Portland: Frequent Bus Performance Approaching Light Rail’s

Here's an interesting chart:

Tri Met Ops Cost per Ride

This is a year's trend comparing bus and light rail (MAX) service in Portland's transit agency, TriMet, from the performance dashboard at the TriMet Transparency and Accountability Center webpage.  

The metric here is operating cost per boarding ride.  This is a good overall measure of how effectively a transit agency is liberating and moving people, where down means good.  (I prefer this ratio upside down: ridership per unit cost or "bang for buck," so that up means good. but this is obviously a chart by finance people who always want cost on top.)  This is a "macro" metric.  Practically everything a transit agency does affects it, so it's lousy diagnosis but not bad if you only have bandwidth to convey one measure.

Most American transit data just compares bus and rail, and inevitably shows bus performing worse.  You'll see that here too if you just look at the wide solid lines.  From this we get endless ignorant journalism lamenting the poor performance of the city bus, as though all city buses are basically alike.

What if we separated out highly useful and liberating bus service as a separate category?  That isn't exactly the distinction made here but it's close.  TriMet's Frequent Service network (still being restored, but mostly now back in existence) is the network of all services that are almost always coming soon.  

This chart says two remarkable things:

  • Frequent bus performance is now very close to light rail performance.   
  • The spread between Frequent Bus and infrequent bus is usually bigger than the spread between all buses and light rail.

The lesson is pretty clear:  The "city bus" is a misleading category, and the much-fetishized difference between bus and rail may matter less than whether the services are designed to be useful.  And when it comes to usefulness, no one variable capture that more than frequency.  

141 Responses to Portland: Frequent Bus Performance Approaching Light Rail’s

  1. M1EK June 8, 2015 at 6:28 am #

    This also shows that replacing high volume bus service with light rail can save the transit agency money. Pick the right place for rail and everybody wins.

  2. Novacek June 8, 2015 at 7:22 am #

    If spending billions to save millions per year(if that) is “saving money”.
    (there’s a time and place for rail, but the chart above certainly doesn’t show what you claim it does).

  3. Chris, Public Transport June 8, 2015 at 9:33 am #

    It would be interesting to add capital cost to the above chart, which would almost definitely show that frequent bus is cheaper than light rail and would probably show, in this case, that even normal bus is cheaper than light rail.

  4. Alon Levy June 8, 2015 at 9:53 am #

    Well, in Vancouver, the 99-B has lower per-boarding cost than SkyTrain (but with shorter average trips, more bidirectional demand, and higher travel demand), which goes to show what happens when you build rapid transit to Coquitlam but not on your busiest transportation corridor.
    It’s easier to see this pattern if you look at New York, where the crosstown buses have the lowest operating costs per rider, lower than the subway. Part of it is that they have a lot of demand – the M14 and M86 have 8,000 weekday riders per route-km, better than any North American light rail system and around half as high as New York’s subway. But mainly, it’s that people don’t ride those buses long distances, because Manhattan is long and narrow. Generally, feeder buses can appear very high-performance if they’re short, but this does not mean a bus would’ve performed better than the rail line they connect to.

  5. simval June 8, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    This comparison is quite unfair. Frequent buses largely operate on relatively short routes in dense urban areas, where boardings per mile are quite high and the average trip is short. On the other hand, Portland’s MAX is built with widely spaced stops and operates almost as commuter rail in some instances, for example the Blue line is 33-mile long.
    If you looked at operating cost per passenger-mile, I think you would see LRT being 30-40% cheaper than even frequent buses. Also, the issue of speed should not be ignored, Portland’s LRT offers a combination of high capacity and high speed that frequent buses just cannot match (without going into BRT territory which makes most of the capital cost difference vanish).

  6. Yes June 8, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    Yes, simval is right here, comparing cost per boarding (and not per passenger-mile) is completely irrelevant. Jarret, please remove this article since it is only misleading. It should be on a bus lobbyist page instead.

  7. BDawe June 8, 2015 at 11:32 am #

    Why is it so misleading? After all, with trimet’s fare structure each of those boardings is contributing as much to the system as any other

  8. M1EK June 8, 2015 at 11:41 am #

    “If spending billions to save millions per year(if that) is “saving money”.”
    Yes, it is. Investing capital to save on operating costs.

  9. d.p. June 8, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    Simval’s “cost/passenger-mile” is a metric famously designed to make traveling really far look like a virtue in its own right. Which it emphatically is not.
    That said, many of TriMet’s frequent-grid routes are actually quite long, with plenty of their travel distances occurring far from the central areas of the city with the highest density of destinations. No “short-shuttle feeders” are these.

  10. Yes June 8, 2015 at 12:29 pm #

    Does not matter at all
    This was about comparing bus vs tram costs
    Not about comparing long vs short rides
    Comparing bus vs tram costs is very unfair if the tram rides are much longer than the bus rides

  11. simval June 8, 2015 at 1:08 pm #

    d.p., I agree that passenger-miles is a metric that favors high distance traveling, and do criticize it. But in this case, I think it is appropriate criticism. I think it is unfair comparing the cost per boarding when one service has much longer trips overall than the other.
    The data we have do not allow us to conclude that, if the light rail lines were replaced by frequent buses, the operating cost would be the same.
    For example, I could add that the Portland streetcar line, according to data found on-line, seems to have operating costs of 1,50$ per boarding ride, which is significantly below frequent buses and the MAX lines. Should I use that data to say that slow streetcars are the most efficient form of transit? Do you think it would be a fair comparison to make?

  12. d.p. June 8, 2015 at 1:15 pm #

    1. You are transitively presuming that long journeys are virtues in and of themselves, whether or not you attempt to couch that in mode-neutral language, because in cities like Portland light rail has been designed explicitly to preference those long journeys to the exclusion of access to shorter ones.
    2. Because Portland’s frequent bus grid is comprised mostly of fairly long routes as well, and similarly enables far-flung journeys as well as shorter hops in busier areas, it does not match your mistaken impression of a handful of inner-city focus routes receiving mathematical advantages from their centrality.
    There are plenty of very long outer segments to bring down the frequent buses’ average. And still, the frequent network as a whole performs as well as MAX as a whole — on equal statistical footing — thanks to holistic mobility effects and the fact that it serves many busy areas that MAX woefully missed.

  13. d.p. June 8, 2015 at 2:07 pm #

    Simval, I’m not sure how I missed your interim post while I was replying to “Yes”.
    Firstly, I believe that your streetcar comparison is an out-of-date one, measuring only the “north-south line” before the “loop line” opened to higher operating costs, widespread user indifference, and disgusting levels of subsidy.
    So of course I agree with you that outliers like the stubby initial novelty streetcar cannot be judged using the same metrics that you would apply to networks of mobility-enabling services. My point is that both MAX and the “frequent bus” grid are extensive enough that any outlier segments come out in the wash, such that neutral cost/boarding metrics can give us a reasonable comparison on how the various services are pulling their weight, cost-wise.
    I do not believe that Jarrett is attempting to argue that all MAX lines would have been better addressed with beefed-up buses. Many MAX lines have clearly been the appropriate tools for their respective jobs (though some have been applied imperfectly, and at least one and possibly two should not exist at all).
    All he is showing here is that the assumption of rail as cost saver, or as exclusive enabler of scalable mobility appeal, is fundamentally disproven when you look separately at the costs of “mobility” buses rather than lumping them in with the subsidy-heavy “coverage” buses as is usually and lazily done.

  14. simval June 8, 2015 at 2:23 pm #

    1. No I am not, but all else being equal, it is best if transit is faster than slower. Otherwise, this is the reasoning of mixed-traffic streetcar supporters that speed is “obsolete”.
    In well-designed cities, slow transit should be next to nonexistent, with walking and biking fulfilling the need for short local travel, and rapid transit helping people move from neighborhood to neighborhood. High use of local buses shows only one thing: a very poorly planned city built around motorized transport.
    Portland’s MAX system is built to assist longer trips, because local bus lines, no matter how frequent, fail at responding to that demand, they are too slow to do so, and expresses leave an unconnected network where going to the next neighborhood implies a detour downtown.
    2- The long tails of the frequent bus network are largely parallel to MAX lines (within 5-10 minutes on foot or through a feeder bus), which has the effect of getting long trips to go to the MAX line for the higher speed, but local trips keep using the buses. So this compounds what I was saying.
    The crux of my argument is that the statistics presented here reflected different trip length more than anything else, and so couldn’t be used to make a judgment on the operating cost effects of buses vs tramways/LRT.

  15. d.p. June 8, 2015 at 2:34 pm #

    The tails of the extensive bus grid are still being run (and clearly, to a moderate extent commensurate with their distance and sprawly surroundings, used).
    Thus, they are included within the costs of the services, and should hypothetically be harming their aggregate cost/boarding averages to the point of worsening their appearances on this chart.
    But even with the costs of those tails averaged in, the buses are still proving their effectiveness and cost-competitiveness. That’s an important fact to note, but it would be buried in any comparison that unduly favored MAX’s higher-miles-per-passenger usage patterns.
    I’m happy to agree to disagree, but you’re barking up the wrong tree if you think you’re going to prove that TriMet’s dollars are more efficiently spent bringing long-haul riders dozens of “passenger miles” on a single trip, which is what $/passenger-mile assessments invariably imply.

  16. Jarrett June 8, 2015 at 5:45 pm #

    Thanks, simval and d.p, for articulating the eternal question about whether we measure rides or passenger-distance. (I prefer measuring completed trips rather than boardings, but American transit agencies will have trouble counting those until smartcards are universal.)
    There is no right answer to the “count trips or distance?” question, but the issues are exactly as you’ve discussed.

  17. simval June 8, 2015 at 6:39 pm #

    d.p., of course you can get much more efficient bus service if you rationalize the service and concentrate on a few high-frequency, high-quality lines rather than local buses that go down circuitous roads. Still, I think that rail, due to its ability to tie vehicles together, is a cost saver for high-usage lines. After all, about 50% of transit costs sit behind the wheel, if you can cut down on labor, you can cut down massively on costs.
    The comparison I like to go to to prove rail’s greater cost effectiveness is Calgary and Ottawa. Both are cities of similar size, but Ottawa is denser as it is older, and both have similar levels of ridership. Calgary has its C-train, backed up by local buses. Ottawa has its bus-only transitway, sometimes called the best BRT example north of Mexico, backed up by local buses. The cost per boarding of the transit agencies are about 3,00$ for Calgary and 3,90$ for Ottawa. Ottawa, with its BRT is 30% more expensive per boarding system-wide. Not surprisingly, Ottawa is converting its BRT to LRT, something it expects will saves tens of millions per year in operating costs.
    So if you want to say that buses can be more cost-effective than they currently are, I’m with you, but if you deny rail’s inherent cost effectiveness over buses for high-ridership routes, then I will call it out. Rail is more efficient due to the ability of runnings trains of multiple vehicles (at least in a cheap-capital, expensive-labor world like in developed countries).

  18. d.p. June 8, 2015 at 9:10 pm #

    Thank you, Jarrett, for your ever-politic follow-up.
    of course you can get much more efficient bus service if you rationalize the service and concentrate on a few high-frequency, high-quality lines
    This is obvious to the two of us. But Jarrett’s precise point here is that there is an unfortunate tendency to lump all bus services together when reporting costs, thus glossing over any distinctions in cost-effectiveness of different levels of bus service, and further suggesting an level of inherent modal inefficiency that is simply fictitious. Jarrett’s broken-out data suggest that, in a city like Portland, there is no distinction at all between the efficiency of the best-run buses and the rail network.
    if you deny rail’s inherent cost effectiveness over buses for high-ridership routes
    This is the honest and operative distinction. But the problem with both internet and political-advocacy debates is that the existence of a cut-off point where ridership becomes high enough for mode to matter is almost entirely absent from the debate.
    Much of Portland’s MAX network rarely exceeds that level of demand, and some lines (in particular the Green Line) never do. In fact, they fail the demand test so egregiously that off-peak schedules are often significantly worse than those of the frequent bus network, and arguably worse than they would have been in nearby locations had the rail never been built.
    And Portland is not even close to the American light rail network with the least demonstrated efficiency advantage.

  19. simval June 8, 2015 at 10:59 pm #

    The solution to that is TOD. This is a big problem in transit vs road planning. For roads, people design them so that they have reserve capacity for the next 10-20 years of development around them, development that they induce. A self-fulfilling prophecy: I expect development to be road-oriented, so I build more roads to serve these future developments, and amazingly, developments occur where I built infrastructure for it!
    But for transit, too much of it is only CURRENT demand, there is little to no prevision for future demand. That is why transit use is so slow to grow, planners too often do not allow for space for transit use to grow, they are satisfied with providing the minimum justified by the current ridership levels. Light rail has the capacity and speed to provide such margin to allow for transit-oriented development. Now, it’s up to land use planning to do the job.

  20. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 1:57 am #

    That’s a pretty divergent and irrelevant line of argument, sorry.
    We aren’t talking about situations where any transit mode is on the verge of buckling under the weight of new and expanding demands on its capacity. We are talking about buses with healthy load numbers at decidedly moderate frequencies. We are talking about trains that run with a couple of dozen passengers at most, at all but the peak of peaks, even though they sometimes can’t justify running more than twice an hour.
    Meanwhile, a lot of the fashionable “TOD” hype is fanciful and simplistic to the point of being daft. Too many advocates pretend all that is needed is a rail line, a greenfield, and some magic fairy dust in order to manifest spontaneous urban life and ballooning ridership. In reality, urban living is increasingly in vogue, but those drawn to it can tell the difference between the organic places deserving of their interest and the vacuous products of political hype.
    Thus, plenty of positively booming urban areas lack adequate transit (having failed to conform to some top-down politico-transit strategy), while numerous fully from-scratch-railed places nationwide languish in half-built, underpopulated, anonymous mediocrity.
    You won’t score any points flogging that dead horse.

  21. simval June 9, 2015 at 5:39 am #

    TOD isn’t hype, it does happen and can be quite successful (Orenco, Arlington, etc…), but the obsession for planning often hurts more than it helps. In fact, most neighborhoods in the late 19th and early 20th century were built as TOD: developers owned streetcar companies, they would then buy a lot of cheap land on the periphery of cities then run streetcar lines there, they then sold the land at many times the original price or developed it themselves.
    Existing urban areas do need adequate transit, but with a growing population, the transit-friendly areas must be extended to accommodate more people. Buses have a big flaw that when ridership gets high, average travel speed and reliability goes down because of the number of stops and the dwell time at them. Buses remain mired in a mediocrity dilemma: they can have low ridership and be fast and infrequent, or they can have high ridership and be frequent but slow. If you want to extend transit’s reach beyond the urban core and compete with cars, you need some kind of rapid transit so that you can have an high-ridership line with decent frequencies and fast speed that can compete with cars.

  22. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 9:12 am #

    Indeed, transit-amenable and transit-adjacent and transit-disposed places with strong growth potential exist.
    Unfortunately, the political shorthand “TOD” tends to pretend that transit of a certain type is the sole requisite condition for massive success, literally no matter where you put it or what other attributes do or do not exist in that location. Thus the nation is littered with stalled or underperforming development initiatives, even in areas peripheral to boom towns.
    The crux: There are many preconditions for robust development generation. Some over which you can exert control, others that are matters of luck. Transit is merely one ingredient in a complex cocktail.
    Your latter paragraph is full of faith-based assumptions about the inherent superiority of rail, including regurgitations about the slowness and unscalability of buses that a single ride on a 3-door, cashless, wide-stop-spaced standard European city bus would prove fallacious. I’m sad to say that you increasingly tip your hand as someone who has swallowed the counterfactual precepts of railfanning hook, line, and sinker, and that debating in a fact-free environment is not of much interest to me.

  23. Wanderer June 9, 2015 at 10:25 am #

    At least in my region, there’s been a longstanding tendency of the MPO to value long trips more than short trips. Some would assume invidious reasons for this, but it could just be that they believe that long trips will do more to relieve congestion. But if one thinks that each trip has a reason, and the mobility is important to the passenger, then you wouldn’t value long trips over short ones.
    If you think that rail gains a cost advantage on long trips, that seems to be an argument for a regional express rail system a la BART. The shorter corridor trips–which are a huge part of what transit agencies carry– can be handled more cheaply by frequent and rapid bus and BRT services.

  24. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    …Except that BART explicitly proves otherwise, operating at or near a profit in and between its three-walkable-city nucleus (SF, Oakland, Berkeley), but suffering subsidies as high as $30+/boarding out on the fringes, where demand for all-day long-haul rail to too few walkable places is laughably scant.

  25. Michael D. Setty June 9, 2015 at 12:06 pm #

    d.p. said:
    …Except that BART explicitly proves otherwise, operating at or near a profit in and between its three-walkable-city nucleus (SF, Oakland, Berkeley), but suffering subsidies as high as $30+/boarding out on the fringes, where demand for all-day long-haul rail to too few walkable places is laughably scant.
    Proof? Evidence please.
    Here’s my take on this. The two extremities of BART that produce the lowest ridership are the 8 mile route north of North Concord to Baypoint, which carries about 11,000 per day beyond North Concord, and the ~14 mile Dublin/Pleasanton extension, with 20,000 daily trips at the W. and E. Dublin/Pleasanton stations.
    For the 28-30 round trips provided on the Baypoint line between 9:00 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. beyond North Concord, take 40% of daily ridership (assuming ~20% after 7:00 p.m. for late commute returns and other evening trips), you get 4,500 daily trips, or about 80 trips per train, which is also the average load for the N. Concord-Baypoint segment.
    At an educated guess of $40/train mile marginal cost, I get marginal costs of $4.00 per rider, the majority of which is covered by incremental fares. Perhaps the total cost per rider is double this range when all operating costs including fixed costs are included, but nothing near $30.00.
    If you disagree, please detail how you came up with $30.00 per ride. Also, were you counting allocated capital costs?

  26. simval June 9, 2015 at 1:13 pm #

    Again, I did say that you could use mitigating measure, but the mediocrity dilemma of buses is true. Just in Portland, because we’re talking a lot about it here, the 6-line is a high-frequency line, and its average speed is about 9 mph, the 20-line in lower-ridership areas achieves 16 mph on average. It’s the same thing in Montréal where I live, high-ridership buses are slow but frequent, low-ridership buses are fast but infrequent.
    Of course you can try to mitigate these (quarter mile stops, POP, all-door boarding), but if you get a frequent, high-speed line, then it becomes highly attractive, and when it does, buses’ low line capacity rears its ugly head. Rail has the ability of having much longer vehicles and of doubling or tripling capacity simply by running vehicles in a train, which it can do because it is on guided rails. This also lowers operating costs massively. So if you are investing in proper ROW and infrastructure for good transit, rail is basically an obligation for a sensible policy. Buses do not scale the same way, if you don’t accept that fact, is it you who has swallowed the propaganda of anti-rail motorheads.
    As a transit user, I have tried rail and have tried buses, there is no contest, rail is qualitatively superior. On high-frequency routes, it is also quantitatively superior. The main problem is a higher entry cost (partly compensated by the longer life expectancy of vehicles). If you refuse to admit this, then it is you who lives in a fact-free environment.

  27. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 1:17 pm #

    It was a little while back, it was in the form of a link I followed to a pretty in-the-weeds official BART financial report, and it explicitly broke the BART network into segments for reporting the average expenditure-per-trip that originated or terminated along (i.e. made primary use of) that segment. Expenditure minus fare being, of course, the subsidy. Fixed operating costs were most certainly included, and broken out proportionally per segment. Capital costs were not.
    You are correct to suggest that I should avoid citing specific dollar figures until I can find my way back to that document.
    That said, the numbers were far more damning than your (oddly time-limited) napkin calculations above. All of the sprawling “outer” segments (Fremont, Dublin/Pleasanton, Pittsburg/Bay Point) saw per-rider subsidies well into the double digits. I can’t recall which was the most whopping.
    These were averages over all 7 days — fixed and marginal staffing and maintenance costs accrue on weekends too! — on lines that run far, far emptier than you imply at all but the peak of rush hour. If your proposed “marginal” cost above is literally just that of the moving train itself (and that’s already pretty high per-passinger, mind you), that would certainly explain the discrepancy.

  28. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 2:37 pm #

    Sorry, Simval. I’m glad you’re being a bit more up-front about your biases, but I’m just not all that interested in the modal wars.
    “The right tools for the right jobs.” It really is that simple.
    Can trains have capacity advantages? Absolutely. Can buses handle significantly heavier mobility lifting than you seem willing to give them credit for? Also absolutely.
    Are trains qualitatively superior? Sometimes, depending on the circumstances. Have some rail alignments been so poorly chosen as to make the “quality” of their rides-to-nowhere irrelevant? You bet.
    Do rail cars last so much longer than buses as to “compensate” for the ten-figure cost of entry? Hardly, and this is one of those true-believer claims that should frankly insult the intelligence of rational mobility advocates. A really expensive investment that goes terribly underutilized is a near-criminal waste, with opportunity costs that cannot be modal-warm-fuzzied away.

  29. simval June 9, 2015 at 8:37 pm #

    I’m sorry, but I think if anyone started the “modal war” debate here, it wasn’t me. I do believe my position is objective on modal choice, I recognize the differences between the modes and try to be fair-minded about them. I think the position that “modes don’t matter, there is absolutely no difference between rail and buses… except buses are cheaper”, is a way more biased position than my own.
    I said “partly” compensated. The higher price of the vehicles is almost entirely compensated, rail vehicles cost about three times as much per seat and last about three times longer, but higher vehicle costs are not the entire story of capital cost differences.
    That being said, since you brought up the issue of rail costs, let me clarify a few things I’ve gleaned over the years. Laying down tracks is just as expensive as building a road made to sustain heavy bus traffic. Of course, when you already have roads, the marginal cost of running buses on them is nearly nil, but if you start from scratch, on the same right-of-way, rail is no more expensive than roads to build. For example, Ottawa’s busway, built in the 80s, cost 440 million dollars, Calgary’s C-train, built at the same time, cost 543 million dollars for roughly the same length. Ottawa’s planners had bought the line that buses are automatically and magically cheaper than LRT and got burnt.
    The other cost advantage of buses is that they are generally diesel buses and therefore require no power line nor power substation, a significant cost-saving, especially in urban areas where political pressure may force expensive ground-based power feeding systems. Rail lines using existing rail and using diesel vehicles are cheap as dirt, Ottawa’s diesel-powered O-train used existing rails and its initial capital cost was 21 million dollars for an 8-km route. Accounting for inflation, that’s about 5 million per mile.
    I think that if people made the calculations, over the long run, a trolley-bus BRT built on a new ROW would likely have little to no capital cost savings over an LRT over the same ROW. Buses’ main advantage is being able to use car infrastructure that is already ubiquitous in most cities, which do give them a major capital cost advantage in most cases. I simply think I ought to point out that light rail costs and bus costs aren’t as radically different as you seem to think.

  30. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 9:48 pm #

    I don’t necessarily “seem to think” anything so emphatic, except that you have now spent seven comments here — beneath a post that explicitly debunks the notion of rail as inherently more cost efficient — flogging familiar, hackneyed assertions about the inherent cost efficiency of rail. Right down to the “rail cars last 3x longer” trope, which hasn’t been true since the ’50s.
    I’m sorry, but your obvious biases are clouding your responses. And you doth protest your neutrality too much.

  31. d.p. June 9, 2015 at 9:49 pm #

    Sorry… Eight comments.

  32. Zoltána Dosztál-Connell June 10, 2015 at 7:46 am #

    I don’t think anybody is arguing that rail isn’t cost-effective on corridors where demand is very intense. The sort of corridors where at peak times, buses have to come every couple of minutes to meet demand. North America doesn’t have many corridors with demand that intense outside of the largest cities.
    Beyond such corridors, a frequent train won’t often be carrying that many more passengers than a frequent bus, so they won’t be much more cost-effective (though they’ll be more comfortable than a crush-loaded bus).
    Rail can still be justified where it’s the best way to deliver rapid transit to a particular corridor; where a bucket of paint on the existing roadway isn’t adequate. Even if operating costs won’t be greatly reduced, that’s a perfectly good justification.

  33. simval June 10, 2015 at 7:50 am #

    The fact that you think the post “explicitly debunks” the notion that rail is more cost-efficient shows your strong anti-rail bias. As I pointed out in my first comment, this is a apples-to-oranges comparison as trips taken on MAX are much longer than on the frequent bus lines, which have shorter stop spacing. I also pointed out that the Portland streetcar has a reported cost per boarding of just 1,50$, which makes it the most efficient of all according to that metric. So if this comparison “debunks” the idea that LRT is more cost-efficient than buses, by the same logic, it would “conclusively prove” that mixed-traffic streetcars are the most efficient form of transit. No, I’m not claiming that is the case, I’m pointing out the logical flaw in the argument.
    Also, from the NTDP transit profile, the average bus in Portland costs 147$ per vehicle-revenue hour to run, the average light-rail vehicle costs 188$ (I chose per hour because transit costs, being mainly labor, tend to be more related to hours of service than distance traveled, FTR, going per-mile would advantage rail even more). Buses have an average capacity of maybe about 60 people, light rail vehicles have an average capacity of about 170 people. That’s 2,45$ per capacity-hour in buses versus 1,10$ in light rail. So in a high-ridership context where vehicle occupancy ratios can be the same on both bus lines and rail lines (but with larger headways on rail), the light rail would obviously have a major operating cost advantage.
    As to the life expectancy, I’m sorry, but you’re being delusional. Sure, most light rail lines in the US have recent vehicles, because they have been recently built, but established rail lines often change their vehicles only once per 30-40 years. Calgary still uses on its C-train vehicles built in 1981. Meanwhile, buses are replaced every 15 years or so.
    I don’t care whether you think I’m neutral or not. I care that my arguments are logical and fact-based. Trust logic, not people. Can you deny anything I said?

  34. Michael D. Setty June 10, 2015 at 9:01 am #

    d.p. I hope you can find the document you’re citing. Until we know exactly how the alleged $30 subsidies per trip on the extremities of the BART system were calculated, we’re shadow boxing. As a transit planner working in this odd business for over 30 years, I just find myself taking numbers such as yours with a huge grain of salt.

  35. d.p. June 10, 2015 at 9:09 am #

    Now nine comments.
    I enjoy a nice (and useful) subway ride as much as anyone, and have no “anti-rail bias”. (Is that even a thing?)
    Already addressed:
    Distance is not a virtue.
    Aggregate data is helpful; short-line outliers are not.
    The now-expanded Portland Streetcar has terrible cost metrics.
    Hypothetical capacity ≠ actual usage.
    In reality, agencies keep buses for 20 years, while light rail cars built in the ’70s and ’80s went to shit in 25.
    And everything Zoltána said.
    Seriously, though, your last post is a groan-inducingly familiar checklist of true-faith railfan arguments and data-skewing. I’m frankly bored.

  36. d.p. June 10, 2015 at 10:12 am #

    Michael, I will most certainly look for those numbers again.
    I do hope you understand why the calculable “costs” of operating a heavily-staffed, fully-segregated rapid transit system, which covers great distances on extensive physical infrastructure and attempts urban-style service offerings 18 hours per day and 7 days per week, skew far higher than the marginal labor/power costs of individual daytime runs that you used for your $4 napkin calculation above,

  37. simval June 10, 2015 at 10:35 am #

    Believing that rail has no advantage over buses and is just more expensive to put in place, as seems to be your position, is an anti-rail position.
    Whether distance is or isn’t a virtue, it doesn’t matter, but all else being equal, longer distance trips will be more expensive than shorter distance trips. Driving a car from NY to LA is more expensive than driving a minivan from NY to Chicago, that doesn’t mean that cars are more expensive to drive around than minivans. “Short trips on buses cost less than longer trips on rail, that must mean that rail has no operating cost advantage over buses” is not a convincing argument for me.
    When I bring up the streetcar, you wave it away claiming it’s an “outlier”. Accepting uncritically data that go one way and automatically waving away data that go the other way is the very definition of bias.
    “Hypothetical capacity ≠ actual usage.”
    Yes, I know, which is why I said “in a high-ridership context where vehicle occupancy ratios can be the same on both bus lines and rail lines”. If to have an average capacity utilization of 50% you can either run 1 bus per 4 minutes or 1 LRV per 10 minutes, the utilized capacity in both cases will still be 50%. It’s in low-ridership situations where you may run largely empty vehicles to satisfy minimal frequencies that, I agree, rail’s operating cost-effectiveness advantage will not manifest because too much of the capacity is unutilized. I have said it over and over.
    According to the FTA’s “Useful Life of Transit Buses and Vans”, the average service life of buses is 15,1 years. Yes, some agency sometimes keep buses longer, that’s why it’s an average, not a hard limit. On the other hand, some agencies keep rail vehicles running for 40 or 50 years. Toronto’s fleet of streetcars in use today have been built between 1977 and 1981 and are supposed to be phased out only by 2018. Portland’s MAX Type 1 LRV are about 25 year-old and I’m not aware of any short-term plan to retire them, and they’re not exceptional.
    What Zoltana said is basically what I’ve been saying: rail has a definite operating cost advantage on high-ridership routes, but these are rare in North America’s sprawling cities, but rail can still sometimes be justified because they can allow for greater speeds in certain corridor to serve cities that have grown past a certain size.
    Finally, you’re big on personal attacks on me and waving away my arguments as “bias”, “rail-fan arguments” and “data-skewing”, but talk is cheap, how are any of my arguments incorrect? If my arguments are factually wrong, it should be easy enough to prove them wrong. If you can’t, maybe it’s not that they are wrong, but rather that you simply don’t like the conclusion they point to.

  38. d.p. June 10, 2015 at 12:03 pm #

    What part of “it only took one additional streetcar line to send the cost averages to the shitter” is getting lost on you?
    Portland’s frequent-bus system is an extensive network, as is MAX. Thus lots of ground is covered by both, some of the most productive segments balance the least, and aggregate data can mean something! (The math is not being skewed by myriad “extremely short trips”, as you repeatedly and wrongly assert.)
    The much-ballyhooed and very short initial streetcar, as you have clearly demonstrated, does not provide useful comparative data (especially cherry-picked data from prior to the worthless 2nd line’s debut).
    Anyway, I’m sorry that you construe challenges to your dogmatic regugitations as personal attacks. You try to align yourself with Zoltána’s (and my) rationalism, but then every further statement seems to boil down to “the place for rail is anywhere that a frequent bus is half full”, and that “rail is inherently more cost effective even when calculations prove it isn’t, because reasons”.

  39. Bolwerk June 10, 2015 at 1:30 pm #

    What is the fucking obsession with costs? I admit I’m guilty of pointing out the math showing buses can easily fail to be cost savers because people bring it up a lot, but I never cared much beyond pointing out it’s a crappy reason to eschew rail (usually some dopey hangup against surface rail/light rail). I mean, really, is the world going to end because some local surface rail project in a place you probably don’t even live has low ridership or a crappy farebox recovery ratio? Everyone who complains about this probably tolerates the existence of thousands of money-losing bus routes across the world. They didn’t cause the apocalypse, and neither will the Atlanta Streetcar.
    Here’s a strawman: “railfans.” Truly there might be there are some people who categorically hate buses. Who gives a shit? Newsflash: they have almost no power. As far as anyone should be concerned, there are no railfans in planning circles forcing routes to be rail when buses would be a better choice. Can you really say the same is true with bus advocates? Maybe. I really don’t know if they’ve ever stopped a sensible rail project, but I do know anti-rail ITDP has actual influence.
    Good design is more important. In a big city you can’t have good design without having some rail, including surface rail, but there is scarcely a transit system on the planet that has a practical reason to totally eschew buses. So bus advocates have absolutely nothing to be nervous about.
    You know who really hates rail? Groups like the “Reason” Foundation. They also hate buses. And they probably laugh their tiny Libertardian nuts off at this in-fight.

  40. Bolwerk June 10, 2015 at 1:36 pm #

    Seriously, railfan or busfan, you’ll both get more of what you want if you put your dicks away, tolerate or even support some of each other’s projects, and put up a united front against people who effectively don’t want transit at all.

  41. d.p. June 10, 2015 at 2:40 pm #

    One more thought and then I’ll leave you.
    The question to be asking is not “is this person ‘anti-rail’?” — I am well traveled, and I am categorically no such thing — but “why does this person so strongly appreciate Jarrett’s work?”
    Contrary to the suggestion of the poster above, there are countless weak-transit cities whose public discourse — from junketing politicians and transit-fanning advocates alike — is almost entirely controlled by the wishful thinking that “lots of distance rail and maybe some streetcars will solve all our problems”.
    And some of these places really do go ahead and build multiple lines of ineffective, poorly-sited rail, while failing to in any way integrate it into a useful multimodal network, and while relegating afterthought-buses to unusable service levels and nonsensical system structures.
    Unsurprisingly, these cities remain incredibly difficult places to get around without a car. The more time I spend in them — and I presently happen to reside in a famously congested and rapidly-growing example of this phenomenon — the more infuriating the “rail is better and so we must pursue even mediocre forms of it” Pavlovian regurgitations become to me.
    So while aspirational internet fanboys busy themselves suggesting that cost is no object (clearly false), while running circles around themselves to pretend that their preferential mode is more cost- and mobility-effective (even when it isn’t), Jarrett is out there speaking directly to the agency professionals and politicians and public, and gradually shifting the on-the-ground discourse away from aspirational cargo-cult-ing and toward holistic priorities and outcomes.
    And I appreciate that he is able to do this with far greater politesse than I could muster, and without ever categorically slagging “rail” (because rail can be a truly great thing where warranted!).
    I just do not see the same commitment to productive discourse coming from the “any popular bus route is a failure waiting to happen” crowd.

  42. Bolwerk June 10, 2015 at 4:48 pm #

    I’m sorry some “junketing politicians and transit-fanning advocates” like something you don’t like, but you’re projecting your own tactics onto others. You might see commitment to productive discourse coming from people who disagree with you if you could resist disparaging them as Internet fanboys and caricaturing them as the “any popular bus route is a failure waiting to happen” crowd.
    Discernment could help too. Note I (maybe you were responding got someone else?) never said costs are “no object.” I said I don’t get the obsession with costs, as in to the exclusion of everything else. simval’s cost points were basically valid, but there really could be reasons to prefer buses anyway under the right circumstances. For instance, maybe buses could provide more frequency given the ridership profile at the price of higher capital and/or and labor costs. Maybe ridership can be expected to decline and a 50-year capital investment is stupid.
    Your last point should really be turned on its head: “popular,” at least in terms of being highly-used, bus routes are exactly the ones that should be considered for rail. If circumstances call for that, the bus equipment can be used to experiment with new routes elsewhere. Is that too, uh, holistic?

  43. d.p. June 10, 2015 at 5:55 pm #

    [end italics]
    That buses can only “have low ridership and be fast and infrequent, or have high ridership and be frequent but slow” was the explicit and inaccurate kiss-off to the mode that Simval let slip, the first sign that his modal suppositions were not being supported by neutral ground.
    Yes, of course, a high-ridership bus can demonstrate need for more capacious conveyance. See Vancouver’s B-99 for Overload Exhibit A. But every healthily-used bus line in the world is not a smoke signal, as Simval’s false dichotomy implies.
    I stand by my “junketing politicians and transit-fanning advocates” shorthand. The former experience is explicitly designed to show purse-string holders an ideal square peg, then encourage them to bring it home and shove it in a round hole. The latter group, at least on the internet, tend to be walking blind spots.

  44. d.p. June 10, 2015 at 5:56 pm #

    [end italics]

  45. Bolwerk June 10, 2015 at 8:57 pm #

    Uh, your modal suppositions are “supported by neutral ground”? There at least, simval at least cited a specific, testable phenomenon: could frequent buses operating at high loads function at the same average speeds as rail? I really don’t know, but I’m inclined to think the answer is generally no because I doubt buses could circulate passengers as optimally under those conditions. What I would disagree with is simval’s assertion that is an example of “mediocrity,” not that the phenomenon exists. Whatever it is, it’s a problem that mostly crops up at peak times and doesn’t excuse reflexive demands for railstitution.
    Your assertions are less testable. Do junketing politicians really prefer rail to buses? I would only be inclined to guess they prefer buses to rail, not because they like buses, or remotely care about bus riders, but because what they really like is cars cars cars. Maybe they heuristically see busways as easily reclaimed by cars in the case of failure.
    Nonetheless, again hard to measure to compare, but it would easy to find oodles of examples of “transit-fanning advocates” who reflexively oppose rail on dubious cost grounds because they can’t understand concepts like depreciation or metrics that control for vehicle capacity. And you can probably find examples of “junketing politicians” who think similarly, believing buses are good enough when rail would make more sense. If you can get past the backfire effect, maybe they’ll hear your cries for a commitment to productive discourse.

  46. Michael D. Setty June 11, 2015 at 12:30 am #

    d.p. said:
    I do hope you understand why the calculable “costs” of operating a heavily-staffed, fully-segregated rapid transit system, which covers great distances on extensive physical infrastructure and attempts urban-style service offerings 18 hours per day and 7 days per week, skew far higher than the marginal labor/power costs of individual daytime runs that you used for your $4 napkin calculation above.
    So far I don’t see any proof of your assertions. And also please spare us the “railfan” name-calling. And please dig out the report you said you based your $30.00 claim on. I suspect I know what you’re basing it on, but I’d like to be sure if the analysis you’re citing is the one I think it is.

  47. d.p. June 11, 2015 at 1:15 am #

    Give me a break, Michael.
    You attempted to “prove” the high efficiency of outer BART segments by offering a napkin calculation which:
    A) considered only the costs of the moving trains themselves, ignoring station staffing and maintenance — which is considerably higher for a metro-like system than for any sort of commuter rail, much less any other mode;
    B) counted only midday off-peak trains and arbitrarily assigned them 40% of total ridership — a ridiculous exaggeration for a segment notorious for its peak-only demand; and
    C) ignored the weekend outright
    …and you still came up with a cost-per-boarding that would be considered mediocre on most well-run mass transit service.
    If consider yourself the arbiter of subsidy math, how about getting back to us with a calculation that divides all the boardings on all the runs by all the costs of keeping BART-to-the-hinterlands intact and operational?

  48. Bolwerk June 11, 2015 at 7:11 am #

    Why would rapid transit have inherently higher staffing and maintenance costs than FRA commuter rail?

  49. simval June 11, 2015 at 7:12 am #

    Whether you like it or not, Zoltana’s position is basically a TL;DR position of my own: it recognizes rail’s cost-advantage on high-ridership routes and indicates some operational advantages to preserve speed by saying that rail may be justified in large regions that require more speed to provide decent travel times to transit users.
    I have only dug deeper and explained better why that is, and you started lashing out at me. It would be nice if you could have addressed my arguments. You claim to be neutral on modal choice, but when people discuss rail’s advantages over buses, you go completely mad. But Jarrett’s blog is about in-depth transit issues, I would imagine people who read it would welcome discussions of the operational differences of rail vehicles and buses to better understand when rail is actually justified, and when buses are the better option.
    My point about the mediocrity dilemma of buses could have been better identified as a dilemma for the typical, local bus used in North America. I fully agree that this dilemma can be somewhat mitigated by greater stop-spacing, adoption of proof-of-payment and all-door boarding, and I do agree that mixed-traffic streetcars face the same issue. I’ve said so many times, yet you continue to make a strawman of me on this.
    I have described my reasoning at length on my own blog, where I use theoretical analysis based on my transport engineering knowledge rather than in-depth knowledge of the workings of transit agencies and planning like Jarrett has (I readily acknowledge the superiority of his empirical knowledge to my own). Search for “the quality bus” and “buses’ mediocrity dilemma”, on the Urban Kchoze blog. I apologize for “plugging”, but I think this is better explained than I can do here.
    I read Walker’s blog because I am interested in transit issues, and I participate in the comments because I find discussions to be a much underestimated tool of sharpening one’s own reasoning on certain issues and to be forced to consider certain points I may not have considered yet. I assume good faith and try to present decent arguments to explain my position, it is quite frustrating then to repeatedly be personally attacked while actual arguments are ignored.

  50. d.p. June 11, 2015 at 4:33 pm #

    Even a brief glance at your blog suggests to me that we think far more similarly than different, especially on land-use form and policy. It is also clear to me that, both in general and on your transit-specific posts, you really like to think/work in the abstract, and I think this is where the problem that has led to us talking accusatorially at (or past) each other begins to arise.
    In the abstract, and with dummy numbers, any given isolated corridor can be just one ridership boost or development event away from the tipping point that “demands” rail for the sake of speed, capacity, or number-crunching that conveniently “proves” an improved efficiency from rail substitution.
    Unfortunately, these abstractions tend to ignore the imperfections of real-world places, with their imperfectly balanced sources of demand, non-fungible corridor topographies, finite populations and, of course, non-infinite funds.
    Thus, invoking abstract models that seem inclined to find rail-preferential circumstances around every corner, and applying them to a real-world example in which conflicting numerical circumstances are in evidence, can come across as indiscriminately flogging “moar rail” out of personal preference rather than adherence to the data.
    I know that you will continue to insist that Jarrett has his thumb on the scales, because he didn’t “adjust” for MAX’s long-haul service intentions. But one could just as easily make the reverse argument: Any half-competent rail network should be designed to chase the highest-demand corridors, should it not? How is that not “pressing the scales”, removing all the high-efficiency corridors from the bus network so as to make rail seem inherently efficient and buses inherently not?
    Again, whether consciously or subconsciously, you seem to be refusing to engage with the primary point of this post, which is that even an extensive, expensive network of bus routes can be quite cost-competitive, if the network in question is designed to effectively enable lots of people to get around simply and painlessly. Which is the very same argument that tends to be made for the efficiency of rail.
    You cannot hand-wave that point away by pretending the Frequent Grid is just a couple of very short, misweighted, disproportionately high-demand routes. Because that isn’t accurate. The Frequent Grid is more than a dozen long and legible routes, some of them as long (or longer) than MAX lines. And yet it is, in aggregate, just as cost-efficient. That does negate your abstract model, whether you like it or not!
    (Anyway, I do not have data on the average length of trip on each mode. Do you? A non-negligible proportion of MAX’s reported boardings are just quick hops between downtown and the Lloyd.)
    I am sorry that we got heated and (marginally) personal before, but I do have one more question about your framing of your convictions: I am wondering why you seem so sure that political powers and the controllers of civic discourse have been pressing those scales in favor of buses, such that you feel the need to emphatically insist on the merits of rail?
    At least down here below the 49th parallel, the story of the entire last generation has been of transit-deficient mid-sized cities chasing marquee projects in the form of moderately expensive but shockingly useless light rail lines, which have invariably performed poorly and had near-zero impact on the mobility of the average citizen. At the same time, bus service has remained a whipping boy, treated as a resource-sucking social service that only “those people” would ever deign to ride, and left bereft of any frequency/ease/convenience improvements that might not only increase their appeal to the broad public, but also significantly improve their cost metrics!
    My question is not a rhetorical trap. I genuinely don’t understand why you see rail’s cost-metrics as the political underdog in this discussion, when every ounce of my experience suggests that the exact opposite is the case!
    Thanks for talking this out calmly with me.
    I am confused by your confusion. I do not think that it is a controversial statement that a rapid-transit system with over 100 miles of thoroughly security-segregated trackage on voluminous purpose-built infrastructure, and with permanently-staffed and fare-gated stations (also voluminous), would have significantly higher labor and maintenance costs than the average commuter rail operating mostly at-grade and with limited staffing hours at lower-volume stations.
    This, on top of capital costs, is why full-fledged metros are usually seen as unjustifiable except at distances and through places where very high rider volumes and respectable all-day demand are guaranteed. Such demand has never been in evidence on the outer spindles of the BART network.

  51. Bolwerk June 11, 2015 at 7:40 pm #

    I realize BART and probably every other North American rapid transit service is overstaffed with extraneous support personnel, but nothing about that is necessary to the operation of the service. Fare control can be POP or remotely monitored turnstiles.
    Counting it against the mode is rather silly. It’s a political problem.
    P.S. You can ballpark average trip length numbers by dividing number of passenger miles by unlinked trips in NTD data. http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2013/agency_profiles/0008.pdf contains a recent Portland profile.

  52. simval June 12, 2015 at 8:52 am #

    Thank you for taking a more respectful tone. I do favor theoretical models and simulations in order to discern differences, but I think you’re a bit quick in discarding the insight that can be gleaned from theoretical models based on real-world information.
    “In the abstract, and with dummy numbers, any given isolated corridor can be just one ridership boost or development event away from the tipping point that “demands” rail for the sake of speed, capacity, or number-crunching that conveniently “proves” an improved efficiency from rail substitution.”
    Well, yeah, and it’s true by what you said too. If we accept that rail is more efficient at dealing with high-ridership routes past a certain point, as I did, Zoltana did and you seem to have done, then theoretically if ridership on any route is boosted beyond that tipping point, then that would indeed justify rail conversion. But then, the question becomes “how likely is that boost to happen in real-life?”.
    IIRC, there was a German commenter on another of Jarrett’s post who said that some transit planners in Germany actually do act in that fashion, when a bus line’s ridership reaches a certain level, they start considering projects to convert the line to LRT. And Germany is way ahead of most of the world in term of transit use and planning.
    “I know that you will continue to insist that Jarrett has his thumb on the scales, because he didn’t “adjust” for MAX’s long-haul service intentions. But one could just as easily make the reverse argument: Any half-competent rail network should be designed to chase the highest-demand corridors, should it not? How is that not “pressing the scales”, removing all the high-efficiency corridors from the bus network so as to make rail seem inherently efficient and buses inherently not?”
    No one is making the decision to convert bus lines to rail just for the sake of making rail seem more efficient. The fact that rail tends to be implemented only on high-demand routes is due to its high capital costs and its lower operating cost relative to capacity. If anyone uses the aggregate numbers to claim that rail is always more efficient, then you can certainly point out that many of the bus routes are under-utilized and that bus routes on higher demand routes aren’t as bad and to ask for more appropriate comparisons be made, just like I did in this case.
    The issue isn’t the statistics, the issue is how the statistics are used and to support what arguments.
    You cannot hand-wave that point away by pretending the Frequent Grid is just a couple of very short, misweighted, disproportionately high-demand routes. Because that isn’t accurate. The Frequent Grid is more than a dozen long and legible routes, some of them as long (or longer) than MAX lines. And yet it is, in aggregate, just as cost-efficient. That does negate your abstract model, whether you like it or not!
    No, that statement of yours is completely and utterly false, the data confirms my model. You cannot reasonably compare the cost per boarding of frequent bus lines following commercial strips at an average of maybe 9 mph with an LRT line with an average speed of 20 mph that stretches far into suburbs, being used as a form of commuter rail, linking parking lots in suburbs with the downtown area. That is a dishonest comparison. Because of their routes and their speeds, the LRT will automatically attract a lot of long distance trips, whereas the frequent bus lines, due to their low speed but location along corridors where a lot of economic activity occurs, will tend to repulse long-distance trips but attract short ones.
    Even when the frequent bus lines are long, they just follow commercial strips. The MAX light rail lines on the other hand, outside the downtown core, follow Interstates or other roads relatively far from commercial areas. Trips in generally are made between residential areas and commercial/office/service/industrial areas (what I call “destinations”, the frequent bus lines typically follow routes that have destinations all along them, with residential a bit further out, so every stop can be both an origin and a destination. The LRT lines aren’t like that, most stations in the far reaches are only residential, or even just a transfer point, people have no reason to go to these stations unless they are going back home. You have the downtown core where the LRT is more in mixed use areas and where they are going to have shorter trips, but overall the trips are going to be longer.
    Anyway, I do not have data on the average length of trip on each mode. Do you? A non-negligible proportion of MAX’s reported boardings are just quick hops between downtown and the Lloyd.
    According to the NTDP Transit profile, the average LRT trip in Portland (excluding the streetcar) is 5,5 miles. The average bus trip is 3,9 miles. So the average LRT trip is 40% longer.
    Of course, you can point out that this doesn’t split frequent bus lines from the rest, but I think that is favorable to frequent buses, because logic indicates that trips on frequent buses are likely to be shorter than on other, more infrequent, lines. Why is that? Because buses don’t compete only with cars, but with walking too. If I have to wait up to 30 minutes for a bus, I can walk 1,5 mile during that time, so that bus is basically useless to me for short trips of less than 2 miles. But if the wait time is a maximum of 10 minutes, then that line becomes useful for trips between 0,5 and 2,0 miles. Furthermore, frequent bus lines tend to have low speeds, around 9-10 mph on average from the schedules I’ve seen, while infrequent suburban buses regularly travel around at speeds around 12-15 mph, without going on the highway, since they stop far less often. The lower speed of frequent buses make them much less desirable for longer distances, the time I gain from the lower wait time for the bus, I lose inside the bus as it stops every quarter mile or so to pick up or let off people.
    So, since frequent bus lines favor short trips but discourage long trips vs the average bus line due to higher frequency and lower speed, it stands to reason that trips on frequent bus lines will be on average shorter than on less frequent buses. Especially as frequent buses tend to service denser downtown areas than infrequent buses.
    So, as it stands for April 2015, MAX lines were 12% less expensive per boarding than frequent bus lines according to the Trimet data. But if we adjust for distance, with a supposition favorable to your side of the argument, that the average frequent bus trip is just as long as the average bus trip (and not shorter, as it more than likely is), then the MAX LRT is 37% less expensive (or 60% more efficient, whichever you prefer).
    I am wondering why you seem so sure that political powers and the controllers of civic discourse have been pressing those scales in favor of buses, such that you feel the need to emphatically insist on the merits of rail?
    There’s been a movement in some circles, led by the ITDP, to push the argument that rail is completely useless, their president, Enrique Penalosa, even went so far as to write an article saying “BUSES: NOT SEXY BUT THE ONLY SOLUTION” in which he proceeded to blast all and any rail, and saying the only reason subways exist is because buses hadn’t been invented yet. On the other side, you have the CATO anti-rail squad, headed by O’toole (never has someone worn a name so well) which makes the same argument in the context of a tactic of degrading transit projects (blast LRT by speaking of BRT, when LRT is dead, start pulling out features from the BRT project until it’s just a differently painted bus then use its failure as evidence Americans don’t want transit).
    Lately in Montréal, we had this spiel being repeated by a major mayor candidate (who pretended that BRT was like “surface subways” providing the same capacity and speed for a fraction of the cost) and we had our provincial transport minister start to be seduced about this BRT-praising choir, a major bridge is going to be rebuilt, for years it was planned to use the reconstruction to build an LRT line to replace over-capacity bus lanes, but now, when the time for decision was nearing, he was talking about maybe just going with a BRT. In Québec City, a tram project has been sidelined by some kind of weird BRT project that saves only 40% of capital costs, a difference likely to be made up by the shorter life expectancy of vehicles.
    What gets most under my skin is that when people defend rail-based transit from these incessant attacks, they are the ones being tarred as “railfans”, as unreasonable or as starting a “modal war”, just for recognizing they have some advantages over buses and saying they have a place in transit planning on certain routes.

  53. Bolwerk June 12, 2015 at 10:14 am #

    There seems to be an unspoken assumption even among otherwise sensible people that that, only if buses could be ruled out, rail should be ruled in (if it can be).
    From a purely financial standpoint, railstitution makes sense when the capital depreciation and financing costs are less than the operating cost savings. Germany has lower construction costs than the USA (and probably Canada), so it’s not that hard for them to do that. Of course, that doesn’t mean there isn’t a design reason to avoid railstitution (like maybe 15 BPH is better than the alternative of 7 TPH or something).

  54. simval June 12, 2015 at 11:17 am #

    Bolwerk’s comment about “railstitution” made me think. From what I know, in general, LRT in North America is rarely built in replacement of buses, but more commonly as an additional service that adds to existing buses more than it replaces them. Generally, they are built when speed is required to deal with an ever-increasing city to provide a rapid link downtown and channel long-distance commuters that otherwise would use long-distance, infrequent suburban buses to a downtown bus terminal.
    In some instances like Phoenix, the introduction of LRT has been show to help in increasing bus ridership. By convincing more people to take transit downtown, it has fed new riders into the frequent bus lines in the downtown area and into feeder buses farther from downtown. So the idea of comparing frequent bus lines and LRT as if they were direct competitors may be erroneous, in some cases, these are complementary services that benefit each other.

  55. Nathanael June 12, 2015 at 12:38 pm #

    More mode-biased pro-bus lobbying by Walker. The other commentators have already made the points I would have. “Figures don’t lie, but liars can figure…”
    Once you have your high-frequency, popular bus network, you quickly discover that it’s bursting at the seams, and you need “railstitution”. It’s that simple.
    I mean, this article is pathetic. “Look, frequent buses are *almost* as cost-effective as rail, when we design the rail to spread out through rural sprawl and to crawl through traffic lights downtown, while only putting the frequent buses on really good corridors.”
    There are articles to be written about how bad route selection makes for bad routes, and Walker has written those articles before. But this is not one of them.
    This data again, and as usual, shows that rail is more cost-effective than buses for high-volume applications. I don’t know why Walker likes to spin it the other way.
    Probably because he’s a mode-fetishist diesel bus fan. One of his professional consultation proposals in Australia or New Zealand got shot down by the public because of this.
    Vancouver BC is doing pretty well because, for the most part, they recognize which routes are their trunk routes and they’re putting electric rail on them. With the unfortunate repeatedly-delayed example of the Broadway corridor. (Grrr.)
    The thing about routes like the Broadway corridor is, it would have been a lot cheaper if we’d put the rail line in 20 years ago. Or 30 years ago. You want to reserve the right-of-way *before* the area is totally built up, not *after*.
    Things like the Orange Lie bus line in Los Angeles are infuriating.

  56. d.p. June 12, 2015 at 2:49 pm #

    Thank you for your thoughtful last reply, Simval, but I still find your logic faulty:
    the frequent bus lines typically follow routes that have destinations all along them, with residential a bit further out, so every stop can be both an origin and a destination.
    So basically you are saying, as I did, that the significant costs of running robust service levels along these rather long corridors are off-set by the myriad usefulness of the corridors, which gives a variety of riders reason to be boarding or heading to destinations at many points along each route, and at a variety of trip lenghts. In other words, these corridors are highly efficient and effective.
    The LRT lines aren’t like that, most stations in the far reaches are only residential, or even just a transfer point, people have no reason to go to these stations unless they are going back home.
    Yes! Which is why most times that you might like to use MAX to go where you’re going, you find it has been routed along such a pointless, diversionary corridor that it is of absolutely no use to you! Thus its appeal is limited to a small sub-set of undiversified commuting needs, and thus it runs far emptier than you might wish it did for all the money spent building it.
    The word for this is inefficiency. You have explicitly bypassed all of the intermediate destinations in favor of “doing rail on the cheap”, even at the explicit expense of contributing to holistic mobility!
    Out-of-the-way alignments are an unambiguous drawback of poorly- or cheaply-designed rail. They are not a feature, and they are not an inherent service characteristic that you can excuse by repositioning your goalposts, i.e. changing your metrics to reward distance trips as you continue to insist on doing.
    While I hardly know anything about Peñalosa, I have heard that he is famously hyperbolic. Whether he makes forceful proclamations out of a belief that he must counter existing modal biases, or whether he is sometimes outlandish and controversial just to be outlandish and controversial, I think we can all agree that emphatic dismissals of all subways ever are irrational and unhelpful.
    On the other hand, our openly and notoriously rail-biased friend Nathanael above, who is so insanely modal-fetishistic that he seeks to professionally undermine Mr. Walker for mere perceived slights against steel-on-wheels, is sadly not unrepresentative of the way the debate is framed in the United States.
    I presume you can understand why “Buses = failure. Rail will save us all, even if built terribly” is a profoundly troubling baseline from which to attempt a productive discussion about urban mobility, no?
    Bolwerk, if you cannot understand why BART as it has been built cannot be operated with skeletal staffing and a switch to PoP fare payment, then you have clearly never seen BART’s infrastructure in person. BART is, physically speaking, an RER on steroids.
    That was exactly my point. In the system’s urban core, the built-for-volume stations and imposing infrastructure is actually necessitated by demand. On the outer fringes, where ridership isn’t even 1/10th of that found on an RER or an S-Bahn, such infrastructure is crazy, expensive overkill. It is the definition of a misplaced mode.

  57. Bolwerk June 12, 2015 at 5:53 pm #

    Sure it can. BART is more like a mini-RER. It has 1/3 the network size and nearly the same staffing level (maybe 600 fewer employees, ~2900 for RER v. ~2300 for BART). I doubt BART achieves the same train throughput either.
    The infrastructure is a sunk cost. I mean, sure, it’s overbuilt and perhaps shouldn’t have been. But it doesn’t need to be overstaffed even if it was overbuilt. That’s a choice.

  58. simval June 12, 2015 at 9:38 pm #

    d.p., I think you are making a major mistake in opposing light rail and frequent buses as if they were enemies. The reality is that the service that MAX light rail offers couldn’t be replaced by frequent buses, and it does fulfill a need. The few MAX lines carry 40% of all daily passengers on the Trimet network, and nearly 50% of passenger-miles. You may call it inefficient because part of the lines are in the middle of nowhere, but it satisfies a particular demand that 9-mph frequent bus lines couldn’t satisfy, and that infrequent suburban buses would have to satisfy otherwise, resulting in lower frequencies and much higher operating costs, all for a slower service.
    As I’ve pointed out, in many cities, the arrival of LRT was complementary to frequent bus lines and lead to a massive increase in bus ridership, because the LRT brought about new transit users who then frequented trunk bus lines, increasing ridership and thus allowing for higher frequencies.
    Calgary is another example of how even badly located LRT, by providing high-capacity rapid transit, can be great for transit use. Their LRT follows highways and major roads, yet it is highly used and serves to channel suburban transit users downtown through feeder buses. By channeling riders down these lines and using rail’s low operating costs relative to capacity, they have managed to create a frequent rapid rail link all across the city and to allow the downtown area to grow continually even in a very sprawly city. Rather than running 90% empty buses to far-flung suburbs and downtown all day long, the buses run much shorter feeder routes into a high-frequency LRT that brings people to a transit mall in the heart of downtown. As a result, Calgary has one of the most cost-effective transit system in Canada, despite having low population density.
    Anyway, if you accept that the MAX LRT has a different alignment that has efficiency issues, doesn’t it contradict the point that bus and rail are just as cost-effective that was the initial point of contention? If you recognize that the routes are very different, then doesn’t that mean that directly comparing both is not an apples-to-apples comparison between bus and light rail as it had been made out to be?
    I find it strange how you’re so quick to label Nathaniel “modal-fetishistic” and “rail-biased”, but when I bring up what Penalosa said, when he clearly says that rail should never, ever be built and that buses are just better on every aspect, you excuse it away by presuming he’s just being hyperbolic. That’s the kind of double standard that annoys me, anti-rail, pro-bus bias is taken as worthy arguments worthy of reflection, but people who speak out against it and defend rail’s advantages are quickly tarred as “railfans” or “modal fetishists”. If we are to have a debate on modal choice for transit planning, both sides must be able to speak without automatically being slandered as “fetishists” or fanatics who ought to be ignored.
    As to Nathaniel’s accusations against Jarrett Walker, I must say that I also have detected a slight bias on Walker’s part in favor of buses. His visit of Karlsruhe, the model of tram-train LRT, was a particular sore spot for me. Karlsruhe model has LRT lines splitting up to serve the far suburbs and merging into trunk rails in the center, granting one-seat travel to nearly everyone in the area. It has been excessively successful at fostering transit use, nowadays, Karlsruhe has a transit use per capita of 380 trips per capita per year, which is 2 or 3 times higher than the average German city of that size.
    What did Jarrett do when he arrived? He decided to take a random tram to the end of its line, got off, then wrote a blog post about how he was disappointed to see that the next tram was scheduled only for 30 minutes later. I found that completely bewildering and quite an unfair criticism, if you took a suburban bus to an exurb and got off, you would also face a very long wait time to be able to get back. He also claimed the map was confusing because it didn’t identify frequent lines… another claim I found shocking, the trunks on which many lines converge have high frequencies, the trunk served only by one line have low frequencies. It seems very evident to me.
    Jarrett has also claimed that riders don’t care about the technology their ride uses, but as someone who has tried both buses and rail, I find the claim to be unconvincing. The technology has effects on the ride quality and passenger comfort, and some studies have indicated a 20-30% ridership boost on rail lines even after all service performance factors were accounted for (Ed Tennyson’s for example).
    So I understand where Nathaniel is coming from, but I find his criticism exaggerated.

  59. d.p. June 12, 2015 at 10:48 pm #

    I am quick to label Nathanael because I have had innumerable infuriating interactions with him on a transit blog based in the city in which I live (a city he has never visited, though astounding ignorance has never stopped him from offering his “prescriptions”). He is, in fact, the embodiment of so-called modal fetishism, and a textbook example of the reality-warping that afflicts its unwavering adherents.
    I am less familiar with the specifics of Peñalosa’s rhetoric, but I did seek out the opinion piece you mentioned. The piece appeared to have far more nuance than you implied, and did not come close to the “no trains have ever been worthwhile” bombast you claimed he harbored. Not having the time to read it in detail, but noticing some of the probable exaggerations to which you took offense, I thought it reasonable to condemn such unhelpful hyperbole, but not to condemn the man.
    In no universe are Peñalosa and Nathanael analogous. The former revolutionized mobility in a struggling developing-world metropolis. The latter sits in his Upstate New York basement making fraudulent claims about the pent-up demand for ultra-frequent 2000-mile Amtrak services and recommending streetcars up 18% grades.

  60. Bolwerk June 13, 2015 at 5:19 am #

    Peñalosa is a neoliberal technocrat, ideologically resembling Europe’s market center-right. The closest American analog I can think of is Mike Bloomberg. English-speaking world equivalencies without baggage of social conservatism are tough to find. Maybe The Economist magazine. Maybe The Manhattan Institute or The Reason Foundation, but they’re probably generally too stupid, and the latter is anti-transit, in comparison. Germany’s Green Party probably resembles this kind of thought.
    Unfortunately, people like that tend to be incredibly short-term balance sheet focused. Note the characteristics of TransMilenio: a small, dense network capable of “paying for itself,” priced to be out of reach of the working class urban proles in a developing world city. Routes were relatively easy to implement because I guess the city had a mix of traditional Napoleon-era big boulevards and later had the opportunity to grow with highways. Capital investment is expensive in such places, but labor is relatively cheap, so an army of bus drivers is pretty affordable. No consideration for the possibility, probability even, that those factors are likely to change.
    You see a strong influence of that ideology in American urbanist circles too. Bus “mode fetishism” largely hinges on the notion that buses are inherently cheaper, which is arguably true if your ideology absolves you from worrying about the future.
    Buses are the only solution? Bogota’s current government apparently disagrees. Finding TransMilenio bursting at the seams, it’s pushing for a rapid transit service. I wonder if Peñalosa/ITDP is lobbying against it.

  61. EngineerScotty June 13, 2015 at 10:00 am #

    A couple of thoughts and notes.
    1) MAX has seen ridership actually decline slightly, compared to bus. Some of this has to do with the end of Fareless Square (later, Free Rail Zone)–one of the recession-related cuts that TriMet has shown no interest in restoring. (And from an equity perspective, I can sympathize; and would like to see the absurdly-low Streetcar fares normalized with the rest of the system as well).
    2) Lots of people have been moving to Portland–the city itself, not the suburbs, and many of them are using buses extensively, but are not located on any of the MAX lines. The E/W trunk line (the Blue Line) is/was optimized to bring suburban commuters downtown (and the Westside Blue Line sees a significant reverse commute, as yuppies live downtown and work in Silicon Forest); but neither line serves inner Portland neighborhoods all that well. The Green Line isn’t terribly useful (many trips downtown can be made faster on bisecting bus lines); and the new Orange Line also will be more useful for suburban commuters than residents of Portland neighborhoods such as Sellwood or Eastmoreland, being sandwiched between a highway and train tracks.
    3) The MAX network is now almost thirty years old, and in some places is not aging well–MAX has had a higher-than-usual number of service outages recently. TriMet is upgrading a lot of the equipment (not so much the rolling stock, but the trackside infrastructure).
    Finally, it’s interesting to note that of the two major projects “in the pipe”, one of them (the Powell/Division project) is definitely BRT (though unfortunately, mixed traffic on the critical stretch of Powell west of Cesar Chavez); the other one (SW Corridor) is still being considered for BRT, and the most of the proposed tunnel alignments (that would rule out BRT) just got scrapped. My main concern is that part of the attractiveness of BRT for the route is that it can run in mixed traffic (and thus be done more cheaply), and that if BRT is selected, it will be lower-quality alignment than light rail would get; both because LRT always gets exclusive lanes, and the higher vehicle frequencies needed for BRT would mean that buses would have to wait at stoplights whereas trains would get to preempt cross traffic.
    There are many advantages to BRT on this alignment–the topography of that part of town is not well-suited to a continuous grid, so a branching topology makes sense–but if the bus is to get stuck in traffic jams on Barbur, it matters far less how nice the alignment is elsewhere. (If nothing else–if BRT is the choice, take the money “saved” from not tunnelling under Pill Hill and build a few elevated structures over some of the more notorious bottlenecks….)

  62. EngineerScotty June 13, 2015 at 10:04 am #

    One other comment regarding the SW Corridor–anti-transit activists (pretty much on the right-wing critics of transit and density; TriMet’s critics on the left are mostly within Portland itself) in two suburban cities (Tigard and Tualatin) have gotten anti-rail language into the city charters, complicating the case for rail. (The City of Portland, OTOH, really wants rail). Now, these referenda were passed during special elections, so a general-election funding referendum (necessary for either city to use public monies on the SW Corridor) may do better, but quite a few of these places are agitating for highway expansion instead.

  63. d.p. June 14, 2015 at 11:08 am #

    A poor wireless connection ate my last comment, by my reply to Scotty is basically “yup”.
    Thus my frustration with the theoretical-reductionism that took over the thread above, obfuscating or outright denying the crucial “reality checks” apparent in the real-world example of Portland.
    Portland is a small American city of moderately-low density but vaguely urbanist aspirations that has actually built the extensive-yet-(less)-expensive rail network that so many of its peer cities crave and believe will fundamentally transform them.
    On the vanguard of this U.S. trend, Portland has accumulated no shortage of plaudits and media hype for its dedication to rail build-out over the last 3 decades.
    But here’s the rub: It isn’t working. The trains don’t go where the people actually want to go. And so the ridership and the modeshare are flat or falling, even as the system grows and grows. The numerical efficiency is going down, not up. And the supposedly rail-loving population won’t touch MAX for trips where the train’s routing and point-to-point speed are laughably inferior to the preexisting bus grid.
    All of which flies pretty corrosively in the face of the “if you build it…” convictions that underlie every argument — including those above — of the “inevitable” efficiency of rail in the long term.

  64. Bolwerk June 14, 2015 at 3:02 pm #

    What, exactly, is not working? The two measurable indicators I could find that either mode goes where potential users want to go:
    A) unlinked trips/vehicle-mile
    B) unlinked trips/revenue hour
    Buses: A) 3.07 B) 36.19
    Light rail: A) 5.08 B) 74.18
    Rail trips are longer on average. Therefore, this implies that more people get on per measurable unit of service time or distance, and they proceed to stay on the vehicle longer. That could mean they like it more, or it just could mean they’re more desperate for whatever trip the vehicle provides.

  65. d.p. June 14, 2015 at 3:44 pm #

    Why don’t you go to Portland, and try to get around on the train?
    This is the problem with the internet. Scotty lives there. Jarrett lived there. Both accurately describe MAX’s “usefulness” problems and the emphatic declines in metrics that actually matter: human beings’ trips served; and the cost of serving those trips.
    But no. The internet has to push its pet theories as absolutes, so here comes more cockeyed math. And round and round and round we go.

  66. d.p. June 14, 2015 at 5:15 pm #

    Listen, there’s no reasonable person who thinks MAX shouldn’t exist at all.
    But there’s almost no part of it that couldn’t have been built better — and not just in its bypass-iness. Witness too the downtown crawl and the Molasses Bridge crossing, which ensure that zero people will ever use transit from west of downtown to east or north, as driving will be significantly faster even in traffic.
    And there are, objectively, lines that should not have been built at all.
    Running the airport train via an insane loop-di-loop, and less-than-half-hourly in the evening and early morning, and not at all after 10:30? That’s not competitive! The Green Line is almost entirely pointless. And the jury is still out on the Orange Line, though for the expense of a gigantic new bridge, it might have been nice if anyone in the southeast of the city proper could see a shred of life improvement as a result of it.
    MAX is a tale of diminishing returns — the precise opposite of the “network effects” that perfect-modelers rely on to bring exponential increases in usefulness/efficiency.
    Squint all you want, but diminishment and floundering efficiency are the empirical truths.

  67. Bolwerk June 14, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    Why would going to Portland to use a service that I have neither an origin or destination near prove other people don’t find it useful?
    There is nothing theoretical about the numbers I posted. They were standardized performance metrics the FTA uses and they apply directly to TriMet. The generalization I drew from them is practically as a priori as this stuff gets. Probably the only way for my generalization to have been wrong would have been for least one of the three FTA measurements I mentioned to be seriously wrong.
    It’s up to you to show why the less intensely used mode is for some reason more useful. Tri-Met may well have problems – note the absence of any comment I wrote disputing any “problems” – but it can’t be said to be failing to attract users at a rate exceeding Portland’s supposedly more useful buses.
    Here’s another perspective: the LRT has almost the same passenger-miles on less than half the vehicle miles.

  68. d.p. June 14, 2015 at 8:53 pm #

    The alternate take on your last sentence would be that frequent buses boast twice the coverage area yet earn a similar farebox recovery.

  69. EngineerScotty June 14, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

    Some of d.p.’s criticisms are spot on; a few others probably need rethinking.
    He (I’m assuming that d.p. is male; apologies if wrong) is correct in suggesting that MAX has been approaching a state of diminishing returns. The most important corridors to build were the first two: Portland-Gresham and Portland-Hillsboro. While the implementation could have been better (it’s like two European tram-trains that are through-routed–slowly–through downtown), the Blue Line is an undeniable success.
    The next most important corridor is served–partially–by the Yellow Line; I say “partially” because the line terminated a short distance from the southern shore of the Columbia River. The important corridor does not stop at Delta Park; but instead reaches Vancouver. The other important corridor is to the south, to Oregon City; the Orange Line will get halfway there when it opens this fall. Unfortunately, while the cities of Oregon City and Vancouver, WA both would benefit from (and welcome) rapid transit connections, both are located in counties dominated by right-wing, anti-transit politics. (This satirical cartoon from The Onion sums it up nicely; I’m certain the reference to “old buildings” is a nod to Jane Jacobs).
    The I-205 corridor (the unique parts of the Red and Green lines) are not, really, a priority corridor. The good thing about these is they were relatively cheap to build; using an existing transitway that was set aside when the freeway was built. The bad thing about both are the usual complaints about freeway-adjacent light rail; plus one of TriMet’s most important bus lines is ten blocks to the west. The Red Line serves the airport poorly–only providing stops at the terminal and a nearby shopping center/hotel complex; it is of little use for many airport workers. Unfortunately, bus service to PDX (which might deliver workers to other parts of the airport complex, and to the numerous industrial and service concerns located in the vicinity) has been gone for a long time.
    The Southwest Corridor is probably the last useful outbound corridor–but it’s the most problematic. Topographically difficult, and reaching lower-density areas than the other corridors (both SW Portland, and the cities of Tigard and Tualatin); and it also has to deal with transit-skeptical polities. There’s a good reason it’s the last one to be considered–but it probably offers the least value, and is likely to cost more than the Orange Line did, depending on how its done.
    Now–the part I disagree with d. p.: The idea that MAX “doesn’t go where the people actually want to go”, is false, particularly for the Blue and Yellow lines. Now, it is true that there are plenty of places in town that rail doesn’t reach that are important and valuable destinations–but that’s OK! Portland doesn’t have a “rail” system and a competing “bus” system that forces riders to choose. It has a transit system that encompasses both; the ticket you buy for the bus is good for MAX, and vice versa. (And also good for the Streetcar, the Portland Aerial Tram, and the utterly useless WES commuter rail line–if you want to complain about boondoggle rail projects in town, complain about that one).
    Perhaps MAX has been a victim of its own success; the inner city here is booming and development is occurring all over–and much recent development is occurring away from established rail corridors. People who live there aren’t using MAX; they’re using the bus–as that’s what stops outside their door. And that’s OK! Many of the buildable lots close to MAX have long been developed previously.
    I also suspect that demand for MAX is a bit more elastic than demand for the bus–to use a loaded term that Jarrett hates, MAX gets more “choice riders” (specifically commuters who own automobiles and could drive) than the bus system does–and with gas prices south of US$ a gallon, many commuters are opting for their cars. The recent spate of service interruptions could also play a part–when transit isn’t reliable, it can drive people to abandon it, and when they do (especially if it involves a major investment like a car), they might not come back any time soon.
    In short–it’s complicated. Reducing this to bus-vs-rail soundbites does a disservice. And even the whole bus-vs-rail argument is a bit of a disservice, as a healthy transit system will necessarily have both. Usually, I’ve found, arguments about mode choice are really arguments about something else–political values, where to provide service, etc.

  70. EngineerScotty June 14, 2015 at 11:51 pm #

    Below US$3 a gallon….

  71. Bolwerk June 15, 2015 at 6:53 am #

    Thanks for the clarification. I really wasn’t trying to comment qualitatively on how MAX was designed. Near as I can tell, TriMet uses buses exactly where it makes sense to do so. I only commented on some efficiency metrics: people use MAX, declining or not, and it remains very popular given the service area it faces. Nothing about that observation says the service area, or the design, is optimal. I know politics usually makes optimal impossible.
    Yes, reducing this to a rail v. bus debate is folly (it wasn’t me…). I could buy the I-205 corridor was a mistake to build, or not one, but if it began as an reserved/unimproved corridor, it totally changes the dynamics of which mode could be cheaper. Had that corridor been built as a bus service, it might even have cost more. Whichever mode is chosen to construct a marginal service is likely going to drive performance averages for that mode down.
    Going back to my original point, I don’t see the crisis when things cost more. It’s perfectly acceptable for things to cost more sometimes. In the case of infrastructure, eventually the initial capital costs get paid off, and the normal replacement costs don’t need to be anywhere near so high. When that happens to MAX, MAX will probably resemble SEPTA’s streetcars/subway-surface trolleys, at least performance ratio-wise. Given SEPTA’s streetcars actually have capacities similar to buses, MAX might even do significantly better than what SEPTA offers.
    @d.p.: your farebox recovery math may be, uh, cockeyed. If you include capital fund usage in your farebox recovery ratio, MAX might actually be a lot worse than Portland buses – at least on this metric. If you ignore capital costs, MAX’s performance is almost twice as good.

  72. d.p. June 15, 2015 at 8:28 am #

    Huh? The original subsidy chart — the one that launched five dozen comments — is a comparison of the MAX average to the frequent-bus network average.
    The subsidy is within the margin of error. The fare is exactly the same. Thus, the farebox recovery is roughly the same.

  73. d.p. June 15, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    Oh, wait, you’re privileging distance-trips again.
    Sorry. That’s not how farebox recovery works. It’s just fare/expenditure. Distance is irrelevant.
    And again, the frequent buses cover much more ground without digging themselves the deeper subsidy hole that you seem to expect they would. This suggests that MAX, by comparison, is not just running at suboptimal efficiency and far below its ballyhooed capacity, but is actively debunking years of “common wisdom” about the long-term financial payoff of mediocre rail.

  74. Bolwerk June 15, 2015 at 9:28 am #

    What “subsidy chart”? The chart Jarrett posted tracks operating cost per boarding passenger and says nothing about subsidies or revenues.
    If all the fares are the same, the high frequency bus routes would be expected to have inordinately high revenue to achieve low costs per rider. For this to happen, they must have high passenger turnover. To compete with this metric, MAX would need more passengers making shorter trips.
    There is nothing with this bus setup. It might even be the most desirable way to supply transit in the relevant corridor(s). But anyone who says it proves buses are on par with rail isn’t understanding the implications. It is not, afterall, modeling what those buses would be like if they were railstituted; it is comparing them to different services with different riders who have different needs.

  75. d.p. June 15, 2015 at 10:09 am #

    No, to compete with that metric, rail would be expected to have lots and lots of passengers. You know, the whole reason people argue rail is worth building in the first place!
    The point remains that MAX ridership is, in aggregate, not robust enough to bring its cost metrics significantly below that of the hypothetically “less inherently efficient” mode.
    That needs to be recognized as a problem that can’t be glossed over with backwards-engineered rationalizations and custom-tailored metrics.

  76. Bolwerk June 15, 2015 at 11:13 am #

    Then MAX must have “lots and lots of passengers.” Financially, its operating averages are outperforming the cherrypicked best performing bus lines. I don’t know what metrics you think I’ve cited that are “custom-tailored.” The FTA uses every one I’ve mentioned. If you’re going to impugn their validity, at least explain why they don’t apply.
    The one exception I can think of where MAX may look unfavorable is a particular definition of farebox recovery. There are actually two understandings of farebox recovery, and they arrive at different numbers. IIRC, the one the FTA uses divides fare revenue by operating costs. MAX unambiguously comes out ahead here. The other may be used sometimes internationally and it takes farebox revenue and divides it by the sum of operating costs and capital depreciation. This latter definition is probably much, much less favorable to MAX — or to any new rail system.
    And, no, I’m not “privileging” any trips. It’s a simple statement of reality that people make longer trips. You can argue North American fare collection privileges longer trips by charging flat fares for each time you use the service, but that is not my doing.

  77. EngineerScotty June 15, 2015 at 12:35 pm #

    It seems that two thing that have little to do with the choice of steel wheels vs rubber tires, are being debated here:
    1) What lengths of trip are most valuable? Which transit agency is delivering the most “value”: one that transports one passenger 10km, one that transports five passengers each a distance of 2km, or one that transports 20 passengers each a distance of 500m? In all three cases, the consumption of vehicle capacity is the same (assuming the 20 passengers don’t all ride at the same time), but there is much disagreement as to which types of trips should be valued. Some urbanists take the view that if you’re routinely making long trips, you’re doing it wrong; other people will argue that short trips like 500m or smaller, should be done on foot. (Personally, assuming able-bodied travellers, I’m far more sympathetic to the latter view than to the former–a city will, by necessity, have amenities that can only exist on a metropolitan scale: universities, industrial centers, airports, major hospitals, sports and performing arts venues. One cannot possibly have everyone in a city living within walking distance of all of these; and some of them are things people want to not live near. A city is not, and should not be, no more than a collection of villages in close proximity.
    2) How should fares be structured? TriMet uses a flat fare system: US$2.50 gets you an adult single-ride ticket, good for any travel you want on the system for 2 1/2 hours–all modes, and including return trips if you can squeeze it into the time window. (US$5 gets you a day pass). Whether you take the #80 bus from Gresham to Troutdale, or the Blue Line from Gresham to Hillsboro, it’s the same fare. While the fare covers an entire journey, not a single boarding ride–services that attract large number of short trips are going to be financially more attractive than services that attract smaller numbers of long-haul riders; the latter describes much of MAX. (The Blue Line, keep in mind, is over 50km end to end). If TriMet were to instead adapt distance-based fares, rail would look better by any metrics that measure (or approximate) revenue per unit of service delivered. That said–TriMet has recently moved in the opposite direction, abolishing a zone system (which did charge more for longer journeys, although a small surcharge) for the current structure.

  78. d.p. June 15, 2015 at 1:52 pm #

    How does MAX “unambiguously” come out ahead?
    The simple, non-depreciation metric is the very metric shown in the chart. Despite MAX’s significantly higher profile and by definition “cherry picked” corridors — the ones chosen for large capital investment — its farebox ratio is no better than the dozen or so lines that comprise the “useful service” (spontaneous-level) bus network!
    How are you not getting that? Are you looking at the wrong lines on the chart?
    And for the record, I do not dispute anything Scotty has said. MAX’s best corridors have logical purposes and reasonably strong ridership for a small metro area. The lesser corridors have gallingly weak ridership. Each corridor would probably be doing better had they been a bit better designed and had the downtown segment were less arduous, but in the case of a corridor as poor as the Green, it would probably still be a failure.

  79. Bolwerk June 15, 2015 at 4:45 pm #

    I seem to be understanding that chart, which I never called a “subsidy chart,” better than you. Yes, the best-performing bus routes perform as well – well, almost as well – as the MAX average by a particular per-rider cost metric. That’s in spite of the buses servicing a higher frequency of what are almost certainly much shorter trips at the same fare. And those bus routes are much shorter. If we cherrypicked the best MAX routes, they would perform even better. It’s not that interesting, and I don’t see why Jarrett thinks it’s interesting.
    I know too little about MAX’s “lesser corridors” to know whether you’re right or not. However, it’s a fair point that an unimproved ROW can be improved for rail or buses at relatively similar costs. If the corridor Scotty mentioned indeed was utterly unimproved, it might have simply been preferable to let MAX have it if transit was going to be built from scratch anyway. (If I’m understanding Scotty right, that corridor serves an airport. It’s probably also better to have higher-capacity vehicles service airports because of details like baggage.)
    @EngineerScotty: I agree those things matter little mode-wise, but they do impact how revenue is collected, which in turn impacts metrics like farebox recovery. That point seems to be confusing d.p.. On a flat fare service, farebox recovery skews much more in favor of high turnover and short trips.

  80. d.p. June 15, 2015 at 9:20 pm #

    Stop obfuscating!
    The chart shows, literally and by definition, the farebox recovery. That is precisely what is being represented. It is the only thing being represented. You can’t [*long trips low turnover blah blah excuses excuses] that away.
    “We could cherrypick the best MAX routes?” WTF!? MAX is only 4 lines! It is already cherrypicked!
    In any genuinely unbiased, mode-neutral discussion, it should be fair game to criticize a 4-line rail system that can’t attract the kind of high ridership that would put a dozen high-frequency (i.e. high-expense) bus routes to shame on farebox recovery!
    The Green Line corridor is so useless as “high-capacity transit” that it should not have been “improved” in any way or for any amount of money. That seems to be the other thing you do not get. This should be about mobility, not seeing an arbitrary corridor and making dumb in-a-vacuum presumptions about how it “might as well be rail”.

  81. d.p. June 15, 2015 at 9:40 pm #

    What is so frustrating to me here, Bolwerk, is that 80 comments in, you still refuse to engage with the actual content of Jarrett’s post!
    Those bus routes are not “cherrypicked” on the basis of their robust ridership. Their cost metrics are isolated explicitly on the basis of their service characteristics — they are the frequent, legible, highly usable routes. Thus, their demonstrated high performance is seen to be not a happy accident, but a direct result of those service characteristics.
    That is the whole point of the post!
    When you insist on denying that such data probing is useful, and you resort to incessant caveats about how going to lots of places where people are headed unfairly makes these buses look to good, it starts to seem like you’re just grinding an axe.
    And it seems that the axe you’re grinding is the insistence that rail must always prove better. Even if you have to introduce a whole slew of mathematical caveats and subjective high-passenger-mile preferences in order to make it so.

  82. Jim D June 16, 2015 at 6:23 am #

    The ‘rail vs. bus’ religious war has no interest to me. Both modes have their place and both are done well in some places but horribly designed and operated in too many others.
    Many of us who are interested in the workings of urban transit have known that any system’s busiest routes usually subsidize the coverage services and many of the weekday one-way commuter runs. Too often the excess revenue from these services that is above the system’s targeted farebox goal is treated as a bonus to help keep lesser routes afloat instead of being plowed back into more runs, larger vehicles, limited-stop services, etc. The bus re-imagining project in Houston and other frequent-service networks that Jarrett is helping to bring into practice is a fascinating experiment that I’m eagerly watching. I support transit, not specific modes, and I hope that these frequent bus networks are wildly successful and drive greater desire and demand for more and better transit.

  83. d.p. June 16, 2015 at 7:05 am #


  84. Bolwerk June 16, 2015 at 9:31 am #

    What’s with these ad hominems? If I did prefer trains, it wouldn’t prove I’m wrong. The cost per rider metric is certainly making the bus look good, not at all unfairly, but that doesn’t excuse jumping to specious conclusions. Understanding the implications of a metric is the opposite of obfuscation; it is edification. You still haven’t explained why standard cost metrics I’ve cited are not valid. It might surprise you to realize that I think the TriMet frequent bus services should probably stay bus services.
    The problem with Jarrett’s comparison is it compares unlike things. A frequent network with high ridership is well and good. Bus routes that were deliberately made frequent because they were in evidently high-ridership corridors are being compared to an average including (according to you, anyway, poorly thought out) MAX services in low-ish ridership corridors. Yes, that is cherry-picking. MAX still provides a different kind of service: longer distances, presumably less frequent stopping, higher capacity, probably lower ridership turnover, an orientation toward longer trips. What if we made a low-ridership MAX segment a frequent bus service? Would the resulting drop in bus service cost performance metrics prove frequent buses are inefficient? No. It would just prove political will to build low-ridership, high-frequency services.
    Having now double checked TriMet transfer policies, I can assure you farebox recovery is *not* discernible based on the information in that graph. Why? Because it doesn’t supply attributable fare revenue per boarding rider. If somebody transfers to/from MAX or another bus to/from a frequent bus, each service transferred should see some portion of the initial fare revenue applied to it. QED, farebox recovery of those services would depend heavily on the behavior of riders before they board or after they alight. That information may be available somewhere, but it’s not in the chart.

  85. d.p. June 16, 2015 at 9:47 am #

    Bus routes that were deliberately made frequent because they were in evidently high-ridership corridors…
    No! Not this! Not this at all!
    The high-frequency grid was made frequent to provide anywhere-to-anywhere transit, in a reasonable time frame, throughout the places where urban density could remotely support such a proposition.
    And the result is success and cost-efficiency. Not “corridor” success and cost-efficiency. But network success and cost-efficiency.
    This is why your attempts to paint the network as comprised only of “cherrypicked” corridors are inaccurate and amount to statistical obfuscation, whether or not this is your intention.

  86. Bolwerk June 16, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    You even admitted, at least indirectly by concurring with someone else, MAX wasn’t designed entirely emphasizing high network density in mind. You assert the frequent bus services were selected for density. I agree with Jarrett’s assertion that the cost of bus networks as a whole vs. rail networks as a whole is lazy journalism,* but it’s a bit odd for you to complain about obfuscation when you defend a comparison that likewise does not control for relevant differences in the design and scope of the services in question.
    I could really turn this comparison on its head easily: it puts to lie the meme that a reasonably high-frequency rail network with a significant portion of its routes in low-density areas is automatically prohibitively expensive to operate.
    * Then, I think the cost scolds usually miss that those low-usage routes still matter, and probably are most affordable as bus routes.
    P.S. Still wondering why FTA performance metrics are invalid.

  87. d.p. June 16, 2015 at 11:58 am #

    There’s nothing inherently invalid about any mathematical measurement. It’s the conclusions you’ve drawn from them that have been continually suspect.
    As I already said above, the very same metrics that you applied to show how awesomely MAX is pulling long-distance-trip weight, simultaneously show that the frequent buses are covering twice as much total ground without any comparative hits to their efficiency.
    Meanwhile, the frequent bus network provides access to the vast majority of the population of Portland proper (6,00,000), which represents a much greater percentage of the metropolitan area (just over 2 million) than in most American cities.
    The majority of Portland proper doesn’t remotely qualify as “dense”. Indeed, part of the point here is that the density threshold at which a smartly-designed frequent grid can offer a reasonable quality of service is actually quite low! Not mansions-on-cul-de-sacs low. But pretty-darned-sprawling-for-technically-a-city low.
    So please stop insisting that these routes have been cherrypicked to serve a slim and disproportionately dense or busy segment of the transit market. You keep returning to this presumption, and you are wrong. Anywhere-to-anywhere mobility, over quite a broad area, is key to both their design and their success.

  88. Bolwerk June 17, 2015 at 9:17 am #

    What you called “suspect,” “cockeyed,” etc. conclusions have mostly been verbatim statements drawn from reported statistics. Actually, what you call suspect is merely me casting doubt on a suspect conclusion, drawn from one ad hoc metric about a particular network.
    But fine. I won’t call it cherry-picked if it upsets you so. I’ll say the statistics aren’t normalized in any way, which even you can’t deny. Jarrett took a cost per boarding ride chart and compared two unlike things with no attempt to normalize the statistics to make a valid comparison. Maybe you can blame TriMet for this; they probably wanted something simple to show a reflexively transit-suspicious, quantitatively illiterate P.R. world.
    A “boarding ride” can be anything: a few blocks, a trip across a city. Whatever a boarding ride is on MAX, we know it’s almost certainly different from a boarding ride on the bus services. If we had some other critical details, like how far the average Portland frequent bus rider is traveling, maybe we could make a valid efficiency comparison.
    “So please stop insisting that these routes have been cherrypicked to serve a slim and disproportionately dense or busy segment of the transit market” – I’ll even retroactively stop insisting on it. Because I never did, though either they do serve a busy segment or TriMet is being stupid for serving a busier segment somewhere with the slower service. I hope that’s not the case! What I said basically boils down to, the comparison takes the best performing bus routes and compares them to a network average for a rail service (with vastly different design goals, markets served, etc.). And the rail service is still coming out ahead on this cher^H^H^H^Hun-normalized metric.
    “Indeed, part of the point here is that the density threshold at which a smartly-designed frequent grid can offer a reasonable quality of service is actually quite low” – I’ve actually made that point a lot over the years. As MAX does appear to support, it’s pretty low even for rail, unambiguously requiring no more than three-figure hourly ridership per mile or so of route sustained reasonably consistently throughout daytime service hours (buses probably can live with medium-low two figures). And even that standard is a concession to a fiscally conservative view, which I don’t categorically accept, that rail must save as much in opex as it adds in upfront capex. Regardless, transit-h8rs writhe like they have centipedes and roaches crawling out of their orifices when you point that out because cost-effective transit is supposed to be a morbid curiosity found in Manhattan or Tokyo or something.

  89. simval June 17, 2015 at 11:09 am #

    Jim D.
    “The ‘rail vs. bus’ religious war has no interest to me. Both modes have their place and both are done well in some places but horribly designed and operated in too many others.”
    I think the “religious war” expression is not useful. I have rarely seen someone argue that transit should be all-bus or all-rail. Much of the debates I’ve seen are completely compatible to the view that both modes have their place, the debate is not whether all transit should be bus or all transit should be rail, but about how to decide what place to give buses and what place to give rail.
    It’s pretty much uncontroversial that rail requires more capital spending to put up. So if we all agree that rail has a place, then that must mean that it has advantages over buses that justify spending more to acquire it in certain corridors. That seems evident to me.
    The debates that emerge tend to be about the advantages of rail over buses. It’s like people want to just say that there may be some advantage, but any attempt at actually describing these advantages or, god helps us, quantifying them results in an uproar and accusations of “railfanning” or whatever. But if we are to make a smart transit network using both rail and bus where appropriate, we NEED to define WHEN certain routes become more appropriate for rail than for buses, and to do that, we have to define exactly what advantages rail has over buses to see when these advantages justify the higher cost. Otherwise, how are we to decide?
    FTR, the only people I have ever seen who have argued that transit should be one mode only no matter what are pro-bus BRT boosters like Penalosa who claim that buses are the only transit mode we need and the only one that should ever be used. Yet, accusations of “religious” dogmas tend to be almost entirely directed against people who tend to support rail projects more.

  90. EngineerScotty June 17, 2015 at 1:23 pm #

    The main operational advantage of rail (controlling for other factors like ROW characteristics) is capacity. Ignoring labor costs, 20-30 vehicles per hour is the operational limit of a completely obstruction-free transit line before bunching becomes a regular problem (and bunching is a problem at far lesser frequencies if you have mixed traffic or even stoplights on the route). A four-car LRT consist can haul 8-10 times the number of passengers as a 13m bus.
    Now, TriMet does not run any of its services at any frequencies approaching 20-30 vehicles per hour (the Steel Bridge crossing gets close to that in the peaks, with multiple lines converging on this one point). The Rose Quarter-Gateway trunk line will often see 15-16tph in the peaks (Red, Blue, and Green lines interlined), and the transit mall generally gets up to 10 tph + 180 buses per hour (in a two-lane-per-direction exclusive transitway with extensive stop staggering). That said, were MAX replaced with buses on the Gateway-downtown stretch, you would be looking at bus frequencies over 30 per hour during the peaks. Even off-peak, this corridor gets 10-12 vehicles per hour, which might be problematic if replaced by buses (I say “might” because the trains are less full at these hours).
    The Beaverton-downtown stretch (interlining of Blue and Red) gets a minimum of 8 tph; with 12tph in the peaks.
    When you get away from those parts of the system, however, you are often looking at lines that don’t see trains any more frequently than every 15 minutes. For the (per-vehicle) cost of that, you could run bus service at twice that frequency, though the resulting service would have half the capacity, assuming 2-car LRT consists of 30m trains vs single 13m buses. For a few of the LRT corridors, the trains seldom are full, and it could be argued that bus service (assuming a similar ROW) would have been a better choice.
    Of course, this operational analysis does not take place in a vacuum. Once you have rails in the ground, extending it is often an easier decision to make than adding a new type of service (such as BRT), with new fixed system costs. At the time much of the system was planned, there was still an assumed rail bias (trains will attract more passengers than buses, with otherwise equivalent service parameters). But one of the interesting things that is happening–this rail bias seems to be dissipating somewhat. Certainly in Portland (possibly excluding the suburbs), the attitude of “I’ll ride MAX but not the bus” is nowadays considered a bit odd–both vehicle types include the rough parts of their town in their coverage areas, and unsavory passengers are a problem on both modes.

  91. d.p. June 17, 2015 at 10:26 pm #

    Sorry, Sim & Bol, but experience tells me that there are very few people who wander the internet seeking venues in which to “describe [rail’s] advantages or, god help us, quantify them” — and then dismissing any data that don’t support the widespread application of those advantages as inapplicable “apples to oranges” — who are not actively railfanning to some degree.
    Furthermore, in virtually any public venue, the rail über alles mouth-frothers so vastly outnumber any Peñalosa-like bus purists that I find it hard to believe you two have never encountered the type.
    I do not believe that either of you are such extreme examples. But now 90 comments in, you’re still insisting that the place to “quantify” is here, now, in the mediocre American city of Portland, and as a follow-up to a post that legitimately undermines some foundational premises of rail efficiency. I think it’s safe to say there’s some railfanning happening here.
    Yes, the professionals should have rational models — with quantifiers — that help them understand how and when to apply modal tools. These do not need to be described and delineated ad nauseam on every blog post ever whose content seems an affront to your precepts.
    Forced repetition is precisely how understanding curdles into dogma.

  92. simval June 18, 2015 at 8:17 am #

    d.p., I’ve been respectful up to now to your endless insinuations, but if anyone is acting irrationally here, it is YOU. You are the one grabbing that one bit of data like a drowning man grabs a piece of flotsam to claim that rail is never more efficient than buses, then wrote THREE DOZEN comments to discard out of hand anyone pointing out that this data is not directly comparable and can’t be used to make wide judgments on bus’ and rail’s comparative efficiency, insulting them in the meanwhile, calling them “railfans” and accusing them of merely parroting “dogmas”.
    If a blog about transit issues isn’t a place where people can discuss and try to quantify the differences between rail and buses, then where is that place?
    If you see everyone who ever recognizes or tries to quantify advantages rail may have over buses in some application as “actively railfanning to some degree”, then the problem isn’t everyone else, it’s you. You’re the dogmatic one here.

  93. Bolwerk June 18, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    d.p.’s comments smack of reaction formation, exaggerating the intentions of his opponents that run counter to his. Internet commentators would obviously be anecdotal, depending where you go. I would actually think this blog ought to prove there is a fair number of rail-biased commentators who appreciate other POVs. Jarrett strikes me as more pro-bus, as far as public investment goes (maybe not personal preference), but lots of people who post here prefer rail and still appreciate his work.
    Streetsblog NYC* tends to have a lot of BRT advocates who oppose rail, probably on (specious) cost grounds. These are probably cyclists/urbanists who tend to favor walking and biking over public transportation, so this view isn’t too surprising. They recognize transit should exist, but don’t like rail because they think it’s automagically too expensive. Note also that NYC planners tend to have a strong anti-rail bias, pro-car bias that has lately accepted grudging accommodation for buses but not, say, MAX-style surface rail. I can also point out commentators who just oppose rail because it requires, God forbid, government borrowing. They may even acknowledge rail is cheaper in the long run, but think borrowing is worse than pay-as-you-go for more long-run expensive buses.
    Still, I’m not aware of a single pro-rail lobbying/interest group that wields propagandizing power against buses that ITDP wields against rail. Granted, ITDP is subtle and pretends to be okay with rail that exists, thinking we just don’t need more. Frothing anti-rail internet commentators are easy enough to find, though only a fraction of them do so from a pro-bus angle. Most just hate transit.
    * Other Streetsblog sites are more nuanced on this topic

  94. Bolwerk June 18, 2015 at 11:26 am #

    Also, I think d.p. might generalize his own local politics to other places a little much. On the flip side, NYC, where I live, I mentioned there is an anti-rail (I wouldn’t say pro-bus) bias.
    We also have this bizarre local fight going on where….
    – the city wants to modernize a major boulevard for BRT (google Woodhaven BRT or Woodhaven SBS if you’re interested).
    – A nearby abandoned rail line is attracting redevelopment attention, either as a park (google QueensWay) or as a reactivated rapid transit/subway service (google RBB branch reactivation or rockaway branch). So these two groups are fighting, the rail people probably winning the popularity contest but losing on the most critical government support. Our governor, who has a lot of power over this matter, generally hates public transportation, but has sprinkled some money at the park people.
    – One car-coddling local politician hates the idea of losing precious auto lanes, and wants the rail reactivation instead. Not because he feels rail is a better project, just because he wants to protect car lanes. Some rail activists are siding with the politician.
    – BRT people react by opposing the rail project, because they see it as a threat to their pet project. Some are probably just misinformed, assuming the cost overruns of overbuilt Manhattan subway projects will translate to more suburban above ground setting that involves no land acquisition. Others are probably maliciously anti-rail.
    And the kicker is both transit projects make a lot of sense for varying reasons, and even complement each other at least kind of imperfectly. The park project, OTOH, makes nearly no sense because it’s in an already park-rich area of Queens.

  95. EngineerScotty June 18, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    While I prefer to stay out of the mode wars, I’m not sure the reference to “mediocre Portland” is entirely constructive. Not because I’m offended (I’m not), but instead:
    * Portland, and all US cities, live in the political, geographical, and historical contexts they do, and need solutions appropriate to that context. Complaining that Portland is not Manhattan, or Tokyo, or Munich (or even a mid-sized European city with a much denser urban form and no freeways penetrating its core) is pointless. Even “mediocre” transit cities need to get better and have room to improve–I get annoyed when I hear attitudes of “why bother” coming from places where transit enjoys near-unanimous public support and a different set of challenges are faced than we face here (and one of our challenges is definitely a right-wing backlash, mostly focused in the suburbs, that has been formenting since the neo-colonial Kenyan socialist™ was first elected to office, and the economy started to tank and everyone started squabbling over whose slice of the pie would shrink).
    * That said, Portland has made its share of mistakes, and had its successes, which need to be learned from. In my view, the frequent service network is an unmitigated success. The Blue Line–success, despite its flaws (2-car train limit and the slow crawl through downtown). Red and Yellow–meh. (The Red Line extension to the airport isn’t all that useful, but the rest of the Red Line adds 4tph to the most important part of the system). Green, double meh. Orange–we’ll see, but I have my reasons to be concerned. WES, boo! Streetcar–the original line provided a valuable and unique service, and may have helped jumpstart a successful downtown renewal–but many other places, I think, learned the wrong lesson (it was a circulator line grafted on top of an already-functional network, not an expensive toy that connects to nothing).
    * Some of the most virulent pro-bus, anti-rail critics here in Portland are suburbanites who were butthurt when MAX replaced their favorite express line (one thing TriMet does right is that it runs very few express services, which are expensive for transit agencies to operate and invite all sorts of equity issues–especially if a premium fare is not charged), and their ride to the office got a bit longer and noisier because the vehicle makes stops along the way, rather than chauffeuring them directly to the job and back. I’m not accusing anyone here of being in that cohort, but there is a noisy and boisterous lot of those here in town….

  96. Jason June 18, 2015 at 6:38 pm #

    Would this work as a rough metric for whether a busline is a good idea:
    “Could we run it frequently?”
    A busline without demand for frequent service probably won’t have sufficient demand for infrequent service, and is therefore likely a poor idea…
    Yes/No/Really stupid?

  97. d.p. June 18, 2015 at 10:23 pm #

    Yeah, I got carried away with “mediocre American city of Portland”.
    That unnecessarily cheap shot was mostly in reference to the (false) media shorthand by which “Portland” represents some sort of urbanist vanguard, which I have personally seen to be both lazy and problematic.
    But mostly I was questioning the Pavlovian urge that our fellow commenters had to descend on this thread and “count the ways” that rail will invariably prove efficient and capacious and wise, despite their nonexistent conception of the city in question and just how sprawling and sleepy it can be.

  98. EngineerScotty June 18, 2015 at 11:45 pm #

    A busline without demand for frequent service probably won’t have sufficient demand for infrequent service, and is therefore likely a poor idea…
    You’ve just hit on the difference between a “coverage” route and a “ridership” route, which has been oft-discussed here. A “ridership” route is one that serves lots of demand (lots of high-density housing and/or high-volume shopping or employment) and can be run without too much subsidy. A “Coverage” route is one that by itself, makes little sense, but exists to:
    a) complete/enhance the network (network effects are of vital importance to a transit system–the more points you can reach, the better all services are).
    b) serve a targeted population, particularly one whose mobility options may be limited (due to poverty, age, or infirmity)
    c) Expand, maintain, or justify the service footprint (and thus the taxing district)
    d) Make some politician or other greasy wheel happy (ideally this would not be a concern, but transit planners and administrators–even if they don’t report to politicians–still often have to go asking them for funding.

  99. Bolwerk June 19, 2015 at 10:43 am #

    “I was questioning the Pavlovian urge that our fellow commenters had to descend on this thread and ‘count the ways’ that rail will invariably prove efficient and capacious and wise, despite their nonexistent conception of the city in question and just how sprawling and sleepy it can be” – what are you even talking about? There is no “will.” Rail already exists in Portland. Nobody is discussing theoretical possibilities, but actual measured (or at least measurable) results.

  100. d.p. June 19, 2015 at 3:38 pm #

    Yeah, rail exists in Portland. It’s right there, being cumulatively no more effective on any reasonable cost or aggregate-ridership metric than the frequent bus network.
    But here you come, two dozen times, armed with statistical asterisks and no knowledge of Portland whatsoever, to explain why MAX should still be deemed more effective on paper and in principle (as long as you intentionally misdescribe your bus-network inputs and overvalue the limited purpose to which MAX is tailored.)
    Oh, and then claiming that New York City is a bastion of bus bias. It would be hilarious if it weren’t so nonsensical.

  101. EngineerScotty June 19, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    MAX, or certain parts of it, are “effective”, and would be difficult and expensive to implement instead with bus, including with exclusive-ROW BRT running on the same alignment and having the same levels of signal priority. The buses (on the Blue Line during the peaks, anyway) would bunch.
    Other parts of the MAX system are arguably a waste of money–I’ll readily agree with the principle that if a line can’t fill two-car LRT trains running at fifteen minute headways, at least in the peaks–that line should not have been built as rail. (TriMet has the problem of many services which are full–both bus and rail–and operational capacity to spare, but insufficient budget to add service; which is a different problem than having frequent service routes which are half-empty during rush hour).
    Many parts of the frequent bus system–I wouldn’t ever want to see replaced with light rail. (In many cases, because surface rail in any form other than the slow, single-car tram–something which is seldom an improvement on a bus in an equivalent ROW–is highly disruptive to pedestrian environments; either that, or the trains are limited to 40km/h or so top speed, which is how downtown MAX operates–also slow).
    I honestly am not sure what you are arguing here. If you’re arguing that bus is better than (surface) rail in many operational contexts–I think we all agree! Replacing the 75 or the 15, for instance, with rail would be an incredibly stupid thing to do, for many reasons.
    If you’re arguing that TriMet should have built BRT from Hillsboro to Gresham–or that bus is ALWAYS better than surface rail. But I don’t think you’re arguing any such thing.
    As far as NYC goes, there is a camp of transit advocates–including many in NYC–that think all mass transit should either be bus or grade-separated high-platform rail (subways/els); and everything in between is useless. I would strenuously disagree with that, at least in the Portland context. OTOH, I wouldn’t dream of putting light rail in Manhattan–if you have a dense urban environment like that (for more than a small downtown), surface rail is probably unwise. (I wouldn’t run LRT down Broadway in Vancouver, BC, for example–if that corridor gets rail, it should be underground).
    If you’re arguing that certain MAX services in Portland were unwise, I won’t argue with that, either. Few people in town will much defend the Green Line, based on current development patterns. (In the future, who knows…)
    But you seem to be arguing against a strawman argument–that nobody here is making. Nobody, AFAICT, is suggesting that rail is always better than bus, or that buses are evil or dirty or only for the poor or any of that nonsense. Outside of real-estate weasels (i.e. developers), who tend to view nearby rail transit (the cute kind, as opposed to a noisy el or a fume-spewing diesel commuter train) as a value-boosting amenity they like to convince the public to build next to their property, and/or elected officials who like high-profile ribbon-cuttings and goosing the economy with large-scale construction projects, I’m not aware of anyone involved in transit advocacy that dislikes buses. Yet I see this sort of accusation all the time from some of the local scolds–TriMet “hates” buses and bus riders, and is only interested in the real estate business. A claim which is, to be blunt, utter bullshit.
    So what–precisely–are you arguing? If you want to compare specific services for “effectiveness” (in which case you should state clearly what defines effectiveness, and why that is important), that’s a good conversation to have. But generic arguments about “bus” vs “rail” are boring. And the specific things that are being compared in this article, are somewhat apples and oranges.

  102. Bolwerk June 19, 2015 at 9:06 pm #

    If you can’t understand what other people are saying anyway, why do you get so angry about it? Where did I say MAX is more or less effective? I said Jarrett’s comparison doesn’t control for what a ride is, so it can’t be useful to make comparisons. You’re the one insisting there is a “reasonable cost or aggregate-ridership metric” demonstrating the frequent bus network is on par with MAX performance-wise. Would you care to enlighten everyone as to what it is?
    And where did I claim NYC “is a bastion of bus bias”? I do believe my wording was, “…there is an anti-rail (I wouldn’t say pro-bus) bias” [in planning]. Actually, there probably is a de facto bias toward buses in transit planning. Institutional laziness or NIMBYism cause necessary rail projects to be ruled out, and then bus projects are pushed to at least build something…and then they’re watered down to satisfy POV drivers until they won’t work very well. Something like MAX certainly would be way more useful here than in Portland, but you’ll note we have no such service.
    We also had this particular, uh, cockeyed example of a mayoral candidate – http://www.capitalnewyork.com/article/politics/2013/07/8532287/substitute-three-borough-x-line-proposed-christine-quinn – proposing an incredibly long BRT route instead of exploiting an almost free rail ROW to close a critical gap in the subway network. To keep costs down, supposedly. (She was the frontrunner in the Democratic primary at the time she proposed it, but lost in a sortof surprise upset.)

  103. d.p. June 20, 2015 at 12:15 am #

    I actually can’t think of a single thing you’ve typed that I find disagreeable. The (few) purists who argue that any given “corridor” (of any sort, anywhere, and in isolation) can be best addressed with (on-paper) “BRT” are just as perplexing to me as foamers who would solve everything with “street rail”.
    Every few comments, I get optimistic that perhaps we are merely tripping over semantics, and that we actually fundamentally agree on the principle of “the right tool for the right job”. But just as I’m getting complacent, Bol or Sim will blindside me with yet another (unsupportable without context) dogmatic recitation about some way in which rail is more “inherently” advantageous. And we find ourselves back to square one.
    I don’t know nearly enough about any of the proposed Queens-based proposals to judge them on their mobility-access merits. I have to presume that a NY politician who fears the cost of rail proposals — rightly or wrongly — is basing their fear on the exorbitance (and incompetence) seen in recent Manhattan projects. It certainly is not about kowtowing to public sentiment, New York being a city full of powerful and wealthy people who pride themselves in both not owning cars and never having to go anywhere a subway can’t most conveniently take them.
    And for the umpteenth time: Cost/boarding is a damned strong metric to measure the efficiency of a high-capacity network of lines. Average bus trips in Portland are at least a few miles in length — contrary to your insinuations — and likely longer than the average Yellow Line MAX trip. No modal absolutes there.
    And no transit trip is more or less resource-vital because you deem it so. The simple and revealing metric explored 103 comments ago only became “apples to oranges” in your mind because you did not like what it shows: that rail efficiency is not a self-fulfilling prophecy.

  104. EngineerScotty June 20, 2015 at 11:00 am #

    I have to presume that a NY politician who fears the cost of rail proposals — rightly or wrongly — is basing their fear on the exorbitance (and incompetence) seen in recent Manhattan projects. It certainly is not about kowtowing to public sentiment, New York being a city full of powerful and wealthy people who pride themselves in both not owning cars and never having to go anywhere a subway can’t most conveniently take them.
    Keep in mind–Albany (the capital of New York State, not the Willamette Valley town with the infamously stinky paper mill) keeps the Big Apple on a short leash; New York politics is rigged so that very little happens in Manhattan without upstaters getting a say. And Gov. Cuomo regularly sh!ts on the legacy (and trades in on the good name) of his staunchly liberal father–he seems to have his eye on higher office, and seems to think that regularly sticking it to New York City will give him more cred with Middle America. (I doubt he’s fooling anybody, but if Hillary fails to win in 2016, Cuomo is gunning for 2020…)

  105. d.p. June 20, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    Yeah, Cuomo Jr. is a piece of work.
    On the other hand, he’s the one who pushed for a Laguardia AirTrain that could almost double the trip time from that airport to anywhere else, by virtue of sheer, absurd out-of-the-way-ness.

  106. Bolwerk June 20, 2015 at 9:33 pm #

    Uh, d.p., cost/boarding says at least something about the popularity of a service. For instance, it might say a vehicle’s riders are consuming a tolerable level of public resources for a subsidized service. But it says pretty little about operational efficiency unless you’re comparing like things. You can’t compare two bus services’ efficiencies very usefully on that metric either.
    You’re basically falling into the same trap as people who compare automobile per-passenger-mile energy consumption to urban transit bus energy consumption and assume cars are really energy-efficient and buses aren’t. That comparison compares a big vehicle in constant stop-and-go traffic with a small vehicle that spends a lot of time cruising very efficiently on highways. Comparisons require standardization.
    “dogmatic recitation about some way in which rail is more ‘inherently’ advantageous” – eh, why shouldn’t a mode have inherent advantages? But calling into question a comparison isn’t a claim about one of the items being compared having an advantage.
    “New York being a city full of powerful and wealthy people who pride themselves in both not owning cars and never having to go anywhere a subway can’t most conveniently take them” – the powerful are not on subways, and are on buses even less. New York local politicians are some of the most car-crazed in the country. That has been changing, a little bit, but the current mayor is arguably a step back from the last one, at least on this issue.
    Average bus trips in Portland are at least a few miles in length – I know how long average trips in Portland are reported to be (3.93 miles in 2013). I don’t know how the frequent bus network compares though.
    …contrary to your insinuations…” – which are?
    “And no transit trip is more or less resource-vital because you deem it so” – a most odd thing for you to say, since you’re the one who suggested long trips are bad. And I’m not.
    “…only became ‘apples to oranges’ in your mind because you did not like what it shows: that rail efficiency is not a self-fulfilling prophecy. – now you’re claiming you can read my thoughts? I first saw these kind of arguments on usenet decades ago. It was apples to oranges then too. Hell, I even admitted, right off the bat, that I’ve used cost per ride metrics to answer rail cost scolds, but that is rather more reasonable than the conclusion you’re drawing since there the point is just to prove rail isn’t inherently in the cost stratosphere.

  107. Bolwerk June 20, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    Re Scotty’s “I wouldn’t dream of putting light rail in Manhattan–if you have a dense urban environment like that (for more than a small downtown), surface rail is probably unwise” – I’d think surface rail would be a great replacement for some of the more crowded crosstown Manhattan buses. These aren’t long services, but they can be crowded as hell.
    Of course, the one place it’s sort of being discussed is the one place where it’s more a vanity project (42nd Street). Maybe not inexcusable, but there are better corridors. http://www.vision42.org

  108. d.p. June 21, 2015 at 4:00 pm #

    I didn’t refer to New York’s borough politicians, who may or may not be car-centric.
    I referred to the rich and influential populations of the city — the power brokers disproportionately concentrated in the most subway-rich areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn — who do use transit at exponentially higher rates than rich and powerful people do in most of the country, but who mostly wouldn’t be caught dead on a bus.
    To call the dominant power culture of New York “anti-rail” in any way is astoundingly at odds with my abundant experience with the culture of well-above-the-median-income New Yorkers.

  109. d.p. June 21, 2015 at 4:37 pm #

    I’ll leave you with one last comment, and then I’ll finally depart this thread, if only because the repetition is beginning to bore me.
    For the record, I am extremely well-traveled, at least within the developed world. I have therefore obviously encountered hundreds upon hundreds of situations in which urban rail is performing a job that only it could perform adequately. I can no more understand an argument that denies the effectiveness of rail in many urban situations than I can understand a person who refuses to ever set foot on a bus. This is why I get frustrated with those who seem to express any strong modal leanings in the absence of situational specifics.
    A decade ago, I moved from a famously dense and compact major Northeastern metropolis (process of elimination: not New York) to a famously fast-growing major Northwestern city (process of elimination: not Portland). The former was highly transit-rich and transit-effective, though of course with plenty of room for improvement. The latter, despite of culture rife with exceptionalist boosterism and a stated desire for the artifacts of progressive urbanism, has a transit structure that is astoundingly weak and resistant to improvement. This has been made worse by an urge to throw every transit fad at the wall and hope something sticks, without bothering to design or execute anything correctly, resulting in stuck-in-traffic streetcars, non-BRT “BRT”, a paltry frequent network, and billions of dollars in under-developement rail that literally cannot be used to travel between two places both of which are walkable.
    When you arrive to criticize Jarrett’s post — and to obsess about quantifying benefits-in-the-abstract –I believe that you fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of Jarrett’s consulting and advocacy work.
    In short, and contrary to your prior statement, the cluelessness seen in my “local” politics more closely resembles the situational facts of the places in which Jarrett’s work is needed than any part of your “local” politics. And the reason is simple: Jarrett is mostly employed in American and Australasia places that did most of their expansion (including in-city) in the automobile age. The situations in which underlying density and uniform enough directionality of travel patterns are amenable to the consolidation of transit into high-capacity rail corridors, though occasionally demonstrable, are vanishingly rare. But the culture of “the bus is for losers but it might be fun to try a train (until we discover it fails our needs)” is strong.
    So Jarrett is correct to work to counteract the meme that subways are always the answer, and to confront modal biases with pure, geometric math, proving not only that appropriately-scaled transit solutions can prove cost effective in the long run, but that quality, reliable service can attract strong ridership even when it isn’t especially fancy or high-profile.
    I suppose I shouldn’t care so much, as I don’t work in the transit industry and I don’t expect to live in this density-averse part of the country forever (as I simply don’t much enjoy the culture). But as someone who has never owned a car, it literally pains me to see extraordinary amounts of public money blown in ways that make it 0% easier to get around. And I have seen the role that both bias and poor public comprehension of the basics of transit can play in that depressing process.
    Anyway, it has been alternately fun and exasperating taking this particular ride on the forum merry-go-round with you. Take care.

  110. EngineerScotty June 21, 2015 at 7:49 pm #

    Whether or not d.p. will respond to this, I don’t know. He makes some valid points about when rail is appropriate, and when rail is not appropriate. I don’t know which not-NYC-city on the East Coast he is talking about, but I’m pretty sure which not-Portland northwest city he is talking about, and some of his criticisms of that city are Sound. 🙂
    But consider, again, Portland. The central city core (roughly the West Hills to about NE/SE 92nd, the approximate modern location of I-205, though that was still being built when a lot of this history occurred) was a perfect place for a frequent-service bus network; and that’s what Portland put in place–replacing a complicated radial route system with the current grid, or something resembling it. And it has been good.
    But TriMet is not just responsible for transit in Portland; it is responsible for transit throughout the Oregon side of the Portland/Vancouver metro area (one defecting suburb notwithstanding). It even, for historical reasons (but the arrangement remains in place) sends one bus line into the Cascade foothills to serve a far-off small-town exurb (Estacada). And outside of part of Portland I just described–and including major swaths of the city of Portland, as well as most of its suburbs–is postwar auto-centric sprawl. It’s not sprawl as bad as many other US cities–if you travel 30km in any direction from downtown you’ll hit countryside–but it is territory in which any level of quality service would have been very expensive to provide, and still not likely to be used because most everyone has a car, the pedestrian environment outside of a few historic downtowns is terrible, and there is ample free parking everywhere.
    The original MAX lines were, essentially, suburban-to-suburban transit; the sort of thing that has been handled elsewhere by commuter rail, S-bahns–probably the best compare would be a tram-train, except one that runs exclusively on its own tracks, rather than running in the street downtown and on freight lines elsewhere. And in this role, light rail works well–the suburbs that MAX has reached (Gresham, Hillsboro, and Beaverton) are the most economically vital in the region. I won’t credit light rail for this–if anything, their vitality (and large employment base) is what made LRT pencil out–but these cities are developing quality transit networks of their own, and land-use patterns that can support increased transit use. It’s still hard to be car-free in the ‘burbs, but lower-mileage life is certainly possible.
    The problem with the Green Line is that its new trackage doesn’t go anywhere that TriMet doesn’t already run and provide at least decent service to, or vastly improve on the service offered. If you want to get to Pioneer Square, any of the bisecting inbound buses will be faster.
    A well-built LRT line to Vancouver would be an immense boon to the region; but that requires crossing the Columbia, and that give conservatives in Olympia a veto, which they have exercised. (This statement should not be construed as an endorsement of the recently-killed Columbia River Crossing project). A line that goes only part of the way (the Yellow), is not fulfilling the potential that the mode offers; while the Yellow Line offers performance improvements over the old #5 bus–Interstate Avenue was chosen because it was a former highway that could lose two lanes to a rail corridor and still function well (in fact, better) as a street, not because it was the most important corridor outside of the city (either Williams/Vancouver or MLK are more important corridors than Interstate).
    If you have already living a no-car life, and have quality transit reaching you–then yes, the best improvement an agency can make for you is to improve existing service, not choose certain corridors for high-performance optimization. But if the service area is large, and inter-urban travel part of its mission, then some corridors may need to be chosen for that.

  111. Lauri Kangas June 22, 2015 at 5:43 am #

    I find this discussion highly interesting in relation to at least two topics.
    The first is the role of different lines in a larger urban system for serving various trip lengths. I haven’t noticed much in depth coverage of this in Jarrett’s (excellent) writing although it does feature occasionally. If I understand correctly MAX (and most other US light rail systems) is geared towards long regional trips (rapid transit) while the Portland frequent bus network is geared towards serving a contiguous urban structure. I’m under the impression that the latter is the core market for frequent grid networks. In any case these are somewhat different roles in an overall system and thus direct comparison of statistics does have issues in my opinion.
    More generally I’ve been wondering whether a more general typology of public transport network roles could be developed. A perfect typology is almost certainly impossible, but at least having some kind of a shared vocabulary for these roles would make discussions easier and enable better comparisons between groups of lines. Actually I suspect that German speaking Central Europe might have a typology already and we are missing out due to a language barrier.
    Regarding this topic I’ve also been quite interested in drawing parallels between public transport roles and the Urban Fabrics spatial models by Leo Kosonen and Peter Newman: http://www.urbanfabrics.fi/uploads/20131024UFKosonen.pdf . They claim that the “inner transit city” fabric tends to extend up to about 8 km (5 miles) from city centres while “outer transit city” fabric can be formed locally around rapid transit nodes. These would seem to match nicely with the typical extent of continuous frequent (grid) networks and longer distance rapid transit systems respectively.
    Urban Fabrics also suggests an “inner walking city” of only about 1 km radius, but with potential for an “outer walking city” to extend to 2-5 km depending on walkability, bikeability and public transport support. Supporting the walking city seems to match many streetcar/tram systems, but importantly not all of them. Many successful modern tram systems in Central Europe are more at the scale of the “inner transit city” / frequent network. I suspect this difference is a key question for advancing the “urbanism vs. speed” debate.
    My second topic is a bit more trivial. Here in Helsinki some of the above arguments in relation to modes are turned upside down. We have what I call a legacy tram system extending only about 5 km (3 miles) from the centre. It is quite slow and trips are short, but still highly popular. So popular that costs per boarding are 45 % less than for buses, while costs per passenger-km are 76 % higher. This is of course an unfair comparison because of different roles, but still used with exactly the opposite arguments than above. The most common line here is that the tram system is highly expensive because of high costs in relation to trip length. Cost per passenger-km is commonly used as the main efficiency metric.
    My standard reply is that while our current tram system obviously has issues, it is quite hard to compare lines or systems that serve wholly different purposes in the system. You can still gain insight from the figures though. This would seem to apply to the above discussion as well.

  112. Bolwerk June 22, 2015 at 7:19 am #

    “…abundant experience with the culture of well-above-the-median-income New Yorkers” – with few exceptions, this group drives and favors driving. It might deign to take a subway ride if it happens to live in Manhattan; it’d just as easily take a taxi. It rarely advocates for rail improvements, except maybe in some development schemes. You may be right on one count: it would probably avoid buses (unless old and feeble).
    Much-much-much more importantly, the “junketing politician” crowd that represents the below-median also drives and buys very heavily into the American dream propaganda of driving = freedom. This creates a situation where transit users have little effective say, and politicians campaign against their own constituents’ interest in bus and subway improvements.
    “This is why I get frustrated with those who seem to express any strong modal leanings in the absence of situational specifics.” – not something I did. I did say that I see no reason why spending more on rail is a problem if that’s what a locality decides it wants. It only needs to be built from scratch once, and there is rarely a debilitating disadvantage to rail.
    “When you arrive to criticize Jarrett’s post — and to obsess about quantifying benefits-in-the-abstract –I believe that you fundamentally misunderstand the purpose of Jarrett’s consulting and advocacy work” – if my point is abstract, Jarrett’s less precise comparison is even more abstract. I never even said anything negative about his consulting and advocacy work, but I do have this silly little hangup that errors should be confronted.
    “The situations in which underlying density and uniform enough directionality of travel patterns are amenable to the consolidation of transit into high-capacity rail corridors, though occasionally demonstrable, are vanishingly rare” – sure, but I don’t know that I would agree with the implication “rail = high-capacity.” LRT is generally thought of as intermediate capacity. LRT can work great in those places.
    Rail can be a cost-effective choice any time you get any combinations of factors like: huge peak time peaks in ridership, sustained modest ridership during daytime service hours, really long routes (MAX?), the ROW is going to be built from scratch, existing infrastructure can be appropriated, maybe even “we’ll be using it in a century and can live with a few decades of high bond payouts.” That last one, especially, means a lot of rail planning mistakes ultimately aren’t tragic.
    For that matter, in those cases where buses are more cost-effective, the “existing infrastructure can be appropriated” and some related criteria (like TA expertise) are usually the overwhelming reasons for cost-effectiveness. Usually we have buses, and usually we have roads with spare lanes, so making buses run in them is cost-effective.
    And, as Scotty(?) said, the modes can work together.

  113. d.p. June 22, 2015 at 9:37 am #

    Again, general agreement. This the importance of understanding situational specifics.
    No. Every influential above-median Manhattanite is not in a cab 100% of the time, eschewing transit. That would be spatially impossible, and is negated by innumerable research on travel patterns within the city. I am descended from Manhattanites; do I understand the culture better than you? Regardless, stop spewing Hollywood stock caricatures of your own city.
    And if you think “intermediate capacity” rail that goes nowhere totally fucking empty is doing a lick of good for Americans from Norfolk to Sacramento, then you really do have your head too far up your theoretical behind to have been worth this dizzying circular argument.
    And knock it off with the “corridor built from scratch”. That is the last thing that should be happening in sprawling, decentralized cities incapable of consolidating demand into costly from-scratch corridors. Your continued obsession with that particular when-to-go-rail hypothetical, in the absence of any relevance, is the reason I am now sure you’re one more reality-averse foamer wasting everyone’s time.

  114. EngineerScotty June 22, 2015 at 11:11 am #

    And if you think “intermediate capacity” rail that goes nowhere totally fucking empty is doing a lick of good for Americans from Norfolk to Sacramento, then you really do have your head too far up your theoretical behind to have been worth this dizzying circular argument.
    Intermediate capacity transit (rail or bus) that goes nowhere and does it empty is useless, regardless of mode. And yes, many North American LRT projects meet this description.
    As far as the Green Line, this press release last year from TriMet is interesting; it brags of 33 million trips taken on the Green Line in its five years of operation; which works out to about 20% of trips on MAX. However, over the same five years, only less than a quarter (7.6M over five years, or about 1.5M/year) have gone to Clackamas Town Center, the suburban shopping mall that is the line’s outer anchor; I imagine the vast majority of Green trips are done entirely within the transit mall (shared alignemnt with the Yellow Line) or Gateway-Rose Quarter segment (shared alignment with the Red and Blue lines). Would increasing train frequency elsewhere in the system (or adding bus service) been a better use of operating dollars (ignoring capital costs), then running trains between Gateway and Clackamas? There’s a good case to be made.
    And knock it off with the “corridor built from scratch”. That is the last thing that should be happening in sprawling, decentralized cities incapable of consolidating demand into costly from-scratch corridors. Your continued obsession with that particular when-to-go-rail hypothetical, in the absence of any relevance, is the reason I am now sure you’re one more reality-averse foamer wasting everyone’s time.
    I would Google Jarret’s article topic “be on the way”. If you have a major node here, and a major node there, and wish to link them by rapid transit–you’re going to have to put the tracks (or the busway) somewhere. And that somewhere, assuming you don’t run nonstop service, will create a corridor around which development might occur. That is the good example of “creating a corridor from scratch”.
    On the other hand, there is the bad kind of transit-oriented development: building new (high density) housing someplace that isn’t on the way to someplace else, dedicating transit infrastructure to serve that (both capex and opex)–and neglecting the places where people actually live and work, on the grounds that it’s sprawl that can’t be efficiently served. For one thing, high-density housing tends to not be occupied unless it is either a) cheap, b) located near unique or important amenities, or c) there are no other choices. “Transit villages” that pop up on the outskirts of suburbia tend to do poorly, including poor service by transit. Often times, such things are the visions of MPOs, city/county governance, or even well-connected developers, and when it comes time to actually provide service, the transit authority may not be terribly interested (preferring to run service to where people actually live and work, not where they might live and work in the future). Also, this sort of TOD is resented by existing residents. OTOH, this sort of TOD is often the result of existing residents refusing to allow any upzoning; there are some who argue that transit agencies should abandon/neglect sprawlvilles in their midst–tough cookies for those who live there (and a problem when the sprawlvilles are filled with lower-income people who may need transit service), and only provide quality service to denser areas where it is cost-effective.

  115. d.p. June 22, 2015 at 11:42 am #

    I meant “from scratch ROW”, to use Bol’s exact term. Which is distinct from the more generalized concept of a corridor, which can of course take a variety of forms.
    Such ROW is an almost literal impossibility in 99.9% of low-density-city situations. To the point where hypothesizing about “rail or BRT” is this vacuum is truly an exercise in wasted breath.
    And this is especially true in “be on the way” corridors — yes, a superlatively instructive piece of Jarrett’s explanatory work — where already-built-out-ness of the corridor guarantees that “from scratch ROW” would need to be a tunnel. Simply not achievable at any scale in a low-density city.

  116. Bolwerk June 22, 2015 at 12:45 pm #

    Way to bait and switch. After a sweeping generalization about autocentric cities, you object when your generalization is scrutinized in the one way it can be: through other generalizations that raise practical concerns. Peak traffic isn’t a “theory.” It’s a phenomenon, and needs to be designed for. You may not like corridors from scratch, but cities do choose to construct them. Suburb-to-urban-core travel is reality, which builds in another facet you don’t like: some relatively long rides. If you don’t like generalizations, don’t make them.
    Also, for someone who insists on making objective transit decisions, your aversion to theory is especially bizarre. Do you think evolution is “just a theory”? You yourself hold up Jarrett’s views as a generally good fit for all those autocentric cities. You know what that is called? Spoiler: begins with a ‘T’. You cannot make serious comments about transit performance without either modeling reality (“theorizing”) or normalizing measurements…which are then used to construct theoretical models to create new applications. Why? The alternative is experimental testing, and I think you can understand why we can’t just buy vehicles and improve a ROW just to test a route and then do it again with another mode. We need to start from a model.
    “Every influential above-median Manhattanite is not in a cab 100% of the time, eschewing transit” – you are not beating your wife 100% of the time either, I presume? This is another case of not what I said.
    “I am descended from Manhattanites; do I understand the culture better than you?” – who knows? Who cares? It wouldn’t make you less wrong. When half your responses to me are reactions to imaginary strawmen, it’s a bit hard to discern what you know and what you don’t. New York transit or urbanist advocates would roughly agree with my assessment. Even the your side of the rail v. bus fapfest would be unlikely to take issue with what I said, especially considering BRT initiatives in New York have been severely hampered by that problem. Most other New Yorkers probably haven’t considered it.
    The results speak for themselves: there have been maybe five new-rails-to-the-ground subway projects in NYC since the 1950s. The only one with a scope measured in multiple stations is the yet-incomplete Second Avenue Subway. Another, opening this year I guess, expands a line by one station and is intended to encourage development and convention center attendance. (OK, maybe Arthur Avenue – http://secondavenuesagas.com/2015/06/22/thoughts-on-a-timely-opening-and-the-archer-ave-extension/ – was several stations, but it replaced a demolished segment with a new underground ROW.)
    “…totally fucking empty is doing a lick of good for Americans from Norfolk to Sacramento” – I don’t even get context-free complaints like this. It says you don’t like something, but says nothing as to why or what the problem is. Norfolk strikes me as too new to judge, but Sacramento’s LRT system clearly induced a lot of ridership. What did you want? Another BART? Theoretical models are verboten, or else I could point out: what would happen if you replaced SCRT with buses? Anything positive? How about heavy rail? Should nothing have been done?
    You do nothing but set yourself up for anger by even thinking like this because any response that doesn’t comport to some private dogma is “foaming.” Never you mind SCRT is probably outperforming most west coast transit by the boarding metric you spent pages defending. San Francisco’s LRT network is much worse by that measure. Otherwise, there isn’t even a way to answer this.
    “And knock it off with the ‘corridor built from scratch'” – no can do on this one. Any city that still builds highways can afford a bus or LRT corridor from scratch. Whether it’s necessary or not is obviously highly situational, but it’s certainly not a lot to ask and can easily be appropriate. I really don’t see any way for transit to even be competitive without some private ROWs.

  117. d.p. June 22, 2015 at 12:52 pm #

    p.s. I wish this thread hadn’t already run my patience dry, because your final paragraph is the most interesting and salient corollary exploration to come along in a hundred comments.
    And again, I can’t find anything there about which to disagree. Politically-driven “Magic TOD” usually amounts to anything but; and to the extent that capital transit decisions are based on false dreams of it (see Lynnwood and Federal Way, WA), the opportunity costs involved can be staggering.

  118. d.p. June 22, 2015 at 12:55 pm #

    No cities are building new freeways anymore.
    Sacramento light rail is a total bomb.
    You are being a willful idiot and, increasingly, an asshole.
    Also a foamer.
    I am done with you, Bolwerk.
    Take care, Scotty.

  119. d.p. June 22, 2015 at 12:58 pm #

    (And I don’t have a “side” in modal wars. That’s your domain.)
    (Except the side of “don’t piss on my leg and tell me the empty transit is working”.)

  120. EngineerScotty June 22, 2015 at 1:22 pm #

    FWIW, MAX gets nearly 3x the ridership of the Sacramento system (38M boardings/per year vs 13.4M), with only about 35% more trackage (84km of revenue track vs 62km).
    I don’t know enough about Sacramento to comment on the particulars of its system, so I won’t say anything more than this.
    But if you look at Wikipedia’s list of US LRT systems by ridership; the cities on the top of the list are all cities with extensive other transit infrastructure besides a LRT line, and outside Portland, among the very largest metros in the country.

  121. Bolwerk June 25, 2015 at 7:39 am #

    d.p.: you hold Sacramento LRT to a standard you’re not holding most bus services. And I’m taking sides? I do no such thing.
    scotty: SCRT appears to be another case of a commuter operation doubling for center city transit, though I can’t find exact figures about this. It has something like 48,400 daily weekday riders, about a 1250 per-mile of route. They double train lengths during peak hours, instead of increasing TPH.
    I can see plenty of problems with it. It seems to have an abominably low fare for suburbanites traveling long distances, probably mostly only at peak hours. Weekend ridership seems appallingly low.
    But just saying SCRT is uniformly empty and useless is disingenuous at best, and probably kind of, well, foamer-ish.

  122. d.p. June 25, 2015 at 11:31 am #

    You couldn’t resist, could you?
    Here is all I truly know about you, Bol:
    1. You cannot accept the idea of any hypothetical place, no matter how middling in urban form, where rail would not ultimately and magically prove better.
    2. You rush to defend even the weakest examples of rail in recent history, no matter the disastrousness of their operational records.
    3. You deny being a rail-foamer.
    Methinks you doth protest the third too much.

  123. Bolwerk June 25, 2015 at 2:08 pm #

    Wow, three (four?) ad hominems in one response.
    No, stop trying to change the goalposts and make this about me. What is wrong with Sacramento? What should they have done differently?
    For the most part, they’re even following Jarrett’s frequency prescription (15 min. headways throughout daytime hours).

  124. d.p. June 25, 2015 at 5:21 pm #

    You said it yourself: outside of rush, it gets fuckall for use. (And rush hour isn’t exactly a screaming success either.)
    Maybe Sacramento should have spent the money enabling better transit where people actually want and need to go. Even if — gasp! — that didn’t involve any rail!
    Really done, dude. Protest all you want, but your modal reality-warping clearly runs deep.

  125. d.p. June 25, 2015 at 5:26 pm #

    And summarizing your cumulative expressions of bias is not an “argument against the person”. Nice try, though.

  126. Bolwerk June 28, 2015 at 10:26 am #

    Just about everything gets “fuckall for use” outside of the rush. Sacramento’s LRT is probably outperforming most transit systems outside the northeast and maybe upper midwest, rail or bus, certainly by the metric you were defending.
    Re bias: note that I am *not* complaining about all the bus services that do significantly worse financially than Sacramento (which, on average, includes Portland’s buses). Why? I don’t object to them. At the least, a few bucks per ride is probably far, far less than those riders contribute to local economies. But, to avoid looking like an anti-rail foamer and/or hypocrite, you probably should be. You should put on a show of being VERY VERY ANGRY about Sacramento’s buses, which cost a whole $1.65 more in operating costs per unlinked trip.

  127. d.p. June 28, 2015 at 10:56 am #

    Sacto’s bus network is trash, because everyone spent three decades thinking all they needed to do was lay some rails in random places and pat themselves on the back.
    Yet your kneejerk response is to AGAIN ignore the point of Jarrett’s 126-comments-ago chart: that quality services perform well, regardless of mode.
    What about this is so hard from you?

  128. d.p. June 28, 2015 at 11:03 am #

    p.s. There are plenty of non-Northeastern, multimodally-enabled cities that would be very surprised and offended to see you describing their non-rush transit modeshare as “fuckall”. Chicago, San Francisco proper, and Los Angeles just for starters.
    But anyone who insists he is under attack from “bus foamers” (really not a thing) has a tenuous relationship with reality, as you have demonstrated well.

  129. Bolwerk June 30, 2015 at 9:04 am #

    You have yet to offer a consistent, let alone externally valid, definition of “perform well.” Does SCRT not meet an identifiable need? Would buses fill the need better? There is certainly nothing about Sacramento’s prior rail investments that prevents it from investing in its bus network to the benefit of both modes. Indeed, plenty of cities have achieved pretty decent bus results while investing more in rail than Sacramento has; I’d count Portland among them. LA, the one big city that undeniably had a widespread social stigma for bus use, comes to mind as one that has been pushing the all-three strategy to damn good effect.
    Re your P.S.: you, again, missed a lot of important qualifiers like “most” (recognizes the existence of exceptions) and “upper midwest” (would include Chicago). Regardless of San Francisco’s off-peak transit mode share, SCRT at least is outperforming nearly every mode in SF, except BART, on most financials. So SF seems like an odd city for you to cite, unless you only care that it moves more people (it doesn’t do so more cheaply per rider). You also appear to be exaggerating just how dismal off-peak ridership is on SCRT. An actual statistic I could find in a newspaper says there are about 8000 riders. That looks like it’s on ~66 weekday evening trains (that’s over 100 boardings per train). I still haven’t found daytime off-peak service info, but claiming SCRT gets “fuckall” off-peak ridership seems specious.
    “But anyone who insists he is under attack from ‘bus foamers’ (really not a thing) has a tenuous relationship with reality, as you have demonstrated well” – making up a fake quote, attributing it to someone else, and then claiming the person you attribute it to has a tenuous relationship with reality? I mean, unless you admit you’re lying to score rhetorical points, do I need to point out the irony? Somehow you claim *I’m* the asshole. Well, if you are deliberately lying: keep up the good work, Mr. Rove.
    I guess ITDP isn’t “a thing” anymore. Have you identified an equivalent rail organization yet? I still haven’t. Your claim about these rail foamer Illuminati subverting transit funds to suit some whimsy love for trains sits upthread still, undefended and unloved like a turd on the floor.

  130. d.p. June 30, 2015 at 4:02 pm #

    No one jizzes in their pants over buses the way your ilk does over rail. Organizations may exist that overstate the rationalism or applicability of “BRT” to some circumstances, but the modal jizzing is not a thing.
    I would say that you are lucky never to have encountered whackjob rail-über-alles types (since you claim to be ignorant of that discourse-dominating subculture). Except you continue to appear to be one of them, denials notwithstanding.
    I am bored, and am moving on. I’m sure you will return in 3 more days, after having foamed across myriad other places on the web in the interim, with plenty more asterisks and caveats and denials. Don’t bother. I won’t read them.

  131. d.p. June 30, 2015 at 4:10 pm #

    Oh, and SF MUNI’s financial reports show costs-per-boarding, across all modes, at a fraction of Sacramento or most peer cities. With the trolleybus network receiving the lowest subsidy.
    This is not remotely surprising for a network that is used by high volumes of people at all times of day. But continue to conflate with BART, the glorified commuter rail that only achieves “high farebox recovery” through whopping fares.
    And continue to claim that Sacramento rail “outperforms” on totally fucking imaginary metrics. Sacramento trains are empty outside of rush. This would not even be debated by their most vocal local defenders.
    You are an idiot and a foaming loser.

  132. uno June 30, 2015 at 5:11 pm #

    Anyone else really enjoying the spectacle of d.p., the poster child for the fanboyish ways of modal (or in this case, anti-modal) fetishism, calling someone else a “foamer”?

  133. d.p. June 30, 2015 at 6:46 pm #

    Blah, whatever. False accusation, already addressed: https://www.humantransit.org/2015/06/portland-frequent-bus-performance-approaching-light-rails.html?cid=6a00d83454714d69e201b8d12babd4970c#comment-6a00d83454714d69e201b8d12babd4970c
    Not opposed to any modes. Just opposed to ineffective transit defended on specious grounds.

  134. uno June 30, 2015 at 7:58 pm #

    I think you’ve pretty well proven that to be just as untrue as your repeated claims that you’re done with this thread.
    It’s telling that you simply handwave away the “asterisks and caveats and denials,” the very same “asterisks and caveats and denials” to which you now point trying to deflect the accusation that you yourself are a modal fetishist. That stuff is called nuance, and it’s what separates the actual positions of actual people from the strawman you’ve assembled and railed against for dozens of comments. And of course Bolwerk doesn’t just roll over and tell you you’re right about everything, because you’re not actually arguing with Bolwerk. And you get more and more pissed, and here we are.
    That is poor thinking, and I think it’s quite fair to say Jarrett’s work is about getting us to stop thinking poorly about transit.

  135. d.p. June 30, 2015 at 8:55 pm #

    If you defend Sacramento light rail as an effective mobility model, you are looking at it incorrectly. Period.
    The logical whirligig that perpetuates this thread has been defective ever since insistent purists barged in to declare that Jarrett’s demonstration of frequent-bus effectiveness couldn’t possibly be true, because for it to be true would violate everything they’ve ever presumed about rail’s in-a-vacuum superiority.
    So Jarrett just had to be wrong.
    If that isn’t reality-warping modalism, I don’t know what is.

  136. Bolwerk June 30, 2015 at 10:21 pm #

    Uh, read for comprehension? Or stop falling back on these subjective terms like “effective”? I didn’t defend Sacramento as an effective mobility model. What I said was it isn’t the unalloyed fail you pretend it is. The boarding metric is to be much favored when attempting to make a specious comparison. SCRT trips average 3.8x as long as SF’s trolleybuses and cost only ~70% more per unlinked trip. Maybe you can make a separate argument that the SCRT fare should be higher given the resources SCRT riders consume. But you aren’t doing that. You’re just foami^H^H^H^H^Hdismissing SCRT as a failure without even considering the evidence.
    Yeah, sure, empty: “Nearly 39,000 people ride light rail between the peak hours of 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on weekdays, according to Regional Transit figures. Outside of those hours, ridership drops below 8,000. The average weekend day sees about 16,400 passengers.” – http://www.sacbee.com/news/local/crime/article2600355.html
    Cost per passenger-mile is imaginary? You’ll have to explain that. Unless you think costs and/or passenger miles traveled are fake criteria. Maybe Randall O’Toole can help you formulate that better. Oh, and speak of the devil. The FTA reports “Operating Expense per Passenger Mile” in their standard agency data collection summaries. http://www.ntdprogram.gov/ntdprogram/pubs/profiles/2013/agency_profiles/9019.pdf – did the rail foamer gnomes at the FTA plant this specifically to make you look stupid?
    Yes, Jarrett’s argument was fallacious. It might very well turn out that, with controlled/normalized data, buses in Portland would be come out ahead on some metrics. The reasoning as presented would still be flawed even if that conclusion were correct because the control isn’t there. It’s not an insult to Jarrett to point that out.

  137. d.p. July 1, 2015 at 1:05 am #

    That’s a 3-line system in a city of half a million, and stretching tentacles into a metro area of just over 2 million.
    So, yeah, those one-way boarding numbers are pathetic.
    The rest of your protestations earn a heaving [sigh].

  138. Bolwerk July 3, 2015 at 12:11 pm #

    So what? They’re perfectly normal costs. Nearly every first world country has rail that serves travel patterns like that. Why? Doing the same thing with pavement/highways, expecting everyone to own a car or using buses, probably would have been neither cheaper nor economically more efficient nor more comfortable for riders.
    There are lots of things wrong in Sacramento. I mentioned fares, but land use regulations and park ‘n ride emphasis would probably top my list. But whatever the problems with the implementation, there is just no tragedy here worthy of feces-flinging histrionics such as yours.

  139. EngineerScotty July 3, 2015 at 11:46 pm #

    1) Jarrett is a very patient moderator. The flamewar that has erupted at the end of this thread simply would not be permitted to occur on Portland Transport. Period.
    2) A big fallacy being committed all around is treating parameters such as service efficiency as binary values–is it “effective” or not–instead of the continuous variables they happen to be.
    3) The second big fallacy is engaging in mode wars in the first place. The Blue Line is more efficient than the Green Line. The 72 bus (a crosstown L-shaped route that serves two tremendously important corridors, and is the most used line in the TriMet system) is more efficient than the 10 (a weekday only bus that mostly serves a bunch of car-centric Portland neighborhoods). And probably, the 72 is more “efficient”, for some reasonable definition of that parameter, than the Green Line is–and one could even probably construct a reasonable metric by which it bests the Blue. That tells us almost nothing useful about bus vs rail, other than a well-designed bus line can be better than a poorly-designed rail line. But that’s no big surprise.
    4) Where you put the line is what matters most. The reason the 72 is great is that it runs on a pair of major corridors, with lots of job opportunities and at-least medium density housing all along the line. It’s a local bus, not a BRT, so operationally there’s nothing special about it–it’s the places it serves that makes it such a high-performing line. The Green is located ten blocks to the east of the 72–but along a freeway, and away from much of the action. It probably was an ill-advised place to put rail–a poor transit corridor, and ultimately serving a polity that has become hostile to transit–but there was an existing ROW waiting to be used, so it was cheap to build. Kinda like looking for your keys in the light where you can see, as opposed to where you actually dropped them, but whatever. I can think of several corridors that would be better than the Green Line, but building MAX on these would be far more expensive and disruptive.

  140. Bolwerk July 7, 2015 at 5:57 am #

    Eh, I’m the one arguing against mode wars. I can’t be that interested, especially on systems I almost never use. In fact, I don’t think I even entirely disbelieve d.p. when he says he doesn’t want to engage that either; he mere insists I am because I defended some things he obviously doesn’t like.
    The point is two other things to me:
    (1) an economics question. I am interested in how systems consume resources. OK, this touches on modal advantages kind of sort of, but I think in pretty concrete, objective, and, well, pedantic ways. Continuous variables or not, the only transit-related cost category that doesn’t tend to stay fairly stable from year to year without some kind of upheaval is probably capital funding. That makes sense because capital funding happens in spurts.
    (2) a policy question, or an approach to policy. This is where my opinions perhaps should be regarded as controversial: I like the idea of places being allowed to experiment. Some debacles like VTA or WES are a good good deal, to my mind, in exchange for more good outcomes like more MAXes or HBLRs or, to provide a bus example, HealthLines. You can’t even make a good federalism case against this type of allowance because, for the most part, a failed transit investment is nothing more than a tax donor city getting some of its own money back and investing it unwisely. That’s so even if you don’t allow that every success and every failure is sui generis. If Sacramento’s light rail sucks, and on a purely subjective level I might be surprisingly inclined to agree with d.p. that it does, what is it to a Portlander?
    (End of the thread? He has been personally attacking anyone who disagreed with him pretty much all along.)

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