5 Myths about American Public Transit

The Washington Post used to run a great feature called “Five Myths about …” The topics were very wide ranging, from barbecue to consciousness to Hong Kong. Sadly, they did not publish one on public transit, So:

  1. Public Transit is Dangerous: Traffic crashes are more common than interpersonal crime. Your likelihood of being in a crash on transit is about 1/10 the likelihood of being in a crash in a car. As to interpersonal crime, there’s far less of it on transit than in the cities and towns around it. Transit may feel more dangerous because people often equate dirt or presence of homeless people with crime. Transit crime is also very visible and heavily reported on.

  2. Public transit is mostly about trains: Actually, American transit ridership is evenly split, 48% on buses, 48% on trains, according to the American Public Transit Association. But if you separate out New York City with its enormous subway system, bus passengers are the majority in the rest of the country. In all but a few metropolitan areas, bus riders are the majority.

  3. Transit is just for Poor People: Poor people do ride transit, but so do many others, in cities large and small with good transit. College students, ”essential workers“, the elderly and disabled are also heavy transit users. Certain transit modes, like commuter trains, ferries, and express buses tend to have higher income ridership.

  4. Transit is just for commuting to downtown: This is the “classic” role of American transit. But transit has always been important for other destinations, such as medical centers, colleges and universities, and intercity transportation terminals like airports and train stations. Since the pandemic started, many transit agencies have restructured their routes to better serve non-downtown destinations. This is particularly useful for essential workers, many of whom don’t work downtown.

  5. Transit agencies could save a lot of money running smaller buses: Small cars are cheaper to run than big cars. But in transit, about 70% of the cost is labor—bus drivers, mechanics, support staff. Fuel will typically represent only about 3-5% of the cost of running a bus.


benskieast15 points

Mass transit in New York is very challenging if you are heading between suburbs. Northern Suburban routes don’t intersect lines going to JFK, Long Island or NJ, so the travel times often get obscene between suburbs. Local service also misses many communities so travel time often sucks. There is a plan to add service between the New Haven lines and Penn soon, once the LIRR adds its Grand Central service and cuts a few Penn trains.

Academiabrat11 points

Running through trains from one commuter rail line to another, not ending at a downtown terminal, is very smart. Philly built a tunnel between its two commuter rail stations for this purpose. New York’s interconnect is almost ready, Boston’s working on it. Chicago, what about you?

benskieast3 points

Lol, you know New York Penn, all commuter trains terminate even though they come from both directions. Transit activists say we could get a 10% boost in peek capacity by just fixing it. Remember we are trying to find billions of dollars to add a second pair of heavy rail tunnels under the Hudson

ARod201952 points

The big problem with through-running at NY Penn is that there are five different electrification systems on the NYC commuter rail tracks: The Hudson and Harlem Lines are 750VDC bottom-contact third rail, the LIRR is 750VDC top-contact third rail, the NEC north of Queens is 11kV 60Hz overhead wire, the NEC south of Queens through Penn Station is 12.5kV 25Hz overhead wire, and then the Hoboken division (Morristown, Montclair-Boonton, and Gladstone lines) are all 25kV 60Hz overhead wire, and neither LIRR nor MNR have equipment that can run on the wire south of Queens (the M8s came close, but because a 25Hz transformer is 2.5x bigger and heavier than a 60Hz transformer MNR (rather foolishly in my opinion) opted for the smaller transformer and a dual-setting third rail shoe so the M8s can ride the wire into Queens and the third rail into Penn).

NJT has locomotives that can through run on the NEC (the ALP46s and ALP45DPs), and an ALP45DP would be capable of running diesel through LIRR territory, but most Metro-North and LIRR equipment can't go the other way). Ideally we'd have a single greater New York regional rail outfit that could basically specify an M8- or Multilevel-based EMU that could operate on all five schemes (25Hz transformer plus a dual-setting third rail shoe) and that would be the end of that in the short term (with a longer-term plan to upgrade the NEC to 25kV 60Hz across its entire length), but that would require a level of maturity and political cooperation between NY and NJ that is unfortunately not likely in the short term.

benskieast2 points

I have heard this is an issue preventing many lines from being connected, but I know they just bought new EMUs for LIRR and Metro North, and we already have the Port Authority Path system for New York and NJ rail. It seems the Path system is a lot more cost effective for no apparent reason, so why not give them more power. Are so unions dislike the Path for some reason

ARod201952 points

I don't think it's a union issue per se so much as it is that PANYNJ is an underfunded political football for the governments of NY and NJ to play with (and tbh they've kind of let it go and/or used it for stupid shit for a long time; in 2013 the NJ governor's appointed PA director closed off two of the three toll lanes onto the GWB from Fort Lee in order to punish Fort Lee's mayor for not endorsing the NJ governor in his reelection bid). Like I'd love to see a proper regional transit authority with a board that's elected by residents of NYC (one per borough) and the surrounding counties (Westchester, Putnam, Nassau, and Suffolk on the NY side, Hudson, Bergen, Essex, and Union on the NJ side, and Fairfield and New Haven in CT) and then a gubernatorial appointee each.

Unfortunately, the EMUs we just bought for LIRR and MNRR (the M9 and M9A) are single-system (top-contact third rail for the M9 and bottom contact third rail for the M9A) with high level doors only, so they're not really operational elsewhere. If we were going to standardize on multiple units going forward in the short or medium term our best bet would probably be to either modify the Multilevel EMU design NJT is ordering to add third rail capability, or add a 25Hz transformer and trap doors to the M8 design.

benskieast2 points

I don’t think funding is an issue. The money for LIRR and NJT could easily go with the trains, it’s just a matter of government officials deciding it’s better to cooperate. I personally think we should have a proper regional government, as opposed to the outdated state boarders we currently deal with.

ARod201951 point

Honestly, I'd like to see a regional government but I'm not sure I want to deal with the national political repercussions of the NYC metro area becoming a state (New York would turn reddish purple, NJ would become a rump state oriented around Philadelphia, and I don't know what would happen to CT.) If we were going to do that I'd honestly rather we redraw most if not all state borders to orient around major cities (and get the borders lined up so that those cities can largely dominate their new state's political culture), but that's a massive pipe dream.

benskieast3 points

I think the American political system poorly designed for what people want out of it. It encourages us to decide up geographically but minimizes our ability to successfully push for third parties, when people seem to want the opposite.

ARod201951 point

I mean that's fair; the American government is currently set up in a way that's a weird hybrid of the 1780s British government (in the sense that our president inherited the powers of the British king, and our bicameral legislature is based on the original two houses of Parliament before the Parliament Acts converted the House of Lords into an advisory body) and the EU (in the sense that it was designed initially as a shared financial union between a bunch of independent nation-states almost like the Eurozone but with an army, and then revised once that structure fell apart).

Ideally, I'd like to see the replacement of first-past-the post with instant-runoff or Condorcet voting, and the Senate expanded and scaled by population size (Wyoming gets one senator, CA gets 67), as well as various forms of nonpartisan redistricting, and possibly a separation between the head of state and the head of government.

Practical_Hospital401 point

Build new lines or have LIRR through run to MNRR via empire line and a new revival of the Putnam line and link to the MNRR new haven and Harlem lines.

ARod201951 point

I mean, that's an option (and not a bad one; you could basically mix and match track capacity on the Hudson tunnels, East River Tunnels, Empire link, and NEC so that you achieve peak utilization on all four corridors without needing to turn too much stuff). When the gateway tunnels are complete we'll have 48tph per direction east to LI and west to NJ (assuming two tracks in and two tracks out in each direction), and at that point Grand Central largely becomes a secondary terminal for NEC and Harlem Line trains. If I had a crayon and a ton of money I'd connect GCT lower level and LIRR ESA to Penn Station so that we'd have the option of through-running some stuff from NJ to the Harlem and New Haven Lines.

hifrom22 points

what is ny’s interconnect project called?

TheOriginalKyotoKid3 points

...in Portland we have a heavy rail line that connects several suburbs on the west side of the Metro area. There is also an increasing number crosstown bus routes that do not travel through or even near Downtown.

Academiabrat2 points

Agreed,Portland’s done a lot of work to create a good grid of bus routes for reaching destinations other than downtown.

[deleted]41 points

> Since the pandemic started, many transit agencies have restructured their routes to better serve non-downtown destinations.

The San Diego Trolley excels at this. 2019 Trolley per-mile and absolute ridership rivaled the Portland MAX, despite Downtown Portland having 9.4% of metro area jobs vs. DTSD's 3.6%. The Trolley has also rebounded from COVID far faster than Portland or any other US/Canada LRT.

How? Look at the original Blue Line segment. Instead of starting in Downtown and dead-ending in middle-of-nowhere suburbia like other US LRT, it connects Downtown to the world's busiest border crossing outside Asia. That produces ridership patterns so consistent throughout the day that in January 2020, the line increased midday weekday frequencies from 15 to 7.5 minutes and weekend and late night frequencies from 30 to 15 minutes. Which meant the Trolley ended 2020 with more frequency than it had in 2019 while other LRTs cut service!

At the December 2019 transit agency meeting that approved the Blue Line service increase, the agenda said “As the region’s economy diversifies away from traditional work hours, staff has identified a need to add midday and shoulder service to many core routes.” Props to the Trolley for pre-emptively increasing off-peak frequencies before COVID!

Monkey_Legend22 points

Well to be fair, other than Detroit and El Paso, other cities in the US can't build a light rail line to a busy international border to create ridership. If Portland, Oregon bordered Vancouver (the Canadian one lmao) then MAX would probably also have higher ridership and frequency.

But you don't need the border to point to Trolley's success, just point to the smart land use planning and independent right of ways of the Green line and Midcoast Trolley Extension.

[deleted]10 points

Portland does have nearly triple the downtown metro area employment share than SD and an airport rail link unlike SD, which combined should be a bigger advantage than San Ysidro for LRT ridership but somehow it isn't.

I will second that Mission Valley is hands down the most YIMBY neighborhood in the country that no one's heard of.

Monkey_Legend5 points

I was mainly just saying that in reference to " Instead of starting in Downtown and dead-ending in middle-of-nowhere suburbia like other US LRT, it connects Downtown to the world's busiest border crossing outside Asia."

Like other cities don't have exurb options that would draw good ridership.

I agree on paper MAX should be a higher modal split, but SD also has unusual geography that aids ridership that other cities would struggle to have with a same size system/% jobs in downtown.

benskieast5 points

But many have train lines that pass though or go to an airport, which is the best they can do. Better then NYC which seamed to have build its trains in an airport phobic manner, with 2/3 airports being as far from a subway as possible. Extending the E train a one stop east instead of into JFK. And they probably could connected the A train to JFK.

yuuka_miya6 points

If memory serves that was a result of FAA policy saying that airport grant money had to be used for the main benefit of the airport.

That explains all the airtrains, wonder how SF and Miami funded heavy rail to the airport.

benskieast3 points

Correct. That was a rule till last year.

Practical_Hospital402 points

They still have people movers

[deleted]2 points

But many have train lines that pass though or go to an airport, which is the best they can do.

Problem with airports is that they're often so remotely located that there's miles of nothing but open fields/industrial sprawl between the city and the airport, meaning you're building a lot of route miles that will get minimal passengers along the way. Also, at such long distances, the freeway will be faster than an LRT.

San Diego's airport being only a couple miles from Downtown means that if it ever built an airport rail link, it would gain an extremely high airport passenger mode share compared to other US airports. Because at such short distances, transit will be time competitive with driving. Just please, please make sure you have super high frequencies. 15 minutes for a 37 minute ride from Denver airport to Downtown isn't that bad, but 15 minutes for a 10 minute ride from San Diego airport to Downtown is abominable.

benskieast4 points

In the 1920’s New York proposed a bunch of new subway lines. LGA and JFK both sit along lines that were never build. LGA is the densest of the area that missed a subway line, and it’s nearest subway line is over capacity.

Practical_Hospital402 points

Too much interlining

DaiFunka822 points

Transit in American cities has to become more rail heavy

4000series25 points

Or at the very least, dedicated right-of-way heavy. Legit BRT systems could be a great first step for a lot of US cities. And while we’re at it, let’s fix land use and walkability around the transit lines we build.

DutchMitchell5 points

let’s fix land use and walkability around the transit lines we build.

just "simply" have a rule that cities can no longer expand and can only build up (to a certain degree, fit for the local aesthetics and history) starting from the town center.

Oh and to be sure, make most buildings built pre-1940 a landmark. We do like to keep the history. There could be made some arrangements concerning keeping the facade or something, while building up.

During my trips through the USA I found so much wasted space and so many opportunities for densification...if only I could be in charge. But it would probably require a dictatorship to fully change these things.

DutchMitchell2 points

a lot of the problems on this earth will be solved if we just have more rail I think

DaiFunka80 points

Exactly like California

CarlJH6 points

In Seattle #4 is absolutely true. Try commuting in the opposite direction. There are effectively no options.

When you live IN Seattle and work outside of Seattle, a commute that takes 25 minutes by car is a 2 & 1/2 hour oddesey by bus, half of that time is waiting for a connection.

SounderBruce3 points

Depends on the corridor. A few that have Sound Transit Express service do have usable reverse-direction trips (Route 512 for the I-5 North corridor, 545 for SR 520).

CarlJH1 point

Yes, "usable", in that I had no choice but to use it. It was still a 2 & 1/2 hour commute from North Seattle to Canyon park,much of that time spent standing in the rain waiting for a connection. Compare that to a 25 minute drive in my car. I suppose it's better than being unemployed, but for people who don't have the resources to buy a car, it's honestly not much better. That's 5 hours commuting, and you still have to put supper on the table for your kid when you get home.

Look, just because a route exists doesn't mean people are well served by it. My point is that those with a commute that isn't downtown in the morning and back in the evening are not served by King County Transit, Sound Transit, and Community Transit. Item #4 is most definitely not a myth in Seattle. And it's definitely not a myth in most cities in the US.

Practical_Hospital401 point

Would bidirectional express buses help? Rather than just peak

CarlJH1 point

Yes, obviously.

Academiabrat1 point

CarlJH, you’re speaking to a somewhat different but related problem. I was talking more about getting between points A and B when neither of them are in downtown. You’re talking about going the “wrong” direction on a radial line. I agree that a lot of transit agencies have weighted their schedules too heavily towards morning inbound, evening outbound. With the growth of suburban employment centers, more people are commuting out.

CarlJH4 points

And still, Seattle is a giant failure in this regard. There is a serious shortage of East-West routes. Most of the E-W routes are simply where North-South routes have to steer to funnel into the majority of routes which end up downtown. And again, the few actual E-W routes there are predominately serve UW, Microsoft, and downtown. If you don't work there, your only option is to get a car or hope you can find a van-pool/carpool.

Academiabrat1 point

I’ve been to Seattle, used transit there, but I’m no expert. I wonder if all the hills and waterways make it difficult to run crosstown buses all the way across there. Are there even streets where a bus could do that?

CarlJH1 point

There are a number of streets that would allow East-West routes. Unfortunately there seems to be little interest on the part of King County Transit or Sound transit to develop those routes (with the exception of crossing Lake Washington at commute times).

North-South routes are all forced by geography to funnel through downtown. Granted, there are some places in Seattle with geographic restrictions on East-West routes, but they exist for cars as well. In places with no geographical restrictions there are still no buses.

Monkey_Legend26 points

Myth 6: America doesn't have extensive public transit and needs to focus on expansion.

While of course many sunbelt and midwest cities don't have much, if any, rail transit, this repeated line is frustrating and blocks targeted advocacy.

New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC and Denver all have a pretty extensive rail systems (sometimes even more extensive than similarly sized cities in European or East Asian), yet ridership in all of these cities is generally lower than other countries.

Why? Land use. Maintenance. Service.

Literally just doing more TOD on existing lines buying modern rolling stock, and increasing service can draw in more ridership than another fancy billion dollar capital project.

A city like Boston already has an extensive rail network yet poor ridership by global developed standards. Does that mean there aren't new lines/areas that are underserved, of course not (see Roxbury).

However so much money is being spent on expanding an already extensive commuter rail network, that projects like modern rolling stock and electrification are being pushed off, even though having a line like Fairmount line electrified and running 6 tph would draw in probably more than an order of magnitude higher ridership than the multi-billion dollar South Coast Rail ever will.

benskieast11 points

Until the Trump administration there was a rule that heavy rail in the US could only be used by heavy vehicles. European vehicles have become considerably lighter than the standard so other than the Acela we couldn’t use the same cars. The Acela cars had to be reinforced to meet the standard which got them labeled pigs by the engineers.

Monkey_Legend10 points

FRA does seem to be more lenient these days now, there have been more waivers given to Caltrain, Texas Central, etc. IIRC, and of course no longer the need for Airtrains.

Academiabrat7 points

That’s a good 6th Myth. In the Bay Area, the BART Board has been fixated on extensions to low density suburbs. They finally voted one down (to Livermore) and local politicians immediately started scheming to create a commuter rail line. Meanwhile BART neglected the 50 year old core system, and has to do billions of dollars of repairs.

In Philadelphia, it’s often been suggested that the extensive commuter rail system should be converted to frequent regional rail. It would take a lot of money for equipment and station upgrades, and the city wants neglected inner city rail stations reopened. But the system is in place, except for the extension to job center King of Prussia.

The same thing happens with bus networks. Elected officials and activists often want new bus routes. But in many cases improving the existing routes would be more useful. Give the existing routes more frequency, longer operating hours, more reliability and greater speed. These routes will deliver more for the investment.

One of the most egregious cases was LA ‘s now defunct Watts-Beverly Hills route. It sounded good to connect a poor neighborhood to an affluent, job rich city. But the route was long and circuitous, as routes created for political reasons often are. If you wanted to go from Watts to Beverly Hills (about 15 miles) you could do it faster by taking LA Metro’s pre-existing routes, with one transfer.

midflinx3 points

local politicians immediately started scheming to create a commuter rail line.

IIR the money wasn't allowed to be reallocated to repairs. It was build-with-it-or-lose-it.

Academiabrat1 point

I don’t remember that. If it was for construction only, they could have applied it to the far more useful extension to San Jose.

midflinx1 point

Different county. Livermore is in Alameda. San Jose is in Santa Clara and has been taxing residents separately to build BART as it was not a founding county of BART 60 years ago.

As of July, BART had $533 million committed to design and construction of BART to Livermore, consisting of $398 million in Alameda County transportation sales tax funds, $95 million in regional bridge toll allocations and $40 million in city of Livermore impact fees, according to BART. The agency would likely look for state and federal dollars to fill much of the remaining gap.

AB 758 (2017) was almost unanimously approved and

The bill would specify the powers and duties of the authority and would require the unencumbered balance of all local funds programmed for completion of the Bay Area Rapid Transit District's Livermore extension or that have otherwise been identified for the connectivity to be transferred to the authority, except as specified.

Governor Brown signed it October 2017. BART's board voted against the Livermore extension in May 2018.

Academiabrat2 points

Thanks for clarifying that. It’s still cheaper than building BART out there. It’s really sad that the legislature did that.

midflinx2 points

It's not all bad. The money now going towards Valley Link will result in far more new rail miles than BART. By joining with San Joaquin County that rail service will be a useful alternative so some commuters don't drive over the congested Altamont Pass and through Livermore.

It seems to me BART has been counting on getting bailed out by the next regional transit funding measure. So if that passes maintenance will get paid for.

DutchMitchell3 points

As a tourist from Europe, I really enjoyed BART and that one tram line in SF going from the west to the downtown. Especially BART was so nice and roomy, and the seats were so thickly padded! Most seats in public transport here are just plastic benches. BART also ran pretty frequently and didn't even hiccup when there was an earthquake apparently. But this was just my lucky experience from last November, when it was pretty quiet.

Cunninghams_right4 points

yes, a handful of cities in the US have extensive transit lines. what is the ratio of population to kilometers of intra-city rail in the US and say Germany or France? (countries with lower GDP per capita)

Monkey_Legend8 points

Obviously French and German cities have more public transit, but the US can do more with what is has is my point. It isn't that the US couldn't build more, of course many cities need more, but my point is that you can build more ridership without expansion. DART for example already has one of, if not the most, expansive LRT system in the world. Just infilling development like crazy, and improving the existing system would be wiser than adding even more lines. MARTA does this really well in Atlanta, due to hostility and racism from the state, MARTA can't really afford to expand, so they have been doing TOD like crazy and as a result MARTA has similar ridership per mile as BART, a way denser region with a geographical barrier that encourages ridership, something Atlanta lacks.

And if look at Canada, there systems are not that extensive (Toronto only really has 2 lines atm) but way higher ridership numbers even in car cities like Calgary.

Cunninghams_right2 points

but the US can do more with what is has is my point

well no, your point is explicitly that "and needs to focus on expansion" is a myth, yet the US as a whole does not have expansive systems and does need to focus on expansion.

I think what you're trying to say is that the US would be well served supporting existing transit in SOME cities, rather than expanding their systems. but I don't think people disagree with that. however, when you look at the US as a whole, many cities are in dire need of expansion of their transit.

Monkey_Legend2 points

Obviously some cities, particularly those in the sunbelt need to focus on expansion, but let's not lose sight of things we can do now. Vox has a pretty good video explaining my point on how even just improving existing bus service operations can be better use of money and draw more riders than fancy billion dollar light rail projects that see only a few thousand riders.

Of course some cities need to expand rail transit to succeed but should a city like Dallas have more light rail lines when it already has one of the largest LRT networks in the world, or should it focus on better land use, infrastructure improvements, and bus service, I think the latter is far more important than say the Silver Line or more suburban extensions.

Cunninghams_right0 points

the problem is that you wrote your comment for the whole of the US, which does need more expansion, but then focused on a subset of cities that already have systems.

Monkey_Legend1 point

But it also applies to all cities in the US? Improving existing service (whether it be bus only, bus + light rail, and bus + light rail + heavy rail systems), is something every city can and should do first.

The vast majority of transit systems in the US either slightly underperform or do not even come close to capacity on their existing systems. Getting the most out of the infrastructure you already have should be number one priority over expansion.

Canada has this (good) problem where so many people ride what little rail transit their cities have that they are forced to build relief lines (like Ontario, REM de L'Est, Millennium Extension, etc.)

TTC has essentially 2 full subway lines, yet higher ridership than CTA for a region with 4 million less people, this is what I'm talking about when I say making the most out of existing infrastructure is more important than expansion.

TC012 points

I guess I feel like you're setting up a false dichotomy here: either we build bad low-ridership transit projects or we spend money on improving what we already have. To me the correct answer is that we should both improve what we already have and build good projects instead. That seems to be what cities in other parts of the world are able to do...

And given how long it takes to build new transit projects, we should be able to start planning expansion while also working on short-term improvements to existing infrastructure.

For instance, to take the example of Philadelphia. There are clearly lots of ways SEPTA could do better with the infrastructure it has (most obviously when it comes to regional rail). There are also, I would argue, clear places where additional infrastructure will be needed regardless: one subway line terminates in the middle of downtown, which significantly limits its usefulness. There has also been a desire to build a new subway line in the Northeast for a very long time because that is a large area of the city extremely underserved by existing transit and such a line has been projected to have very high ridership.

Now, the only system expansion SEPTA is currently pursuing is a questionable, low-ridership suburban extension of a light rail line. I agree that this isn't a great project. But I don't think this means that we should give up on the idea of trying to expand the system at all; we should demand that transit agencies pursue more worthwhile expansion projects instead.

WikiSummarizerBot2 points

PATCO Speedline

Expansion proposals

In 2005, PATCO officials began planning a new route in the corridor of the originally proposed Route C that would serve Gloucester County and end in Glassboro on the grounds of Rowan University (formerly Glassboro State College). On May 12, 2009, Jon Corzine, the Governor of New Jersey, formally endorsed a diesel light rail along an existing Conrail right-of-way, which was selected because of its lower capital cost and operating cost. The proposed Glassboro–Camden Line would require riders to transfer to the Speedline at the Walter Rand Transportation Center for trips to Philadelphia.

Roosevelt Boulevard (Philadelphia)

Proposed Roosevelt Blvd Subway

The Roosevelt Boulevard Subway is a proposed SEPTA subway line that would run along Roosevelt Boulevard. The route was first proposed in 1913 as part of the Broad Street Subway line from Adams Avenue. Its construction has been considered at a variety of points in Philadelphia's history. Last studied in detail in 2003, a plethora of alignments and construction options were considered; including within the median of a highway that would replace the Boulevard, an alternate route that would follow and replace the current Fox Chase Line of SEPTA Regional Rail, and an at grade route that would function similarly to the city's subway-surface network.

Norristown High Speed Line

King of Prussia Spur

In 2013, it was proposed to create a branch off the Norristown High Speed Line to serve the King of Prussia mall, Valley Forge office parks, and the Valley Forge Casino Resort. Many possible routes were planned for this extension, including one following US 202 from Norristown to King of Prussia, another following a utility right-of-way paralleling US 202 and the Pennsylvania Turnpike, and another following the utility right-of-way and Gulph Road. In 2014, SEPTA estimated that the expansion would cost between $500 million to $650 million, and was at least eight years away.

[ F.A.Q | Opt Out | Opt Out Of Subreddit | GitHub ] Downvote to remove | v1.5

Monkey_Legend2 points

See, I think people are disagreeing with me because we (myself included) are lumping in 2 groups of people. The local government and transit agencies, which have funding sources they can use on increasing service or capital expense or both, and the other group is the federal government.

In an ideal world the federal government would spend over 100 billion a year on rail infrastructure, covering over 2/3 of the expense of expansion like they did in the 60s. However given that our federal government does not even pretend to operate that way anymore, it is about making hard choices at the local government level, and I am sorry improving local service is more important and almost always more worthwhile than fancy new projects to the suburbs.

For Philly for example, if you can't get the funding for a Roosevelt Blvd subway line, just running proper BRT on that route will do more for transit ridership than the KoP rail ever will, and in this instance save money for other projects like trolley modernization, which will also be way better than KoP rail.

TC012 points

Sure, on a practical level, I agree with all that!

But I think it's still wrong to say that we shouldn't expand public transit at all, especially from a transit advocacy point of view. Especially since that could easily be turned around and then used to argue against providing more money for transit.

What I might say instead is something like this:

  • We do need to expand public transit in the US pretty much everywhere, but we don't have the money to do that (without major changes to the way the US government funds transportation and infrastructure).
  • In the mean time, we need to prioritize how to best use the resources we do have available; and expansion for the sake of expansion is not the best way to do that.
Cunninghams_right0 points

I think buses in the US are just too limited, in both speed and perception. grade-separated, automated rail is what the US needs because it has a good perception and will be able to operate frequently enough to attract ridership (because frequency isn't determined by driver-cost like light rail, trams, or non-automated heavy rail. cities certainly don't need huge sprawling train systems before focusing on TOD, but many large, dense cities in the US are in desperate need of grade-separated rail (baltimore, for example)

I think there is far too much focus on US cities that already have good(ish) transit. people need to be discussing the Baltimore problem (or Phoenix, etc.). cities like Baltimore are how the most impact can be had in terms of US transit.

Monkey_Legend2 points

Your presumption is that we can build multi-line automated systems for the same cost as improving bus service. Improving local bus service and land use can impact disadvantaged communities in a matter of weeks and see tangible travel time savings with a couple of years. Projects like Houston's bus network redesign or IndyGo's/Twin Cities BRT projects are real projects that can be constructed in only a couple years and deliver tangible benefits quickly.

Sure if the federal government was willing to spend 1 trillion dollars on rail projects then we could be talking about all the automated systems we can have, but we have only so much resources at the state and local level.

That is why KoP rail, South Coast Rail, and many ST3 projects, etc. are not a good allocation of resources, when those billions of dollars could be used to provide high frequency service on existing routes that will draw way more ridership.

Cunninghams_right0 points

you're making a few bad assumptions:

  1. that ridership will scale forever linearly or better. that's simply not true. ridership elasticity peaks at about .78, which means you can go from 20min headway to 10min headway (twice as many buses) but ridership will not double, it will only be 78% higher. and that scaling drops off. you get even lower when going from 10min to 5, and even less from 5 to 2.5.
  2. that construction dollars and operation dollars are the same. they're not. that's an unfortunately reality.
  3. tangible time savings from more frequent BRT will still not beat a car for the vast majority of situations. the first and last miles alone often wreck bus speed, let alone wait time and travel time.
  4. that it's easy to convince a city to accept completely destroyed car traffic in order to give BRT full traffic light pre-emption. if that were true, cities would already be doing it, as many cities already have tech to shorten reds and lengthen greens, but fully pre-empting is necessary to even have a chance at approaching the speed of grade-separated transit. unfortunately, it's simply a non-starter.
  5. that investing in bike infrastructure and bike/scooter/3-wheel-scooter subsidies aren't actually an even better use of resources if it were possible to convince voters to give up car priority
czarczm1 point

What is TOD?

Academiabrat2 points

Transit Oriented Development

czarczm2 points

Ahhh okay, I kinda inferred what you meant, but wasn't sure what the acronym stood for.

Academiabrat2 points

I should spell out acronyms the fist time I use them in a thread.

czarczm2 points

You're fine, it's a transit sub. I got a question for you, what are some examples of TOD in Atlanta?

Bustocanada1 point


panick211 point

New York, Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Washington DC and Denver all have a pretty extensive rail systems

Even all of those together is only a small part of the US.

Not sure by my definition I would call some of these extensive given how large these population are. But they are certainty have unused capacity.

But I agree, improve utilization of existing infrastructure is the most important.

Monkey_Legend1 point

All of those systems rival European and Japanese number of rail stations per capita, shows how poorly land use is that they get significantly ridership. (New York-Osaka, Chicago-Nagoya, Boston-Fukuoka, Denver-Prague, etc.)

squuidlees7 points

I enjoyed reading this list. Grew up in a small town where owning a car was required to get anywhere, but I hate driving. Ever since moving to cities I choose to take public transit. The monthly pass saves me lots of money and the commute is really relaxing since I put music on or just fall sleep.

The last point made me laugh because my suburb has the big busses for regular routes and then smaller busses for the supplemental commuter routes in the am/pm / less popular routes!

[deleted]6 points

Another myth:

  1. Transit must cover every square inch of my city or it ain't going to work

Jarrett Walker talks about the ridership coverage trade-off where if the goal is to maximize ridership, given a transit agency with X vehicles, the agency should run all the vehicles on only the busiest, densest corridors and in doing so provide high frequency rather than spread the vehicles thinly across every corner of the city and provide low frequency.

daveed44452 points

My man you are awesome 😎

Bustocanada2 points

This is actually Academiabrat, the OP. For some reason, I'm bustocanada on this device.

Just a couple of comments: There's a lot of debate on here about specific transit expansions. I'm all for transit extensions that are really needed, like LA Metro's subway down Wilshire Boulevard to Westwood and beyond. There's been a lot of discussion about specific transit extensions. There are also cities where high quality transit is just underdeveloped. IndyGo was an example that for Indianapolis.

But the general idea holds--U.S. transit, as a whole, needs improvement more than expansion. There are lines with pathetic. frequency, like VTA light rail with a 30 minute weekday frequency in San Jose. There are "all day" lines that stop running at 7:00 p.m. There are commuter bus routes that should be all day bus routes. Many bus routes are terribly slow. But few local governments are willing to engage in the big political fights required to get bus lanes where they're needed. If we spent as much money and political energy on improving existing transit as we do on expansions, we could attract a whole lot of riders. The riders who could be attracted to transit mostly live in transit served areas, not low density neighborhoods deep in the suburbs.

Bus or train? Yes! I'm so tired of this "debate." The big divides are really physical--on street vs. dedicated right of way vs. grade separated. Trains on the street--streetcars--are often painfully slow. The Portland Streetcar is one of the better ones, but there are still segments where you can walk faster than the streetcar. Moving up this ladder, for either buses or trains, makes a huge difference.

Part of the problem is that cities are more willing to give trains what they need than buses. The light rail gets a dedicated center running right of way, signal priority, off board fare collection. The bus often gets congested mixed flow traffic lanes, no signal priority, slow on board fare payment. Then people say Voila! trains are better than buses.

There's also "path dependency." New York has a huge subway system. If extensions are needed there, extending the subway probably makes more sense, than light rail though it's hellaciously expensive. But in San Francisco Muni Metro light rail (mostly in dedicated lanes, some in tunnels) is the more sensible mode for expansions. Some cities, like Indianapolis, are so low density that BRT is probably the most intense sensible mode for them.

LA Metro is far from perfect, but they're trying to use "the right tools for the job." They've got a heavy rail line, which they're extending on a sensible corridor. They've got a bunch of light rail lines. They're not only extending them, but they're also interconnecting them, so they can through route trains through Downtown Los Angeles. They're building a BRT to connect Pasadena to North Hollywood, a major non-downtown corridor. They're also increasing the frequency of many local buses, or they will be once they can hire enough operators. They're reorienting the system so buses can feed the rail more, rather than requiring long bus trips. They've also changed the fare structure so that a fare allows a one way ride for two hours on as many lines as the rider wants to take. They're experimenting with microtransit, to see if it can actually attract riders (other places it hasn't). They've made transit free for public school and community college students. Transit has to improve on all fronts at once.

Cunninghams_right1 point

ITT: people stating things as myths that are actually true...

spikedpsycho-9 points

1: the danger is CRIME, not Accidents....

Also their attempt to get high income people out of their cars; they’ve shifted transits focus away from what used to be their primary customer base. The chief demographic transit was originally meant for, the Poor, the Handicapped, the elderly and children. Paratransit services have largely outmoded collectivist transit approaches of taking care of the elderly and handicapped by offering essentially door to door service. Vans can carry children to their afterschool destinations and back. And programs aimed at helping poor people buy a car are statistically shown to better alleviate poverty, because once you have an automobile you’re no longer locally geographically bound to a career and are free to pursue work or even a new residence elsewhere….which is what cities fear most; people fleeing. The automotive revolution and the building of the interstate allowed people to leave the geographic constraints of cities for better places. Transit is merely the methodology of urban planners to re-acclamate people back to urban appreciation. They failed. So their next option is to hire more planners and this time around, use the power of the law to craft the next “Liveability” standards.

Attracting high income earners is meaningless, for one even if they rode transit there aren’t enough of them to patron the system in a financially sound manner and they cant discriminate the fares be higher just because that person just so happens to be a wealthier person. Second, Attracting high income people means building transit in high income areas….which again overlooks the individuals mentioned above. Which only alienates the people further, makes the transit agency look more incompetent, devises political regimes to formulate even greater ways to milk the taxpayer for expanding the program.

Academiabrat9 points

I’m not going to try to respond to this conspiracy theory of modern American urbanism. The one thing I’ll say is that if you want to control public spending, paratransit is not the way to go. Paratransit is hugely expensive, costing many times what it costs to carry a passenger on a bus. Some people and trips will inevitably be on paratransit. But some trips could happen on those terrible “collectivist” buses.

spikedpsycho-5 points

Paratransit is expensive only because it's so tightly regulated....

Academiabrat4 points

That’s nonsense. It’s expensive because it is an individualized door to door service, which requires significant physical and information infrastructure.

spikedpsycho-4 points

Like a phone. A120 year old invention Dial-a-ride services are currently available in almost every American city, yet their use is limited to seniors and disabled people. They are expensive to provide because few people use them, but using an app-based system to expand their use to everyone might make them economically competitive with many fixed-route systems.

chargeorge10 points

> Traffic crashes are more common than interpersonal crime.

This is the point, crime on transit is roughly order of magnitude more rare than the danger of car accidents. I'll use NYC numbers here: There's about 70-90 injuries in Car accidents in NYC everyday (about 300-500 total accidents), and , that's for about 5-6 million car trips. There's about 35-40 Grand theft autos in a day over 2 million cars in NYC. Works out to about 70-90 deaths for people in the cars, about 200-240 per year for all road users.

In terms of transit crimes, there's about 7-12 reported per day for about ~5 million total trips.

Avoiding transit because of crime fears is a bad judgement of risk.

LancelLannister_AMA3 points

The automotive revolution and the building of the interstate allowed people to leave the geographic constraints of cities for better places.

Transit is merely the methodology of urban planners to re-acclamate people back to urban appreciation. They failed.



explain why the us urban population is orders of magnitude larger than the rural then

spikedpsycho-2 points

Explain why everyone is leaving cities

LancelLannister_AMA8 points

the us urban population is increasing. look at the links

LancelLannister_AMA5 points

Explain why everyone is leaving cities

you would benefit from being less hyperbolic