A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels

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My presentation “A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels,” which I did last month in San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, and Vancouver, is here as a PowerPoint with notes on each slide describing its essence.

Powerpoint 2007 file   

High-quality PDF(10.2 mb))

Low-quality PDF (1.2 mb)

If you want a taste of what I sounded like talking about this stuff, the backlit but audible video of the Seattle presentation is hereUPDATE:  The Portland video, which is much clear, is here!

As always with free stuff on the web, there has to be some advertising.  So:  If you’d like me to do a presentation to your group or organisation. The recent North American tour was the last time I’ll do this for free, but costs can often be figured out.

Look forward to comments, as always.  Thanks to Scott for the PDF links!

33 Responses to A Field Guide to Transit Quarrels

  1. Corey Burger August 14, 2010 at 10:21 pm #

    Great presentation. I have no idea exactly what you are doing, but it just doesn’t display correctly in OpenOffice.org. Might it be possible for you to save it as an old-style ppt to see if that is the issue?

  2. Jarrett August 14, 2010 at 10:36 pm #

    Sorry everyone. It’s powerpt 07. If someone can convert it to pdf and put a link to that in a comment, that’d be great. Am on a boat. Jarrett

  3. Alon Levy August 14, 2010 at 11:20 pm #

    Can you save in .ppt format in 2007?

  4. Jarrett at HumanTransit.org August 15, 2010 at 1:08 am #

    That's what it is

  5. Alexander August 15, 2010 at 1:44 am #

    I think he means in the old-style powerpoint format, but if you’re on a boat I very much doubt you can.

  6. Alexander August 15, 2010 at 1:51 am #

    And here is a PDF converted with Powerpoint on the Mac.

  7. Jarrett August 15, 2010 at 2:31 am #

    Any PDF needs to include my notes. Alexander’s doesn’t seem to. At least not as viewed on a slow internet connection on a boat.

  8. Ross Williams August 15, 2010 at 6:33 am #

    Jarret –
    Slide 21 has a typo in it:
    “but in the end it will only work of the geometry works.”
    Great presentation.

  9. Alon Levy August 15, 2010 at 8:49 pm #

    Reading the notes, I think you’re using a devious rhetorical technique. You say you’re not going to prejudice in favor of any view, but then you associate your own views on transit with reason, and views that emphasize technology or direct service with emotion. The reality is much more complicated: “not invented here” can be a powerful emotional motivator against changing operating practices. And conversely, in some cases, it’s impossible to make the transfers nice or to allocate enough room for BRT, compelling direct service and subways, for example on the RER A.

  10. Jarrett August 15, 2010 at 8:59 pm #

    Alon. When I do a presentation that emphasises one end of a spectrum, as I do here, my first job is to make the spectrum itself visible so that people see their choices. Well, if one end of the spectrum already gets all the attention, I will have to focus more on describing the other in order to explain the spectrum itself. So people who don’t like the end that I’m describing will think I’m advocating. I’m not. I’m opening up a range of options that’s being closed down in the existing discourse.
    Much of what I do in my work is try to help people see that “We could do either A or B, or something in between.” And every time I say that, A-advocates assume that I’m advocating B. You can’t win, as your comment shows.

  11. EngineerScotty August 15, 2010 at 10:42 pm #

    As I note here (and I suspect Jarrett has said something similar or not identical in his illustrious blogging career), arguments about mode choice are really arguments about values.
    And a corollary to that point, explored in the linked-to-article but not stated outright is that different sets of values can lead to the same preferred mode choice(s). The article discusses several different sets of values of different types of transit advocates (or opponents) that lead to anti-rail positions. Likewise, a pair of well-known British Columbians, Prof. Condon and “zweisystem”, both argue for surface rail, albeit for very different reasons–the former to further urbanist goals; the latter because he believes high-end metros like SkyTrain consume all the available funding, causing those parts of southwestern BC outside metro Vancouver to be neglected. (Jarrett frequently makes a similar argument in the BRT-vs-LRT debate; noting that you can often build more BRT than LRT for the same capital cost).

  12. M1EK August 16, 2010 at 8:24 am #

    I found this presentation like Alon did – a ludicrous attempt to claim the supposed middle ground from one pole. For instance, you present the “people won’t transfer” argument as somehow ‘hot’; yet it actually is in evidence in the real world; as much as you would wish to believe otherwise. You, of course, left out the (with other choices) between “people” and “won’t”, which is symptomatic of the larger problem.
    Even in Manhattan, significant sums are being spent this very minute to reduce transfers for a large population of potential commuters to seek increased ridership on the LIRR. Even. In. Manhattan.
    Your comments on speed are likewise problematic. Yes, speed doesn’t matter if you have no choice; but people with no choice now eventually figure out how to get one, and your ridership continues to drop – and then you need to bemoan car culture, or people who preferred trains for some reason you can’t grok, or whatever.

  13. Alon Levy August 16, 2010 at 8:48 am #

    Jarrett, the reason it looks like you’re advocating B is that no matter how objective you try to be, your word use makes B look better. B is as absolute as geometry or physics; A is just emotion. The problems you cite for B are problems you implicitly pitch yourself as solving within the B paradigm: “We’ve always done things this way” gives way to your proposals for change, based on both your knowledge of internationally-devised solutions and local knowledge about the city’s special conditions.
    It would be more honest to go one way or another. You could say outright what the prevailing views in American transit activist circles are – rail over buses, direct service over transfers, speed over frequency – and then explain why you reject them. It might be more biased, but it would admit the bias outright.
    Or you could not just showcase yourself as neutral but also present more complete arguments for why emotion and culture matter. For examples: TOD; current regulators give streetcars signal priority more reliably than buses; there is some rail bias independent of service level; some classes of travelers dislike even zero-penalty transfers; timed transfers are more vulnerable to schedule disruption.
    You might even have combined the two, time permitting. I think it could make your talk more powerful if you gave examples of frequent bus networks leading to TOD, or of the lower costs of buses trumping rail bias, or of large classes of commuters who don’t mind well-designed transfers.

  14. Alon Levy August 16, 2010 at 10:08 am #

    M1EK, if I were you, I wouldn’t present East Side Access positively. The new station is so deep underground that to get from it to the subway or to the street would take several minutes; the deep-level cavern structure has led to cost overruns, making this the most expensive subway ever built under land, at about $4 billion per km.

  15. Bob R. August 16, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    YouTube links to the Portland version of the presentation:
    Part 1: Introductions
    Part 2: The Spectrum of Authorities
    Part 3: Balancing Claims
    Part 4: Example and Conclusions
    Part 5: Q&A

  16. Bob R. August 16, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    There is a blog post on PortlandTransport.com regarding the Portland presentation:

  17. Bob R. August 16, 2010 at 6:21 pm #

    Correction, the PortlandTransport link is:
    Sorry for the typo.

  18. Jarrett August 16, 2010 at 7:25 pm #

    @Alon. Interesting, and perhaps you’re right. I’d welcome comments on Alon’s view from those who saw the pres in person. And if so please say where you saw it, because it grew and changed and sharpened over time.

  19. teme August 17, 2010 at 5:21 am #

    May I suggest having some actual numbers for connections vs. frequecny. How many connections, two, three, four? Are you talking about improving frequency from 30 to 10 minutes or 6 to 2?

  20. Jarrett August 17, 2010 at 6:16 am #

    Teme. For a quantified argument about connections and frequency, see here:

  21. M1EK August 17, 2010 at 6:38 am #

    Alon, I’m not defending ESA in implementation; merely pointing out that even in Manhattan, there were enough potential transit patrons turned off by transferring to justify that investment – in the city in the US where transit is obviously at is strongest. The theory that transfers with high frequency are just as good as direct service at lower frequency is just obviously not true in practice.

  22. Chris Stefan August 17, 2010 at 7:53 am #

    I don’t see Jarrett as advocating B so much as saying that transit quarrels tend to be emotional on both sides. The visionaries and the transit opponents tend to resort to emotional arguments rather than relying on cold, hard facts.
    Unfortunately the cold hard facts have a bad habit of rearing their ugly head. If you listen to the visionaries too much you can end up with an expensive transit line or even system that few ride. Similarly if you go with the transit opponents you can either end up not serving a provable need or serving it poorly.
    Two good examples of the former are the Seattle Monorail Project which became too fixated on a particular technology or to a lesser extent the Foothill extension of the Gold line in LA where there are clearly better places to spend limited capital on rail expansion. In the latter case you have any number of failed “BRT” projects or situations like the LA Orange line where a review of the geography would have shown there was enough ridership to justify going with rail from day 1.
    True, there are political reasons things happen and sometimes you can’t overcome them. But it is best for transit advocates to acknowledge this right out of the gate. The Foothill extension is clearly being built to keep the San Gabriel Valley on-board with paying measure R taxes even though there are better uses of the money elsewhere in the region.
    If I understand Jarrett correctly he is saying at the end of the day the emotional arguments don’t counter the reality based ones and things like geography will rear their head in the form of expensive service that provides too much transit to too few people, or in the form of too little transit trying to serve too many people.

  23. M1EK August 17, 2010 at 9:58 am #

    Chris, Jarrett implied at least to me and maybe some others here that he is laying claim to the cold hard fact side – when pretty clearly he is ignoring those very same political realities you discuss later in your comment (for instance, if political reality in the US means that we will likely never see a BRT implementation as good as rail, it’s not ‘cold hard fact’ side to pretend that there’s no difference between bus and rail – it’s just disingenuous).

  24. EngineerScotty August 17, 2010 at 11:07 am #

    If you look at the “spectrum of authorities”, there’s generally broad agreement among the knowledgable about the bottom layers (math/geometry, physics, biology, other “hard sciences”); and very little agreement about the top two layers (“self snd community”).
    The middle layers (culture and psychology, not to mention sociology, political science, and economics), is of course where much of the action is. In debates such as bus/rail, it’s far too easy to pay attention to only the technical facts (which can seat more per operator; which can leave its guidway), or to the personal (“I hate busses”). If there’s an error on the part of Jarrett, and I’m not sure there is, if you read him enough, it’s how we deal with specific cultural facts that are backed by empirical evidence, such as “US transit users prefer rail to bus”.
    There are three ways to deal with such cultural attitudes–and for an attitude to be considered “cultural”, it ought to be demonstrated by research,–not the opinion of self-selected participants.
    1) You can ignore them as irrelevant.
    2) You can accomodate them.
    3) You can work to change them.
    Far too many people choose 1 or 2, and avoid the work involved in doing 3. Jarrett, I think, stands accused of advocating 1–though his effort in producing and delivering this presentation strikes me as evidence of 3 on his part. Of course, his presentation was delivered mainly to an audience of decision-makers and activists, not the greater commuting public, but it’s a start.

  25. Dan W August 17, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    I enjoyed the presentation.
    I agree with EngineerScotty.
    “If you look at the “spectrum of authorities”, there’s generally broad agreement among the knowledgable about the bottom layers (math/geometry, physics, biology, other “hard sciences”); and very little agreement about the top two layers (“self snd community”).”

  26. Alon Levy August 17, 2010 at 7:27 pm #

    M1EK: never did the MTA predict more people would ride the LIRR due to ESA; it predicts most of the ridership will be people who switched. There aren’t enough people who drive from Long Island to East Midtown for ESA to make a difference.
    The MTA’s own ridership model introduces a factor of 1.75 increase in passengers’ perceived travel time when waiting or transferring. This transfer penalty boils down to waiting for an extra train, which is countered by higher frequency, and walking from one platform to another. The trip from Penn Station to East Midtown involves walking through two nasty station complexes, driving up the transfer penalty.
    Its view is most certainly not “Passengers only accept one-seat rides.” On the contrary, it models timed cross-platform transfers as zero-penalty.

  27. M1EK August 18, 2010 at 6:11 am #

    Alon, I’ve seen numerous articles talking about how many more riders the LIRR will deliver thanks to ESA; and even more talking about how it will allow for capacity improvements (which implies more riders too). I expect they do sometimes model timed cross-platform transfers as zero-penalty, but that doesn’t justify the Feds spending the money here when they’ve been skeptical of operational improvements all the way back to the Clinton era DOT.

  28. TransitPlannerMunich August 21, 2010 at 4:00 am #

    Usually you lose at least 25% of passengers when you need to transfer. And that even in German systems that are fully integrated, where you do not need to get a separate transfer ticket or anything like that. It is worse when you have to transfer between bus lines, but more accepted when it is a transfer between bus and metro or metro and metro line or tram and tram.
    Some of the most accepted transfer points are underground stations like in the Munich system where two lines meet for one stop, trains from both lines simulataneously arrive and meet at the same minute and the same platform (just on different sides of the platform).
    Jarret, I understand your point of making a system simple and frequent. But it is hard to achive it by a bus only system. A system with rail serving the main corridors and buses
    Bus to bus transfers are acceptable for captive riders. But people who could drive a car instead will prefer the car if the alternative is to change 1 or 2 or 3 times the bus line.
    If you can create a bus system with clear bus corridors, high frequency of service and not more than one transfer needed for 90% of the passengers and little to none waiting time at the transfer points then it is certainly an improvement and can at least stabilize a bus system under pressure by losing passengers and high costs. But still probably not get above a modal split of 10% for public transit. Like you have it in Ottawa.

  29. EngineerScotty August 21, 2010 at 9:33 am #

    Any insight into why this is observed?
    In much of the United States, there is (more or less) a stigma that busses are for the poor–is that phenomenon found in Germany as well (whether Munich or elsewhere?)
    Are the busses electric, or diesel-powered? If the latter, are there complaints about noise and fumes?

  30. TransitPlannerMunich August 21, 2010 at 11:46 am #

    It is much more likely that a person who has a car available would do a trip by tram or metro instead of using a bus. If that answers the first question.
    Still, in Munich fo example we have a rather modern, 100% low floor bus fleet, mostly articulated buses, boarding at all 4 doors, ticket machines on board of the bus instead the driver selling tickets (on articulated buses usually 2 ticket machines) and a very high ridership of people with monthly passes (vaild usually for all buses, trams, metro and commuter rail). So the aim is to make buses attractive for riders from all social backgrounds.
    I am a bit biased about bus systems where you have to board at the first door and take out your ticket. You do not need to do it on the trams, you do not need to do that on the metro system (an open access system here), when you require that people show the ticket when boarding a bus you give a bus rider the feeling that you do not trust him and he is punished extra for using a bus by that procedure.

  31. Nathanael August 27, 2010 at 10:46 am #

    EngineerScoty had a lot of good insights in this comment thread. I’ll just note this:
    “(Jarrett frequently makes a similar argument in the BRT-vs-LRT debate; noting that you can often build more BRT than LRT for the same capital cost).”
    lightrailnow.org presented a lot of technical papers debunking this claim — showing that light rail can come in at lower fully amortized capital costs than BRT — and proceeded to argue against gold-plating LRT. I’m afraid any claims that BRT is “cheaper” per mile have to be treated as suspicious, and it’s probably one reason Jarrett is perceived as having a pro-bus bias. Though to give him credit he’s dropped those arugments lately.

  32. EngineerScotty August 27, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    Do you have a like to that paper? Finding things on lightrailnow.org is not always easy.
    (And what sort of “gold plating” do you–or they–mean?)