I recall a couple years ago, the first time I saw the CTA Holiday Train enter a station. It was packed, mainly with grandparents/aunts/uncles/cousins taking small ones for a ride. Probably generated a lot of revenue. Forward to 2020, a train crowded with people who breathe isn’t desired, so what to do?
Well, they could have just cancelled it, but that’d be dropping yet another tradition, and I suppose reducing overtime for union employees. So they’re going to run it empty, and instead of crowding the train, folks can crowd the platforms– probably a bit less close breathing.
But CTA trains run every day with people on them– the problem is the crowding. Why not sell tickets? How much would people pay for a ride in a semi-private car, restricted to, say 10 people per car? $25 for a 2-hour trip? $100? I don’t know, but it’s nontrivial. Maybe $1000/trip/car, $4000/trip/train, $160,000 assuming each space is sold just twice per operating day. Now, $160,000 is probably not quite enough to operate one bus for a year. But why not collect it?
Ideally, CTA would use the money to pay the cost of operation, and apply any left over to its growing deficit. But it might be more acceptable to have some sufficiently progressive charitable organization– United Way?– devise a system for distributing the proceeds to a politically-balanced array of groups actually assisting impoverished people. CTA could even reserve a certain number of tickets for actual impoverished folks who’d like to ride.
I wonder how much money a lobbyist could attract if paid $160,000?
Good reporting from Wirepoints, based on articles from Reason and Pro Publica, about the City of Chicago pushing low-income motorists into bankruptcy. These sources focus on the twin injustices of punitive ticketing and fines, and aggressive impoundment of innocent motorists’ cars. Of course parking restrictions, liability insurance requirements, and traffic rules need to be enforced, but it’s pretty clear that Chicago Police and other municipal actors see this as a source of revenue to pay their salaries and pensions, more than as an enforcement mechanism. The statistics imply a racist motive as well.
But that’s not the point. The point is, why do people with low incomes need to own cars? Why can’t they get where they need to go by transit? The answer, of course, is that in most affordable neighborhoods transit is sparse: Buses run slowly and infrequently, and quit early. Rail is only a bit faster, and most lines also lack 24-hour service. Relatively few jobs are reliably accessible within an hour, or even two hours travel time. And with the demise of neighborhood retail, cars are almost essential for shopping. Schools, libraries, other government facilities have large free parking lots even it they’re poorly-located for transit and pedestrian access. So of course people who can’t afford to own and operate automobiles find they’re compelled to have them.
This doesn’t justify the municipality stealing money and property from residents already living on the economic edge. It just makes it worse.
Chicago needs a healthy and growing bus system. Fewer Chicagoans riding the bus means more people driving and more cars on our already congested streets, especially in and around downtown during peak periods. Our hub-and-spoke rail system continues to be a good option for people who live and work along the CTA train lines and in the Loop, but many neighborhoods lack access to it. Without more investment in bus service, Chicago risks more people abandoning transit for transportation options that are more expensive and less efficient, healthy, and green.
The report acknowledges that part of the problem has been CTA’s substantial service reductions, but seems mainly to look at “how do we move buses around faster” rather than “how do we provide service that lets people travel where they want, when they want, under civilized conditions and at a reasonable cost.” But, hey, moving buses faster is probably a good start.
[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?
This is really nothing new, except that it is a new data about an old truth:
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.
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.
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.
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.
Great “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.
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.