Thursday, June 05, 2008

The BUS Riders Union shows its true colors

Apparently the bus riders union is getting desperate. Having lost its bid to stop the fuel tax surcharge, now it is attacking light rail head on posting an article by Randal O'Toole describing how Light Rail is a failure.

I have spent the last few hours deciding if I should even bother with this, but considering the bus riders union is trying to pass off this misinformation campaign I decided I should go over the facts.

O' Toole has long been a apposed to transit, especially rail transit and uses the fact that he is a foamer to qualify himself as an expert. For those who don't know the term foamer it is used to describe rabid railfans, the types you see carrying the scanners and in general wearing shirts and hats from current or dead railroads.

So lets go over what O' Toole claims and go over some facts.

1. His first point is that Light Rail Cost tax dollars to build.

Well yes, it does cost money to build but so does any infrastructure project. How many billions will go to the new Mountainview Corridor highway? However, clearly the taxpayers of the counties affected have seen the benefits of the projects and support them.

2. Light Rail does not get people out of cars.

Just look at the numbers created by TRAX. TRAX is now carrying 33% of all transit riders in the 6 counties that UTA serves. That's right folks, even though the bus network covers six counties an hundreds of miles, our 24 mile light rail system is carrying 33% of the entire transit load. Also, consider that TRAX by 2000 was carrying the same number of passengers as every major bus route including routes such as Redwood, 900 East and Highland that did not directly compete with TRAX. Also, since ridership did not dip that much on these routes it is clear that TRAX was carrying

Here is another illustration using Los Angeles, the Blue Line between Los Angeles and Long Beach is now carrying upwards of 80,000 people per day (while a nearby busway carries 5,000). If you were to replace that line with buses you would have to run articulated buses with crush loads every 60 to 120 seconds to carry the numbers that the Blue Line is carrying. The Blue line replaced an express bus (that originally replaced the red car interurbans), that ran every 20 to 30 minutes and only carried a few thousand passengers a day plus a local route that carried even less.

Light rail does attract those out of cars.

3. Light Rail can inconvenience riders.

O' Toole tries to claim that transit systems that put in light rail lines loose overall ridership. Clearly this is not true as ridership on UTA has gone up substantially. Even a better indicator is that revenue has gone up consistently since TRAX has gone into service. Yes some people have to transfer who didn't previously, but overall service is improved. Also, the problem with buses being cut isn't the cost of light rail since it cost less per passenger than buses, its that there is not enough people riding the current bus system with shows other issues besides the light rail.

4. Light Rail increases congestion.

Apparently because lights are timed for light rail trains it increases congestion. However, if you were running BRT, then you would have buses holding signals so wouldn't that increase congestion also? Also the lack of light rail would put more buses in the downtown region so that would also create more congestion. In other words we are grasping at straws here.

5. Light Rail benefits Downtown Property Owners at the expense of others elsewhere.

O' Toole uses one study to say that money is repositioned to downtown thanks to Light Rail. Could it be that people are more likely to come to downtown when they don't have to deal with traffic and parking issues. Personally, I only went downtown once or twice in the two years before TRAX started but after it started running I would go downtown much more frequently because the parking and traffic hassles were history.

6. Light Rail Does not stimulate local economic development.

More nonsense from O'Toole here. He claims that the only economic development is created by taxpayer subsidies to developers. Of course you will never here O' Toole mention the subsidies that go to big box retailers and other developments that are not transit related since they are apparently OK.

7. Light Rail Increases Energy Consumption And Greenhouse gases.

Here he attacks the TRAX directly saying because of TRAX buses are running empty causing energy consumption to go up. Then he says that bus ridership in Salt Lake went down 50% when TRAX started although the truth is bus ridership has remained relatively flat for 15 years. Of course there was areas that were loosing riders namely the Ogden area and Provo/Orem but the last time I checked TRAX did not go into those areas.

8. Light Rail diverts tax dollars that could go to more worthy transportation projects.

Here is were O'Toole and the BUS riders union shows its true colors. He states that money should be going to highways that buses could use and not rail transit. Apparently he believes the voters of Utah and other areas are stupid because they support transit. We already know that the BUS riders union will seek the support of those who want to steel the TRAX funds to support highways and this is even more proof.

I would urge everyone to go comment on the Bus Riders Union blog entry and tell them how you feel.
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