Because being there is what's most important, WPC's Center for Transportation researches and analyzes the best practices for relieving traffic congestion by recapturing a vision of a system based on freedom of movement.

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Rational choices mean less people choose public transit

June 7, 2010 in Blog

Here is an article by Steven Polzin called The Cost of Slow Travel. He points out that public transit is slower than other travel modes and if you value time, the additional delay becomes a cost.

Transit’s slower average travel speeds result in approximately 3
billion hours annually of additional travel time.  If valued at the TTI
time value of $15.47 per hour, this equates to approximately $44
billion annually in lost productivity due to travelers having or
choosing to use transit.  Thus, the few percent of persons who use
transit (approximately 2% of total person trips are on transit {5% of
work trips} and approximately 1% of person miles of travel) incur 70%
as much lost time relative to driving as is incurred by the total of
auto travelers due to congestion, $44 billion for transit users versus
$64 billion for driving in congestion.

Polzin admits his calculations are not precise and ignore many factors. But his overall point is valid:

One of the reasons the country and individuals have become more
productive and the country has had growing gross domestic product over
the past several decades is that we have been highly mobile and travel
has gotten faster until recent years.  Part of the reason for faster
travel has been the shifting from slow to faster modes and facilities. 
There are lots of good reasons to enable and encourage use of
alternative modes but analysis of the consequences should strive to be
objective about the travel time and productivity consequences.

King County's magic show on the West Seattle Ferry

June 2, 2010 in Blog

Last week, we released a study showing King County's take over of the West Seattle Ferry from Argosy Cruises (a private ferry operator based in Seattle) will cost three times more over the next decade.

In this Seattle Times article, King County officials disputed our analysis and claimed our estimate showing the cost differences was too high.

Here is a table showing the full budget for the West Seattle Ferry in 2009 (Argosy) and 2010 (King County). Judge for yourself....(see footnote #2 for source). King County's labor costs alone are higher than the entire annual operating budget under the public/private model.


Note: Argosy only operated the route for seven months. King County will operate the route for nine months this year and a full twelve months next year. To make a fair comparison, you must annualize the costs. Argosy's cost is about $115,000 per month. King County's cost is about $339,000 per month.

Government Takeover Of West Seattle Ferry Triples Costs

May 27, 2010 in Blog

Last night, KIRO 7 (CBS) news in Seattle aired a special investigative
report based on our new study “King County Ferry Service Not as
Efficient as Private Operator.” You can read the story online here, and watch the video here.

Read the Policy Note that was the source for this story here >>

Here are the Key Findings:

  • This year, King County officials decided to cancel the public/private
    partnership with Argosy Cruises and operate the West Seattle Water Taxi
  • Annualizing costs shows Argosy Cruises was able to provide the same
    service for three times less money than a strictly government operation.
  • King County’s labor costs alone are higher than the entire operating
    budget of the public/private model.
  • Allowing Argosy Cruises to operate
    the West Seattle Water Taxi would save King County property tax payers
    nearly $30 million over the next ten years without sacrificing service.

Obama's troubling Transportation Policy

May 20, 2010 in Blog

Since President Obama took office, the federal philosophy on America's transportation policy revolved around terms such as "livability," "livable communities" and "sustainability."

Until now, no one really knew what these concepts meant. Recently, USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood clarified:

"Livability means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car."

Noted transportation expert, Ken Orski has more: 


May 19,

U.S. DOT’s Strategic
Plan Stirs Controversy With Its Emphasis on "Livability"

livable a transformative policy shift for U.S. DOT,"
announced grandiloquently the Draft U.S. DOT Strategic Plan, released for
public comment on April 15, 2010. But what exactly does the Administration
mean by "livable communities" and how does it intend to translate
this vague rhetorical abstraction into a practical reality? To get an
understanding of the Administration’s intentions one must delve into the
stilted language and bureaucratic jargon of its policy pronouncements,
notably the "HUD-DOT-EPA Interagency Partnership for Sustainable
Communities" and the above-mentioned Draft Strategic Plan. "Livable
Communities," says the latter, are "places where transportation,
housing and commercial development investments have been coordinated so that
people have access to adequate, affordable and environmentally sustainable
travel options."

Interagency Partnership Agreement speaks in similar vague generalities. It
defines livability principles as including "more transportation
choices," "equitable, affordable housing" and "reliable
access to employment centers, educational opportunities and services."
Give credit to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for reducing these
abstract concepts to plain English. "Livability," he said, "
means being able to take your kids to school, go to work, see a doctor, drop
by the grocery or post office, go out to dinner and a movie, and play with
your kids in a park, all without having to get in your car." In other
words, "livability" in the Secretary’s mind means living in a dense
urban environment where walking, biking and transit are realistic travel
alternatives to using a car.

But this definition is too narrow to suit most Americans, whose notion of
"livability" may include living in suburban communities and
enjoying such obvious amenities as a safe neighborhood, access to good
schools, the privacy of one’s own backyard and the freedom, comfort,
convenience and flexibility of personal transportation. If  "livability"
becomes a euphemism for a federal policy of favoring high density,
transit-dependent living, then we are moving closer to "newspeak"
when words mean whatever Big Brother intends them to mean.

Have you ever seen a $40 million bus stop?

May 17, 2010 in Blog

Untitled Behold: the $40,000,000 bus stop.

Sound Transit and the Washington State Department of Transportation are spending $40 million on a bus stop in Mountlake Terrace. The bus stop is in the middle of I-5 and connects with an existing park and ride lot.

So why spend so muc!
h on a bus stop on I-5 when bus drivers could just exit the freeway and use the park and ride lot?

Here is WSDOT's answer:

  1. This circuitous route would cause service delays.
  2. Increase bus operating costs.
  3. Increase the potential for collisions on I-5 from buses weaving between the HOV lanes and on and off-ramps.

I guess exiting the freeway and using the existing park and ride lot would add about 5 minutes to the average bus route. Shorter travel times is a public benefit but I'm having trouble justifying $40 million to save five minutes.

The second reason is my favorite. It only costs about $1.33 per minute to operate a bus in King County. If five routes use this bus stop and let's say each route makes 8 stops per day, officials are saving about $266 per day. This means it would take 412 years before this $40 million "investment" paid off. 

The final reason is also unconvincing. Bus drivers are already expected and trained to safely negotiate merging across all lanes of traffic. 

I like the idea of freeway transit stations, especially when combined with a Bus Rapid Transit system. But this particular project is completely duplicitous and not worth spending $40 million.

520 Traffic Congestion would Grow between 10% and 16% under McGinn’s Plan

May 17, 2010 in In the News
National Center for Policy Analysis
National Center for Policy Analysis
Monday, May 17, 2010

Washington Policy Center attacks what it calls a $40M bus stop

May 17, 2010 in In the News
Bellingham Herald
Bellingham Herald
Monday, May 17, 2010

A $40 million bus stop?

May 17, 2010 in In the News
Monday, May 17, 2010

WSDOT official: replace domestic airline travel with publicly subsidized rail

May 13, 2010 in Blog

I recently taped a segment for TVW on some of the problems with High Speed Rail (HSR). My main argument is that it competes with the airline industry:

public taxes to artificially shift demand from an efficient sector of
the economy to one that loses money is a waste of resources and places hometown businesses at a competitive disadvantage.

Andrew Wood, Deputy Director of the State Rail and Marine Division of the Washington State Department of Transportation, disagrees. Director Wood seems to argue that HSR should replace domestic airline travel:

I'm not familiar with the Spain example cited by Director Wood but I've highlighted a case in China in a previous post. As reported by Reuters, several Chinese airlines shut down some flights because passengers are instead using a new HSR line.

This is not a big deal when the government owns both the airline and
the train company....chalk it up to efficiency. But in the United
States, spending billions in public money to prop up a passenger rail
system that loses an average of $37 per rider will harm competing companies that do make money.

I wonder if officials from Boeing and Alaska Airlines know that a cabinet level state agency is advocating and working toward replacing all domestic airline service with publicly subsidized rail?