a 1 mb pdf

Yes, transit facilities should be comfortable. Investments to improve comfort can be a smart use of limited transit funds, attracting ridership and …  oh, employee comfort.  Well, sure, it’s good that we’re past the days when ‘L’ conductors had perch precariously between cars.  And providing employees with comfortable facilities can be a cost-effective alternative to treating them with respect or paying them well — last I heard, some full-time journeyman CTA employees are paid less than $65,000 per year.  But somebody forgot about the passengers.

Observant passengers already know that CTA has hundreds of public washrooms — owned by the public, tho not accessible to them.   But in the short run [between elections] and for the most part, we are captive riders, and fares don’t provide the majority of CTA revenue anyway.

America Fast Forward to Transit Future Obligations

Sunday on CTA Route 49

Sunday on CTA Route 49

Over here in Illinois a coalition of powerful and dangerous people and organizations seems to be supporting a “transit future” initiative to harvest a “robust revenue stream,” inferentially a further increase in the sales tax. I say “seems to be” because I haven’t verified that everyone listed (including southern California’s moveLA) is in fact a supporter rather than a typo. And “inferentially” because the examples cited on the site involve sales tax increases.

GETTING TO HYDE PARK…

There is some fancy mapping at vision.transitfuture.org (more…)

Aussie prof says land value increase can fund light rail

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/d/d0/Light_Rail_Sign.svg/119px-Light_Rail_Sign.svg.png

Land value increase due to light rail is sufficient to pay the entire cost of construction, asserts Curtin U. Prof Peter Newman.  At a minimum, he suggests, the increased real estate tax revenue resulting from the system should be used as part of the funding.  This from an interview on (Australia) Radio National‘s Saturday Extra, May 18.  I think RN leave their audio posted for only a few weeks after broadcast.  One assumes Newman has written some posts somewhere documenting his assertions, but a quick search doesn’t reveal any.

 

What is a “subway,” really?

subways_store_1_largeGreat “Subways of North America” map from xkcd, connects the rapid transit lines of Miami, Atlanta, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Toronto, Vancouver, Montreal, Mexico City, San Juan, Santo Domingo, and Monterrey. Inclusion of Cleveland means a “subway” doesn’t really have to be underground for more than a few yards, and exclusion of Pittsburgh means that light rail doesn’t count (unless it’s connected to rapid transit as in Philadelphia).  Special features include the Trolley Route 10 from Philadelphia to Los Angeles, connecting to the Ohio-California Tunnel.

You can even buy it as a poster for $15.  Looks like you have to use Google or Paypal, however.

Lobbyist vs. Lobbyist: How Chicago enterprise works.

Photo credit: Adam Greenfield via flickr (cc)

Earlier this week the Tribune carried a pretty good report on Chicago’s Uber vs. cab situation. Altho many of us transit-dependent mundanes may have missed the story, it seems that people who can afford cabs can also afford smartphones (or can text using dumb phones), and many of them prefer Uber as a way to get service without having to speak with a person. You can choose a taxi at regular taxi rates (but with a minimum 20% “gratuity” that the driver splits with Uber and the credit card processor), or a classier vehicle for considerably higher cost.  I am surprised that folks pay such high rates to avoid dealing with traditional taxi companies.  A few years ago I learned that, for those who pre-book and travel more than about ten miles, limousine service is likely to be much cheaper (even for a person traveling alone) than a conventional taxi; I suspect this is still the case.

Naturally, owners of medallions (and existing dispatch services) don’t particularly like this idea, so both sides are trying to improve their service to entice more customers have hired lobbyists to “persuade” the investment banker/politician who holds the Mayoralty to throw things their way.

I guess I’m surprised too that medallion prices are holding at high levels (most recent median price $345,000, up from $260,000 about a year before, based on data compiled by Chicago Dispatcher). Whether this is really an open market, or perhaps subject to manipulation by major owners, or another symptom of financial repression, I have no knowledge.

Of course Uber’s pickup zone doesn’t encompass the entire city of Chicago, missing much of the south side, but it does extend service beyond the City boundary into some relatively affluent suburbs.

 

 

Just because they ask, doesn’t mean we have to give it to them

Governments here in Illinois (and probably everywhere else) like to “request” things, but that doesn’t mean we mundanes always need to grant these requests.  Two examples from recent experience:

detail from work of Chris Karr via flickr (cc)

detail from a photo by Chris Karr via flickr (cc)

Saving money: Illinois Secretary of State Certificate of Good Standing.  Our high-tech sophisticated Secretary of State makes it easy, relatively, to get the “certificate of good standing” that organizations may require, for example, to set up some kinds of financial accounts.  No problem, just go to Jesse White’s web site, do a search (which really works, in my experience), fill out the simple form and authorize a credit card charge of $16 ($5 transaction fee, $1 payment processor fee, and $10 expedited fee).  But suppose you aren’t in a great hurry and don’t need (or want to pay for) expediting.  Or suppose you lack a credit card but have a checking account (or can buy a money order). What to do?

Nowhere could I find the answer on Jesse’s web site.  Fortunately, cheapness wonk Adam Kerman of the Transit Riders’ Authority knew what to do:

Write a letter to request the Certificate of Good Standing. Make sure to include the corporate file number and your contact phone number. $5 fee Secretary of State Business Services 501 S. Second St., Rm. 330 Springfield, IL 62756

And that’s just what I did.  A week or so later, the certificate arrived.

Current RTA Executive Director

Saving Dignity: Regional Transportation Authority old person discount fare card. A good and privacy-minded friend of mine, having recently attained the age of 65, wanted to take advantage of the “reduced fares” available to old people (among others) on RTA-funded transit systems. First thing she found out was that it takes 3-4 weeks to get the required farecard, so she should have applied 21 days prior to her birthday.  Too late for that, but she readily found the necessary form, which turns out to serve two functions: (a) apply for reduced fares based on age or other criteria; (b) apply for free fares based on likelihood of voting Democratic documented low income.  Being successful enough not to qualify for (b), she still had to complete a form with a blank for “Social Security Number.”  What do to?

She wrote “NOT REQUIRED” in the SSN blank, and 23 days later received a reduced fare card in the mail.  Moral of this story: You can surrender somewhat less privacy than the authorities ask for, without giving up rights or privileges, at least in this case.

Machine-written headline?

Somebody please tell me whether the Tribune has any human editors any more.

Self-driving cars could hit showrooms by 2019

Is this why CTA can’t coordinate?

Tracks 1 and 2 at Howard Station (Transit Riders’ Authority photo)

The failure of the Chicago Transit Authority to coordinate its services is evident to regular riders. I have long attributed this to misplaced priorities, which seek to serve the interests of contractors, politicians, and certain employees, rather than passengers or the public in general.

But this picture implies that I’m wrong.  CTA do a pretty poor job of facilitating convenient transfer from Yellow and Purple Line trains to Red Line trains at Howard Street,   but this may have nothing to do with priorities or competence.  Rather, the problem seems to be that Track 1 is in a different time zone from Track 2, so if passengers actually were able to transfer between trains on these two tracks they’d enter some sort of time warp, perhaps endangering their very existence and ability to pay taxes.  Safety has always been CTA’s number one priority.  (In the photo, both tracks are occupied by Red Line trains, so no transferring takes place.  The practice of putting Red Line trains on both southbound tracks enables CTA to hold Yellow and Purple Line trains outside the station, preventing the dangerous practice of passengers transferring directly.)