Transportation

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.

What's New

Only 1,200 Boeing employees use transit?

December 18, 2009 in Blog

In a Seattle Times article today, reporter Mike Lindblom details some privacy concerns with the ORCA card.

ORCA stands for One Regional Card for All and replaces 300 other passes or transfers into a single system. But what really got my attention with this article is this:

Boeing, where about 1,200 people use transit or van pools in the Puget
Sound region, considers its fare cards "a company-provided benefit,
privacy-protected," said spokeswoman Kathy Spicer.

Boeing has over 70,000 employees in Washington, and I presume most of them in the Puget Sound region. Average transit mode share in the region is about 4-6% so only 1,200 Boeing employees using transit seems very low to me.

If right, it's this kind of data that challenges transit's "build it, and they will come" model. In economics, supply is a function of demand. This means a willingness to use a service must exist before a supply of that service is created. Boeing executives do not make 300 airplanes knowing they will only sell 100. Likewise, governments should not spend a disproportionate amount of taxes in low demand sectors, where the willingness to use the service does not justify the spending.

European transit systems provide a good contrasting example of how these economic concepts app!
ly.
In Switzerland, transit is successful, not because of the amount of service or infrastructure, but because the country has certain demographic and economic characteristics that induce demand.

In other words, there is an existing market with a customer base and Swiss policymakers respond with proportional infrastructure investments. As a result, mode share, ridership and fare box recovery are high.
In the United States, transit resources are distributed in just the opposite way.

Under the “build it, and they will come” theory, policymakers think that increasing the supply of transit will somehow create more public demand. This speculative model fails because most U.S. cities do not posses the economic or demographic characteristics that create enough voluntary consumers for public transit.

This doesn't mean public transit is bad. It just means using the economic principles of supply and demand shows that building excess transit capacit!
y before there is an equal amount of willingness to use it lea!
ds to an underperforming system. As a result, mode share, ridership and fare box recovery are low.

This is why I'm not surprised to see studies showing how bad traffic is in our region.
Seattle has nation’s worst traffic congestion: Study
Washington highways nation’s 15th worst

Federal Transportation Budget analysis

December 15, 2009 in Blog

Even if you don't closely follow transportation policy, this new study by Dr. Ron Utt of the Heritage Foundation is worth a read:

The
Surface Transportation Authorization Act (STAA), as currently written, would
dramatically change federal transportation policy by shifting resources from
cars to trolleys and buses; requiring a huge tax increase to fund these new
commitments; centralizing transportation decisions in Washington; requiring a
substantial increase in the numbers of state, local, and federal government
employees; and discouraging the private sector from investing in surface
transportation projects.


Chairman
Oberstar's Transportation Plan: A Costly Exercise in Social Engineering

WPC vanpool recommendations

December 8, 2009 in Blog

Here is the final report in our four-part series on Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region:
Part IV: Recommendations

While vanpools are popular, efficient and effective, there are several
structural and political limitations that prevent vanpool operators from
maximizing their value. These obstacles constrain demand, unnecessarily consume
public resources, and prevent vanpool services from reaching market optimization.
Washington Policy Center makes the following recommendations to improve
vanpool performance and move the most people for the least cost.

1. Saturate the vanpool market before expanding other intercity transit modes
2. Phase in 100% cost recovery over 5-10 years
3. Expand and loosen restrictions on the state Vanpool Investment Program
4. Examin!
e feasibility of introducing private operators or a public/private arrangement
5. Fund and implement recommendations of the Vanpool Market Action Plan
6. Keep federal money received by vanpools within the vanpool program
7. More emphasis on vanpools in the Puget Sound Regional Council’s Transportation 2040 plan

You can read the full series here:

Part I: The Vanpool Solution, A faster, cheaper and easier way to commute (video)
Part II: Introduction & Background
Part III: Analysis of vanpool performance and market potential
Part IV: Recommendations

Seattle officials get pat on the back: most congested city in America

December 7, 2009 in Blog

Two studies on traffic congestion were released last week and both of them were widely reported by the media.

The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) released its 2009 Congestion Report, which is the state's annual assessment of travel in the Puget Sound region. And TomTom, a company that makes Global Positioning Systems (GPS), released a study that ranked cities across the United States by those with the worst traffic congestion.

The WSDOT study concluded that traffic congestion in the Puget Sound region had fallen between 2006 and 2008, while the TomTom study showed our very own Seattle as the city with the worst traffic congestion in the nation.

In most local news coverage both reports were men!
tioned together and The Puget Sound Business Journal went so far as to say the TomTom study actually "contradicts" the WSDOT findings.

This is not exactly true.

The WSDOT report measured congestion on state highways while the TomTom study looked at traffic on surface streets at the local level. So you cannot conclude the two studies conflict with one another because they measure two very different variables.

What is most interesting to me, is the TomTom study shows Seattle is the most congested city in America. For anyone who has followed Seattle's anti-car policies over the years, this should not be a surprise. Seattle's habit is to make driving a car so expensive and time consuming that citizens are forced out of their car. For example, city officials replace auto lanes with bus only restrictions and increase parking costs by limiting!
supply and raising parking taxes. Even the EIS for the street!
car showed it would significantly increase congestion along some of its route and the city still went for it.

While most of us are shaking our heads about Seattle's ranking as the most congested city in America, Seattle policymakers probably take it as a pat on the back for a job well done.

Will anyone buy electric cars?

December 7, 2009 in Blog

From The New Republic:

This is certainly one way to entice people into plug-in vehicles:

Perhaps the main reason to think electric cars might have a shot in Denmark is their remarkable tax advantage.

The country imposes a punitive tax of about 200 percent on new cars,
so a vehicle that would cost $20,000 in the United States costs $60,000
here. For a quarter-century, electric cars have been exempt from that
tax. But the models on the market were so limited in their capabilities
that only 497 of them are registered in the entire country.

Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region, Part IV

December 6, 2009 in Publications

This is the final report in a four-part series on vanpools in the Puget Sound region.

Washington Policy Center's 31 Facts on Vanpools

December 6, 2009 in Publications

As traffic congestion and the financial and environmental costs of commuting continue to rise, a once overlooked transit alternative has quietly become the most effective option for many motorists: vanpooling.

WSDOT Secretary Hammond may want to update her talking points

December 4, 2009 in Blog

WSDOT Secretary Paula Hammond attended a summit in Washington DC this week and had the opportunity to bend President Obama's ear on the impact of funding transportation projects on jobs.

She said this: (emphasis is mine)

"We know that investments in transportation not only provide immediate
jobs for the economy
, but also provide longer-term benefits by
preserving roads, shoring up our bridges, repairing 1950s-era concrete
interstates, and making drivers safer."

But then at the same event, President Obama addressed the group, and as the Journal of Commerce points out, he apparently did not share Hammond's optimism on job growth:

President Obama says large-scale transportation projects that are
supposedly “shovel-ready” may not provide the quick boost for jobs
needed in the halting American economic recovery.

Speaking Thursday at the White House “jobs summit” aimed at
addressing persistent unemployment, the president told transportation
executives and state officials he was skeptical about the impact big
infrastructure projects would have in the near term.

“The term ‘shovel-ready,’ let’s be honest, it doesn’t always live up to its billing,” Obama said.

WSDOT Secretary Hammond may want to update her talking points.

WSDOT: You Can Build Your Way Out of Congestion

December 3, 2009 in Blog

The WSDOT just released their 2009 Annual Congestion Report, which measures traffic volumes throughout the state. The very first thing I noticed was the positive impact some of the Nickel and TPA gas tax projects were having on traffic congestion.

The WSDOT study compared traffic volumes and delay before and after on 15 of the gas tax projects. Here is what they found:

An analysis of 15 mobility projects financed by the 2003 Nickel and
2005 Transportation Partnership Account gas tax packages shows that
users experienced a 15% improvement in peak period travel times,
despite a 14% increase in volume at the same project locations.

Who is really in charge of the USDOT?

December 2, 2009 in Blog

Yesterday, I posted this blog entry: LaHood to Congress: Debate a gas tax increase

It was based on a story from the Ft Worth Star-Telegram on comments DOT Secretary LaHood made in Texas on Monday. Here is what LaHood actually said:

To index the federal fuel tax [to inflation], that's something Congress is going to
have to decide. As we get into the reauthorization bill, the debate
will be how we fund all the things we want to do. You can raise a lot
of money with tolling. Another means of funding can be the
infrastructural bank. You can sell bonds and set aside money for big
projects, multi-billion-dollar projects. Another way is [charging motorists for] vehicle miles traveled. The idea of indexing the taxes that are collected at the gas pump is something I believe Congress will debate. When the gas tax was raised in 1992 or 1993, in
the Clinton administration, there was a big debate whether it should be
indexed. At that time, they thought there'd be a sufficient amount of
money collected. Now we know that isn't the case. That is one way to
keep up with the decline in driving, and more fuel-efficient cars.

This morning, I received an email from the USDOT saying the Ft. Worth Star-Telegram ran a correction: 

Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood said Congress should debate a range of options on funding transportation needs, including indexing the federal gas tax. He did not endorse any option. Information about his remarks was incorrect Tuesday in an article about the North Texas Transportation Summit.

You can decide for yourself whether the story is accurate based on what LaHood actually said. Its more interesting to me on what it means when the USDOT sends me an email about one of my blog posts and a correction from a story in a Texas Newspaper. It suggests LaHood's office is very sensitive about their position on the federal gas tax and probably more importantly, their relationship with the White House. Perhaps because L!
aHood has been taken behind the wood shed before for suggesting in February that the US should adopt a VMT tax:

If you want to know what a presidential slap across the face feels like, just ask Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood.

LaHood had told an Associated Press reporter that the transportation department was
thinking of changing the way that gas taxes are calculated from a per-gallon measure to a per-miles-driven measure.

Is that the policy of the White House, a reporter asked Press Secretary Robert Gibbs?

"I can weigh in on it and say that it is not and will not be the
policy of the Obama administration," Gibbs said, an unusually sharp
answer.

The reporter continued, prompting an exchange that made clear that LaHood has received new marching orders from the White House.

Congressman Oberstar (D-Minnesota, Chairman of the House Committee on
Transportation and Infrastructure)

has proposed the House version of the federal transportation budget as a starting point and some think that short of implementing a tax on how much people drive, the proposed level of spending can only be funded through a significant increase in the federal gas tax rate, which is a proposal the Obama administration continues to oppose. This funding debate is one of the reasons the federal transportation budget has been delayed until sometime next year.