Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Transit Authority Thinking

The person who runs Los Angeles Metro was on KPCC the other day, to discuss what Metro will do with funds raised through Proposition R--a proposition that raises the sales tax in LA County to pay for traffic relief. He said the first priority would be to extend the Gold Line (a light rail line in the San Gabriel Valley).

A caller noted that light rail in LA had a serious problem--that its average speed (with stops) is about 15 mph. The transit guy responded that it was OK, because the average speed of buses in LA was 8 mph.

What this fails to note is that it is easier to change bus routes to get buses close to where people live and work than it is to change rail lines and stations. The issue is not the speed of the mode; the issue is the speed of the total trip. This is why rail must be fast for it to be a desirable mode.

To give an extreme example, when I commuted from Washington to Philadelphia, I had the choice of driving at 60 mph on average or taking a train that had a top speed of 120 mph and made stops at 3 places. The door-to-door trip was a toss-up, because I could drive directly from home to Penn, instead of having to go to and leave from a rail station.

John Kain taught us about all of this years ago, and I have never seen evidence that he was wrong, and yet the people who run public transportation for us seem to pay him no attention.


Acad Ronin said...

Having just been in Pasadena and watched the light rail operate I noticed another small problem. I saw nearly empty light rail cars zip through intersections while 20-30 cars sat behind the barriers idling. That's probably the equivalent of one car sitting for half-an-hour to an hour with the engine running, but not going anywhere. And this occurs at several intersections along the route, not just one. So what is the net pollution savings?

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