California Roundup: $8 Billion Rail Project Results In Fewer People Riding Public Transportation

* Candidate for governmor Jerry Brown unveils his own pension-reform plan. It's considerably more generous to government workers than challenger Meg Whitman's: Brown would raise the retirement age for new hires from 55 to 60 and maintain defined-benefit plans (while upping the employee contribution figure). Whitman would go to 65 for both current and future hires, and move all new hires to a 401(k)-style defined contribution plan. As it happens I just got off the phone with Boston College economist Alicia Munnell, who explains that while there is room to raise the amount employees have to contribute, the benefit the state agreed to pay at hiring (under defined benefit plans) is legally binding. So it's doubtful that Whitman could get away with raising the retirement age on existing workers, because an increase in retirement age is effectively a reduction in retirement benefits. (This whole problem would eventually go away if Whitman succeeded in moving to a defined contribution plan, which doesn't specify what your ultimate payout will be. But that would take a long time.)

* Dan Walters takes a look at Chief Justice of the California Supreme Court nominee Tani Cantil-Sakauye and notes one issue Cantil-Sakauye will inherit: new courtroom construction and the strange economics of judicial-branch budgeting. Speaking of which, the state lawyers union is trying to break Gov. Schwarzenegger's minimum-wage proposal.

* If you build it for $8 billion, they won't come. L.A. Times' Dan Weikel explains how the Los Angeles Metropolitan Transit Authority is actually carrying fewer people now than it did when it began its light rail building project 20 years ago. More than a million people a day ride buses in the county, a little more than 300,000 ride trains, and the figure for trains keeps falling. (I used to keep a close watch on these numbers, and it looks like the trend has been holding for almost ten years now: rail boardings decline a little almost every quarter, regardless of economic activity, gas price, or efforts to promote train ridership.) Transit gadfly Tom Rubin estimates the massive rail project has cost the MTA 1.5 billion potential passengers since 1986. Don't miss the comment section, where trainspotters are still saying the trains will be full once they have one that goes all the way to the ocean.

* Support your local sheriff: Cities bail out on counties as more towns look to eliminate their police departments and hire sheriff's deputies.

* Counties bail out on the state as Modoc asks Sacramento for $12.5 million to maintain public services. And of course, the state bails out on the country, only to find -- d'oh! -- stimulus funds have dried up like Owens Lake.

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  • bubba||

    Don't all government obligations include a "subject to appropriations" disclaimer or six?

    That's pretty typical for federal stipends and grants, I think.

    Maybe States aren't smart enough to include that?

  • Lamar Holst||

    This seems to be Meg's eternal problem - regardless of whether or not her ideas are good, she won't actually be able to implement very many of them because she doesn't understand that Sacramento is not eBay.

    Meg's UNofficial site:
    http://megwhitman.biz

  • Apologetic California||

    Gray Davis certainly "understood" Sacramento being there for 30 years holding every single elected office imaginable. Fat luck that did to us.

  • Lamar Holst, Idiot||

    She doesn't understand Sacramento isn't eBay? Uh, I am pretty sure she does. And please, you can quit acting like you are a disinterested party, calmly analyzing Whitman's governing acumen. The anti-Whitman website kind of gives it away.

  • Colin||

    It doesn't matter what the candidates' plans for pension reform, it only matters what the legislators' will pass. And it's about 2/3 Democrat.

    As for the trains, not even Charles Bronson would be crazy enough to ride them. Talk about a death wish. I've got a neighbor built like a linebacker, and even he's afraid of them.

  • leavemealone||

    Do you mean on top of the train?

  • hurly buerhle||

    The light rail/subway in LA is actually pretty nice (though I'm comparing it to the creaking deathtraps in Boston). I used to use it a lot for trips downtown when I lived in Pasadena. The problem was in pretending that the system could ever be extensive enough to be a viable alternative to car commuting for a significant number of people in the city. LA just isn't laid out that way.

  • Chad||

    Someday, I hope you can head to Japan. I always recommend heading to Kansai rather than Tokyo.

    While you are there, take the Kintetsu train from Osaka to Nara (both of which you should visit anyway), and look back over Osaka as you sort-of-slowly climb the mountain. Not only is an awesome view, but it will teach you a lot about how the "layout" of cities and the location of the train lines are intimately locked together.

    Hint: The development follows the train lines.

  • Old Mexican||

    I prefer Korea myself, since the Japanese women are real ugos . . .

  • Jordan||

    And I hope that someday you consult an atlas and lookup Japan's population density and compare it to ours.

  • Apologetic California||

    Hint Chadtwat, LA is already developed for decades now, and it developed around freeways.

  • Chad||

    Ding! Ding! Ding!

    AC has admitted that our development is not some natural phenomenon, springing forth from the summation of FREE INDIVIDUAL WILL, expressing our inherent desire for sprawl.

    Rather, it is what happens when we choose to subsidize roads like crazy.

  • BakedPenguin||

    It happened when a liberal Republican politician decided to subsidize roads like crazy 55 years ago. This helped cement the American love of the car, since it made it possible to go nearly anywhere by auto.

    His successor, a liberal Democrat, decided to have the government declare war on the existing rail companies, and drive many of them out of business by not only continuing to support the extensive road network, but by supporting pro-union work rules such as featherbedding (providing useless jobs), restricting the rates that companies were allowed to charge, demanding that trains carry passengers on rural routes where they lost tons of money by doing so - all these bankrupted many rail companies.

    Now liberals have decided they love trains again (or heroin, if Cavanaugh was referring to the movie Trainspotting in his article, and not the pasttime), and they want the trains to come back. Well, it's only 45 years too late, the culture has irrevocably changed, and the cities have developed during that time around autos. For the last 50 years, every American city has developed a growth pattern based on using automobiles to get around, which means low population density, and far-flung outliers of development.

  • Amakudari||

    The Japanese desire sprawl too; most of them with families live outside the city and commute in. But the country has very little inhabitable land area, not just due to low land area but also the predominance of mountains. You get a few major metropolises in plains near bays, which means even the suburbs are crowded. Seriously, compare Japan's terrain with its satellite view. Japan is built out as much as humanly possible, and that geographically determined population density heavily encourages the development of commuter transport.

    Certainly the lack of subsidies for roads (and the huge tolls) helps, but there are plenty of non-political reasons why the US will never be like Japan.

  • Chad||

    Obviously, Montana is not going to be Japan. But our east coast is actually reasonably similar in terms of size, geography, climate, and population.

    And in any case, Amakudari, this whole sprawl issue is just another manifestation of externalities and the prisoners' dilemma. Of course *I* want my idylic house in the countryside....I just want everyone else to live in the city. And when everyone behaves like me, we end up with gutted cities and soul-less and endless tracts of McMansions and strip malls. Everyone loses in double defection, and the Japanese are not immune to this.

  • Amakudari||

    The only cities I would consider reasonably similar to Tokyo, Osaka and friends are probably New York and San Francisco. The rest have nearly endless capacity to move inland (even if places like LA are still packed). The point I was making is that if you look at Japan, it's really, really built out on flat land because most of the land is mountainous. There are no such restrictions among most of our coastline, as the Appalachians and Sierras are pretty far inland, so people have a lot of choice: even if you're in New York, you can move to plenty of cities and get a job, but if you're in Tokyo, most cities are still filled to the brim.

    My point is just that you can't compare the two countries' urbanization, as Japan contains nearly half our population on inhabitable land about the size of Virginia. While I'd be all for ending subsidies that encourage sprawl, I don't think that even under the same policy circumstances most US cities would look similar to Tokyo or Osaka.

  • Chad||

    Japan is really only relevant for two parts of the country - San Diego to San Fran, and from DC to Boston. That might be only a tiny fraction of our land, but its nearly a third of our people. A second third of our people live in a second tier of density, something that is fairly Europe-like. Obviously, different solutions are going to exist in different places. But we need to quit heading in the exact wrong direction, and quit pretending that ANY of these decisions are some sort of expression of libertarian-style freedom. Rather, people are shuffling wherever subsidies and beggar-thy-neighbor policies lead them. Even if we could magically eliminate the former, the second is there no matter what.

  • Amakudari||

    But we need to quit heading in the exact wrong direction, and quit pretending that ANY of these decisions are some sort of expression of libertarian-style freedom. Rather, people are shuffling wherever subsidies and beggar-thy-neighbor policies lead them.

    I've never pretended that we don't have large highway subsidies, and I don't disagree that sprawl is encouraged by the status quo. But again, my point is that America is so spacious and full of options that even in the absence of road subsidies you would still have a fairly decentralized country. More subways and such would exist in major cities (like I mentioned, definitely SF and NY) and some other places, but I don't see a natural paradigm shift occurring.

  • Chad||

    It isn't shifting now, but it sure was a few years ago, back in the $4/gallon days.

    We will head back over that kind of tipping point sooner or later. And given the current oil production projections for the next decade, I would say sooner.

  • Brian Trust||

    The increase in the number of 40+mpg cars available and the increased willingness of Americans to buy them will likely not make people race for the train system as much as you want.

  • Chad||

    Even a Prius wouldn't be cheap to drive at $6 gas...and it is coming within a decade or so.

    Then $8, then $10...and then at some point, we hit the true cost of biofuels, and that is where the price will stabilize (ignoring currency fluctuations).

  • skr||

    The SF to SD area doesn't have anywhere near the population density of Japan. LA and SD are giant suburbs and SF is more European in design.

  • Chad||

    "Japan" is not monolithic. Quit treating it as such. There are plenty of parts of Japan with excellent transit which are not Tokyo and Osaka, and, yes, have very SD-SF-like population density.

    LA and SD are "giant suburbs" because we have been subsidizing exactly that, to everyones' detriment.

  • Apologetic California||

    I'm a planner, so I don't believe in any claims that urban development is "natural" or "organic". So I really don't know where your pointing your train hard-on at. SoCal isn't your Japan. SoCal may sprawl densely than most metros, but that's still a pathetic 7,000 ppm. Osaka's 30,000 ppm.

  • Chad||

    AG, if Osaka Prefecture had spent zillions on expressways and a pittance on trains, and LA done the reverse, what would the respective population densities be?

    LA is sprawled because it was designed to sprawl, not because it was a good thing for anyone. That's why you guys have managed to turn what should be a paradise into a shithole of bumper-to-bumper traffic and smog.

  • Atanarjuat||

    "you guys" - Libertarians planned LA?

  • Chad||

    No, "you guys" as in "past and current residents of LA".

  • Astrid||

    Hint: The development follows the train lines.

    No, Chadwit, Osaka and Nara were cities long before trains were even dreamed of.

  • Chad||

    Of course they existed - as a bunch of small, flammable houses. They have been virtually entirely rebuilt and re-organized since WWII. Because they deliberately pushed trains as a real option, the development followed the lines.

  • cynical||

    So... we should burn down L.A.?

  • Chad||

    Tempting, but since cities almost entirely rebuild themselves every hundred years or so anyway, it is sadly unnecessary.

    We just need to build the right way in the future, which involves fewer roads, more trains, and zoning laws that push us up rather than out.

  • ||

    YES!
    but don't rebuild it, either.

  • JoshINHB||

    Someday, I hope you can head to Japan. I always recommend heading to Kansai rather than Tokyo.

    So trains are viable mass transit when the population density is 10 times what it is in CA.

  • Chad||

    Actually, Osaka and LA are a good comparison. The cities have the same population and a similar geographic layout. LA has sprawled more, of course, due to the massively subsidized freeway system. Osaka has stayed compact and more highly developed. Both to the one hour to the south and northeast lies small-family-farm-dotted land. How far do you have to drive from downtown LA until you escape sprawl?

    Which train system would you use?

    http://www.rususa.com/city/trainmap.asp-region-los+angeles

    http://johomaps.com/as/japan/osaka/osakametro.html

  • skr||

    if you head north, about 30 min (the Angeles National Forest is a good geographical barrier). If you head east about 90-120. If you head west, well you fall into the ocean first.

  • Chad||

    By car or train, not helicopter.

    In any case, I was thinking about land that could be developed but isn't (for whatever reason), not practically undevelopable mountain sides.

  • skr||

    Well there are roads through the mountains and on the other side it isn't very developed. In fact we have quite a bit of farmland. when you go east you go through the San Bernardino Valley that is developed all the way to the 15. You can drive south for hours and still be in sprawl.

  • Amakudari||

    And one hour in any other directions puts you in the mountains, and a little further to the northeast puts you in Kyoto (well, it's technically about an hour by car). Of course, if you pass through the subsidized farmland you'll encounter farms, but I don't know what that says.

    It's impossible to dispossess an urban folk of his pastoral idyll, but the reality is that farms in Japan are massively subsidized and very unproductive. Price supports are everywhere, notably in the old beika, a guaranteed price for rice that was 6x what the market would pay (i.e. you pay taxes, government buys rice for 6x, then sells it to you at 1x). Farmland is specifically zoned such that it cannot be used for other purposes. In some prefectures you can dramatically cut the inheritance tax by tending a certain-sized garden on your land for 20-ish years (after which you convert it to a parking lot and make some money). So yes, you see quaint family farms, but that's by design, not the Japanese electing collectively to forgo suburban luxuries to live shoulder to shoulder in concrete jungles.

  • Chad||

    I was thinking of the land between Kyoto and Nara, more or less (and south into Wakayama). Yes, it is all subsidized farmland, as if ours isn't. Though admittedly, the Japanese do subsidize their farmers more, it isn't wildly more. More like double. Europe is somewhere in between.

    Frankly, I am perfectly happy with "greenbelt" strategies, both here and in Japan. They work.

  • Amakudari||

    Japan subsidizes small family farmers, and our agricultural subsidies tend to go towards large agribusinesses, most of which set up away from civilization. As for the ratio versus the US, I'd say 1 is too high; both countries (and the EU) subsidize agriculture too much.

    I'm absolutely opposed to many of those agricultural subsidies given the disproportionately negative impact they have on poor farmers trying to eke out an existence in the Third World and find their livelihoods trampled by First World dumping (much less a general citizenry that is often poorer than those subsidized). If Japan wants to ensure some amount of food self-sufficiency, that's fine, but they'll heavily subsidize crap like mikan, too, and prevent the import of foreign oranges. They've closed off much of the rice market too, subsidize milk even though raising cattle in Japan (often on imported grain) is inefficient, ban tons of foreign meat, etc. They "work," I guess, but to what end?

  • Chad||

    I am not defending ag subsidies. They definitely need to go.

    I do, however, like the idea of preventing sprawl with greenbelts, which generally consist of land that can only be farmed, or returned to nature. Economics can largely sort the latter out on a case-by-case basis.

  • Chad||

    I will, however, give credit to Japan for actually managing to subsidize the little guy, not mega-corps like we do.

    I just saw some babbling conservative on a talk show yesterday attacking the estate tax on the grounds that we needed to protect "small family farms", even though they actually don't have to pay any tax until their value is between $8 and $9 million (how "small"), and even if they do have to pay, they get a 5 year grace period and THEN can pay over 10 years, with only 2% interest. Apparently USDA couldn't find ANY examples of a family farm that had to be liquidated to pay estate taxes.

  • Amakudari||

    Well, true, I'd rather see the same, although it's one of the few areas where Japan subsidizes the little guy (here due to the political power of rural provinces). My complaint mostly has to do with the lack of structural reforms to deal with extremely low productivity at those farms, because the real goal of Japanese agricultural policy is supposed to be protecting food supply.

    And of course, if you look at manufacturing or finance you see a really different story. Artificially suppressed interest rates, implicit big bank support, yen intervention, immigration policies that mostly benefit automakers, etc., that's where the real money is. The US is probably on par regarding on finance (Japan's policy response in the 90s was dreadful, too), but again, I'm talking in absolutes.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Chad, the estate tax is nothing but wealth envy codified into law.

  • Chad||

    No, LG. The estate tax is simply a wonderful tax, for a number of reasons

    1: It takes from the least-deserving people imaginable

    2: It can raise significant money

    3: It causes virtually no economic impacts

    Indeed, given the track-record of many silver-spoon-fed fools, getting money out of their hands should be a top priority.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    It's not enough money to actually fix anything, Chad, so its real purpose is to punish people who have paid taxes up until the day they die THEN hit their surviving family members with a bill for half of the value.

    IOW, it's revenge after the last breath, and you're a morbid SOB for cheerleading it.

    BTW, has the Kennedy estate EVER had to cough up this tax? Yeah, that's what I thought... no, and you're fine with that.

  • Chad||

    Ahh, now you spout the retarded "If it can't solve the whole problem at once, you shouldn't do it" argument. Guess what, Einstein: NO single tax increase or spending cut will solve the problem. Duh! The estate tax, however, can solve several percent of the problem. That's one nice step towards covering the gap that we need to cross.

    Why should be someone be rich because their daddy was? If these little whelps can't get ahead after their first-class educations, and have been handed important connections up the ying-yang, without millions in tax-free dollars, we are better off without them.

    If you want to spoil your kids rather than donating the money, be prepared to pay. Get over it. We tax stupidity all the time, so why should this time be any different?

  • BakedPenguin||

    1: It takes from the least-deserving people imaginable

    No wealth envy there. If all scions of the wealthy were like the Kennedys and the Rockerfellers, I'd understand your argument better. But you have no way of knowing if a particular heir or heiress is worthwhile or not.

    3: It causes virtually no economic impacts

    It causes mis-investment as people who wanted to create a better life for their children stick money in any sort of tax-haven so they can avoid having it stolen by the IRS. Also, if the heirs simply keep their money in the bank, the money is being invested in the local economy. If it's taxed, it's being taken by political goons to give to their pals. #1 is a much better investment.

    Indeed, given the track-record of many silver-spoon-fed fools, getting money out of their hands should be a top priority.

    Again, if all wealthy heirs were like the Kennedys and the Rockerfellers, I would have a harder time arguing against you. But the only ones you hear about are the morons - the Paris Hiltons, etc. The ones who understand they have to live within their means, have to work to hold on to what their parents created, etc., don't make the news.

    Ultimately, that's irrelevant. The property rights of the people who originally created the wealth are what's important.

  • Amakudari||

    Apologies for the misunderstanding then, but I can't really agree.

    In the case of Japan, the Nara area you mention is not really a green belt (I've only been to Kansai twice, but the Osaka-Kyoto corridor was, in my recollection, suburban), as all of those areas are part of Nara Prefecture proper, and Nara's main industry aside from tourism is agriculture. I could be wrong, but I don't think this is deliberate as the prefectures would have to work together. More importantly, a green belt seems unnecessary to contain sprawl in Japan, as the mountains enclose cities anyway.

    And going back to my Bay experience, the collective effect of preservation, zoning, building height limitations, rent control and other housing policies, I felt, mainly just decreased housing stock to the benefit of the established well-off and to the detriment of the poor and newcomers. And given the Bay's lack of land area and high population density in the first place, such controls hardly seem necessary. Maybe green belts have been effective in some places, but development policies in the Bay are a disaster.

  • fortyouncer||

    From downtown to Pasadena is the goldline, and I agree that one is pretty nice.

    The subways aren't half bad either. The blue line (i think) which travels from LA to long beach is scary. And you have to sit in traffic anyway for some parts. Why build a train that sits in traffic? Never got that one. It sucks.

    As far as govt waste goes, it's at least something I can appreciate. Better than welfare, or spending it trying to arrest me for drugs.

    Some more freeways would be nice too...

  • ||

    I remember going to Japan and coming back to Houston. WOW, I felt like America was 50 years behind not only in technology, but in public transportation.

    It takes time for people to transition from car to train. It might seen wasteful now, but it will benefit those tomorrow.

  • SayNo2Doze||

    Japan is a technical marvel of civil engineering so in tune to the needs of her people that she has the lowest suicide rates in the world.

  • BakedPenguin||

    For those who didn't get SayNo2Doze's joke...

  • Chad||

    Ahh libertarians...

    Only they could conclude that something is a failure because it needs to be subsidized, when its competition is subsidized by an order of magnitude more.

    When is it going to dawn on you guys that roads don't come anywhere near paying for themselves, either. The highways do, but they can only work in conjunction with the money-losing feeder road system. In the end, roads in the US only bring in about half of what is spent on them as fuel taxes or license and registration fees. That's similar to the proportion that public transit brings in on average.

    And frankly, I don't know of any place on earth where there is a profitable road system (ie, not just the core roads with the most traffic, but the arterials, back roads, side-streets and alleys). However, there are a number of such train systems, in both Japan and Europe.

    I've never understood the libertarian fascination of the road system anyway. It is obviously just as "public" as public transit, so why should you favor either?

  • Old Mexican||

    Re: Chad,

    Only they could conclude that something is a failure because it needs to be subsidized, when its competition is subsidized by an order of magnitude more.

    Chad, you barbarian, something is a failure when nobody WANTS IT. Even if it were subsidized.

    I've never understood the libertarian fascination [sic] of the road system anyway [sic, again]. It is obviously just as "public" as public transit, so why should you favor either?[sic, I tell you, sic!]

    You're living in a different planet.

  • Chad||

    Chad, you barbarian, something is a failure when nobody WANTS IT. Even if it were subsidized

    Odd. In places where the two systems are subsidized more-or-less equally, people regularly use both. Funny how that happens.

  • Jordan||

    So? They can both be failures, you know.

  • Apologetic California||

    Chadtwat, the problem is that they've spent $8 billion, AND RIDERSHIP DROPPED. So they've built expensive trains and have fewer people take public transportation. Hardly a fucking victory for transit.

  • Chad||

    When you spend $80 billion on the competition, what do you expect?

    "Why can't we sell these delicious apples? We are offering a 10% discount! Could it be that we are offering free pizza, beer, chips, pop, burgers, sandwiches, and donuts? Naah..."

  • Apologetic California||

    So you have in one hand, libtards crawling all over the place trying to pull down as much stimulus money to build roads, but you're a particular libtard who don't think that we should invest in the maintenance of our existing roads. Again: you support a system that allowed spending MORE, several billions more, for public transit in America's 2nd largest city (and most densest metro) and ignore the fact that it led to an even lower number of ridership twenty years later. In that twenty years, there was a grand whopping ONE freeway built (the 105) in L.A., while more than 70 miles of rails were constructed.

  • Apologetic California||

    Another context to put the drop in MTA ridership--LA County's population added about 2 million people since 1986

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Yeah, you're right, Chad. We should ban all privately-owned transportation, except for politicians and government employees.

    But this IS a good opportunity for someone to use the Almighty Commerce Clause, Amen, to force people to use public transportation... or pay the daily riding fee, even if they don't need/want/are incapable of using it.

  • Straw Man||

    "We should ban all privately-owned transportation,"

    Did somebody call?

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    Yeah... Chad did, a few posts up.

  • cynical||

    Well, that certainly sounds like an argument for paying for roads solely through usage fees. Maybe even, to get a bit stereotypical here, privatizing them.

  • Chad||

    You generally can't privatize roads because their would be endless monopoly issues.

    I could buy the road outside your home and jack your prices into the sun, just to piss you off. And that would be perfectly 100% legal in Libertopia.

  • SFC B||

    Or I could buy access to my own slice of the road before you do, or buy the access to the road in front of your house and jack up the prices to $1 more than you're charging me. Or I could take an alternate means which doesn't require me to use what you bought, thus leaving it unused and you holding the bag, then buy it for a fraction of what you paid because you need to unload the unused road to pay the access fees I'm charging you.

  • Chad||

    So, multi-millionaires can protect themselves by buying up lots of land, unless the guy screwing them out-guns them. What about little guys who can't just buy up a few neighborhood properties on a whim so he can build a back-access road? Unless you live on a corner or a large tract of land in the boonies, it's pretty unlikely you have another route off your property outside of one road. Even if you DO have two, they would probably be owned by the same organization anyway.

    Quit being silly. Why do libertarians let themselves fall to defending obviously flawed reasoning?

  • l0b0t||

    "I could buy the road outside your home and jack your prices into the sun, just to piss you off."
    Not so much. The island I live on only has one bridge, it was privately owned from its creation (by the owner, a private citizen) in 1952 until the state usurped it upon the owner's death in 1996. Market forces (we all have boats) kept prices in check, except for one incident in the 1970s when he tried to raise the toll more than the community would tolerate and someone set fire to the toll booth.

  • Old Mexican||

    As it happens I just got off the phone with Boston College economist Alicia Munnell, who explains that while there is room to raise the amount employees have to contribute, the benefit the state agreed to pay at hiring (under defined benefit plans) is legally binding.

    How sweet - a person that thinks the only organization that holds the bat, the balls, the gloves and the court can be binded legally to something...

  • Amakudari||

    I don't disagree with this. Unless the state declares bankruptcy, these are real obligations.

    What I don't understand is why we Cali can't "fence off" the old pension plan into a "bad state"-like entity, bite the bullet and fund it fully under big boy GAAP accounting, and then come up with a sane retirement scheme (defined contribution would help, given CA's endless stupidity on fiscal issues) based on what's left over.

    Of course, Californian voters would never stand for it, but why wouldn't we want to do it this way?

  • Chad||

    Is there any reason pensions cannot be taxed at a different rate than other income? Shouldn't we jack taxes on these greedy bastards until we run into the Laffer wall?

  • ||

  • ||

    Lol

  • mad libertarian guy||

    I will say this.

    I am NOT in favor of train subsidies (Amtrak), but it will be a sad day in this household if it were to go under. Especially after a wonderful ride on the Empire Builder from Chicago to West Glacier. I'm no train freak, but I thought it a FAR superior method to either driving (especially at really long distances) because Central KY to NE MT is a really long fucking drive, or air travel (if time isn't a priority) because of the mandatory federal dehumanization effect of the TSA.

    I thoroughly enjoyed traveling by rail, and I'd do it again. I'd gladly pay the REAL FARE of the trip as well, as opposed to the subsidized cost.

  • Chad||

    Are you in favor of road subsidies? If not, then you must immediately call for a doubling of all gasoline taxes (or some other similar tax), congestion taxes, full pollution taxes on any emissions, noise taxes, etc.

  • BakedPenguin||

    Most of us are in favor of privitizing the Interstates, which would mean the company would have to charge the real costs of upkeep + some profit to all of its ridership.

  • The Libertarian Guy||

    And Chad goes back, once again, to the "just raise taxes" well for another ladle full of bullshit.

  • Chad||

    Why privitize them? How are you going to deal with the monopoly issues? There are many times when only one interstate is a plausible option for a given trip, which would then subject the traveler to potential monopoly rents.

    And let's look at some test cases that I am familiar with:

    Chicago Skyway: $2.50 for seven miles, or $.34/mile

    I-80: About 5 cents a mile, plus $.25 for just getting on.

    These numbers seem pretty typical, in my experience, for a short urban tollway and a longer, suburban and rural tollway, respectively. We can ignore the fact that their construction was subsidized several ways (lower bond rates), that they typically get a cut of the gasoline taxes collected at the rest areas, and of course, that they can charge monopoly prices for everything at the rest areas as well.

    Now, how much do the feds spend? Well, the federal gasoline tax is $.18/gallon. Assuming this really does cover the cost of the expressways, and that the average passenger vehicle gets 21 mpg, the government is providing expressways at $.0086 per mile.

    So one of the following must be true:

    1: The government is more than five times as efficient at providing expressways as the private sector

    2: There are many hidden subsidies to the government-maintained expressways

    3: The tollways are in better shape (in a way that is worth the price)

    The reality is some mixture of the above.

  • BakedPenguin||

    The subsidies aren't really hidden. The federal government gives away plenty of highway money (some of which is actually spent on highways) so long as the state plays ball on related legislation (e.g., when the Reagan Administration forced the 55-mph speed limit on all states).

    Tollways generally are in better shape, and they would remain so if they were privatized. Otherwise people would choose different routes.

    Monopoly issues? A city of any size will have an airport, and I don't know of any cities that don't have older roads that also connect to them (that admittedly, take more time). Privatized freeways would be subject to market forces like everyone else. (Alaska may be an exception.) If they tried to raise their rates too high, Freight carriers would switch to rail, people would start flying more, or searching out back roads.

    Of course, the privatized Interstates would appear to be relatively expensive for just the reason you mention - the government currently subsidizes them. If they were privatized, the federal gas tax should be cut drastically, or eliminated, since the rationale for its existence would be gone. However, the important point is that people would pay the true cost of the use of the roads.

  • ||

    "(e.g., when the Reagan Administration forced the 55-mph speed limit on all states)"

    You must be from some parallel universe. Over here, the 55 mph speed limit was required by the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act.

    Which during the Ford administration. Which was not the same as the Reagan administration.

    The Reagan administration did raise the federal limit to 65 mph in 1987.

  • BakedPenguin||

    You must be from some parallel universe. Over here, the 55 mph speed limit was required by the 1974 Emergency Highway Energy Conservation Act.

    Sorry, I was thinking about the mandatory 21 year old drinking age. The Reagan admin demanded all states adopt that if they wanted federal highway money.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    How is it that Chad is unaware of the fairly numerous examples of private (or private/public partnership) roadways all over the world?

    Seeing as he's such a well-traveled, deep-thinking individual and all...

  • Chad||

    BP, you seem to be repeating a common mis-perception among the right that the federal highway system pays for itself, and even throws a bit of money off to the side for public transit.

    While it is true that a portion of vehicle and fuel taxes are indeed given public transit, the total amount of v&f taxes collected is much smaller than the spending on highways alone. Here is the data for 2007 and 2008, and you can see that in 2007 $34 billion was brought in and $39 spent, while in 2008 $31 billion was brought in and $42 billion spent.

    http://www.thenewspaper.com/rlc/pix/artbachart.jpg

    http://www.dot.gov/bib2009/htm/FHA.html

    So no, the interstates are not paying for themselves, nor did they cover most of their orginal construction costs, which are a huge part of the overall cost.

    What is this stuff about airports. I am talking about the road outside my door: the one I absolutely must drive on to go absolutely anywhere. Even if I conspired with my neighbors to somehow bulldoze some houses so we could exit onto a different street, the odds are that the same person would own that street, too.

    And it's not like people are going to drive far out of their way so they can pay $.10 per mile vs $.12 per mile...but that's precisely the kind of price differences that monopolists often charge.

  • BakedPenguin||

    BP, you seem to be repeating a common mis-perception among the right that the federal highway system pays for itself, and even throws a bit of money off to the side for public transit.

    What? How did you get that from what I said? "The federal government gives away plenty of money so long as the state plays ball on associated legislation." and "Of course, the privatized Interstates would appear to be relatively expensive for just the reason you mention - the government currently subsidizes them."

    As far as this:

    So no, the interstates are not paying for themselves, nor did they cover most of their orginal construction costs, which are a huge part of the overall cost.

    What is this stuff about airports. I am talking about the road outside my door: the one I absolutely must drive on to go absolutely anywhere. Even if I conspired with my neighbors to somehow bulldoze some houses so we could exit onto a different street, the odds are that the same person would own that street, too.

    I was the one who (tried to) limit the discussion of privatization to Interstates, for that very reason - privatizing local roads opens a can of worms. It could be done, but it would be much trickier than privatizing Interstates, which have specific entry / exit points, and have local options to avoid them. I wanted to keep the conversation strictly on long distance travel, which means that there are other options than Interstates.

    And my main point was if Interstates were privatized, the entire argument about "government subsidies" would go out the window - the full cost would be borne by those who used it.

  • Chad||

    BP, you aren't going to escape the monopoly issue on interstates. For local trips there are often reasonable alternatives, but not so for 100+ mile trips. Using state highways and such, you could likely get to the same place, but you would likely spend 30-50% more time doing so. If you play around with the numbers in your head for a bit, you should be concluding that tollways would probably have to triple their prices before many people would start finding a positive return on time invested by switching over to the side roads. That's one hell of a monopoly rent. The only way they could be "privatized" would be for them to be run like a utility, with prices set by regulators. But I am not sure what the point of doing this is, anyway. Usually, it is done to get some short-term cash in the government's hands, in exchange for the ability of our kids and grandkids to collect their own tolls as revenue (I am pointing at you, Chicago!).

  • ||

    The Red Line, Blue Line, et al, are more like streetcars or trolleys.

    Now Amtrak and Metrolink, those are trains.

  • B||

    "Brown would raise the retirement age for new hires from 55 to 60 and maintain defined-benefit plans..."

    Good to see Brown has discovered what has caused California to become a fiscal train wreck and is doing something to fix it. Oh, wait...

  • ||

    I've ridden the Goldline twice. It's nice, but only if you get off to catch the train to San Diego.

    What if you have 3 or 4 errands to run in Pasadena? You take the Goldline to...where?? Then what do you do? The bus system is better downtown but spotty out in the subs.

    If they had spent 8 billion on more bus lines, we'd have great coverage. How much it is subsidized is beside the point.

  • LoneSnark||

    "the benefit the state agreed to pay at hiring (under defined benefit plans) is legally binding."
    Don't states have sovereign immunity? If they passed a law revoking all claims to a pension, there is nothing the retires could do about it.

  • ||

    i'm a little shaky on this area of the law, but my understanding is that the state cannot be sued in FEDERAL court only

  • ||

    I've never understood the libertarian fascination of the road system anyway.

    Admit it; you've never understood freedom.

  • ||

    Freedom is not owning a car. I live in New York and I do not own a car.

  • Chad||

    I agree. I was every bit as "free" living car-less (both here and abroad) as I am now, with my car in the 'burbs.

    Perhaps I was more free....

    $412/month car payment
    $70 month insurance payment
    $60/month for gasoline (yay Prius)
    $25/month for maintenance
    $15/month for license and registration
    $20/month on foregone interest on the down payment

    So, $601 month. And now you have to multiply that by 1.3 to cover income taxes on the money I have to earn to pay for it, so I need to have an income of $781/month or $9376 per year to cover this car.

    That's not all that different from my awful, soul-crushing, freedom annihilating tax bill that libertarians think is the root of all evil.

  • Amakudari||

    But that's coverage, not economic cost. Your car is also an asset, and you wouldn't include principal payments, but would use depreciation (10-20% per annum). Otherwise there's an enormous difference between the last year of your auto loan and when you own it outright. That's true from a cash flow standpoint, but not a value one, because you can now sell it without the proceeds first going to pay off the loan.

    And frankly a Prius is your choice. You can get a used car for a fraction of that and still get to the same places without it rivaling your income tax bill. That's the actual base cost of motoring, and it's hardly oppressive.

    Full disclosure: I have neither a car nor a need to commute in Japan (which would be truly soul-crushing). I definitely miss the freedom that I had with driving, though.

  • Chad||

    A totally pimped-out Prius (mine is bare-bones) costs around $28000, which is the average price paid for a new car in 2010. Throw in the several thousand dollars I will save over the next ten years, and I am well below the average. You are right that it would technically be correct to amortize everything. Assuming you buy a typical $20000 sedan every ten years, you probably end up with something like $450/month average over the lifetime. Now multiply that by two for your spouse, and add in another $300 to cover your teenage kid, and you have something that looks a hell of a lot like a mortgage.

    I spent $150/month on normal transit in Japan. You couldn't match that here, even if you were driving the most clunkered of clunkers you could find. Gas and insurance alone would get you to the $150 mark.

    What freedom are you talking about? Do you live up in the mountains somewhere? I never had an issue getting anywhere I wanted to go, except for a couple of "last train" incidents.

  • Amakudari||

    Bay Area. I could go to where I wanted in SF, Berk, Monterey, wine country, San Jose, the mountains, etc. within an hour or so, not to mention my friends' or a new restaurant, all at the time of my choosing. You might find as much the same distance from downtown Tokyo, but not in the same commute time, and certainly not leaving at 1 a.m. at 20 over with a weird Berkeley station cranked up, or at 8 pm and avoiding sweaty drunk old men. I had a 13 year-old car and it worked out great.

    And on the same note of Bay Area, my monthly transport cost was around $250 on BART, as driving into SF during rush hour is a nightmare and the dehumanization of the BART experience was tempered by studying for professional exams. But during leisure time, I found a car to be a quicker and more enjoyable transport option than getting squished into the Yamanote Line and making 3-4 transfers to get someplace outside Tokyo. Don't get me wrong; I love this city and the convenience of its hundred-some train lines, and for a time I wanted to sell my car and move to SF, but driving has good points and I miss owning a car.

  • Chad||

    A couple of points: cars are certainly useful, and at no point do I expect anyone to be giving them up entirely. If what I am suggesting were adopted, though, you would see a lot more single-car families instead of two (or three, or five).

    Second, I wouldn't consider the Bay Area a good comparison to Tokyo. Kyoto prefecture is about the same size and population as the northern half of the SF Bay area (SF, Oakland, Berk, etc), so that might be a bit better. We can pretend that San Jose equals Osaka. (lol). Certainly, from a place like Kyoto, you can get up in the mountains and all sorts of cool, unique places in an hour, by car, bus, and train.

    Now if the mountains around SF just had onsens I could stop at before I took the train home after a long hike...ahhh....

  • Amakudari||

    I'm not equating Tokyo and SF, just the limitations of not having a car even with solid public transport. In the city rail is faster, but outside I can get twice as far by car (unless I pay through the nose for the Shinkansen).

    Also, almost everything Japanese in the Bay is fusion, which means all "onsen" are these overly zen spas. Weak.

  • Chad||

    I agree, American pseudo-zen stuff is weak. I still like some of it, though.

    Sitting naked with a bunch of old Japanese men in a steaming hot bath, watching the snow fall over Kyoto from the mountains...now that is the real deal.

  • Chad||

    Btw, Amakudari. One thing we haven't address is that almost a third of our population CAN'T drive due to age or disability. Public transit is enormously beneficial to these groups of people, even here in the US...and certainly in Japan.

    Indeed, one factor in their longevity, in my opinion, is the mobility public transit provides to many seniors. My two surviving grandmothers here in the states, in contrast, are entirely dependant on friends or relatives if they want to go anywhere.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    Freedom is not owning a car. I live in New York and I do not own a car.


    Freedom is getting to decide what to do, based upon circumstances, whether paying a few bucks for a subway ride to Manhattan, or driving to Manhattan and shelling out fifty bucks to park in a garage.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    ^THIS^

    Freedom is getting to decide what to do for yourself

    This should be obvious, no?

    If you wish to own a car & drive, or take a train, etc. you should be free to do that - AND - moreover, you should be free from subsidizing other people's choices.

    So while of course I (and probably everyone else here) agrees with Chad that automobile subsidies need to end, neither do we think that taxes should be raised or other subsidies imposed on the "new" favored tech.

    Just end all the subsidies across the board and let people decide for themselves what they want to use based on their own situations & their own cost-benefit determinations.

  • Chad||

    Sean, the problem is that you guys define "subsidy" only to mean "direct cash handout from the government". Sometimes you may admit that special tax carve-outs are subsidies, but you will never admit that pollution and other negative externalities are.

    Hence, you are only for getting rid of a small portion of the subsidies, which solves nothing and does not constitute a real plan.

  • Chad||

    TEH EXTERNALITIES!!!!!!!!!!1!1!!!!!!!111111!!!!!!!!!!!

  • ||

    Anyone who has seen "Predator 2" knows how dangerous it is to ride the subway in Los Angeles.

  • ||

    you must immediately call for a doubling of all gasoline taxes (or some other similar tax), congestion taxes, full pollution taxes on any emissions, noise taxes, etc.

    WooHoo!

    We luvs us sum TAXES, baby!

    I keep forgetting; who gives those "subsidies" out?

  • Dave Cribbin||

    The Pension problem needs to be looked at from a total compensation perspective, the cost for salary, health care and pension should be set at a value that is sustainable.
    If you want to retire at 55 great, assign an actuarial value to the cost of the pension and health care benefits and reduce current wages until the cost of the benefits and wages equal whatever number has been set for total compensation. Then offer people the option to vary their health care, pension and compensation amounts so that they are within the total value.

  • ||

    Some things to think about when discussing any mass transit project.

    1) It will cost far more than originally budgeted.
    2) There will be far fewer riders than projected.
    3) Operating costs will be double what is predicted.
    4) All of which will be used as arguments for building more of them.

    Face it, mass transit is a state subsidy for transportation that ideally* should benefit the poor. That it would be cheaper to buy every poor family a good used car every five years than pay for the massive transit projects that California has undertaken is ignored.

    * Though it is often just welfare for the middle and upper classes. Ask Joe Amtrack Biden how that works.

  • ||

    2 is dead wrong. Light rail projects here in NJ are exceeding ridership forecasts. 1 is true for anything, I mean ANYTHING built these days. 3 is an exaggeration and 4 is BS, since you use 1-3 to argue AGAINST them.

  • robc||

    #2 is not dead wrong. It is the standard case. See BART. An exception in NJ proves nothing.

    #3 isnt an exaggeration. If anything, its conservative.

  • ||

    KALW had an interesting piece on why transit planning is so bad:

    http://kalwnews.org/audio/2010.....82014.html

    Nobody here will be surprised to know that the company that by all reasonable means completely failed at predicting the cost/benefit of doing the BART extension to SFO were once again retained for the California High Speed rail project.

    Tim,

    In a future California roundup, you might want to include a link on how fucked the Sacramento delta is. People really have no idea how fucked this state is.

  • ||

    The trainspotters are right. Trains are GOOD. But they can be badly planned and operated.

  • robc||

    Badly planned and operated businesses should fail.

    Trains should be built/run by private companies that can succeed or fail on their ability to plan and operate.

  • ||

    I live 10 miles from work and spend just under 20 minutes drive to or from work. No amount of subsidy, and I'm talking all the way down to "free" or even "you give me 2 dollars", would be enough to entice me to take public transportation. When I get off work, at whatever random time I decide constituted a good day of work, I don't know where I'll end up, and that's the way I like it. Once you get on a train, you can't decide you would then prefer to drop by your buddies house instead, or head out to the lake, etc. Plus, in my situation I would spend more time waiting for the train or bus than I do driving. Stopping by Menards to pick up some top soil or lumber is certainly out as is an unplanned swing by the grocery store. And then there's this:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MaP05Qeanq8
    No thanks, I'll spend 20 grand on a new vehicle every 8 years, pay for gas, maintenance, and insurance to go where I want when I want and with whomever I want. Thanks for subsidizing the roads for me. I prefer to have my tax dollars remain mine, but I'll take having them go towards subsidizing things that make us happy. We like roads. We don't want to be herded into railway cars, fuck you very much.

  • skr||

    but but but the global warming. Won't you think of the species?

  • Chad||

    Ahh, someone who has never experienced good public transit. Let me explain my old life in Japan. I lived 6 miles from work, which hypothetically would have been about a 20 minute drive, not that I had or wanted a car, so our commutes were comparable. My real choices were

    A: Bicycle, 30-35 minutes
    B: Train+bus+foot, 35-40 minutes

    Oh wait, you say! Look how much longer those times are. You are wasting about 2.5 hours a week!

    Wrong. Dead wrong.

    First, note the "bicycle" and "foot" elements. Sometimes these things are called "exercise" here in the States. When you magically build in a couple hours of cycling and a couple hours of walking into your weekly commute, you don't need to deliberately exercise nearly as much. While in Japan, I basically skipped one run and one trip to the gym per week, relative to what I do here. When you throw in the related driving, changing, and showering, those two skipped workouts alone save me three hours, putting me into a time profit.

    And of course, there were the couple hours that I actually spent ON the train, the bus, or the related platforms. There, I engaged in this quaint hobby called "reading". This is opposed to the time spent behind the wheel of my car, which (at least during normal commuting hours) is spent "stressed, cursing at jackholes, and generally pissed off at the world". Clearly, the time spent on the buses and trains was more pleasurable and valuble, so a one-to-one comparison is incorrect.

    And of course, I passed a countless stores during my commute, so I could buy just about anything I needed without going out of my way at all. On the rare event that would have needed something too big to carry (which never happened), they certainly would have been happy to deliver.

    If I wanted to go out with my buddies, we went out. Any place worth going to was near a train station. If I wanted to go to my buddy's house, well, it was by a station too. I think I have been in a car in Japan perhaps a dozen times in nearly two years of being there. In most cases, it was to visit the home of someone who lived in a (for Japan) rural area. Most of the rest were just for the pleasure of driving. Only twice can I think of a time that we drove in a non-rural area simply because driving was so superior to public transit for the specific situation we were in. Oh, and the handful of taxi rides I was forced to take after I missed the "last train"...but that is a particularly Japanese quirk.

  • Michael Ejercito||

    So your point is that there are places where public transportation is advantageous, and other places where it is not?

    Who is disputing that?

  • Chad||

    The OP said that there was no way that public transit would ever work for his commute. I presented an example of how the calculation changes if the system is good enough, and you start factoring in all the other benefits.

  • SFC B||

    "The OP said that there was no way that public transit would ever work for his commute."

    He's shopping at Menards. Unless he lives in Chicago I doubt he lives any place where taking public transportation could ever be preferable to driving your own vehicle.

  • Chad||

    You aren't very imaginative.

    For example, during my grad school years, I road the public bus system to work every day. This is in a town with a population sub 200k, mind you. It was hardly any different than driving, because one stop was right outside my apartment complex, and the other just as close as the parking structure (not that I was allowed to park there during weekdays anyway). I'd get there maybe ten minutes faster by driving, but I'd rather spend 5 minutes waiting and 25 minutes reading than 20 minutes stuck in bumper to bumper traffic. It was cheaper to take the bus, too, because I had a monthly pass.

  • Sean W. Malone||

    And here is precisely the point.

    Chad has his preferences - and he's absolutely entitled to them...

    Except, unfortunately, he seems hell bent on forcing everyone else to abide by his preferences.

    What's so ridiculous about this on this issue especially is that it wildly depends on the city! When I lived in New York, you could hardly have paid me to own or use a car. But that was a function of density, more than anything else. It's not like I was a huge fan of riding the subway 45 minutes into work every day, but it certainly beat out the 2 hours it would have taken me in an automobile, not to mention the ridiculous expense in such a place.

    That said, now that I live in Los Angeles, you could scarcely pay me enough ride the buses or the trains here. They're borderline useless as far as I'm concerned as the situation is almost exactly reversed.

    I would have taken me 2 hours or more to get to work at either of the two places I worked for other people here where it only took 45 minutes by car.

    And when I was younger and living in Nebraska, there's simply no way a massive public transit system would have been useful to most of the people there. And of course this is all without noting people's various actual specific transportation needs. As a performing musician, I eventually bought a van to haul my vibraphone... Not exactly possible to take a 200+lb musical instrument on a subway.

    Point: It's DIFFERENT EVERYWHERE, FOR EVERYONE.

    So if Chad could learn that lesson, perhaps he would - at some point - stop trying to impose his bullshit on everyone else by force just because he thinks his experience and beliefs are the "right" ones for everyone to have.

  • Chad||

    My point was that public transit is viable in small American cities, Sean.

    The fact that I rode the bus meant that much less pollution, that much less rush-hour traffic, and one fewer parking space had to be built around campus. If I were properly rewarded for these things (or if, conversely, drivers had to PAY for them properly), a lot more people would have been riding the buses. More people riding the buses would have meant more routes and more frequent service, causing more people to ride, too. Don'tcha love postive feedbacks?

  • LoboSolo||

    Los Angeles could hav had a free monorail in 1963 ... http://www.monorails.org/tmspages/la1963.html

  • ||

    What´s with the deal with politicians and the railroad? When they were first created they were evil enterprises (in the US you had the robber barons), now that they are no longer economically viable (and public?) they are cool and subsidized to no end.

    It makes no sense to have rail/subway in the US except perhaps in some cities (NY, SF) where population density justifies it. Even in densily populated Europe only intracity rail is efficient, the cost of train travel between cities more than 100 miles apart is >> air travel. And you can fly say London to Berlin for 100-200€ to travel hundreds of miles on an aircraft but the train ride to/from the airport will cost you about 20€! Where the f*ck is the money going?

    Politicians are building highspeed rail links like crazy to get in the papers but these subsidized projects are a massive waste, In some of the less used railworks it amounts to a subsidy PER TICKET running in the hundreds of euros, here´s a link but it is in spanish

    http://www.sintetia.com/analis.....e-incomoda

    As per road traffic, the cost of gas > 2/3 tax, more than enough money to pave the roads, replant the Amazon several times and still line politicians´ pockets.

    PS I use public transport almost exclusively (except international travel) because it is practical, and my car idles its way in the garage. But I still have to put up with enviromental cocksuckers preaching to me about the evils of the combustion engine, while they commute hundreds of miles a week to their nice house in the suburbs.

  • ||

    I always thought monorail would be a good system for mass transit. The infrastructure is minimal, it can follow existing routes so you don't need to appropriate land and the stations can be in existing buildings. I suppose there must be good reasons why such a system was never developed.

  • ||

    I'm curious why people don't ride the train in LA since, given the bus ridership, they're clearly not opposed to public transportation. Is it just less convenient? More expensive per ride? Just a cultural thing?

    I don't have statistics, but I want to say there are a multitude of European cities where commuter train ridership is extremely well utilized. Why does it "work" (at least from the p.o.v. of attracting riders) over there, but not in L.A.?

  • Chad||

    Check these links from my post above. Note that Osaka is about the same population as LA.

    http://www.rususa.com/city/trainmap.asp-region-los+angeles

    http://johomaps.com/as/japan/osaka/osakametro.html

    If you are going to consider using the train, the main criteria is whether the the points you are starting from and ending at (and any others you might need to stop at) are near stations. It's pretty obvious that in LA, the chances of this happening are spotty.

  • ||

    So essentially its an issue of population density? In that case the take-away isn't that commuter trains are a "bad deal" in the general case, just that they're a "bad deal" for L.A.

  • Chad||

    Buddy, in large part, the trains are the CAUSE of the density, not the effect. LA is sprawled because sprawl was subsidized, which was a tragic mistake.

  • ||

    Hmm. So why don't other municipalities have the same issue? Or...do they, and I'm just not aware of it? My understanding of commuter rail has always been that "it works over there, but not here". I've just never taken the time to investigate exactly why, or whether that's even accurate.

  • ||

    Quite simply, for all of the massive investment, the train doesn't go anywhere I need to be. In the whole history of its existence, the one time the Los Angeles rail system has been of any use to me was during a contract job that had me commuting to a location right by Union Station. And even that job required going to other locations with no train stop within reasonable distance if I were to avoid spending as much time commuting as working.

    One of my employers is located in Pasadena very close to a station and once in a great while it makes sense to take the Gold Line from there to downtown. But since I don't work out of that office daily, those occasions are very rare. One of them I recall was to go to E3 at the Convention Center.

    I hate being in heavy traffic. The prospect of it on a daily basis greatly constrains where I can look for work. But nearly every time I've examined using a combination of train and bus, I've found the cost, time, and loss of spontaneous freedom of movement really makes the public option a bad choice. (Leaving aside the frequent need to lug a fair amount of gear for the work.) Part of the problem is living out where I do, making just getting to the station a significant time investment. I can get to much of the San Fernando Valley in the same time it takes to get to the station in Newhall. If there were a local line, paralleling the I-5, that would open some possibilities. The soonest I'd expect to see that, if ever, is over a decade away.

  • ||

    Yeah, but why do situations like yours exist? Did they place the terminus points in stupid places? Is it just a population density thing like I speculated above? Because commuter trains do seem to be utilized some places.

  • ||

    I'm sure the stations are in perfectly reasonable locations from a perspective of using existing rail infrastructure and where the area's populace were then densest. The area where I live had but a fraction of its housing when Metrolink was developed.

    Thems the breaks. I'm stuck living where the rents are most affordable. One reason for that is lack of convenience for things like access to the rail system. OTOH, my access to the 5 Freeway is excellent, thus favoring certain destinations for travel by car.

    If there some sort of express bus from my town to those parts of the SF Valley where I might have contract work, I'd give that consideration. The only option I know of right now has so many stops as to make it agonizingly slow compared to driving myself.

    A few years ago I had a contract job that at first seemed like a killer commuter. Almost a hundred miles each way. But the trick was that virtually all of the commuter traffic was in the opposite direction and I could cruise at 90 MPH so long as I slowed down through Palmdale/Lancaster. So it was actually a very easy drive in the morning and much shorter in duration than jobs I've had at half the distance. I'd far rather drive a long distance at high speed than go just ten miles in bumper to bumper traffic.

  • skr||

    it's too expensive, doesn't go where I need it to go, doesn't run late enough, takes too long to get there vs a car, and generally there isn't enough parking at the stations that aren't close enough to walk to. Also, places like union station don't have anyplace to lock up a bike.

  • skr||

    and i try to take it so i don't have to pay for parking or whatever, but it just rarely works out.

  • ||

    in response to the $700 mo cost of freedom, one might respond that freedom doesn't have to cost that much. The bulk of that estimate is in the $400 odd car payment and if you are willing to live with a little less car, you can easily knock that down to $200 & if you are willing to drive your car longer than the five year term of your loan, you can get it down to $0 / month when the car is paid off. That leaves $300 odd per month which is still more than I pay, but, whatever. Freedom is easily worth it. However, it's not as thoug rail is free. I live in the east bay & work in S F & take Bart. Fares run approximately $200 per month in direct costs. But Bart won't take me to the grocery store. Nor will it take me to my girlfriend's house in the city. If we add a ride on muni to get there & a cab ride back twice a week, that's another $100 per month. Now I also chose an apartment that was within walking distance of bart to make it more practical. Since that put me in an apartment that costs about $200/ mo more than ones I might
    otherwise have chosen and without a car, I would have to buy groceries @ more expensive stores closer to home (we'll call that another $100 per month). At that point, the cost of public transit (excluding the taxes which indirectly subsidize bart) is at least as high as the cost of freedom.

    so, why do I choose bart then? First, I already paid the cost of choosing the apartment (my roommate wanted an apartment close to bart & it was within walking distance of my job @ the time we got the apartment.) secondly and more importantly, san francisco parking is ridiculously expensive. In my case, bart is cost efficient, but it takes a very particular set of circumstances to produce that result.
    so

  • Chad||

    With respect to your first point, if you totally went clunker-style and kept buying ten year old beaters and driving them until the last bit of factory-installed smoke leaked out, you could probably cut the total cost of ownership of your car to $300 per month or so. But you really run into a wall at some point, because gas and maintanence costs go up as the vehicles get older. Typical Americans spend far more than this, over $500 per car, and own multiple cars per family.

    In your second argument, you miss the opportunity to make a very interesting point. WHY are the prices higher near the stations? In part, it is *because* of the station. Yes, stations increase property values near the stations. However, since the builders of private train lines generally don't capture this value (unless they own some of the land, which is common in Japan at least), it does not factor into their calculations. This stands in stark contrast to sprawl, where each wave of sprawlers cuts the previous one off from any neighboring open areas, and engulfs them in big boxes, strip malls, and McMansions. By this time, sketchy-looking people have moved into the rings of land colonized a few waves back, and the normal-looking people in rings then flee even further out. The inner rings are largely abandoned wastelands.

    What a sensible system.

  • josey||

    We don't flee 'sketchy-looking people', Einstein, we flee the ridiculous profusion of government present in the city. Once we're there, some small segment of the population always ends up pushing to promote townships into cities, and though it starts small and simple, the tentacles of the metropolitan councils inevitably work their way in and corrupt it. So we move even further out to get away from that.

    That you don't know this shows that you are hopelessly out of touch with people who choose to live outside the city.

    If you don't believe me, take a drive 20 or 30 miles out, knock on some random doors, and ask how it was that the occupant came to live there -- five'll get you ten what the reason was.

  • Chad||

    Lol, Josey. Wanna guess where I actually live?

    In the farthest-out suburbs of an old rustbelt city. Why do most of the people who live around here live around here? "The schools". In other words "schools not filled with sketchy-looking kids, but the kids of other well off folk like us".

    In case you care, I live here because my job is here, and no other reason. I'd prefer to live downtown or one any of several of the inner-ring suburbs, but the commutes just wouldn't be worth it.

  • josey||

    So you live in a suburb that's in the process of being compromised, by busybodies like yourself -- if you are watching, you will notice the people who actually produce product and provide jobs IN YOUR AREA gradually hightailing it out of there to avoid the rising tax burden, leaving you looking at the empty shells of mini-malls, overbuilt schools, and deserted industrial parks. And so you'll go running to the metropolitan councils for help; matching funds for useless greenspace projects, subsidies for fulfilling arbitrary comprehensive plans, just to prop up the remains of what is left after you've destroyed the vitality of your suburb.

    If the housing market wasn't in the dumper, I'd already be gone, 20-50 miles further out. And at one point or another it will be worth it regardless, and I will move, along with lots of others like me. And we'll have started the process all over again, and it will have had nothing to do with your so-called 'sketch-looking people.'

    It will have been due, as I said, to the presence of people who think like you do.

  • ||

    Given construction costs as reported from prototype projects and the recently completed system at London's Heathrow airport, a dense layout of Personal Rapid Transit (with guideway laid out in a grid, rows and columns 1/2 mile apart) costs between $60-80M per square mile of coverage. That buys you a system entry/exit point no more than 1/4 mile (a city block) from your starting point or destination, anywhere in the service area, and a 2-4 person vehicle that is either waiting for you when you enter the system or arrives within a minute or so (comparable to an elevator wait). Once on the vehicle, you go nonstop from your entry point to your exit point, under automatic control, at speeds ranging from 25-40 mph (usually closer to the maximum speed of the system), on an elevated guideway that doesn't interact with pedestrians or street traffic.

    The $8B spent on LA subway and light rail could have put dense PRT on between 100 and 133 square miles of LA. That's only a square 10-11.5 miles on a side, but depending on how that area were laid out (you wouldn't put a full grid over a park, lake, or industrial/warehouse district for example), it could cover a lot of population. Within the service area, you wouldn't need subway, light rail, or either regular or express buses.

    I'm not a fan of taxpayer subsidy of mass transit. But if the government is bound and determined to blow eight BILLION dollars, I want them to get the best eight billions bangs for those bucks that they have taken from us by force. I think that the people who are so free with spending other people's money should look into less expensive, more efficient ways to get the job done.

  • Chad||

    I think you are confusing LA with an Iowa cornfield. Good luck buying the right of ways you need with $60 million per square mile. I seriously doubt you could build elevated roads for $15 million per mile, even if you were handed the land.

  • ||

    You doubt because you haven't seen the figures, or the proof behind them. That's OK. I'm willing to wait until there are enough real-world examples to convince you. Sit back and watch.

    As far as right-of-ways, are there not such things for bus stops NOW? Are not many of those bus stops covered? What about street lamps? Some of the PRT system approaches utilize support poles that are sturdier, but only slightly larger, than streetlamp posts, and could be put in the same places, replacing the posts and doing double duty to support the guideway and the streetlamps. PRT infrastructure is Ultralight, compared even to so-called light rail, and demands little ground space. Typical entry/exit points might take up twice the space of a covered bus stop; we're not talking about "stations" except in places, such as sporting arenas, transit hubs, end-of-the-line terminus points, etc., where large crowds might be expected to develop. For that same reason, you don't usually need to have specially dedicated parking for the PRT stops, anymore than you would for bus stops.

  • Chad||

    So your grid idea is shot. You are going to follow real roads, just like everyone else. And the idea that you are going to build jungle gyms over every street in America is just silly anyway.

  • ||

    Why is the grid idea shot, Chad? Following real roads won't preclude gridding in most cities, including L.A. Nothing is ever perfect, anyway. The grid layout is an ideal. A real-world system can get close enough and still end up serving more passengers than other forms of mass transit have been able to manage to date.

    I hardly think that lines spaced 1/2 mile apart would impart anything like a "jungle gym" atmosphere.

    And, as a Libertarian, I don't want to force anyone to accept PRT. I don't even want government to fund it; just get out of the way. The people who want government to fund and run this are those who have been conditioned to believe that government (and tax money) must be responsible for all "public infrastructure"; those who might lose their government jobs if PRT proved as successful as I think it can be; or those who want to leach funds from a successful PRT system to subsidize their own, longstanding mass-transit (or other "public works") boondoggles.

    I am very confident that, once real people can ride on a real system, and compare it with bus, rail, and gridlocked auto traffic alternatives -- and once they learn that the "disadvantages" implied by negative opinions such as yours are nothing but uninformed grousing -- mass acceptance will follow, maybe not in EVERY town, but in enough of them, including my own. Let's just wait and see, shall we?

  • ||

    I forgot to add that PRT service is 24/7. So it is both faster (in terms of average transit time) and runs longer than most of the other available transit options. Longer hours of operation seems to be a big issue with the L.A. locals, to judge from the Times article's comment thread.

  • Chad||

    James: the proposed extensions of the Morgantown PRT system are estimated at $30-40 million per mile...in Morgantown.

    Double that for LA, or any major city.

    And even this PRT system operates like an elevated train most of the time. It's more like a train system where after hours, you can call your own personal mini-train.

    Btw, elevated systems are incredibly ugly, no matter how you cut it. That's a serious problem that advocates have no answer for.

    PRT remind me a lot of libertarians, as they both believe if there plan were adopted 100% pure, it would be the best thing such buttered popcorn. They ignore the fact that they live in reality, and things get adopted piecemeal. Any lines actually built (outside of close systems, like an airport), will be single lines that look awfully like train lines, and will operate a lot like them as well.

  • ||

    Morgantown is not the model for modern PRT, although it definitely proved the concept in a bulky, overengineered, government-project, 1970s sort of way. Remember those first cell phones that looked like old WWII walkie talkies? That's Morgantown. Now look at the cell phone you had three or four years ago. That's Heathrow. Now look at your cell phone today, or the one you may be lusting after as soon as your upgrade window opens. That's where modern PRT approaches are now.

    As far as whether the systems are ugly or not, you obviously haven't looked at recent proposals. Just for grins, take at look at this:

    http://www.ultraprt.com/Bath/competition-entries/

    This was a competition to integrate the ULTra flavor of PRT into the historically significant and architecturally sensitive city of Bath, England. If there were a similar competition for L.A., I'm sure you would see some proposals that were not only NOT ugly, they would be beautiful. Other approaches to PRT might lend themselves to even more beautiful and elegant designs.

  • Chad||

    Pretty pictures of a station in a park somewhere are not the point. I am asking about the arterial road that I live on, and which would indeed be the place your little PRT system would have to run on.

    Are you going to put the line on the north or the south side of the street, and how many bodyguard are you going to have to hire to protect you from the lynch mob of homeowners that will come hunt you down for cutting down their trees and turning their front-porch view into a wall of wires and elevated track?

  • ||

    "...and how many bodyguard are you going to have to hire to protect you from the lynch mob of homeowners that will come hunt you down for cutting down their trees and turning their front-porch view into a wall of wires and elevated track?"

    It appears as if you're just trolling now. If you're serious, I can provide a serious answer to your question.

  • ||

    As far as "piecemeal" adoption, please note that the ultralight infrastructure and minimum ground footprint allow PRT to grow and expand, altering or adding routes more easily than any other mass-transit mode except buses and airplanes -- both of which have their own considerable downsides, too. Because of this, I often recommend that small systems get built first -- just enough to serve a real transit need and give many people a taste of what could be, but not nearly so large as to be a break-the-bank type of gamble. If (when) people like it, the system can easily and inexpensively "scale up" to serve a wider area and larger potential ridership.

    I live in the real world, Chad. I know how to do bootstrap projects. It's just so very rare to find something that lends itself to bootstrap development as well as PRT does. :-)

  • ||

    Definitely an issue. One of the major stumbling blocks in the past when I've examined the suitability of the public option for getting to a job site was whether the system was available early enough or late enough to be of use.

    Plus, I once had a really bad experience of falling asleep and missing my stop, waking to find myself a few dozen miles past my station with no trains going back that way for over ten hours. I had to make a fast decision on whether to go to the end of the line (Lancaster), where there was places I could hang out but meant whoever came to get me would need to come that much further, or to get off at the next station, along an otherwise empty stretch of the 14 Freeway, in triple digit weather, and wait. (The lack of sleep from that weather is what made me miss my stop in the first place, of course.)

    So yeah, hours of operation really matter. Especially for someone like me whose work often starts just as everyone else is heading home.

  • ||

    Not only would a PRT system run 24/7, it would be guaranteed to take you only and directly to your desired stop. You'd have a private cabin to curl up in and nap if you wished, perhaps with your choice of music in the background and some kind of alarm chime or audible message when you arrived. More comfortable, faster and safer than a bus, much cheaper than a cab, less noisy (inside and outside) than bus or train, more energy efficient and less of a GHG emitter than almost every other mode of mass transit you can name: That's the essence of modern PRT.

  • ||

    What a crock of stuff, the retirement age for Social Security was raised depending of birth year, and the libs are planning on raising it again, so California is prohibited? from raising the retirement age? what a crock! Yes we CAN. Taxed Enough Already

  • ||

    The obvious solution is to live at work.

  • Chad||

    Btw, one important point that no one has brought up yet is population growth. For all the talk of population density we had earlier, isn't the fact that our population is projected to increase by a third by mid-century relevant? This people are going to be living in our cities, not Montana.

  • Christian Audigier||

    Hi, nice post. I have been wondering about this topic,so thanks for sharing. I will certainly be subscribing to your blog.

  • ||

    FYI, there´s an article on the economist about US freight rail and the impact of consumer high-speed rail on it.

    http://www.economist.com/node/.....N=38401565

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