If you've come from today's interview of me in Portland's free weekly Willamette Week, please note that while I certainly stand by my own words, my work on "rail vs bus" questions is easily misunderstood. In fact, my work is all about giving you better ways to frame the question, ones that focus on the outcomes that we want.
For a quick intro to my work on the issue, see especially these articles:
- "Rail-Bus Differences: Premise or Conclusion?" (2011)
- "Sorting out Rail-Bus Differences" (2011)
- "Streetcars: an Inconvenient Truth" (2009)
And there's a lot more in the "Streetcars (Trams)" category. A full list of categories is in the next column –>
… but above all, buy the book, after first reading the introduction!
I am not sure I agree with you on your argument about the “emotional appeal” of rail. It seems to me the continued challenge for transit in North America is to attract riders. There is no doubt that riders prefer rail over buses when both are available.
There are a variety of reasons for that. And there are other factors that need to be considered. For instance, frequent bus service is more attractive than infrequent rail. But for the most part, on heavily used routes where both modes might be considered, rail is usually going to have a big advantage.
Ross. Thanks! See the suggested links at the end of my post. This blog has been over this issue in some detail. Jarrett
I would venture that perhaps there is a correlation between rail and successful transit, if you look at the experiences of countries in Europe. But this isn’t necessarily because people love trains more than buses (though they may well do so), so much as due to the fact that the more successful a transit system gets, the more it’s going to need the capacity benefits of rail. So successful transit system tend to eventually get rail lines if they didn’t have them before. Which implies that just building a rail line is not enough to make your transit system successful.
How reliant is TriMet on payroll taxes, really? I’m asking because STIF gets nearly its entire income other than fares from a regional payroll tax, and this has made funding much less volatile than in places like New York, where every budget involves licking someone’s boot in Albany.
According to this fact sheet annually published by TriMet, 57% of its operating expenses come from payroll taxes. 24% come from fares, and the other 19% come from operating grants and other sources (on-vehicle advertising, etc).
The good thing about the payroll tax is that it doesn’t require licking boots in Salem–although plenty of that occurs for capital funding. Payroll tax revenues have declined somewhat during the recession, as has ridership (though some of that may be in response to service cuts). The big problem TriMet has is on the cost side, where increasing health costs and a large unfunded pension pool pose issues. TriMet also has a few labor issues–while agency management is not captive to unions (and overstaffing is not a problem), the agency suffered a major setback recently in an arbitration case against ATU Local 757. with the likely result that TriMet operators will continue to be relatively well-compensated (and the additional likely result that there will be fewer of them come next fiscal year).