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mwadswor Nov 16, 2009 4:45 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago Shawn (Post 4558914)
Keeping the streets clear is a basic city service.

Wasn't that sort of his point? The fact that keeping the streets clear is considered a basic city service but keeping transit running isn't considered a basic city service represents a bias/subsidy of cars.

ardecila Nov 16, 2009 9:14 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by VivaLFuego (Post 4560626)
So obviously the capital budget has recently increased due to ARRA and the state capital plan, but I still am having trouble figuring out where they are coming up with a $7+ cost per ride figure from. 2009 is on track to have more rides than 2007, and expenditures surely haven't doubled in that time frame.

I'm pretty sure this violates basic accounting principles. The capital costs need to be spread over the period in which they help generate revenue.

I mean, you could divide CTA's total expenditure for a year by the number of passengers in that year, but since capital expenditures vary widely depending on the year, and the benefits of a capital expenditure last for many years, it's not a reliable indicator of the average cost per rider.

VivaLFuego Nov 16, 2009 9:33 PM

Even to get to $7/ride that would require some years to have capital plans of several billion dollars, which hasn't happened. Even a rolling average annual capital budget (to smooth out the structural fluctuations), including the assorted 'free' New Starts federal money, would unlikely be more than what, about $700m a year over the past several years?

Also, government agencies don't depreciate their capital assets, so I'm not sure precisely which "fundamental accounting principles" of which you speak are at play. A capital expenditure in 2008 is a capital expenditure in 2008, and so on (though one can play games via bonding and push costs into outyears). Perhaps $7/ride is a hypothetical cost per ride if one assumes a fully-funded capital plan to reach a state of good repair, and then calculates capital expenditures on an accrual basis so that a 'capital cost per ride' can be calculated, but I have trouble seeing the political or philosophical benefit in making that sort of argument at this point in time, let alone saying that building the line extensions bumps the cost per ride to over $9.

The very notion/definition of 'cost per ride' is vague. If one allocates the value of the existing assets and ROW to each rider, ok that would bump the cost, but those are sunk costs. I suppose I just instinctively gravitate towards a marginal cost per rider, since that what's relevant in discussing actual policy options going forward, rather than say assigning a dollar value to the construction of the subway tunnels in the 1940s and extrapolating that out to every ride taken in them ever since.

the urban politician Nov 16, 2009 11:04 PM

Sorry to take us off topic, but I was just thinking about something:

Is there a more important mass transit project in the Chicago area than linking downtown with OHare by an express train, if we're trying to prioritize Chicago's central core as a business/job center?

How many corporations based in an office park a mile or two from OHare would have considered locating downtown if downtown/OHare were linked much more efficiently?

emathias Nov 16, 2009 11:09 PM

I still think it'd be interesting to see them set a $1/fare for everyone, every boarding - no freebies, no transfers. Most people would still pay less for most trips, and I have to believe you'd gain ridership like crazy. Incremental costs on some routes would easily support the added ridership for next to nothing, although it might drive costs higher on others. To be fair, it might be necessary for rail trips to be $2 at rush hour, but I would think this would greatly drive ridership up off-peak.

If you're getting less than $1 per ride anyway, what would they have to lose?

mwadswor Nov 16, 2009 11:26 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 4561722)
I still think it'd be interesting to see them set a $1/fare for everyone, every boarding - no freebies, no transfers. Most people would still pay less for most trips, and I have to believe you'd gain ridership like crazy. Incremental costs on some routes would easily support the added ridership for next to nothing, although it might drive costs higher on others. To be fair, it might be necessary for rail trips to be $2 at rush hour, but I would think this would greatly drive ridership up off-peak.

If you're getting less than $1 per ride anyway, what would they have to lose?

I would bet that you'd actually lose a fair amount of traffic if you killed free transfers. People don't want to pay every time they transfer routes (even if it's just one transfer each way), not to mention that it seems unfair to charge person A traveling 1 mile by bus then 1 mile by rail twice as much as person B travelling 10 miles by rail just because person B had the good fortune to live along the same route as (though farther away from and using more resources) his work. I don't know if you'd pick up enough riders to make up for that loss.

ardecila Nov 17, 2009 1:54 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by VivaLFuego (Post 4561558)
The very notion/definition of 'cost per ride' is vague. If one allocates the value of the existing assets and ROW to each rider, ok that would bump the cost, but those are sunk costs. I suppose I just instinctively gravitate towards a marginal cost per rider, since that what's relevant in discussing actual policy options going forward, rather than say assigning a dollar value to the construction of the subway tunnels in the 1940s and extrapolating that out to every ride taken in them ever since.

I'm not sure of a better way to do it. Let's say you're building a streetcar line for $120 million, and 40,000 people ride in the first year. Such numbers seem reasonable for a dense Chicago-style city. Your "cost per trip" for that first year is $3000 plus operating and maintenance costs (I dunno, $3?) to form $3003 total. The next year, your cost per rider is only $3.

Using such figures is a gross distortion of the facts, because obviously, spending $3000 of taxpayer money to generate ONE transit trip is absurdly wasteful, and that $3000 will in fact be spread over many transit trips over the useful life of the streetcar line.

Government agencies may not depreciate their assets, but they *still* have to consider the cost of a capital expenditure as providing benefits over a reasonable period of years.

The Tribune's specific numbers may be inaccurate, but their whole concept of calculating some kind of "cost per rider" based on one year's operating and capital spending presents a gravely skewed picture of transit funding.

The CTA obviously has a huge backlog of capital needs that must be taken care of, and these costs lead to CTA spending a reliably large sum on capital needs each year. But these are still one-time costs spent for various improvements throughout the system, and the benefits of the spending extend beyond merely the year in which they were recorded, with the total benefits to the rider only increasing as time goes on due to the system's quality improving.

A perfect example is fleet replacement. Buses have an expected life of 14 years, IIRC, with a major overhaul at 7 and minor repairs at 3.5 and 10.5. So you consider the cost of a bus purchase, per rider, as the total cost divided by the riders who ride those buses over 14 years, not over 1 year.

VivaLFuego Nov 17, 2009 4:36 AM

^That's what I was getting at with using a rolling average annual capital cost that would cover the basic asset replacement cycle, but frankly CTA's annual capital budgets haven't varied too wildly other than being on the low side after Illinois FIRST expired in 2005 while being a bit buoyed by federal New Starts funds since 2001 and later by bond issues.

Of course cost per ride can be a useful metric, but it has to be defined well, just like revenue per ride. (e.g. a more informative breakout of revenue per ride, would be revenue per ride of paying customers, excluding all free riders. For cost, there should be an operating/maintenance cost per ride and a capital cost per ride, the former being tangible and easy to define (allocate the labor and material costs over the year, generally), the latter being much more nebulous and open for debate. In terms of fixed assets, how do you propose to allocate the 'costs' of a 100 year old bus garage, or the 'cost per ride' of having added elevators to Granville station in the early 1980s? In terms of non-fixed assets, how do you propose to allocate the cost of a bus or railcar whose retirement date and service life are unknown? In the private sector, the depreciation period is defined by accounting standards, so the decision is made for you. Ultimately, my point is all you really have to go on as absolute known quantities are actual capital expenditures, which you can control for annual fluctuations via moving average or other such trending techniques. As a CTA asset ages, there is no expense accrued, as there would be the private sector. It just ages - with the money having been spent eons ago.

We could get into even more wonkish discussions about allocating future debt service incurred by Huberman's bond issues in 2008, but that's sort of beside the main point: my gripe is more that the Trib's reporting either 1) raises more questions than it answers for savvier folk, or 2) gives a misleading impression of transit economics to the less-savvy.

sidenote: this is not to say I don't favor prioritizing capital investments by maximizing cost efficiency, i.e. maximum rider benefit per dollar spent, which has an implicit per-ride value allocation. However, that's separate from saying it "costs CTA $7 per ride" which most people would interpret to mean that to provide 500 million annual rides requires CTA to spend $3.5billion each year.

emathias Nov 17, 2009 5:31 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by mwadswor (Post 4561755)
I would bet that you'd actually lose a fair amount of traffic if you killed free transfers. People don't want to pay every time they transfer routes (even if it's just one transfer each way), not to mention that it seems unfair to charge person A traveling 1 mile by bus then 1 mile by rail twice as much as person B travelling 10 miles by rail just because person B had the good fortune to live along the same route as (though farther away from and using more resources) his work. I don't know if you'd pick up enough riders to make up for that loss.

But I dont' think you're thinking this through.

Current 1-transfer pricing = $2.25 fare + $.25 transfer = $2.50

My proposed $1 for any boarding 1-transfer trip = $1 first leg + $1 second leg = $2

Who in their right mind is going to whine about saving 20% for that trip? The majority of the cost for the CTA is for boardings. Stations cost a lot to build and staff, bus stops slow trips and have some infrastructure cost and increase wear and tear and fuel use. Why shouldn't every boarding have a higher cost? Especially if two boardings still cost less than one boarding currently does? While maybe one could dither about two vs. one for convenience reasons, there is no rational argument to keep three boardings costing less than one, regardless of how long one boarding might carry you.

ardecila Nov 17, 2009 6:19 AM

Quote:

Originally Posted by VivaLFuego (Post 4562270)
We could get into even more wonkish discussions about allocating future debt service incurred by Huberman's bond issues in 2008, but that's sort of beside the main point: my gripe is more that the Trib's reporting either 1) raises more questions than it answers for savvier folk, or 2) gives a misleading impression of transit economics to the less-savvy.

Eh... I see no problem having wonkish discussions, especially in the absence of any ACTUAL transit news, and in the wake of a Trib article discussing (and misrepresenting) what are apparently complex funding issues. Of course, I'm pretty sure nobody else cares, so it's basically you just explaining CTA policy to me.

You're right that some capital projects are hard to allocate, but I'm pretty sure CTA has enough detailed ridership data to do a good approximation of the cost per rider - it's the service life of the improvement that's the kicker. Getting a prediction of the service life is possible if you take a statistical approach, but it's definitely not worth the amount of analysis that requires.

pip Nov 17, 2009 8:16 AM

soo... tonight I used the bus tracker for the first time. What a brilliant program. I was with a friend and was going to catch a bus to go home. I always just show up whenever and wait for a bus. Tonight I thought I'd use the bustracker. Estimated time of arrival for the next and all to each stop! A map of where the busses are at. So I trusted it and got to the bus stop about 1 minute before it was due to arrive. And guess what, it worked. Otherwise if I just showed up I would have had to wait 12 minutes. What I have been missing out on all this time?

Chicago3rd Nov 17, 2009 1:43 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by emathias (Post 4562336)
But I dont' think you're thinking this through.

Current 1-transfer pricing = $2.25 fare + $.25 transfer = $2.50

My proposed $1 for any boarding 1-transfer trip = $1 first leg + $1 second leg = $2

Who in their right mind is going to whine about saving 20% for that trip? The majority of the cost for the CTA is for boardings. Stations cost a lot to build and staff, bus stops slow trips and have some infrastructure cost and increase wear and tear and fuel use. Why shouldn't every boarding have a higher cost? Especially if two boardings still cost less than one boarding currently does? While maybe one could dither about two vs. one for convenience reasons, there is no rational argument to keep three boardings costing less than one, regardless of how long one boarding might carry you.

You must own a car? As a public transportation rider for almost 25 years now People who live by public transportation think in a conveyor belt sort of way....not getting from point A to B.

Example.....

Walk to Peterson Target (could take western and peterson bus), pick up item A, hit the Peterson bus to Western to Lawrence and get off at Damen to pick up something at CVS, walk two blocks to Sears pick up the lawn mower crap then hit the Lawrence bus to the broadway bus get off at addison and mow the lawn at Church. No A to B there.

Dr. Taco Nov 17, 2009 2:28 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pip (Post 4562444)
soo... tonight I used the bus tracker for the first time. What a brilliant program. I was with a friend and was going to catch a bus to go home. I always just show up whenever and wait for a bus. Tonight I thought I'd use the bustracker. Estimated time of arrival for the next and all to each stop! A map of where the busses are at. So I trusted it and got to the bus stop about 1 minute before it was due to arrive. And guess what, it worked. Otherwise if I just showed up I would have had to wait 12 minutes. What I have been missing out on all this time?

it really is amazing how well it works. EVERY now and then, it doesn't. the bus will be leaving right as you get there. sucks. but far far far superior to the former system of leaving and praying

Nowhereman1280 Nov 17, 2009 4:15 PM

^^^ Well just to be sure, I always head down about 4 min early for a bus, so I have about a 2 min buffer to get outside and across the street in case the bus is a touch early.

emathias Nov 17, 2009 4:47 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago3rd (Post 4562550)
You must own a car? As a public transportation rider for almost 25 years now People who live by public transportation think in a conveyor belt sort of way....not getting from point A to B.

Example.....

Walk to Peterson Target (could take western and peterson bus), pick up item A, hit the Peterson bus to Western to Lawrence and get off at Damen to pick up something at CVS, walk two blocks to Sears pick up the lawn mower crap then hit the Lawrence bus to the broadway bus get off at addison and mow the lawn at Church. No A to B there.

I haven't owned a car in ten years.

Let's break down your trip in current cost for cash fares. Peterson bus to Western ($2.25). Western bus to Lawrence ($.25). Lawrence bus to Damen ($0). Lawrence bus to Broadway ($2.25). Broadway bus to Addison ($.25). TOTAL, assuming all transfers were within their respective 2-hour windows: $5 ($4.50 if you used a card) If you add in the "could take Western and Peterson bus" to get to the Target, your cost jumps to $7.25 ($6.50 if you used a card).

In a land where every boarding costs $1? Five boarding in your trip = $5. Seven boardings, using the "could take Western and Peterson bus" example boosts the cost to $7, saving you $.25 over current cash pricing schemes. It would be a relatively moderate price increase compared to current card fares, but the CTA really should be allowed to raise fares slightly right now anyway, rather than reduce service. Overall, I think this would probably cost most users about the same or only in the range of 5% to 10% more than their monthly costs now.

If you're going to criticize an idea, at least come up with counter-examples that actually support your critique. Your example actually supports my assertion that $1/ride pricing wouldn't cost average full-fare riders much more than they currently pay. Some trips would cost more, many trips would cost less, and many more trips would become attractive because of the pricing. Plus, it wouldn't be all bad for those who really work transfers, because for a 1-transfer trip, their costs would actually be lower AND they wouldn't have the stress of trying to meet a 2-hour window on trips where using that first transfer will come close to the cutoff. 2-transfer trips will cost more, but 20% more for 2-transfer trips really isn't outrageous considering the cost reduction for short or well-aligned trips.

Chicago Shawn Nov 17, 2009 4:50 PM

^I'm intrigued by your idea concept.

Quote:

Originally Posted by mwadswor (Post 4561062)
Wasn't that sort of his point? The fact that keeping the streets clear is considered a basic city service but keeping transit running isn't considered a basic city service represents a bias/subsidy of cars.

No, because CTA is not owned by the City of Chicago, but streets are. The city has an obligation to maintain them, and the citizenry gets really pissed when they are not cleared in the winter. Last winter would be a prime example, as Mayor Daley ordered the department of Streets and Sanitation to not clear most streets during snowfall, but wait until the storm has passed in order to save money for the bleak budget outlook in 2009. People went ballistic, I remember watching a 1+ hour bitch fest on CLTV in which people called in to just complain about difficulties in getting around. And as mentioned, if the traffic can't move on snow clogged streets; neither can buses which provide 2/3 of the transit trips.

Yes, running transit is essential to keeping the city moving; but its under the purview of CTA, not City of Chicago. However, the city does provide some subsidy to the agency:
-$3 million per year in operational funds
-~$22 million per year in security services provided by the Chicago Police Department.
-Chicago Department of Transportation is rebuilding all subway stations in the state street subway, and is spending $67 million on the rebuild of Grand/State. CDOT is responsible for stations on the Milwaukee-Dearborn-Congress subway on the blue line and downtown stations on the elevated structure.
-TIF money has been used and is being sought for capitol improvements on the system. The new station at Morgan/Lake was supposed to use them before grant money was found. The new ties and running rail on the Lake and Wabash legs of the Loop were partially funded by the Central Loop TIF.

-The city's Real Estate Transfer tax funnels money into the CTA pension fund.

Could more money flow from the city towards CTA?
Generally, I would like to see that happen. More TIF funds should be used for capitol improvements, but I don't know if they can be legally used to subsidize operations. I honestly do not know of any other revenue sources that the city could use to fund operational expenses of the CTA in a time when the city is facing a massive deficit and is cutting back its own services.

Has Mayor Daley traditionally been a bit too quiet on transit issues? Generally, yes; and I understand the animosity towards him because of that. In the past though he has stood up for the agency in the midnight hour of budget crises.

I myself have been car free four nearly four years, and have been a daily transit user for 8 years. I rely on this service like many other people for every trip I make that cannot be completed on foot or bike.


Generally, every transit agency in the nation is feeling the same pressure in this recession, and have had funding issues before the economy went off a cliff. Phoenix and Pittsburgh for example have made massive system wide cuts. Granted, Chicago is much greater caliber of a city then those two, but we have been doing pretty well in not slashing service. And the service reductions proposed really aren't too bad at all. Yes, it sucks that we have to make any reductions at all, but this will be tolerable to the majority of the population. And quite frankly, in the long run it will save the agency some money by running fuller buses in the off-peak, maintaining a pension fund for fewer employees, and maintaining one less bus garage. The Archer Garage is quite large could be sold to a developer or a business.

Chicago Shawn Nov 17, 2009 5:05 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by pip (Post 4562444)
soo... tonight I used the bus tracker for the first time. What a brilliant program. I was with a friend and was going to catch a bus to go home. I always just show up whenever and wait for a bus. Tonight I thought I'd use the bustracker. Estimated time of arrival for the next and all to each stop! A map of where the busses are at. So I trusted it and got to the bus stop about 1 minute before it was due to arrive. And guess what, it worked. Otherwise if I just showed up I would have had to wait 12 minutes. What I have been missing out on all this time?

Its fantastic. It was the biggest factor as to why I purchased an iPhone, because I can create application buttons for my most used bus stops and pull them up when I am on the train or leaving home and determine the best place to board a bus, make a transfer or just jump in a cab. It has been a major time saver.

pip Nov 17, 2009 5:11 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago Shawn (Post 4562783)
^I'm intrigued by your idea concept.



No, because CTA is not owned by the City of Chicago, but streets are. The city has an obligation to maintain them, and the citizenry gets really pissed when they are not cleared in the winter. Last winter would be a prime example, as Mayor Daley ordered the department of Streets and Sanitation to not clear most streets during snowfall, but wait until the storm has passed in order to save money for the bleak budget outlook in 2009. People went ballistic, I remember watching a 1+ hour bitch fest on CLTV in which people called in to just complain about difficulties in getting around. And as mentioned, if the traffic can't move on snow clogged streets; neither can buses which provide 2/3 of the transit trips.

Yes, running transit is essential to keeping the city moving; but its under the purview of CTA, not City of Chicago. However, the city does provide some subsidy to the agency:
-$3 million per year in operational funds
-~$22 million per year in security services provided by the Chicago Police Department.
-Chicago Department of Transportation is rebuilding all subway stations in the state street subway, and is spending $67 million on the rebuild of Grand/State. CDOT is responsible for stations on the Milwaukee-Dearborn-Congress subway on the blue line and downtown stations on the elevated structure.
-TIF money has been used and is being sought for capitol improvements on the system. The new station at Morgan/Lake was supposed to use them before grant money was found. The new ties and running rail on the Lake and Wabash legs of the Loop were partially funded by the Central Loop TIF.

-The city's Real Estate Transfer tax funnels money into the CTA pension fund.


Could more money flow from the city towards CTA?
Generally, I would like to see that happen. More TIF funds should be used for capitol improvements, but I don't know if they can be legally used to subsidize operations. I honestly do not know of any other revenue sources that the city could use to fund operational expenses of the CTA in a time when the city is facing a massive deficit and is cutting back its own services.

Has Mayor Daley traditionally been a bit too quiet on transit issues? Generally, yes; and I understand the animosity towards him because of that. In the past though he has stood up for the agency in the midnight hour of budget crises.

I myself have been car free four nearly four years, and have been a daily transit user for 8 years. I rely on this service like many other people for every trip I make that cannot be completed on foot or bike.


Generally, every transit agency in the nation is feeling the same pressure in this recession, and have had funding issues before the economy went off a cliff. Phoenix and Pittsburgh for example have made massive system wide cuts. Granted, Chicago is much greater caliber of a city then those two, but we have been doing pretty well in not slashing service. And the service reductions proposed really aren't too bad at all. Yes, it sucks that we have to make any reductions at all, but this will be tolerable to the majority of the population. And quite frankly, in the long run it will save the agency some money by running fuller buses in the off-peak, maintaining a pension fund for fewer employees, and maintaining one less bus garage. The Archer Garage is quite large could be sold to a developer or a business.

Boston, 500,000 people, gives the MBTA $75 million a year vs. Chicago, 3 million people, the above bolded.

ChicagoChicago Nov 17, 2009 5:12 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by the urban politician (Post 4561717)
Sorry to take us off topic, but I was just thinking about something:

Is there a more important mass transit project in the Chicago area than linking downtown with OHare by an express train, if we're trying to prioritize Chicago's central core as a business/job center?

How many corporations based in an office park a mile or two from OHare would have considered locating downtown if downtown/OHare were linked much more efficiently?

I don't know about how many corporations would be based downtown rather than O'Hare... Many of them have offices in both places, like CareerBuilder, but the convention business definitely takes a hit. And any express service to O'Hare that doesn't include McCormick would be a travesty.

pip Nov 17, 2009 5:13 PM

Quote:

Originally Posted by Chicago Shawn (Post 4562803)
Its fantastic. It was the biggest factor as to why I purchased an iPhone, because I can create application buttons for my most used bus stops and pull them up when I am on the train or leaving home and determine the best place to board a bus, make a transfer or just jump in a cab. It has been a major time saver.

haha that was my first thought. Time to stop getting the free phones.


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