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Old Posted Oct 23, 2019, 5:02 PM
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U.S. Transit Ridership Is Plummeting: Can San Diego’s Proposal Buck The Trend?

Nationwide Transit Ridership Is Plummeting: Can San Diego’s High-Speed Rail Proposal Buck The Trend?


Oct. 21, 2019

By Joshua Emerson Smith

Read More: https://www.latimes.com/california/s...ego-buck-trend

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Elected officials are preparing to ask San Diegans to approve not one but two tax increases to fund billions of dollars in bus and rail investments, including a San Diego Grand Central Station to connect riders to the airport. The ask comes at a time when many cities around the country, from Atlanta to Houston to Los Angeles have invested heavily in public transit only to lose riders. Seattle is the only major metropolitan region in the U.S. that has seen ridership increase in recent years.

- Those who hope to see San Diego follow Seattle’s example say it will take more than spending massive amounts of taxpayer dollars. It’s going to take something politicians in Southern California and beyond have been reluctant to do: Make it harder to drive. — “Los Angeles is very much a cautionary tale,” said Michael Manville, a professor of urban planning at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs. “You can’t take a region that is overwhelmingly designed to facilitate automobile travel and change the way people move around just by laying some rail tracks over it.” — Transportation experts have recommended bold steps for metropolitan regions attempting to get people out of cars and onto public transit, including eliminating parking in major job centers, encouraging dense neighborhoods with vibrant street life, ending freeway expansions and limiting suburban home construction. Most have also called for instituting some form of congestion pricing, such as highway and road tolls that fluctuate based on traffic.

- It’s unclear whether the San Diego region will see walkable urban communities sprout up around bustling new train stations, but the idea is gaining traction, at least in the region’s larger cities. San Diego Mayor Kevin Faulconer, arguably the most high-profile elected official in the region pushing for a major transit expansion, has called for a “balanced approach,” including building a new high-speed rail system and adding lanes to state routes 78 and 67. It’s the kind of strategy for transportation planning that some say has led other cities to spend billions on transit systems that many people don’t ride. — In his own city, the Republican official has taken some major steps to increase density, including nixing parking requirements around transit stops and unveiling a plan to lift height limits on new construction in those areas. Still, transforming the region would probably take decades of dedication by local leaders and policies likely to upset many homeowners, said Mark Hallenbeck, director of the Washington State Transportation Center at the University of Washington.

- “I won’t say it’s an insurmountable problem, but it’s really hard to change it,” Hallenbeck said. “The heart of whether this will be successful or not is how much stuff are you going to build within walking distance of these stations,” he said. “Can you stop growth from going out to Santee and Poway?” — Hallenbeck said a large part of Seattle’s success has been its urban growth boundary, which restricts how far out the city can build. The metropolitan area is also surrounded by water and ridge lines that deter sprawl. At the same time, Seattle’s major employers, such as Amazon and the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, along with associated biotech businesses, are all centrally located. The city’s major stadiums are also downtown. — As a result, traffic in Seattle is notoriously gridlocked, but its bus and light-rail systems are well used, according to an analysis of federal data out of MIT. Since 2002, the region has seen a per capita ridership increase of 22%.

- Over the same period, the L.A. region saw a ridership decrease of 11%, while the Houston and Dallas-Fort Worth regions in Texas both saw a whopping 28% drop. “I don’t think there’s a magic formula that people are keeping secret from cities,” said Yonah Freemark, a doctoral candidate in urban studies at MIT, who compiled the figures on his website the Transport Politic. “You have to make sure it’s not so easy to drive around, and that means reducing the amount of parking that’s available or that is required for new [building] projects,” he said. “It means reducing the number of car lanes and, in some cases, increasing the taxes on gasoline.” — Beyond Seattle, cities throughout France, for example, have been seeing significant gains over the last decade, including a 9% per capita ridership increase in Paris, a 19% bump in Strasbourg and a 43% jump in Bordeaux. Freemark said many of these cities could have chosen to sprawl into the countryside but have instead restricted growth.

- San Diego faces some unique challenges when it comes to planning its multibillion-dollar 100-mph rail system. Most notably, the region’s employment centers are decentralized. Downtown San Diego, the densest and easiest location to serve with transit, has only 5% of the region’s employees. The largest job hubs are auto-centric Sorrento Valley and Kearny Mesa, but even those areas combined have only about 16% of the region’s workers. San Diegans drive long distances all over the county to get to work, with major employment centers located from National City to El Cajon to Escondido and Carlsbad. — The San Diego Assn. of Governments’ ambitious rail plan includes laying hundreds of miles of track throughout the county to connect residential areas to these job centers. Agency experts are analyzing the region’s commuter patterns in an attempt to design rail service that lures commuters off the most congested highway corridors.

- The lines, many of which are planned as subways, will go through existing residential areas with the added aim of encouraging dense development along the routes. “I think this region is more suited to follow up with transit-oriented development than any other region in the country,” said SANDAG Executive Director Hasan Ikhrata. “All California and the U.S. is designed around the car, around the interstate system. It took 50 years to have the land use we have. It’s going to take 50 years to reverse it with the rail.” To pay for it, top transportation officials are eyeing a 1-cent sales tax increase on the November 2022 ballot that could bring in about $100 billion through 2062. However, some outside experts have raised concerns about SANDAG’s proposed approach. — “It’s a pretty comprehensive commuter rail map, but it’s not going to address the sprawl issue,” said Ethan Elkind, director of the climate program at UC Berkeley’s Center for Law, Energy and the Environment. “If anything, it might make sprawl worse, and these tend to be expensive to run.”

- Elkind said the region would do better to encourage employers to move to more central and walkable locations before building fixed rail lines. “It’s about San Diego leaders working with their businesses to encourage them to locate back downtown along transit lines and give them some incentives to do so,” he said. Funding a more limited transit system that services only the most urban communities could be more feasible now in San Diego. In the past, SANDAG would have needed to put its tax proposal before all voters in the county. However, a new law spearheaded by Assemblyman Todd Gloria (D-San Diego) gives metropolitan planning organizations such as SANDAG the ability to place tax proposals before selected jurisdictions within a county. — For example, SANDAG’s board of 21 elected officials from around the region could decide to ask only the voters in the cities of San Diego, Chula Vista and National City to fund a new rail system. With two-thirds voter approval, the new levy would be enacted only in those cities.

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  #2  
Old Posted Oct 23, 2019, 5:22 PM
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This sounds utterly idiotic. Why is the U.S. always spending scarce transit dollars in the most ass-backwards ways? Why would a BART-style system work in San Diego?

Why not, you know, invest in existing buses and trolleys, which have decent ridership (for pathetic U.S. standards)?
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Old Posted Oct 23, 2019, 7:02 PM
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Isn't the answer obvious?...........ribbon cutting ceremonies. Ditto for these useless downtown streetcar routes.
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Old Posted Oct 23, 2019, 10:59 PM
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The reason why transit ridership declines?

We build vanity projects that don't get riders to their destination and then cut bus service that does. We have to save money to fund these vanity projects and truly viable transit suffers.

We also allow big corporations to build major job centres in the middle of nowhere because the cost of land is cheap. We need to start to rationalize where jobs may be located so that transit service is viable.

Transit planning and investment has to change so that it actually delivers better service and goes where people want to go. Often making bus service frequent will give the best bang for the buck. We also are afraid to put roads on a diet so that bus lanes can be inserted.
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Old Posted Oct 23, 2019, 11:23 PM
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Land use. Land use. Land use.
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 12:03 AM
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The issue is that outside of a handful of urban cores our cities are not built in a way that makes mass transit useful.

So you have a train that goes from suburban part of San Diego A to suburban part of San Diego B you still need a car once you get there.

But besides that this is not surprising. in 2008 transit ridership was skyrocketing because oil prices were and people were struggling on top of that.

Now we have (outside of California) cheap gas for the foreseeable future and a solid consumer confidence.

This is to be expected really
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 1:18 AM
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Uber and Lyft are responsible for a lot of the decline, even in places where transit is sometimes faster than cars during rush hour.
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 2:12 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by emathias View Post
Uber and Lyft are responsible for a lot of the decline, even in places where transit is sometimes faster than cars during rush hour.
Agreed, and because Uber and Lyft must eventually turn a profit or die, rides will cost a lot more in the near future than they do now. Fewer people will utilize their services.

So then what happens? Cities with robust transit and bike/scooter systems and high walkability will survive and thrive. Cities without those things...
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 12:49 PM
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San Diego, considering the massive decentralization, weak downtown, and difficulty of walking anywhere, has decent ridership. They could probably spend 5% of what it costs to build this asinine plan and get much higher ridership gains by simply investing in buses.

Also, San Diego has such pleasant year-round weather than it isn't unreasonable to ask people to wait at stops that are nothing more than a sign and maybe a bench. Can't do that year-round in blazing hot/sunny Phoenix, rainy Seattle, cold Chicago, humid Miami, etc.

Any transit planner who believes an RER style system makes sense for San Diego should find another line of work. It's absurd.
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 1:21 PM
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This is absurd. Given how employment is distributed in SD you'd need a lot of drugs to think this is a cost effective solution. How about a bus network with dedicated lanes and frequent service instead for a few million dollars.

If they really want to spend big money on a project then get to work improving the LOSSAN corridor. You could dump billions into that and actually get something for the effort.
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 7:38 PM
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I would like to see the graph to display the total number of transit service hours for 2010 and 2018 for each of those cities. Then you have a more proper comparison.
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 9:42 PM
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I think that the real question is: What is the reason for the decline in transit in nearly every city nationwide?

I get that Uber / Lyft may be part of the issue, but 20+% declines? Do Uber / Lyft provide that many rides?
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Old Posted Oct 24, 2019, 9:50 PM
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This is an urban planning question, and all solutions will start from building sustainable communities where driving is not a viable option for residents. Higher density does not necessarily reduce quality of life.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 6:10 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Crawford View Post
San Diego, considering the massive decentralization, weak downtown, and difficulty of walking anywhere, has decent ridership. They could probably spend 5% of what it costs to build this asinine plan and get much higher ridership gains by simply investing in buses.

Also, San Diego has such pleasant year-round weather than it isn't unreasonable to ask people to wait at stops that are nothing more than a sign and maybe a bench. Can't do that year-round in blazing hot/sunny Phoenix, rainy Seattle, cold Chicago, humid Miami, etc.

Any transit planner who believes an RER style system makes sense for San Diego should find another line of work. It's absurd.
Issues like yours have been brought up many, many times with the leadership pushing this. So for instance, the centerpiece of this whole plan is a "Grand Central Station" at the disused aircraft factory just north of the airport. Take a look at these renderings:







Now, anyone is going to look at these renderings and think this looks amazing. I mean look at that architecture, this is public transportation pornography. But then we get down down to the cost. The minimum estimate for this one station, serving one major destination (the airport) is $4.7 billion dollars. MTS has a plan to renovate the city's buses, increases frequency on the the major bus lines and the trolley, and build a whole new trolley line through one of the densest corridors in the city, and that only is going to cost ~$2 billion dollars. Just this one station is going to cost double the amount it takes to renovate and expand the entire city's current transit network, and that $4.7 billion dollar figure still doesn't take into account:

-cost of moving the rail lines up and over the 5 freeway
-need to strengthen the proposed tunnel to the airport because it runs right underneath the airport's runway and terminal
-adding connections with downtown (which is over 2 miles away)
-eminent domain issues with the surrounding neighborhoods due to blocked sunlight and need to expand roadways
-need to redo the entire community plan of the surrounding region, which primarily an industrial area with a 30 foot height limit (changing the latter will require a countywide ballot)
-legal costs of potential Brown Act violations because the landowner (the US Navy) is demanding planning move as such a rapid pace that there's hardly any time for community engagement

Meanwhile, SANDAG director Ikhrata has been so obsessed with this one project (which he doesn't even have the funding for yet) that he failed to engage with the SANDAG board, giving road advocates there an opening to push their own agenda. Thus when earlier this month when he came to the board for approval of the next 5 year budget plan, they overruled his proposal and instead accelerated expansions of the 67 and 78 highways. So the only measurable impact of all this transit dreaming has been an increase in planning for auto infrastructure.
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Old Posted Oct 27, 2019, 7:16 PM
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San Diego should focus on serving its dense urban parts, of which it has plenty, not the boondocks.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2019, 1:15 AM
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I wonder how much remote working/working from home has contributed. If people can work remotely even 3 days a week that creates a lot less demand for transit services, if they were previously using them.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2019, 3:26 AM
Will O' Wisp Will O' Wisp is offline
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I wonder how much remote working/working from home has contributed. If people can work remotely even 3 days a week that creates a lot less demand for transit services, if they were previously using them.
Not much. In San Diego at least the percentage of people working from home has held at 6-7% for years. And that's high in national terms, Carlsbad has the highest percentage of anywhere in the US at 15%.

Also Uber/Lyft are practically a nonfactor. Rideshare makes up 0.6% of communes and is in the low single digits of total trips.

What's really happening is that the booming economy is making it more feasible for people to afford a car. Public transit, walking/biking, and even carpooling are all decreasing as more and more lower income folks get on the road. And it's hard to argue, even in NYC a person has potential access to more jobs if they commute via car than via public transit.

Contributing are public transit agencies' increasing obsession with rail, LRT, subways, and other non-bus infrastructure. The issue being that these systems are typically routed through high income areas, where people are already rich enough to afford cars, while low income areas where the people actually need public transit are left behind. Rail based ridership is up at historic levels, but it's been more than washed out by the massive decreases in bus ridership.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2019, 3:35 AM
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Originally Posted by Will O' Wisp View Post
Not much. In San Diego at least the percentage of people working from home has held at 6-7% for years. And that's high in national terms, Carlsbad has the highest percentage of anywhere in the US at 15%.

Also Uber/Lyft are practically a nonfactor. Rideshare makes up 0.6% of communes and is in the low single digits of total trips.

What's really happening is that the booming economy is making it more feasible for people to afford a car. Public transit, walking/biking, and even carpooling are all decreasing as more and more lower income folks get on the road. And it's hard to argue, even in NYC a person has potential access to more jobs if they commute via car than via public transit.

Contributing are public transit agencies' increasing obsession with rail, LRT, subways, and other non-bus infrastructure. The issue being that these systems are typically routed through high income areas, where people are already rich enough to afford cars, while low income areas where the people actually need public transit are left behind. Rail based ridership is up at historic levels, but it's been more than washed out by the massive decreases in bus ridership.
I'm not sure I accept the premise that the reason transit ridership is down is because the economy is booming and more people can afford a car.

Also, everyone I knew in NYC that commuted by car was broke. All the good paying jobs are accessible by subway. Uber/taxi is also a fraction of the cost of parking in lower Manhattan.

I think working from home and telecommuting is an interesting theory which may explain part of the reason why transit ridership is down. If everyone did it one day a week, that would be a massive drop in ridership.
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2019, 3:55 AM
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Originally Posted by C. View Post
I'm not sure I accept the premise that the reason transit ridership is down is because the economy is booming and more people can afford a car.

Also, everyone I knew in NYC that commuted by car was broke. All the good paying jobs are accessible by subway. Uber/taxi is also a fraction of the cost of parking in lower Manhattan.
That's mainly NY and a few other areas though; the bus is the backbone of most American systems and that's what's being impacted heavily (as seen with APTA data). There are plenty of articles, most often dealing with Metro LA bus ridership declines where a former bus rider gets tired of lousy service, scrimps and saves to get a car and will never go back.



Quote:
I think working from home and telecommuting is an interesting theory which may explain part of the reason why transit ridership is down. If everyone did it one day a week, that would be a massive drop in ridership.
But I would expect that a similar impact would be felt with driving but vehicle miles continues to grow.

https://fred.stlouisfed.org/series/M12MTVUSM227NFWA
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Old Posted Oct 28, 2019, 4:12 AM
Will O' Wisp Will O' Wisp is offline
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Quote:
Originally Posted by C. View Post
I'm not sure I accept the premise that the reason transit ridership is down is because the economy is booming and more people can afford a car.

Also, everyone I knew in NYC that commuted by car was broke. All the good paying jobs are accessible by subway. Uber/taxi is also a fraction of the cost of parking in lower Manhattan.

I think working from home and telecommuting is an interesting theory which may explain part of the reason why transit ridership is down. If everyone did it one day a week, that would be a massive drop in ridership.
I think you're kinda playing into my point here. "Everyone I knew in NYC that commuted by car was broke." I just said the ridership declines have been driven by increased car ownership among lower income workers. And they're probably commuting to a low paying job that's not in Lower Manhattan, and probably not accessible by subway.

In any case, if you don't want to take my word for it you can read this UCLA study that ties SoCal's transit ridership declines explicitly to increased car ownership among low income minorities.
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