Monday, November 08, 2010

Unlit Rail

Front-page story about the future of Indy's mass-transit system in the Daily Fishwrap this morning managed to actually flounder its way to the pertinent question: "Will the public get on board?"

In a word, probably not; Indianapolis had an outstanding public transit system back in the 1940s and it was running in the red even then. My Dad grew up in a house that was practically on the streetcar line...and in his teens, was happy to swap riding it for a push-start Cushman scooter, followed by a Model T with a cracked block after the two-wheeler threw a rod.*

The paper wonders if us benighted rubes would use mass-transit -- and does offer up IndyGo and an example of How Not To Run A Bus System. (Even "...President and CEO Mike Terry will be the first to admit [it] is barely scraping by...with limited local funding...." Aha! So, not turning a profit? The paper goes on to tell us us that's why the busses cannot attract folk who don't have to use the bus, a group they call "choice" riders. (Judging by the number of 50cc scooters and bicycles I see, they're not even doing that good a job attracting riders who don't have cars). --Look, if you have to subsidize the service to attract folks who can afford cars, there's something wrong; either you're overcharging, the buses aren't going when/where they're needed (IndyGo is chronically late) or the whole idea is flawed. Or some combination of those things. When customers are staying away in droves, that is a message, one so simple even Wal*Mart can work it out.

A couple of encouraging items: express buses, zipping from the 'burbs to in-town destinations, have proven popular (possibly 'cos they are on time?). They're hoping to add more, maybe even make a few bucks at it, who'da thunk? And light-rail plans have been scaled 'way back -- look, I like the idea of light rail; I like streetcars. But if you don't have riders, you're just building a 1:1 model train set at taxpayer expense...while 15-year-olds scooter past the empty coaches.

This doesn't mean the trolley circulating between downtown and the airport has been scrapped -- only that, for now, it'll have tires instead of flanged wheels. If it doesn't work, if the route needs adjusted, hey, no rails. And the city can find out if it works at all, instead of relying on "experts" like Joe Schwieterman, who assures us (or at least assures What Passes For A Newspaper), "Rail has a cachet that augments a city's cosmopolitan image." Cosmopolitan image? Can you eat it, Joe, have sex with it, or...Oh. Of course. You smoke it.

I'm still not seeing a whole lot about any actual study of what actual riders want, other than the express buses. You'd think the city'd ask those tired folks at bus stops, peering worriedly back up the road, hoping maybe that distant set of headlights is, finally, the bus. Or possibly Godot.
* Gee, and I used to wonder why he was so hardcore about doing proper maintenance on cars when he was all grown up....


Anonymous said...

Rail is for "the others."

Journalists will not use it, just ask them. The newspapers want all you smelly commuters to use it.

Shootin' Buddy

Roberta X said...

We can probably bet Matthew Tully won't b riding h bus.

Bob said...

At least here in Charlotte, the express buses allow suburban (read: white) passengers to zip uptown to work without stopping to pick up urban (read: black) passengers. Probably it's much the same elsewhere.

BasicaGuru said...

Hey Roberta.

I could not find an email link so I will post here. Shopgoodwill dot com has multiple tube type radios and a telegraph key listed. A few of the radios looked pretty neat.


Fuzzy Curmudgeon said...

Oh, come on, Bobbi. You know masstrans isn't supposed to make money :)

Seriously, the time to have built light rail or a subway system was 30 years or more ago. Things here have become too decentralized to make it worthwhile, now.

As a massive railfan, it truly irks me to have to say that. :(

Ed Rasimus said...

I grew up in Chicago. When it came time for high school, I commuted on the CTA. When it was college and I still lived in the city, it was CTA still with a bus ride to the El station which became subway downtown then a transfer to another subway that arrived on campus as an El.

The grid network of Chicago streets had streetcars then trolley buses and diesel buses on every major arterial. That means parallel lines every four blocks. Frequency was about every fifteen minutes 24/7 with unlimited transfer from street to street and mode-to-mode.

But, that was long ago when nobody was in a two-car family and the city was safe and easy to navigate. Today, the convenience of ready-when-you-are cars makes it unlikely that public transit can be self-supporting except in concentrated metro areas like NYC.

Go West were the cities sprawl and you never get the concentration of residence high rises and workplace offices necessary to justify point-to-point fixed transit.

Maybe jitney fleets are the answer to low cost transit and unemployment both!

Stretch said...

Silly Bobbie!
The answer is simple. Those pesky car drivers must be taxed per mile at a rate that will make the bus a "viable economic alternative."

Yes, I work with way too many liberals.

Anonymous said...

So, your city is supposed to spend millions on a rail system... so it can have "cachet"???

This is the equivalent of telling the average Joe that he simply MUST go buy a Rolex so he, too, can have "cachet". He doesn't need it and he certainly can't afford it, but why should those petty concerns stop him!

I recently visited friends in Atlanta. MARTA should serve as a warning to any city thinking of a light rail system.

Anonymous said...

Few stop to consider the implications of these boondoggles mostly intended to expand the number of government employee union members. In Minnesota, the collapse of the I-35W bridge can be traced to MNDOT blowing half a billion dollars on a light rail system. The bridge was found to be bucking almost two decades prior to the collapse but there was no money to pay for it. The new bridge carries more people in a day than the useless light rail system carries in a year.