A (rational) conservative view of public transport

I recently read a book I bought a couple of years ago after seeing an interesting article about it: Moving Minds, Conservatives and Public Transit, by American conservatives Paul Weyrich (who passed away in 2008) and William Lind.

It’s an interesting read, providing a perspective on transport issues which isn’t often seen prominently, at least in an Australian context.

As I read (on my daily train journey!), I tweeted points I thought were worth noting, and I’ve included them all below.

There’s a lot in the book, but if I had to summarise, it would probably be these main points:

  • The current balance of car vs public transport is heavily skewed by decades of governments meddling with the free market, and providing massive subsidies to automobiles.
  • Road infrastructure is very expensive, and does not provide long-term congestion relief.
  • Urban rail infrastructure helps bring investment.
  • Investment in public transport can work towards many conservative goals, including access to employment (reducing dependence on welfare), “traditional” old-style town centres, increase in property values, reduction in reliance on foreign oil, and household budgetary savings from reducing the numbers of cars required
  • To attract choice riders to public transport, the service has to be high quality. They equate this to frequent rail services, claiming that most people won’t ride buses — though they concede buses can work well for short distances eg to get people to railway stations.
  • Old reliable technology is best (they don’t like monorails, for instance!), and more can be done to drive down costs of PT infrastructure.

Feel free to skip to the end for some more commentary about local context.

“The rise of the automobile is not a free-market outcome. Rather, it is the result of massive govt intervention on the automobile’s behalf.”

1921: USA: $1.4 b in govt funds spent on highways, while most transit systems were privately owned with no govt assistance. #WeyrichLind

“the current division of market share between the automobile and mass transit is in no way the product of a free market.” #WeyrichLind p8

Switzerland more balanced transit/auto subsidies, enabling consumers “something of a free market choice between travel modes.”

#WeyrichLind p9 notes the minority (7%) of trips made by low-income people are on transit. And subsidies are higher for affluent commuters.

For the middle class, high-quality transit offers an…important benefit. It reduces the need to buy a new (or extra) car. #WeyrichLind p11

Quality mass transit can have a profound and positive effect on economic growth and development – and it gives examples. #WeyrichLind p14

#WeyrichLind: another important conservative goal served by public transit …is moving welfare recipients into productive employment.

Cultural conservatives (should note) mass transit’s …role in helping foster a sense of community. #WeyrichLind

#WeyrichLind p18 proposes regulation reform, including (controversially I think) watering down disability access requirements.

Conservatives point to low transit mode share, but if transit were removed, commuting in big cities would become impossible #WeyrichLind p24

“In urban areas, there isn’t any place to put more highways…(and) dissecting cities with…freeways makes them die.” #WeyrichLind p24

A better measurement than transit mode share is “transit competitive trips”, where transit is available, high quality. #WeyrichLind p24

“What has held down transit ridership is not unwillingness to use satisfactory transit, but its declining availability.” #WeyrichLind p25

“rail service is not automatically high-quality service.” Amen to that! #FrequencyIsFreedom #WeyrichLind p25

“Nothing drives (commuters) to their automobiles more quickly than an inability to trust transit” #WeyrichLind p26

“in today’s America, very, very few people have high-quality transit readily available.” #WeyrichLind p26 – Slightly better in AU. Slightly.

Some types of trips, such as shopping, have never been transit competitive. #WeyrichLind p26 – Hmm not sure I entirely agree.

Historically, transit served trips for work (commuting) and entertainment – cites baseball team “Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers” #WeyrichLind p29

Chicago Dan Ryan/Kennedy expressways carry 200K vehicles per day. Parallel railways 182K riders; if they drove, gridlock. #WeyrichLind p31

“When a rider has to wait up to a quarter of an hour (for a service) he starts thinking of getting around some other way.” #WeyrichLind p33

Hmm, this book seems to spend a lot of time claiming that “upmarket” people won’t use buses, will only use rail. #WeyrichLind

#WeyrichLind praises station parking, but says in walkable neighbourhoods it discourages pedestrians; transit-oriented development better.

“Hi-tech can be the enemy of rail transit.” #WeyrichLind p40 talking about cost blowouts, says use proven technology.

“When people travel, they want predictability, security and sameness.” #WeyrichLind p41 talking personal security, but it’s a broad truth.

#WeyrichLind p42 encourages premium/first class carriages/services. Hmmm. (Well, it is pitching to conservatives.)

#WeyrichLind p42 also floats the idea of seniors-only carriages/services to make seniors feel safe from crime. Hmmmm.

#WeyrichLind p43 talks about shops and other services such as childcare located at stations- Happily,Melb has this adjacent to most stations

“in one city after another…once people experience high quality (public transport) service, they want more.” #WeyrichLind p50

“On the train, your time is not wasted. …And if you walk to and from the station, you get to add some exercise to (your) day” #WeyrichLind

“You can never build enough roads to keep up with congestion. Traffic always rises to exceed capacity.” – Martin Wachs in #WeyrichLind p55

“A 1.0% increase in (road) lane miles induces a 0.9% increase in Vehicle Miles Traveled within five years.” – Mark Hansen. #WeyrichLind p55

1999 study of 68 urban areas “shows the greatest increases on congestion have been in areas that do not have rail transit” #WeyrichLind p55

Dallas light rail line delivers 20% more capacity than a 6 lane freeway at 14% less capital cost per mile. #WeyrichLind p56

St Louis study found only 17% of train users did not drive or had no car. Bus: 70% #WeyrichLind p57. (Might mean most buses poor frequency)

Rail less flexible than buses, but this is an advantage. Helps spur development. #WeyrichLind p58

Rail can serve suburban job growth if that growth is along serviceable corridors. And rail can help create those corridors. #WeyrichLind p60

#WeyrichLind p61 talks about importance of high quality bus connections from rail to employment centres. Think Melbourne’s 401/601 shuttles.

“In one city after another, rail transit has brought increased investment, higher property values/rent, more customers.” #WeyrichLind p62

In first 4 years of operation, $860m Dallas light rail attracted $800m of investment around stations. #WeyrichLind p63

San Fransisco study showed proximity to BART station added double real estate value than proximity to freeway interchanges. #WeyrichLind p64

San Diego survey found perception of transit safety much better among people that actually use it. #WeyrichLind p66

Any new development, including transit, has potential to increase crime, but can be prevented with proactive measures. #WeyrichLind p67

“we must question the assumption that light rail should have an ‘honor’ fare system and barrier-free entry” #FareEvasion #WeyrichLind p68

#WeyrichLind p69 cites systems (LA, St Louis, Denver) where conversion of bus to rail has increased overall patronage by double or more.

“private vehicle travelers attracted to rail transit are disproportionately drawn from single occupancy vehicles.” #WeyrichLind p69

PT is subsidised – in US, 65% of costs come from taxpayers. But roads are also subsidised. #WeyrichLind p71

Some claim PT average load of 20% of capacity (across day) is inefficient. How many seats occupied in aver car? Usually 1. #WeyrichLind p71

Finished leave, back on the train tweeting bits from this book #WeyrichLind pic.twitter.com/GBmFEWgXW2

Figures show investment in transit results in more users. “If you build it, they will ride.” #WeyrichLind p74

In US, transit’s ratio of public benefits to public cost ranges from 4.0 to 5.1. #WeyrichLind p75 #BCR

“Rail transit proponents need to do a better job of conveying what it is they are asking people to (support).” #WeyrichLind p75 – Amen!

“Compared to conventional light rail, monorails are visually intrusive, technically complex and much,much more expensive. ” #WeyrichLind p76

“Politics have led to inefficiencies and failures in public transit.” #WeyrichLind p78 – Yup, definitely not USA-only.

For most of the 20th century, govt policy has conspired to make us dependent on automobiles for most of our travel. #WeyrichLind p79

Market share for transit is so small because most people have no access to a satisfactory service. #WeyrichLind p80

Noise from rail? Technology can help with that. Highway noise? Difficult to control noise from so many different vehicles. #WeyrichLind p86

Most Americans have never ridden a train of any kind. Most cities lost their rail transit at least half a century ago. #WeyrichLind p92

#WeyrichLind chapter 4 is about advocating “Bring back the streetcars!” as first step towards building a new PT network. Hmm.

This chapter also has throwaway lines such as about the Left condemning suburbs. Hmm, might be a US thing. #WeyrichLind

People see small historic towns, would like to live somewhere similar: mixed use,grid streets,designed for people not cars. #WeyrichLind p94

Streetcars say “This town, this downtown, is here to stay. It’s not going to go downhill again.” #WeyrichLind p95

#WeyrichLind p96 tries to distinguish between light rail and streetcars. Not sure it’s that simple eg Melbourne. pic.twitter.com/HuFY9dfXFa

“Streetcar lines that are integrated into the local transit system are generally more useful, attract greater ridership” #WeyrichLind p100

“The greatest threat to America’s rail renaissance is escalating costs” #WeyrichLind p101 – a lesson there for us too?

Excessive rail construction costs are due to “overbuilding, gold plating and…placating NIMBYs” #WeyrichLind p102

“As conservatives, we find America’s past attractive. America in the streetcar era (about 1890-1950)…was a great place.” #WeyrichLind p110

Streetcars “should serve the Central Business District and serve it well (remember,Americans don’t like to walk very far)” #WeyrichLind p111

Chapter 5 is called “How transit benefits people who do not ride it.” #WeyrichLind

“Most conservatives do not ride transit. Why? Because in most of America, the high-quality transit conservatives demand is not available.”

#WeyrichLind chapter 5 on how transit benefits non-users. The three main points:

“First, transit can reduce traffic congestion, or at least the rate of increase in traffic congestion.” #WeyrichLind p117

“Second, everyone may need transit occasionally, to get to the big football game, car (being repaired) or snow 3 feet deep.” #WeyrichLind

“Third, transit can bring large increases in residential property values…can put money in homeowners’ pockets.” #WeyrichLind p117

“If new roads are built, 66% of Americans do not think congestion on the roads will be eased.” #WeyrichLind p119 quoting 2001 study.

“Just how strong can induced demand be? Some studies find an almost one-to-one relationship.” #WeyrichLind p119 #InducedTraffic

“A 1% increase in (road space) induces 0.9% increase Vehicle Miles Travelled within 5 years” #WeyrichLind p119 #InducedTraffic

“building more roads or adding lanes to existing freeways not only doesn’t work, it also costs a fortune.” #WeyrichLind p119 #InducedTraffic

A rail line can carry more people than a 6 lane highway taking 3 times the space. #WeyrichLind p120

“traffic congestion grew at a rate of 73% higher in non-rail cities, than in cities with rail in..major travel corridors.” #WeyrichLind p121

“75% of Portland’s PT users are car owners that have chosen transit over auto use, at least for some trips.” #WeyrichLind p122

Every choice rider on transit equals a car removed from traffic…people who drive should lead charge for more transit #WeyrichLind p122

“transit reduces energy consumption, & flow of petrodollars to people who like to crash airplanes into our skyscrapers” #WeyrichLind p124 !!

“transit the most effective strategy for…improving the environment without imposing new taxes,govt mandates,regulations” #WeyrichLind p124

If Americans used PT for 10% of daily travel needs, US would reduce dependence on imported oil by more than 40%. #WeyrichLind p125

“public transit can save you money by reducing the number of cars you have to buy, maintain and insure” #WeyrichLind p126

Chapter 6 of #WeyrichLind is about winning transit referenda. Perhaps more relevant than at first glance given #EWLink referendum?

“Build deep support, not just broad support.” #WeyrichLind p133. Good point, relevant to a lot of political debate.

People want to know specifics of a transport proposal, not just vague info. Don’t say “trust us experts”. They won’t. #WeyrichLind p134

Explain proposal to the public. But there is not one “public”. The key is segmentation, and right messages. #WeyrichLind p135

Argue case with current users, workers/unions, and people who don’t and won’t use PT but who will benefit. #WeyrichLind p135

Segmentation builds deep support. People who clearly see how the proposal benefits them can become your champions. #WeyrichLind p136

Opponents of rail tend to say same things everywhere. Prepare in advance to answer them; do so immediately they surface. #WeyrichLind p136

#WeyrichLind chapter 7 is about energy independence…ways to reduce America’s dependence on foreign oil.

USA largely dismantled PT systems, now almost wholly dependent on cars, and highly vulnerable to interruptions to oil. #WeyrichLind p147

Oil demand rising, supplies getting more difficult and expensive to produce. #PeakOik #WeyrichLind p149 — In 2015 we have a temp reprieve?

“a shift from cars to mass transit could have a major effect in reducing oil consumption, in addition to other benefits.” #WeyrichLind p150

#WeyrichLind p150-151 discusses a PT network that serves everyone, with mass transit, and infrequent but coordinated services in rural areas

Conservatives generally favour a level playing field. Private automobile travel is subsidised massively at present. #WeyrichLind p155

Weyrich died in 2008. “He knew that automobiles answered yesterday’s transportation needs better than tomorrow’s” #WeyrichLind p159

“More money for transit” is not enough to gain attention of public. It must be a vision of results, not just inputs. #WeyrichLind p160

“You will not hear us call for a system of monorails or maglev. We desire no new technologies.” #WeyrichLind p161

What is good urban transit? 1.Coverage. 2.Frequency. 3.Ease of connection. 4.As much as possible, rail – people prefer it. #WeyrichLind p161

#WeyrichLind p161 says “mode neutrality” ignores public preference for trains over buses, ignores the market. Hmm…interesting!

#WeyrichLind p161 reference to Vukan #Vuchic. (Search that hashtag for my tweets from reading his books!)

Timed transfer can help make up for infrequent services. #WeyrichLind p162

People prefer rail over bus, but will take “feeder buses”, eg short bus rides as part of a longer trip. #WeyrichLind p162

A good policy is “always a streetcar in sight” – because they are “pedestrian facilitators” to promote activity/growth. #WeyrichLind p163

“To make regular transit work well, as much thought needs to be given to schedules as to routes and transfer points.” #WeyrichLind p166

High-frequency service essential for streetcars to serve as “pedestrian facilitators”, spark economic development. #WeyrichLind p168

Differing types of transit should not exist in isolation. Each feeds into and facilitates the others. #WeyrichLind p170 #NetworkEffect

“Building new railways is expensive. Make maximum use of the rail lines that already exist.” #WeyrichLind p170

Where you have to employ buses, make them as convenient, quick and comfortable as possible. High frequency best. #WeyrichLind p170

“All the technologies our vision (for good PT) employs existed a hundred years ago.” #WeyrichLind p171 — Hmm maybe not signalling/priority?

Interesting para from #WeyrichLind p171 on a conservative view of PT that can’t be summarised in one tweet:

Paragraph from #WeyrichLind p171

20th century: “So vast were (road) subsidies that they drove out of business the privately owned streetcars, railways” #WeyrichLind p175

Road subsidies have “left most Americans dependent on automobiles for almost all travel, with…unhappy consequences” #WeyrichLind p175

“Had highways been forced to compete in a free market with (transit)…we would today have many fewer highways and a lot more railways” p176

“As conservatives, we want cities to work. We know highways, chop cities in pieces and leave them to die.” #WeyrichLind p177

“communities which provide existing car users with a comparable transit experience succeed in reducing VMT (driving)” #WeyrichLind p178

“As conservatives, we are not environmentalists, though on the whole we would rather not breathe smog.” #WeyrichLind p180 — heh!

“people who switch from their car to electrified rail help reduce oil imports, which improves national security” #WeyrichLind p180

#WeyrichLind p181 uses another term for “induced demand” (with respect to transport capacity filling) – “suppressed demand”.

Limited-access highways negative impact on urban vitality – contrasts strongly with railways stimulating urban redevelopment #WeyrichLind p181

Dependence on vehicles fuelled largely with imported oil is the Achilles’ heel of current foreign+national security policy #WeyrichLind p182

“corn-based ethanol takes almost as much petroleum to produce as it saves” #WeyrichLind p185 advocates less reliance on oil

#WeyrichLind finishes up with some stuff about a specific govt report that was adjusted before release, not really relevant to us.

Tony Abbott - Wants to fix congestion, but will only fund roads

As I said, I found the book very interesting, and I’d recommend it for people active in this space who are looking for arguments that are likely to appeal to conservatives.

The problem of course — and I’m sure they face this in the US just as much as here — is that there are some conservatives who don’t take a strict conservative view on these types of issues, don’t consider the pros and cons of arguments, but instead take a narrow-minded ideological standpoint. I’m referring of course to our dear Prime Minister Abbott, who has point blank refused to fund urban public transport, because… well, just because.

As Crikey remarked yesterday (Paywall): This unfathomable position is not based on economics. … The Abbott government must take a mode-neutral approach to future funding decisions and open its eyes to what other successful world cities are doing. It must embrace a nationwide public transport improvement program based on economic merit as assessed by the arm’s-length arbiter, Infrastructure Australia.

The Commonwealth government “sticking to its knitting” is ludicrous. It thankfully hasn’t been like this at the state level. The state Coalition’s continued push for the economically irresponsible East West Link was at least tempered by support and funding for public transport projects as well.

As I’ve noted before, there seems to be a lack of rational, thinking conservatives at the top of politics in Australia, at least at the Federal level — at least while Mr Abbott is running the show. Perhaps that will change, perhaps not.

But the fact remains that to those who are willing to actually engage rationally in the debate, there are strong conservative arguments in favour of public transport over roads.

Some thoughts on the Labor leadership spill

A few thoughts on Federal politics from the last few days.

I think Gillard did some great stuff. Carbon tax (some don’t like it, but it works), National Disability Insurance Scheme, the Royal Commission into child abuse, and (along with her predecessors on both sides) keeping the economy afloat in dire economic times — and all while dealing with the challenges of a minority government, making it difficult to get anything done at all.

Introducing KevinBut for whatever reason (probably a combination of sexism and problems of running a minority government), she had zero chance of winning the next election for Labor.

Rudd is apparently a control-freak and difficult to work with, but has a small chance of winning. Small is greater than zero. And even if Labor can’t win, it’s better to have an Opposition that works than an Opposition that’s been almost totally destroyed.

Why is this important? Because the Coalition under Abbott is regressive on key points. For me, the two biggest are that they won’t fund urban public transport, only roads; and they will abolish the carbon tax even though it works.

And of course there’s Abbott’s half-baked (but most of the cost) version of the National Broadband Network — completely lacking in the vision to see the types of emerging IT-based industries that could help drive the next economic boom, as well as bring benefits right across the country, especially in regional areas, such as much better (remote) access to medical services and advice.

(I fully suspect that if Malcolm Turnbull hadn’t lost the Liberal leadership vote by a single vote, the Coalition would have a much more enlightened view on these three issues.)

One more thing: Abbott and others are criticising Rudd because he wasn’t elected by voters to be leaders. Abbott didn’t have such criticisms when Napthine took over from Baillieu in Victoria. Reality is, us voters don’t directly elect leaders. Both Rudd and Napthine are legitimately leaders.

Update 29/6: Added picture of ad for “Despicable Me” that I saw on the side of a bus earlier in the week.

Mr Rabbit vs Mr Riley

I don’t necessarily agree with Tony Abbott’s policies, but I don’t think what he said to the soldiers, taken in context, was unreasonable.

Colonel Creighton says of the Digger’s death: “Was it tragic? Absolutely. But we’re all in the knowledge that all the stuff (firepower support) you see here and more was available on the day.”

In response, Mr Abbott says: “It’s pretty obvious that, well, sometimes s— happens, doesn’t it.”

Immediately, Major General Cantwell replies: “It certainly does, yeah.” — AAP report

So they’d been discussing the death of Lance Corporal Jared MacKinney, and whether the troops had enough support on that operation. The conclusion seemed to be that no matter how much support, how good the equipment, how good the planning, sometimes, unfortunately, soldiers die.

It’s an inherently dangerous job, after all.

It was probably a cheap shot from Channel 7 to use the footage — but perhaps hardly surprising, given the release of the full footage under Freedom Of Information had been blocked. Mark Riley must have figured someone had something to hide.

Abbott’s response — the 25 seconds of dead silent seething anger — made the story much, much worse for him. It made it bigger. It made it a talking point around the country.

Any response would have been better. Say you won’t answer the question because it’s unreasonable. Say the original comments had to be taken in context, and explain that if necessary.

It’s like those guys who get filmed coming out of court, and decide to attack the cameras, guaranteeing them a much more prominent place on the evening news.

From the sounds of it, Abbott’s office let him down, and despite Channel 7 giving advance warning as to the nature of the interview, he simply wasn’t prepared for it.

As a commenter on the Herald Sun web site notes: I’m so pleased that Tony Abbott glared at Mark Riley, the normal human reaction would have been to grab Mark by the hair and call him a few unprintable names. Abbott showed his control, and actually had just come from a very emotional session in Parliament where they reflected on the human tragedies in the floods.

Perhaps it’s a plus that he didn’t lose his temper, but then again, shouldn’t senior politicians be prepared to face this kind of stuff?

MediaWatch returned on Monday. I’ll be very interested to see what they make of it.