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 67 passengers ride new Amtrak train between Seattle and Vancouver

January 19, 2010 in Blog

Last August, Amtrak opened a second train between Seattle and Vancouver B.C. The line is meant to be a pilot project ahead of the Winter Olympic games due to begin in February. Both the WSDOT and the Canadian government are waiting to see how high passenger demand is before deciding whether to make the second train permanent.

The new train makes one additional round trip between Seattle and Vancouver, everyday. According to the WSDOT, the average number of passengers on each leg is about 67.

The National Railroad Passenger Corporation presented a re!
port to Congress
in October 2009 that estimated the second line would lose about $1 million in operating costs (paid by taxpayers) and it would serve about 60,000 trips per year. The 60,000 trips per year translates to about 82 people per leg between Seattle and Vancouver.

Olympic service begins on February 12, 2009 and as Jared Paben points out on his Bellingham Traffic Blog, officials plan to make a decision on whether to make the second train permanent within the month. I'm still trying to find out how many passengers are required to justify permanent service (I've seen numbers between 60-100). But the current 67 passengers-per-leg is data collected between August 19 and December 31. I found that State and Amtrak officials offered a 25 percent discount on all fares to and from Vancouver over the same time period!
. Lowering prices during a time in which you're measuring !
demand (in the hopes of justifying permanent service) doesn't seem very objective to me but that's exactly what happened.

Either way, spending a million dollars per year in public taxes to move 67 people per day between Seattle and Vancouver is laughable. Supporters say instead of measuring mobility, we should look at the economic benefits of adding a second train. They point to a WSDOT study that shows Amtrak passengers spend about $13-$26 million a year in the Vancouver area

Are you kidding? Its reasonable to expect passengers to spend a couple of hundred dollars in the Vancouver area. But if the WSDOT finding is correct, then those 67 passengers would have to spend between $36,000 to $71,000 everyday they crossed into Vancouver. That is simply unrealistic.

The study also mistakenly assumes this economic activity would not !
occur otherwise. People who choose to visit Vancouver would do so with or without a second Amtrak train. They would just find a different way to get there.

Adding a second train between Seattle and Vancouver makes sense during the Winter Olympics. But continuing permanent service beyond March stretches the support of even the most liberal of economic interpretations.

Second northbound Amtrak train is a waste of money

January 17, 2010 in Publications

The Bellingham Herald published this op-ed on January 26, 2010. 

The second Amtrak train that connects Seattle and Vancouver, B.C., carries very few people, costs taxpayers millions of dollars and hurts local Washington companies.

Sound Transit: $10,000 for art on plywood construction wall

January 14, 2010 in Blog

CALL TO ARTISTS
PROJECT BUDGET: $10,000

ART OPPORTUNITY SUMMARY:
Act as the lead artist in scoping and overseeing projects that will be created by a variety of artists for the plywood Construction Wall surrounding the site where the Capitol Hill light rail station is being built on Broadway between John and Denny streets in Seattle.

PROJECT GOAL:
Make the fence surrounding a block of the Broadway neighborhood active, interesting and relevant during the multi-year construction period with art that engages the residents and visitors of the dense urban neighborhood.

Read the full request.

Federal transit funding criteria now to circumvent performance

January 14, 2010 in Blog

Dr. Sam Staley, a transportation policy expert at Reason Foundation, reports on USDOT Secretary Ray LaHood's address to the TRB conference happening this week in Washington D.C. Staley's observation is worth noting here:

In what can only be considered a bizarre turn in a presidential
administration committed to so-called "evidence based" public policy,
the U.S. Department of
Transportation has announced
it will approve public transit investments
based on political popularity and reduce the importance of cost-effectiveness
and performance in its approval criteria.

Sound crazy? Here is a excerpt from the official, formal
remarks U.S. Department of Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood

delivered at the keynote luncheon address at the 89th annual meeting of the Transportation Research Board, perhaps the
world's largest conference of transportation professionals:

"We’re going to free our flagship transit capital program from
long-standing requirements that have allowed us only to green-light projects
that meet very narrow cost and performance criteria.

"Instead, as we evaluate major transit projects going forward, we’ll
consider ALL the factors that help communities reduce their carbon footprint,
spur economic activity, and relieve congestion.

"To put it simply: We WILL take livability into account.

"This new approach will help us do a MUCH better job aligning our
priorities and values with our investments in transit projects that truly
strengthen communities.

"We’ll finally be able to make the case for investing in popular
streetcar projects and other transit systems that people want – and that our
old ways of doing business didn’t value enough."

The emphasis is in the original remarks.

Did his real remarks reflect the formal remarks? Yes. I was there.

Light rail misses 2009 ridership target by wide margin

January 13, 2010 in Blog

According to Sound Transit’s ridership figures from its
first six months of operation, the initial light rail segment between downtown
Seattle and the airport carried an average of 14,806 trips per weekday.

The following table summarizes the average number of weekday
trips by month since the line opened in July.

Average trips per  weekday, 2009

Month

July

13,769

Aug

14,931

Sept

14,905

Oct

16,192

Nov

14,399

Dec

14,639

Six Month Average

14,806

 

But Sound Transit has projected ridership would be much
higher.
With the opening of the airport segment in December, Sound Transit
officials promised light rail would carry an average of 21,000 riders per
weekday.  Yet average ridership by the
end of the year (December) was only 14,639 trips per weekday. That is 31.3 percent less
than what Sound Transit officials said it would be.

Even if you only count the average weekday ridership since
the airport segment opened on December 19th (eight days) it still
only carried 16,809 trips per weekday, which is 20 percent less than what
Sound Transit officials promised.

Either way, Sound
Transit officials failed to deliver their promised ridership projections for 2009, and not by just a
little but by a wide margin (20-30%). Officials will probably point to the
economy as the reason for chewing into their higher estimate. But the region
has been in a recession for about two years and as you can see from this press
release in July
, Sound Transit still promised 21,000 trips as recently as five
months ago!

Here is the full ridership report obtained by the Seattle Times.

Gov owned car company gone wild: GM chief wants higher federal gas tax

January 12, 2010 in Blog

Its difficult to imagine a private car manufacturer calling for higher federal gas taxes. Generally, car manufacturers want to decrease the cost of car ownership. But when that car manufacturer is owned by the United States government, its interests change.

         

GM chief wants higher federal gas tax

By: Mark Tapscott
Editorial Page Editor

01/12/10 8:45 AM EST

It's
International Auto Show time in Detroit, so senior executives from
automakers around the world are in the Motor City this week showing off
their latest wares, including concept vehicles that may or may not give
hints to their future products, and making pronouncements on topics far
and wide.

So you never know what to expect in the way of news from Detroit.
Take, for instance, Ford's announcement yesterday that due to growing
demand, it is ramping up production of two of its least fuel-efficient
products, the Ford Expedition and Lincoln Navigator SUVs.

Expedition sales are up 45 percent, compared to a year ago, while
Navigator sales have climbed fully 60 percent for the same period,
according to Ford Americas president Mark Fields. He was quoted by Automotive News, the trade publication.

But over at Government Motors - formerly known as General Motors -
one of its most gregarious and visible executives is calling for a hike
in the federal gas tax.

"You either continue with inexpensive motor fuels and have to find
other ways to incent the customer to buy hybrids and electric vehicles,
such as the government credits," Lutz told journalists at the show
yesterday, according to CNN Money.
"Or the other alternative is a gradual increase in the federal fuel tax
of 25 cents a year, which in my estimation would have the benefit of
giving automobile companies a planning base, and giving families that
own vehicles a planning base."

Lutz expressed frustration that buyers react so quickly to changes
in gas prices: "Every time gas prices go back down, everybody starts
buying big stuff again. Gas prices go up a buck, the big stuff is
unsellable and everyone wants small cars. Go figure. It's like the
collective memory is about three weeks long. We can't run a business
that way."

Lutz may have an ulterior motive in calling for a federal gas tax
increase. He has been a vigorous advocate within GM for the Chevrolet
Volt electric plug-in that will be unveiled this fall. Making gas more
expensive would tend to help sales of vehicles like the Volt because
they use less gas than conventional vehicles.

2010 Transportation legislation

January 12, 2010 in Blog

This session is the second year in the 2009-2010 biennium so the bills proposed last year are still in play. Yes, the legislature is expected to settle on a final approach for the 520 bridge replacement and secure a financing package, which will include tolls beginning in the Spring of 2011, but overall its shaping up to a relatively quite session on the transportation policy front. Here are some interesting bills proposed so far:

  • HB 2037: Addressing traffic congestion relief
    through state transportation system policy goals.
  • SJR 8215: Amending the state Constitution to
    require toll revenue to be used exclusively for highway purposes under Article
    II, section 40.
  • HB 2076: Concerning moneys appropriated for
    the original construction of transportation-related buildings.
  • SB 6302: Prohibiting
    the construction or operation of a light rail or other rail system on the
  • Interstate 90 floating bridge.
  • HB 2708: Concerning adopting the Washington
    state energy freedom act of 2010 and requiring express legislative
    authorization for a greenhouse gas or motor vehicle fuel economy program.
  • HB 2716: Providing a right of first
    repurchase for surplus transportation property.

You can find more information on these and other bills at washingtonvotes.org. You can also create a personalized bill tracking alert that automatically emails you daily updates on the bills or topics you choose to include.

Steep drop in Puget Sound bus ridership

January 8, 2010 in Blog

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), bus ridership in the Puget Sound region continues to fall.

In the third quarter of 2009, King County bus ridership fell 10.72 percent over the same quarter in 2008. Overall, King County bus ridership is down more than 6 percent for the year.

Puget Sound Bus Ridership

Agency                    Quarterly    Year-to-date
                       
          change        change
Kitsap Transit   �!
160;            -24.71%        -14.70%
Everett Transit               -4.92%            2.53%
Snohomish Transit         -11.61%        -4.94%
Intercity Transit              -9.76%           1.09%
King County Metro         -10.72%        -6.09%
Sound Transit                -1.58%           3.00%

Between the recession and a new light rail line, it'!
s possible the fourth quarter ridership report, which details !
demand data for the entire year, would wipe out all of the record increases most bus agencies experienced in 2008.

The average car owner pays about $272 in state transportation taxes and fees

January 6, 2010 in Blog

Yesterday at the Joint Transportation Committee, consultants hired by the state reported on their recommendations to boost transportation revenue. In their analysis, the consultants estimated how much people pay in state taxes and fees by vehicle type. For example, the owner of a mid-size passenger sedan pays $272 per year in state transportation taxes and fees. Here are some others:

Vehicle Type             2009 Dollars
Compact Car               $197
Mid-Size Sedan           $272
Light Truck (SUV)        $437
Hybrid                       !
60; $151
Electric Car                 $77
Motorcycle                  $138
Freight (medium)         $1,694
Freight (heavy)            $2,865

Some interesting observations. Notice has much less the owner of electric car pays. Its about 82% less than the owner of an SUV. Also notice the disparity between passenger cars and freight trucks. Granted, freight trucks pay more because of their greater impact on the road system, but in some cases a heavy freight truck owner is paying over 1,300% more than then owner of a passenger car.

The report also shows how vehicle owners would pay less over time because of the projected increases in fuel efficiency. By 2025, vehicle owners would pay about 10% less !
than they do today.

The consultants went further to sho!
w that most of the state taxes and fees are not tied to inflation. So, according to the report, the purchasing power of these taxes and fees would fall about 45 percent. That fall in purchasing power translates to lost revenue and the revenue forecast for 2009-25 shows a loss of about $1.6 billion.

On top of all of this, the state faces over $33 billion in unmet and unfunded transportation needs.

All of this means significant increases in how much we pay in transportation taxes and fees is inevitable. Interestingly, Sen. Haugen, chair of the JTC said during the meeting that these increases would not happen this session but sometime in the future (about 33 minutes into the!
TVW coverage of the hearing).

     

Vanpools in the Puget Sound Region

December 31, 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 an effective option for many motorists: vanpooling.  Sharing a commute through a vanpool: