Transportation Policy

Golden State Off the Rails As Mass Transit Ridership Plummets


What do people in the world's tenth largest economy do in a severe recession? They stop taking the bus, fill up their tanks, and start driving. It's happening all over California.

The San Jose Mercury News has an entertaining story on BART defectors, solid Bay Area liberals who have given up on the Bay Area Rapid Transit system:

For three years, Veronique Selgado took BART from the East Bay to her job working for an airline at San Francisco International Airport. But she recently switched to driving because BART raised fares and upped its SFO round-trip surcharge from $3 to $8, boosting her daily trip cost to nearly $20.

"It's outrageous," Selgado said. "At what point do they stop raising the prices,  when it's $50 a day to go round-trip to work? At what point does BART stand back and say, 'People can't pay that much to commute'?"

Unfortunately for Selgado, BART fares are in fact too low. The system is so far from being self-sufficient that it required $318 million in local, state and federal tax support in 2009 [pdf].

Covering more than 100 miles and featuring a superhumanly annoying fare payment system, BART has a good claim to be California's greatest civil engineering project since the 1960s. In my experience, under very rare and narrow circumstances, BART can be a good way to get to either San Francisco or Oakland Airport. The Merc points to low gas prices to explain the drop in ridership, although San Francisco gas prices have been more or less stable for the last six months, after rising substantially in the six months before that. It's unclear whether BART's ridership decline is also reflected in ridership for San Francisco's bus-dominated (and fairly useful) Muni system, as Muni has not put out recent boardings statistics.

Even Eddie Valiant needed a toon car to crack the case.

The desertion of the riders is also taking place outside the Bay Area. Los Angeles' Metropolitan Transportation Authority reports ridership down over the last two years for all its lines except that great Valley Zephyr, the Orange Line [pdf], a bus route which runs from Warner Center to North Hollywood and, in a rare reversal of transit policy, was actually developed to service proven demand. L.A. rail boardings are way down.

Ridership is also falling sharply in Sacramento [pdf] and Orange County. I am unable to decipher this report from San Diego's Metropolitan Transit System, which is confusingly titled "MTS Third Quarter Ridership Sees Increases in 2009" but is dated April 27, 2009. This North County Times story has San Diego MTS ridership down 15 percent from 2008 to 2009.

Declining service is frequently named to explain why nobody takes mass transit—obviously because this helps make the case that the government needs to invest more. Yet several of the transit systems mentioned above are reporting improvements in on-time-performance in 2009. I take L.A. mass transit frequently and have never had a complaint—though as always, the key to transit happiness rests in taking buses and avoiding trains.

We all learned (from Who Framed Roger Rabbit? if nothing else) that the Golden State once boasted popular and successful light rail systems, which were undermined by greedy industrialists. Mass transit advocates might point to the state's continued spending on highways (three times the national average per road mile) and the various "raids" on mass transit budgets to say this kind of thing is going on right now. But this version of history always leaves out the customer. As Yogi Berra would say if he were paid to say it by a libertarian foundation, if people don't want to come out to a station, covered in flop sweat and carrying heavy packages in both hands, to wait for an inconviently scheduled train full of heavy coughers, nothing's gonna stop them.

NEXT: In Search of Lost Dining

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  1. Cincinnati Metro buses, one of which I will be on long before sunrise tomorrow, have just become more expensive and less convenient. I’m thinking one reason is that people simply don’t have a good reason to go “downtown” anymore. Workers are “voting with their computers” to remain in their homes to work.
    (Glad I’ll be retiring fairly soon.)

    1. A study released Monday by the American Public Transportation Association reveals that 98 percent of Americans support the use of mass transit by others.….._commuters

    2. The Democrats’ energy “policy” coming home to roost.
      Down the road, what do they think is going to happen when all these loopy California Democrats have their $50,000 electric cars?
      Do they think they’re not going to use them?
      They’re already using their hybrids twice as much as they used their conventional cars, according to statistics.
      This is what happens when you let emotions govern policy.
      If you want cheap public transportation, stop voting Democrat.
      At least Republicans know how to run a business.

      1. Yeah, a business that was moved to China, right? Blah blah blah, your political argument is like arguing about which sports team is better. It accomplishes nothing.

  2. That last paragraph poses an interesting question. How successful have past light rails been?

    I know here at one time a significant portion of the town was easily accessible by light rail. We now have 1.5 lines (a “Y” formation) that goes to the airport and downtown, that’s it. And the fucking thing is so far underwater it’s not even funny. I wonder if the past systems were profitable or more profitable than the current one.

    1. Hmm, hon, you in Crabtown? Don’t worry–they just need a third transit line, going East and West–but somehow not stopping where the black people live–and not very fast through downtown. Then, it’ll be perfect–well, if it can get to Columbia, where all the jobs are.

      I know a lot of people who take light rail for the Ravens games, and used to take it for Orioles games, back when Camden was full, so, that’s a success.

      Well, except nobody really likes being around all the drunk people after Ravens games…

      Didn’t they say Oregon was the shining Light rail success?

        1. Convert what d said to avoiding the East part and it might work.

        2. I was just watching The Fugitive, and they explicitly said St Louis doesn’t have rail transit (when Harrison Ford was calling from a Chicago pay phone and saying he was in St Louis as an El train passed by).

          1. Ah, an authoritative source if there ever was one! Thank you!

            In the future they will build one that does just what the future one for Baltimore does.


            Maybe I’ve been riding a sausage, but we call it a train.

            Also have a few train yards around town for freight and the awesome Amcrap.

            1. “riding a sausage” means taking the the vein train. Just thought you’d like to know.

        3. That’s hysterical about St. Louis. I… drove past the Arch once. Really, B-More’s Light Rail is the same, with a Y split, actually at the train station, where half go to the airport, and half to… was a couple miles away from Marley Station, previously.

      1. Hon, you are correct, Columbia are where the jobs are. I once almost got run over by a light rail train because I wasn’t paying any attention. That is the closest I’ve ever been to light rail and I know no one that has ever used light rail. Maybe the Mayor, for a short while longer, will give me a gift card to pay for a light rail ticket.

        1. HON! ROFLMAO! First time I heard that in person I almost asploded trying to be polite.

        2. I took it in the early ’90s, living downtown, trying to find jobs in Hunt Valley, and a crap two-week telemarketing thing in Linthicum.

          Then I said fuck dat, hon, and went to Alaska.

    2. The STL Libertarians held a debate on the proposed MetroLink way back in 1993 and, as I recall, one of the points brought up was that it would bleed money from the marginally effective bus service to keep running and, as we’ve seen, that’s exactly what’s happened. Now they want another sales tax increase to prop up this wheezing white elephant, plus more cash to expand the failure even further.

      I’ll concede that there are theoretical cases where lines like this can be justified, but it sure as hell isn’t here in River City, and the sooner we realize it the better.

      1. The interesting thing is the history of trains and trollies in STL. There used to be narrow gauge everywhere in this town.

        1. That last comment was mine, BTW. I’m old enough (50) to remember those. I assume they were jettisoned by the last batch of urban renewal planners.

      2. 1993, Floood Arrrrghhhhh

      3. Wait, wait, St. Louis has a light rail system? I was there for five days and I went everywhere in town–Forest Park, the arch, a Cardinals game, the brewery, union station, and I never saw a light rail system…

        1. I was there last summer. Used the light rail to get from my hotel down by the river to a Cardinals game.

          1. Actually, two summers ago, I think.

  3. I still ride the train here. I get a discount on my pass and pay a little over $300 for a year. Which is insane.

    Here they are generally on time, but run on 20+ minute intervals, which can suck. That and anytime there is a game downtown everyone and their fucking dog is on the trains, which are static in their scheduling, so I’ve seen trains so full even a Japanese train packer or your average muscovite during rush hour couldn’t fit one more in.

  4. In other news, Democrats and the MSM now think it’s ok to talk about black people having ‘negro dialects’.

    So is we all racist now?

    Or is it that no one is racist?

    1. The problem isn’t them being racist. It’s the amazing fact that they keep getting elected by the people they are racist against.

    2. Seriously. How in the fuck does the Democratic party get the fucking black vote? I try real hard to maintain the belief that people are rational, which everyone and their dog will argue against, but for the life of me I can’t explain how they keep pulling the majority (almost all) of the black vote.

      1. I asked a Negro about that once, but darned if I could understand his answer.

      2. How does the GOP keep getting the pro-life vote when they’ve accomplished diddly squat? Force of habit, and battered voter syndrome (“this time he really means he’ll be better”).

      3. are you really asking why black people would vote for a party whose top elected official is black… and the president?

        1. of course i forgot, the gop’s “southern strategy” was meant to attract the black vote… what was i thinking…

        2. Recent history, past events. Unless everyone has a fucking time machine and I don’t.

        3. Interestingly, he’s as much white as he is black. So we’ve got this problem, is he a white President or black President for white racists or po black folks? I propose a solution: MWSat he’s white; TTHFri he’s black, Sunday he’s hybrid.

          Question: Why can a white woman have a black baby but a black woman cannot have a white baby?

      4. How in the fuck does the Democratic party get the fucking black vote?

        They promise to steal from other people more than they will steal from the black voters — and don’t shame people by saying out loud that they are, in fact, stealing. It’s an appeal to crass self-interest, with a side order of not pointing out the shameful morality involved.

      5. How in the fuck does the Democratic party get the fucking black vote?

        They get a lot of votes from poor people, because LBJ was brilliantly successful in his plan to re-enslave blacks and other minorities by turning them into a dependent voting bloc. He called it the “war on poverty”. What it actually was, and still is, is a war on anyone attempting to free themselves from poverty.


      6. Because black people can correctly discern their interests?

        You’d have to be pretty a pretty self-loathing or deluded African-American to vote GOP…

        1. Really? I know three black people that vote strictly GOP. one priest, one right up there in your line of work at the best school in the midwest, and one construction worker. They are far from deluded. Hell I even know a black libertarian!!!

          Would be in your self interest to vote for someone who refers to you as a good well spoken cracker with all your teeth? I agree it’s done out of self interest, most things are, but what creates the net positive with respect to self interest that drives the vote.

          1. Because black people can correctly discern their interests?

            Are you saying black people are the only bloc of voters who overwhelmingly accurately discern their interests?

            1. Nope. Extremely rich people are also very good at it.

              Everyone else? Not so much.


        2. Because black people can correctly discern their interests?

          Yeah — the Dems have been doing a bang-up job for blacks in this country. Killing school voucher programs whenever they rear their heads, locking their children in failing schools, throwing a disproportionate number of them in jail for drug violations, etc etc etc.

          With a statement like that, I don’t know how you can look at yourself as anything but a craven partisan shill. As if politicians of either party are working for anyone’s interest but their own and for those that donate the most money (which of course has no overlap with the poor).

      7. Seriously. How in the fuck does the Democratic party get the fucking black vote? I try real hard to maintain the belief that people are rational, which everyone and their dog will argue against, but for the life of me I can’t explain how they keep pulling the majority (almost all) of the black vote.

        It must be the prosperity of inner-city blacks in places like Los Angeles, Chicago, Detriot, Boston, etc.

    3. JB, he said BHO had the LACK of a Negro dialect. See? Opposite.

  5. Yeah buddy, everybody wants to drive their own stuff man!


    1. What. The. Fuck. This isn’t even good analysis by Anonymity Bot standards.

      1. Really? It seems a pretty accurate and succinct description of the situation to me.

        1. LOL you’ve got to admit, we’re getting screwed by Washington!

          1. Wow thats the rapiest thign Ive ever seen dude!

  6. I try real hard to maintain the belief that people are rational

    There’s your mistake. But seriously, we all know about jive and ebonics. I’ve got to hear these quotations to see how racist they are.

      1. Reid doesn’t seem guilty of anything except being old. Using the word ‘negro’ unironically kind of dates the guy.

        1. Um the insulation that Obama is somehow okay because of not having a negro dialect? That’s at least stereotyping with a hint of racism. What exactly is a negro dialect? It is it one of the many southern drawls? Maybe a midwestern accent? Or maybe a northern/canadian accent? He’s saying Obama is not dark and speaks good English, which is not an issue in itself. Why he is saying it is the problem.

          1. It’s not like Reid said, “you got the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy,”

            1. I remember doing a double take when Obama picked Biden, thinking “Wasn’t Biden the very first guy Obama drummed out of the race with an accusation of racism?” If it were a true accusation, why would Obama pick a racist for VP? And if it were a false accusation, why would Biden say yes?

          2. What Reid apparently was doing was talking politics, saying Obama wasn’t too black-looking and speaking to get elected.

            Now, that implies that many voters are too stupid and/or racist to vote for a very dark-skinned person with a very black sounding accent even though he or she might have a political ideology that would otherwise resonate.

            That is probably actually true to some extent — some voters really are arseholes — but not the sort of thing that, voiced aloud, helps one’s political career.

            Me, I’d vote for Thomas Sowell or Clarence Thomas over hardcore statists like Reid or Pelosi in a heartbeat, but a dismaying percentage of people actually vote on the basis of race or accents instead of ideology.

            1. That implies that Reid thinks voters are…

              Not that voters are. And the line of thought is not true if you look throughout congress you see several accents and dark skinned black people.

        2. Reid isn’t that old. That word has been considered a slur for several decades (at least among non-racists).

          1. “That word has been considered a slur for several decades…”

            When I was growing up in the segregated South, “negro” wasn’t itself considered much of a slur, though I’m sure some found it grating when pronounced “NIG-gra.” It was simply a polite synomym for “colored,” which was the preferred term.

            No educated Southerner liked “negro” because unless you carefully drew out the ‘e’ (NEEEEE-grow) there was always a fear of glancing off the ‘g’ and spinning into a major social gaff. (Google “Reagan Brown”+”Booker T. Washington”.)

            Anyone who said the N-word was considered ignorant (pronounced “IG-nurnt” and meaning “trashy, crude and unlettered.”) (People who said that word also answered the door in their bare feet.)

            When “Afro-American” was proposed in the early 1970s, most Southern white folks embraced it with gratitude.

            That’s how I remember it, anyway.

        3. Reid doesn’t seem guilty of anything except being old. Using the word ‘negro’ unironically kind of dates the guy.

          Yea, to like 1862.

          1. Yeah, that’s why the Brown v. Board decision spoke of Negroes, and we all know that was 1862!

            1. Legal documents using old archaic terms. Imagine that. That never h

              1. grrr.

                That never happens. Awesome justification though.

            2. And now MNG is defending the use of the word “Negro” in casual conversation. As if there was any question that he was a partisan hack who would say that Hitler wasn’t such a bad guy after all if it put a Democrat in a positive light.

        4. My grandma still uses ‘colored’. And when we take her out in public, she sometimes points out nice-looking colored people for us to gawk at. “Look! There’s a nice looking colored man! I’ll bet he has a job.”

          1. I’ve use the term light skinned to describe black friends to other black friends. I think difference comes with me not being a racist shit ball and trying to use the term to mean white.

          2. “colored” is back now. you just gotta reverse the order. not “colored people,” but “people of color.”

            1. And of course “people of color” is not to refer to East Asians, Indians, or Hispanics.

        5. Reid doesn’t seem guilty of anything except being old.

          Oh, he’s guilty of many things, but racism isn’t one of them. “Negro” is not, and never was a pejorative.


        6. Reid was saying that Obama was charismatic enough as a politician to connect with white audiences the way masters of the form like Harry Reid do.

  7. Libertarians are fat and don’t take enough mass transit.

  8. Is “Valley Zephyr” a euphemism?

  9. BART is, of course, a government agency and unionized at the lower levels, so of course it’s out of money and has to raise fares. You can check out salaries here. As of 2008 they had over 700 people who make $100K/year or more, and in general they may be the highest paid transit workers in the country.

    Fun fact: former SF mayor Willie Brown, recent author of an op-ed decrying excessive public employee salaries in California, intervened in the BART strike back when he was mayor. You see, MUNI started running extra busses between BART stations to help commuters, and he put a stop to that because it reduced the leverage of the striking union. Thanks, Willie!

    1. Almost every operator is doubling their pay with overtime. That’s some management skill there.

  10. Couldn’t they just pass laws to limit/outlaw free parking and introduce a “price floor” fee parking tax to force people back on mass transit? Where’s the innovation?

    1. Sure “they” could; cabbies would love it.

      1. So would the cab licensing board.

  11. San Francisco’s bus-dominated (and fairly useful) Muni system

    I’ve lived in lots of places and SF’s system is one of the worst I have ever experienced, largely because it’s designed for a city with about half the current population. It’s the densest American city outside NYC and has no proper subway, which makes the buses ridiculously overcrowded (when they stop for you) and slow given the horrendous traffic. There are plans to build proper transit but of course it’s monstrously expensive and unlikely to appear in our lifetime.

    In any event, transit systems across America are experiencing declining ridership because of job losses and service cuts. NYC has not made any cuts (yet; that comes later this year) but ridership is down. Oh, and the service cuts are not being made because of the declining ridership, which is a drop in the ocean, but because of the ballooning cost of pensions and benefits. Fun times ahead.

    1. You left Leftopia for where?

        1. Champagne Socialistopia! I’ll take it over SFO any day.

          1. Me too, if only because in NYC it’s largely the political class that are nannies while civilian nannies are largely confined to certain parts of Manhattan. In SF, the whole freakin’ populace are nannies.

    2. NYC did cut bus services. It was big deal up here in the Bronx because people can’t get from Pelham to Country Club anymore (or something like that).

      But don’t even get me started on public transit. As a concept I’m a fan of the Subway. In practice, though, its expensive, dirty, and constantly malfunctioning. The service sucks, too. God forbid I should bother the guy behind the glass for a MetroCard when the machines don’t work…

  12. I have always assumed the raw numbers on this stuff aren’t as impressive as the statistics (because public transit ridership isn’t that large). After all, in 2008 we had historic increases in ridership across the country (WaPo, msnbc (with appearance of Robert Poole!)). That always seemed odd to me, since I couldn’t see how increasing unemployment would lead to more public transit use. In contrast a downturn doesn’t seem so surprising; the WaPo article above even predicts it.

    The Merc article just points out the obvious: driving doesn’t seem so bad if it is faster and public transit isn’t cheaper. (I’m setting aside the few folks who tolerated multi-hour commutes for civic purposes and who can no longer afford civility.) I don’t know about the “declining service” argument Cavanaugh mentions. Most people I know are just resigned to baseline service sucking. It isn’t on-time rates that are the big deal, it is the regularity of trains/buses/whatnot. I assume when the number of lines are reduced — a big turnoff — the on-time rates actually improve.

  13. It’d also be nice to have some more info on the Chicago and NYC systems. This WSJ piece suggests different compromises are at foot in those systems — including laying off union workers (Chi) and screwing student riders (NYC) — in an attempt to hold fee rates while nonetheless reducing service.

  14. It’s unclear whether BART’s ridership decline is also reflected in ridership for San Francisco’s bus-dominated (and fairly useful) Muni system, as Muni has not put out recent boardings statistics.

    I love public transportation in San Francisco. I was there for four days this summer, paid MUNI for one ride on the first day, got a transfer then never paid again. During that time I rode the subway, bus, trolley and streetcar. I either got on through the back door or flashed my days-old transfer to the driver. Not once was I even remotely challenged. Of course I spent $350 in taxes alone during a hotel stay three years ago so I did not feel particularly guilty.

    1. Watch it Bub, or they’re gonna put your ass in the back of the bus.

    2. No need to justify yourself in these parts — the prevailing Reason zeitgeist appears to be that theft of service and property damange are OK so long as it’s done with the proper anti-government attitude.

      1. the prevailing Reason zeitgeist appears to be that theft of service and property damange are OK so long as it’s done with the proper anti-government attitude.

        I don’t know about property damange but I definitely engaged in theft of service. I just chose to fret about it with the same vigor I apply when I use LimeWire. Hate the sin; don’t hate the sinner.

        1. Don’t worry, I’ve got plenty of hate to go around.

      2. HA! Tulpa drives a bus. Way to live that life, you bus-driving child molester.

        1. Warty, he’s a government employee, so he’s not a child molester. He’s a goldbricking baby-diddler mother fucker.

      3. Tulpa apparently ignored the “Not once was I even remotely challenged” part of swilfredo’s post.

        So now we get into the chicken/egg argument – what came first, the theft of service or the union carelessness?

        1. If you boarded the bus through the back door when you weren’t supposed to, and/or showed an already-used transfer as if it were unused, then it’s pretty damned obvious which came first.

          It’s still immoral to rob a bank even if the guard is asleep and the tellers left their drawers open and sit idly by while you take the money out. I shouldn’t have to explain this, but apparently my high minded fellow libertarians have forgotten what they were supposed to learn in kindergarten.

      4. Also, if the vast majority of liberals think theft of service is okey dokey… When in Rome, do as the Romans do.

    3. swillfredo pareto|1.10.10 @ 11:21PM|#
      “I love public transportation in San Francisco. I was there for four days this summer, paid MUNI for one ride on the first day, got a transfer then never paid again. During that time I rode the subway, bus, trolley and streetcar. I either got on through the back door or flashed my days-old transfer to the driver. Not once was I even remotely challenged. Of course I spent $350 in taxes alone during a hotel stay three years ago so I did not feel particularly guilty.”

      There was a mini-push to make Muni “free” last year. Not sure why they bothered to try to make it policy; the drivers are careless enough that it’s already true in practice.
      And your hotel tax? SEIU exists to serve! Unless they don’t.

    4. Of course I spent $350 in taxes alone during a hotel stay three years ago so I did not feel particularly guilty.

      You do realize that most transit authorities have their own separate budget which is only partially funded from city taxes, right?

      1. Part of $350 really ought to cover it for four days.

    5. I used to flash my safeway card from time to time. Never picked up on it.

    6. swillfredo pareto,I don’t believe for a second you spent over 600 a night on a hotel room and then didn’t pay $2.00 for a single-ride ticket.

  15. So is it just my warped interpretation, or is Reason saying that any, every, and all branches of government, plus anything somewhat related to being government-like in this country, is basically on the verge of bankruptcy?

    Somebody tell me, so I know if I’ve got a good excuse to get drunk or not.

    1. The feds aren’t ever going to go bankrupt as long as they can print money. but otherwise, yes.

      1. Well then. Eat drink and be merry. For soon our dollars will not buy us eats and drinks anymore.

        1. But we can be mary as long as the hose and dress hold out.

          1. Hey, I didn’t think of that. Now that the world is ending I can cross dress. And we can use mass transit in SF right up to the bitter end, and who in SF is going to care if man dresses like a woman anyway?

            Eeewww. But what if somebody hits on me?

          2. “can be MARY as long as the hose and dress hold out.”
            Hmm, I’ll call you Mary.

      2. By that standard, The Weimar Republic and Zimbabwe were never bankrupt. Which may be technically true….

  16. Do we have any economic historians in the house?

    I seem to remember that after WWI, Germany went into hyper-inflation to get out from under their war reparation debt load. And yet somehow later they didn’t need wheel barrows of dollars to buy a loaf of bread anymore. Plus they found money to build one hell of an Army and Air Force to start WWII with. How did this actually work?

    Seems we’ve got to be on the brink of where the Feds will never be able to pay their debt off. California has already got to be beyond it.

    I’m just wondering what the scenario here may look like. For while governments cannot go bankrupt, they somehow have methods at their disposal to effectively do so. You can only inflate the currency at a hyper rate for so long, before nobody takes your money. Because they don’t have enough room to store the wheel barrows anymore.

    I heard somebody say that the solution to Great Depression I was WWII, and that it could happen again. But I think not this time.

    If I remember right, the US wasn’t nearly as far in debt at the outbreak of WWII as we are now — true?

    1. There will come the rise of a charismatic dictator, who will rally the people against a persecuted minority. And he will bring death and destruction to the world on a scale never before seen. His name will be…Carrot Top.

      1. You mean Top Carrot.

        1. Maybe it will actually be a carrot. Then he can accuse all his opponents of prejudice against the Orange People. If he does this, he will win Florida.

    2. As it happens, Ebeneezer, I’ve been reading a book on this very subject.
      In a few sentences, German hyperinflation was driven by a demand for
      money by the German government far greater than what german taxpayers
      were able to provide. It continued for years and by the end the savings
      of the middle-class had been absolutely and totally wiped out. The
      retired were hit extremely hard. Other than losing their savings current
      workers didn’t too bad — up until the point where they lost their jobs.

      The very wealthy got even wealthier. Large corporations got even
      larger. The assets of the middle-class, like their homes, were for sale
      at amazingly cheap prices.

      Many people endured extraordinary suffering. By the end of this one
      quarter of german children were seriously ill and actually had long-term
      damage to their bodies from lack of food.

      German hyperinflation ended and full employment was restored soon thereafter
      when a government was elected that committed to and actually did spend
      no more than it received in taxes. One quarter of the government
      workforce was fired. A set amount of a new currency was issued and the
      government committed to and kept the promise for some years to not print
      any more of it.

      1. Thanks Mark.

        I had a feeling it was an ugly story.

  17. I think one of the main problems with Public Transit in California is that the highways are too highly subsidized and the price to traffic them artificially low. We see this daily when we try to drive on the freeway and stare at 10 miles of brake-lights.

    An easy 3 step plan:

    1) Massive spending cuts from the general fund to freeways. Reimburse the taxpayers and abolish the gas and car tax.

    2) Implement tolls on all freeways in California to pay for them. Offer monthly subscription fees at a discount for frequent commuters.

    3) Expand Mass Transit, increase rider fees and lower general taxes that subsidize them and then offer the same monthly and/or yearly subscriptions for frequent riders.

    This will remove bad traffic almost instantly in the state, help the environment and offer a massive tax cut to boot.

    1. What’s the difference between a road toll and a gas tax – they both make you pay in proportion to how much you use the public roads? Isn’t a gas tax just a convenient way to collect road tolls (with an added incentive to drive vehicles that use less gas?)

      1. Except that the gas tax doesn’t come close to covering all the costs of maintaining freeways (and other roads).

        Here’s an idea-raise the gas tax until it does cover all costs of freeways, highways, and local streets (and lower other taxes to compensate). This includes such things as the highway patrol. Of course, gasoline would cost ten dollars a gallon if one did this…

      2. It doesn’t cover the cost adequately enough as evidenced by overburdened freeways. Tolls at least ensure that people who drive on certain thoroughfares at peak times pay the most. Those who drive at off-peak times or on less traveled roads pay less.

  18. BART fares are in fact too low. The system is so far from being self-sufficient that it required $318 million in local, state and federal tax support

    Well, no. This implies that, if only the prices were high enough, BART would be self-funding.

    The reality is that, like virtually every government-run mass transit project, there is no price point at which such a system can become profitable. Raise the prices, and they might wind up with even less revenue due to ridership drops.

    That’s why it’s a government-run train — if it could be profitable, a private company would have built it. Only government can enter into a money-losing business and keep it afloat year after year, because only government can confiscate money without people’s consent.

  19. It’s all about economies of scale. As long as our “public” transportation system is small in weak, it will be slow and expensive.

    The trip from San Jose to San Francisco is similar to the trip from Kyoto to Osaka, Japan.

    According to this articles interactive, the SJ-SF trip costs $7-9 and takes 2-3 hours. The trip from Kyoto to Osaka costs four dollars and takes 50 minutes. The difference? Special Wheaties in the Japanese diet? Magic?

    Nope. Simply ridership, which allows for fuller trains, which lowers cost, and better infrastructure, particularly the ability of fast trains to run on the same tracks as slow ones. They pass each other in the stations, where the slow train pulls in, then the fast one in a different bay, people transfer, and then the fast one pulls out.

    Btw, “public” transportation in the US covers a bit more than half of its costs at the fair box. Roads are now covering LESS than half at the gas pump…so I guess they are more public than public. Oh…and did I mention the Japanese train line I spoke of is private and profitable?

    It is an interesting network problem. The utility of a transportation net roughly increases as its size squared, while its costs per person go down as utility goes up. Once they reach a critical mass, they can become self-sustaining. However, at small size, they are weak and almost useless, and critically, adding one more line won’t help. Adding hundreds will, but nobody but the government can cause that to happen.

    1. You’re forgetting one thing. The train in Japan likely came from somewhere else and continued on to somewhere else because there are exceptionally dense areas to be served all along that route. But really, how many people from SJ are working in or have a need to go to SF every day (or vise-versa)? Not that many – really. So other than the terminus stops in SJ and SF where else can that line go to earn additional passengers/fares? Gilroy?
      If the entire population of the US were living in the area the size of CA then mass transit would make sense. But we don’t, so it does not (except in those somewhat crowded urban areas like Chicago or the NY/Washington corridor).

      I recall having conversations with my European friends asking me why we don’t have effective nationwide train service. I said the reason was simple – we don’t have an effective nationwide train service because we have a reasonably effective nationwide private “bus” (read airline) service. I asked, would he spend at least 1.5 days and probably not less than 2 days in a train to go from Denver to the NYC area when you could take a plane and get there in less than 7 hours – including the time it took you to get to the airport and to your final destination in the NYC area? And do it for less than it cost in time and money to go from Munich to Arnhem on the ICE? He thought not. But still, he suggested it should be done (creating a high-speed rail service across the nation). I then mentioned I have to drive 8 hours east or west on I-70 from Denver before I reach any town that would be considered a “proper” city. Really, that far??? Didn’t know America was that big. But that’s another discussion… Not that it would stop someone from using “public” money to build one if they thought they could get away with it…

      Long story short, we have a toy train here. And unless you happen to live/work along it’s axis it is worthless despite the fact I pay not less than 1.2% on everything I buy to pay for a service I cannot use. I used to work across town – almost directly west about 15 miles distant. Time to take the bus (train does not go anywhere near there) – 2.75 hours, one way – plus a 3/4 mile walk. Drive C-470, 24 minutes, door to door. Worked for someone else whose office was just across the street from one of these new toy train stations (about 10 miles away total drive distance) time to get to work, 1.75 hours to be picked up at my local pickup spot, 1.25 hours total time if I wanted to drive 5 miles in the other direction to the terminus of another toy train line. Drive time, 20 minutes, door to door.

      And, if I take the family, well, driving is the FAR cheaper alternative. Drive to Coors Field with family $15.00 for fuel for round trip (parking can be had at no cost nearby). Train – $33.75 round trip – and I still have to drive 10 miles (round trip) and walk 3/4 mile to/from the terminus in Denver.

      If it can pay for itself, build it. If it can’t, don’t. And don’t even think to bring in the argument about the poor folks who “need” access to affordable transit. Anything new proposed or built in the last 20 years was simply welfare for the middle class as otherwise the “lines” would go to vastly different places. I’d wager we could give “free” cab vouchers to the “poor” folks for not more than half the cost of what this middle class transit welfare is costing – and it would work MUCH better for all involved.

      1. You’re forgetting one thing. The train in Japan likely came from somewhere else and continued on to somewhere else because there are exceptionally dense areas to be served all along that route.

        I am not forgetting this – it is precisely what I am arguing. If you take the particular train I am thinking of into Osaka, for example, you can connect to their subway system, gaining access to just about anywhere in the city, or access to trains running east to Nara, west to Kobe, or south into the rural areas. And of course, you can catch the bullet trains and go from one end of the country to another.

        Each train line increases ridership on its connecting lines. This is why small train systems are failures. Imagine if the road you lived on only connected to four or five other roads. Would it be useful?

        You are right that taking a train from Denver to NYC is not realistic. The break-even for high speed trains vs planes is around 500 miles, roughly NYC to Chicago.

        If it can pay for itself, build it. If it can’t, don’t

        We had better rip up the roads, then, because they have never paid for themselves either.

        1. I’m simply stating there is little for BART (and many other city’s “mass transit” systems) to work from outside the immediate area. Japan is blessed (cursed?) at being geographically predisposed to an efficient mass transit system. Long and narrow, plus incredibly high urban and “suburban” housing densities, make it far easier to have someone build a system that works. I would also suspect they don’t have the environmental hassles to deal with in regards to building rail lines that are clearly in effect for anything man-made in CA – especially in the SF area. But even in SF there is not the density to make this work.

          Regarding “roads” losing money, I’ll agree they probably cost more than the gas tax pays (but, of course, that money almost never leaves its trust fund out of fear someone may notice the deficit is really MUCH higher, but I digress) but in terms of enabling commerce and trade within the US, there can be no doubt they are probably in the top 10 in regards to bang for the buck. That is, the amount of trade going over these roads dwarfs the costs to build or maintain them in a “rational” world. But government does not buy the best road, it plans obsolesce to keep all of those unions in business. How else can you explain some original 1950/60s pavement lasting well into the 80s where new pavement laid in the last 10 years is already needing replaced? I think private roads would not suffer the same fate.

          I wonder what may have been if private roads were allowed to be built earlier in the 1900s. I think if they were truly private they would have figured out how to maximize bandwidth for minimal cost to the consumer. But sadly, truly private roads (defined by me to be free of most government regulation, e.g. how, where, surface type, who is allowed to construct the road, etc…) almost don’t exist in this country. Thus all of those cool things I read about in the 70s in regards to the car of the future just will never be… Had we had truly private roads I’d like to think we’d have cars largely capable of driving themselves to where we wanted to go and surely the roads and the vehicles on them would be far more connected (for better or worse).

          1. joeindenver|1.11.10 @ 7:02PM|#
            I’m simply stating there is little for BART (and many other city’s “mass transit” systems) to work from outside the immediate area. Japan is blessed (cursed?) at being geographically predisposed to an efficient mass transit system.

            Japans layout isn’t all that different than our east and west coasts. The population density is higher overall in Japan, especially in the dense urban cores. Yet between the dense cores Japan is as sparse or more sparse than the populated areas of the US. This increased density is *because* of the transit systems.

            Take a look at these density maps of California and Japan…pretty similar actually.



            That is, the amount of trade going over these roads dwarfs the costs to build or maintain them in a “rational” world

            If that is the case, there should be absolutely no problem taxing the people using it for business enough so that they are carrying their own weight.

            A private road is inherently a monopolist, with all the problems that entails. Even worse, they would be a monopolist over a vital good. Just think what would happen if the four roads or so that surround your property were owned by the same person, and he decided, oh, that $100 bucks to set a tire or foot on his property sounded about right. In any case, the private roads we do have (turnpikes) are stupidly expensive. Just think. The gas tax is $.18 per gallon, which is about $.01 per mile driven. Now, as I mentioned earlier, the gas tax is covering just a bit less than half the cost of our interstate system, so it must be costing $.02-03 for the government to provide. The turnpikes I am familiar with are $.25 or so to get on and $.05-6 per mile…AND they were paid for with tax-exempt bonds (a subsidy) AND they get a cut of the gasoline tax collected at the rest islands AND they get to charge monopoly rents there.

            Somehow, either the government is subsidizing the highway system to a much larger degree than the ~50% they claim, or they are several times more efficient than the turnpikes. I don’t think libertarians like either possibility.

  20. I think a lot of people are staying off the BART because they don’t want to get hit by a stray bullet the next time Barney Fife pops one off.


  21. Ok, so I read the budget report.

    It is odd (ok, not odd…pretty typical) that Reason ignores the fact that ridership is up over the last two years…a 5% increase followed by a 3% decrease, the latter which they seem to push as a sky-is-falling event. There was an increase in fares, but it looks pretty much a standard inflationary increase.

    And of course, Reason fails to mention that roads are just as heavily subsidized by tax dollars as BART. Oh well. No bias around here, eh?

    So what do we really have? Ridership fluctuating a bit with gas prices, inflationary cost increases, and some anecdotes. Good job, Reason!

    1. “Mass transit advocates might point to the state’s continued spending on highways (three times the national average per road mile)”

      Yep, you sure are right, reason didnt point out highway subsidization at all.

    2. Also, Chad is misstating the content of the budget report (if it’s the LACMTA he’s referring to).

      1. Sorry, I misread it. Too early in the morning..

        Looks like ridership is down a few percent…probably right on pace with the layoffs. Coincidence? I think not.

  22. I was on the local bus commission years ago and at that time the ticket price only covered about 0 of the operating costs of the bus.

    Back then I was a regular rider and was pretty sure that the driver spend about 30% of his time collecting fares. My thought was that if you eliminated fares completely it would be just about a wash financially.

    One of the problems with mass transit is that some of the benefits are very hard to quantify.

    If you started giving away free rides, ridership levels would explode. That would lead to a lot less congestion and no need to add extra capacity to the freeway system.

    How do you account for those benefits because they don’t show up easily on a spreadsheet?

    1. City after city has tried, or currently has a policy of, “free rides” over all or part of its system.

      “ridership levels would explode”, apparently, only if the price were negative. Free giveaway prizes AND free fares! That sounds like a winner.

      1. City after city has tried, or currently has a policy of, “free rides” over all or part of its system.

        “ridership levels would explode”, apparently, only if the price were negative. Free giveaway prizes AND free fares! That sounds like a winner.

        It depends where.

        Ridership would explode in New York or Chicago. In Des Moines, not so much.

        1. “””Ridership would explode in New York or Chicago.”””

          Then you need to run more trains, which will increase the costs. Else they will try it once, and figure it’s not worth being packed like a sardine at 10 pm.

          The face value of a ride in NYC is $2.25 but few NY’rs actually pay that per ride because they get discounted metrocards. I pay $89 a month, not bad really, and I take around 20 rides in a week. That’s about 1.11 per ride. If I only took the train to work, it would be about $1.60. My complaint is not so much about cost, it is how long I’m waiting for a non-rush hour train these days.

  23. Only a ‘toon would come up with these crazy ideas.

  24. “As long as our “public” transportation system is small in weak, it will be slow and expensive.”

    Tru dat, Chad. We’ve crazy mad subsidized auto transport and then think it is demonstrative of something that more people prefer that route over public transportation.

    Having said that, it doesn’t pay to ignore that a lot of people just don’t want to have to ride with a bunch of other people. Hell, I don’t.

    Drive down to your local 7-11. Want to travel in a big train car with those folks?

    There’s something to be said for the autonomy that auto transport provides over mass transit…


      We have a winner.

      1. Absolutely right, Andrew. The public is a rude, surly, stinking and often dangerous beast that one wants to stay as far distant from as possible. Wonder why movie theaters have all but vanished from normal people’s schedules? See the rude and thoughtless behavior of the customers and you’ve got your answer. Working with the “general public” sucks because we’ve got a dysfunctional society that has been forced to accept trashy behavior as normal because to expect civility would be discriminatory. Of course, it couldn’t have anything to do with the fact that so many American children, particularly those of minorities, raise themselves, could it?

        Mass transit sucks and normal people avoid it where they can, particularly if they have to make trips with their families. End of story.

        1. And you guys call me an elitist.


  25. $318M in local, state, and federal subsidies for BART? What a bunch of slackers.

    SEPTA (Philly) soaks $500M just from PA. And apparently that wasn’t enough, because the union went on strike in 2009.

  26. There was a property tax increase for the city buses a few years ago. Which made people howl since, I would imagine, 99% of people who ride the bus in this undense town are not property owners and the portion of property tax passed on to renters through rent increases didn’t come anywhere near to parity with the portion paid by private homes. (It was a ballot initiative, and pro ads were run on radio and TV constantly, paid for by a federal grant of course.)

    The local paper was all for the tax increase, being good liberals. Implied that not voting for it was vestigial racism. And they also ran editorials encouraging people who had cars to use the bus for the environment, convenience, support the system, yadda yadda.

    Finally, after the tax increased passed, the paper assigned their most pro-bus reporter to answer the flood of complaints about the general shittiness of the bus service. So an in-depth feature was launched. The guy picked out ten errands to run in various parts of the city, on a Wednesday I think. By car, it took him 3 hours to accomplish them. The next Wednesday, by bus, it took him ten hours to do the first 7 and he gave up. And he pretty much declared the bus useless except for two or three routes.

    I like to give the local paper a lot of shit, but they gained some respect by not killing this story.

    1. Has the paper run an expo yet on the moron who put up lights on Circle 4?

      1. That was just good old fashion back-scratching. The businesses along that stretch of The Circle paid for those stoplights by greasing the political wheels.

  27. So, what are we Californians doing about this situation? Blowing billions on a high-speed rail project.

    Thankfully, it’s just a high-speed rail project, consisting of nothing yet but studies, advertising campaigns, and meetings with NIMBYhoods. It’s never actually going to be built.

    1. High speed rail is a replacement for airplanes. Considering all the TSA BS, it’ll probably do fine. And there’s a ten (or was it twenty?) billion dollar bond measure that has already been passed, so it will get built.

      1. The TSA BS is a wildcard, until they apply TSA security standards to rail. There has been discussions about doing it with Amtrak.

      2. $10 billion is barely enough to go high speed from Fresno to Bakersfield!

        Although officially $80 billion, after delays and lawsuits it would surely take $100 billion or more to build anything usable.

        Oh well, the “sunk” $10 billion can be a mobile transit museum, fresno to bakersfield, a 21st century companion to Congress’s pride and joy, Steamtown USA…

        1. $10 billion is barely enough to go high speed from Fresno to Bakersfield!

          Migrant farm workers need that.

      3. Well, thanks for bringing that up. Shuttle flights between L.A. and San Francisco create a lot of employment. Why they want to mess that up?

    2. So, what are we Californians doing about this situation? Blowing billions on a high-speed rail project.

      When I first heard about it over a year ago, I was thinking, People aren’t itching for a way to get from LA to SF; they are itching for a way to get from West LA to downtown LA .

      1. And, of course, it’s written right in the legislation that the high-speed rail line HAS to have its stop in downtown L.A. Wouldn’t want to have flexibility about delivering people to the exact location where they want to go, like maybe LAX.

  28. I have taken subways in several major cities (D.C., London, Singapore, S.F.,Tokyo, Hong Kong, and Beijing. By far the best organized and most convenient is the Beijing subway system. Regular riders buy a rechargeable card which works on all public transport and even taxis when you get to the surface. They now have several new lines and trips that used to take two hours by taxi at rush hour now take 45 minutes by subway. The fares are subsidized so riders can go anywhere in the city for 2 Yuan (30 cents)on the subway and 4 Mao (6 cents) for the bus.
    The trains are packed at rush hour and stay fairly crowded during the day.
    Government subsidies play a role, of course, but I would think BART could learn something if they took a look at this system. But, of course, the Beijing system doesn’t have to pay someone $60,000 a year to make sure passengers don’t jump over gates.

  29. Most places are too spread out for mass transit to work. If I have to take my car to the train, or if I need a car to get from the destination station to where I want to go. It’s more convient to just take the car.

    NYC is compact enough that you don’t need a car, the subway is a small walk and you usually have a small walk to your destination. Yet, with the ridership the NYC subway has, it still needs state and fed dollars.

    Most people in the rest the country will take a car to travel less than a mile, walking isn’t in their nature.

    1. NYC is compact enough that you don’t need a car, the subway is a small walk and you usually have a small walk to your destination. Yet, with the ridership the NYC subway has, it still needs state and fed dollars.

      NYC also has high parking rates. In some parking garages in central Manhattan, monthly rates exceed the costs of a good apartment.

  30. I rode the light rail from Pasadena to Long Beach and back recently. Paid $5 for an all-day pass. Felt like a sucker because no one ever asked to see it. I have to assume nobody else on the trains paid.

  31. So why, again, do people refuse to consider a jitney system? If you want to solve the problem of people getting around, just let anyone take anyone else anywhere for a price that the two parties agree to on their own accord? Take government out of the equation entirely. The few times that legal loopholes have let jitney systems exist (Miami, Boulder), such a system was a great success. There’s even an underground jitney system in Detroit right now.

    I have yet to hear a good argument against this. The closest I’ve heard yet is that there would be less gas tax revenue to pay for road upkeep. My response is that there would be more mileage driven since some car owners would find it in their best interest to make driving others around a full-time job. If there’s less total mileage driven then that’s less road wear.

    The more I look at these costly and inefficient mass-transit schemes, the more comical it seems.

  32. To the inevitable point about cities being spread out today because they’re built for cars… is there any example of a city built mainly after the automobile where mass transit works? Certainly here in Chicago, normally considered a city where mass transit works, it works in the parts of the city that predate the auto (east of Western to the lake) and is increasingly irrelevant in the parts of the city built after 1920 or so. The only possible example I can think of is Disney World…

  33. Ah Judge Doom. One of the great monologues.

    Doom: (smugly) Of course not. You lack vision. I see a place where people get on and off the freeway. On and off. Off and on. All day, all night. Soon, where Toontown once stood will be a string of gas stations, inexpensive motels, restaurants that serve rapidly-prepared food, tire salons, automobile dealerships, and wonderful, wonderful billboards reaching as far as the eye can see. My God, it’ll be beautiful.

  34. “So why, again, do people refuse to consider a jitney system?”

    Because people have never heard of a “Jitney” system.

    Also, stop assuming the worst of others. Makes you look like a big jerk.

    1. “Also, stop assuming the worst of others. Makes you look like a big jerk.”

      WTF are you talking about? I’ve debated plenty of new urbanists on this, and they vigorously disagree with me, often without being able to say why.

  35. In NJ where I live (almost as far left as California), they spent 1+ billion dollars in a light rail connecting Trenton and Camden (a political patronage job by Democrats to frankly satisfy two mostly black and thus strongly Democratic cities), that passes a lightly poulated area near the Delaware River. I have been on the trains twice, at what should be rush hour, and they were less than half full.

    This is a white elephant, and like a lot of public works project, built by Democrats for patronage and political correctness.

    1. IIRC that system doesn’t even collect enough at the fare box to pay operating costs, completely ignoring the billions of $ of capital spent in building and equipping the system.

  36. If you started giving away free rides, ridership levels would explode. That would lead to a lot less congestion and no need to add extra capacity to the freeway system.

    If it were free to ride the buses, they would colonized by stinking drunk and crazy homeless folk who would appreciate the heat / air conditioning and the opportunity to get in out of the weather. Actual commuter ridership would drop to zero and you would have to build even more freeways to handle the extra congestion.

    1. Even if it’s cheap with free transfers, you will still get some of that effect. At least with a subway, you can move to the next car. Most people wouldn’t know about the lingering odor of a real bum. After they leave, it can take hours for the smell to go away.

      I don’t think free would really help mass transit in most places. It’s not the price that’s the issue, it’s the convience of not having to drive, which you will need to do when you arrive at your destination stop in most places. Why take a mass transit only to need a car when you arrive?

  37. Ah… Reason. Where mass transit costs billions of tax dollars but the highway roads and their maintenance are completely free.

    How about throwing those stats out there to completely shatter this article’s credibility?

    1. Except for the fact that reason covers that too.

      1. Really? Citation please. I want real solid numbers of the US road budget and its funding sources. I also want an explanation of the capital structure, as most roads systems never paid for most the land beneath them. It was simply claimed by government fiat long ago. Public transportation usually has no trouble paying its O&M costs. It is the capital costs that are the killer.

  38. Is there anyone in California who doesn’t KNOW that the state is bankrupt? Liberals, you are reaping what you’ve sown – socialism breeds failure and disaster.

    As an afterthought, there is no Mass Transit System in the United States which pays for itself with rider fares. Roads are supposed to be paid for by state gas taxes which are already too high.

  39. I’d be interested to see a comparison of the number of government jobs per passenger-mile for a highways versus a mass transit rail line.

  40. Transit use is down because unemployment is up. No need to commute if you no longer have a job. Car traffic is lower for the same reason.

    1. This, plus the fact that in cities with lots of road congestion the recession has made driving more convenient by taking drivers off the road.

  41. I live in Albuquerque, which has slowly been improving its bus system over the past decade. The city is quite spread out, but has several high-density corridors and work hubs.

    The bus service has gone from unusable to marginal in that time. I think they’ve finally found a reasonable fare system ($1 for a ride; $2 for all-day pass; longer-period passes are also sold) which balances complexity with being reasonable. They’ve also put in an express “rapid ride” system along several corridors between high-density hubs. With few exceptions, bus routes follow the routes people desire to travel.

    To be really usable, I’d estimate it would require about double the current number of buses in service. As it is, I use it for my commute about half the time (it takes over twice as long as driving).

    The system will never make a profit. I look upon it as a part of the infrastructure, like roads and sewage, which has adequate benefit to justify it as a public good. A mixed user and taxation funding model appears to be appropriate. I do not know if the drivers are unionized; if so, they are low key about it.

  42. California, as the biggest state, is naturally the state hurt the worst by the Bush Administration’s fiscal policies, which only ensured that Bush’s oil buddies and Haliburton became rich at the expense of everyone else, especially minorities and women, which naturally hurts a state like California because it has so many women and minorities.

    I have confidence that Obama and the Democrats will fix all of this once they are completely free of Republican obstructionism. The Republican party is nothing but a bunch of racists trying to keep Obama down because he is black, and once another round of elections turns the Republican party into the WHig party, then things will get much better.

    1. Not that I agree, but if states are in the position that the feds could cause great fiscal difficulty, it speaks volumes about the states inability to run it’s self. The federal government wasn’t created to bails stats out of their spending sprees.

      1. to bail states out of..

    2. Is this a parody?

    3. Don’t feed the trolls!

  43. Unfortunately for Selgado, BART fares are in fact too low.

    Nay, expenses are too high and highways are too heavily subsidized. My bet is that absent extensive transportation meddling people would prefer BART to spending 30 minutes on the Bay Bridge, and it would be more affordable both in terms of train employees making reasonable wages (i.e. 25-50% less than they do now) and general ridership increases being reflected in the ticket prices. This is assuming competition from transportation alternatives, of course.

    If it were free to ride the buses, they would colonized by stinking drunk and crazy homeless folk who would appreciate the heat / air conditioning and the opportunity to get in out of the weather.

    Yeah, this happens in SF, where they just evade fares and it’s not even that cold outside.

    San Francisco’s bus-dominated (and fairly useful) Muni system

    Aw hell naw. I’ve been through one maniac bus driver and three fights (one featuring the driver yelling at a timid little old lady and threatening to punch her), and I’ve ridden the damn thing less than ten times — granted, it’s mostly the 38 for those in the know. Muni is a hellhole.

    According to this articles interactive, the SJ-SF trip costs $7-9 and takes 2-3 hours. The trip from Kyoto to Osaka costs four dollars and takes 50 minutes.

    I don’t see an interactive feature and refuse to look for one, but the going rate for Kyoto to Osaka is about $6 (540 yen) and a hair under 30 minutes, just FYI:…..keyin.html (search for Kyoto and Osaka)

    And the SJ-SF is kind of a difficult comparison because it’s the one route in the Bay Area with no public transportation. You’d probably have to take local buses to SFO or Fremont then get on BART. More likely, you drive and it takes an hour.

    One major thing this discussion has kind of passed over is that Japan has a monthly pass system for those commuting to work or school, where you get a significant discount if your employer or school verifies your route. Your pass is unique and protected from loss or theft, and most by them in 3-, 6- or 12-month increments. BART has no such system and I have to buy individual tickets (usually in increments of ~$40), and as such it costs me over $3000 a year.

    1. tl;dr

      And more reasonable link:

      1. The easy way to get from SJ to SF is Caltrain. This is one of the original “commuter rail” lines, which has been continuously operating for about 120 years. Up until the 1980’s, it was run at a profit by the Southern Pacific Railroad. Eventually it became unprofitable and a quango was formed to run it with government subsidy.

        “Caltrain’s Baby Bullet express service makes it possible to travel between San Francisco and San Jose in less than an hour stopping at a few popular stations. Caltrain offers 22 weekday commute-hour bullet trains.”
        One-way full-fare is $9.50. So the original post is right on the fare, but wrong on the travel time.

        This goes from not-quite-downtown SF to not-quite-downtown SJ. You can get from Caltrain to SJ airport on a free shuttle bus. Caltrain to SFO airport requires a connection on BART and another $3 or so. (Before they built BART to SFO, there was another free shuttle bus.)

        The commuter Caltrain shuts down around midnight. Sometime after that, they run at least one heavy freight train in each direction each night. I used to live near the tracks, and the freights really shook my apartment. The Caltrain cars, by contrast, were easily ignored, even though they’re “heavy rail” rather than “light rail”.

    2. I don’t see an interactive feature and refuse to look for one, but the going rate for Kyoto to Osaka is about $6 (540 yen) and a hair under 30 minutes, just FYI:…..keyin.html (search for Kyoto and Osaka)

      There are actually four train lines between Osaka and Kyoto. The route you chose gave you the JR line between Osaka(Umeda) and Kyoto’s main station as the top choice at $6, and Hankyu from Osaka(Umeda) to Kyoto downtown for $~4.50, then the subway from downtown to Kyoto station for $2.

      I was thinking about the Hankyu line itself, as odds are you don’t want to go to Kyoto station. It is on the outskirts of town and only useful for connecting to other places, which you could have done from Osaka in the first place. More likely, you want to go to downtown Kyoto, which is 390Y (for seven years and counting…it hasn’t changed since I first went there).

  44. Just what are the statistics on highway/road construction and maintenance costs? Would our gasoline taxes cover such if they were used exclusively for that purpose?

    When the bridge in Minnesota collapsed, we learned that 30% of the state’s transportation budget was spent on a light rail system utilized by 3% of the population. We learned that state officials routinely diverted federal transportation funds to pork barrel projects having nothing to do with transportation. Surely Minnesota is not unique in this regard.

    I have no argument with mass transit in places (like NYC) where it’s an absolute necessity even when it does operate at a loss, which it invariably does, and I believe that all communities should be served by some sort of public bus service. I personally use my car exclusively and am quite willing to pay for the required infrastructure at the gas pump. However, I do object most strenuously to having that tax revenue diverted to non-highway infrastructure projects and to the scorn often heaped upon those of us who refuse to abandon our automobiles in favor of progressives’ ludicrous mass transit pipe dreams.

  45. This article emphasizes BART which is high-profile over the more successful and useful CalTrain commuter trains that are well occupied and run some Express trains (un-mentioned in the article).
    BART and the VTA San Jose Toonerville-trolly system (two completely different and non-integrated systems) are actually both seriously sucky ways to get to SFO or to San Jose Airport. Both require confusing transfers at various points and take an inordinate amount of time.
    BART does not directly serve SFO airport – there’s a special sub-BART terminal “AirTrain” that goes in a circle from the actual BART station out by Highway 101, and “whisks” passengers to another stop inside the giant SFO terminal area. More confusingly there are TWO “AirTrain” lines to choose-from with different service and destination points, a Red Line and a Blue line, which are determineed by which terminal you need to get to, depending on which carrier you’re flying with: Terminal #1, #2, #3 or the International Terminal… It’s a HUGE place, with two different levels – the upper one for incoming and the lower one for outgoing passengers.
    On the upside the VTA San Jose trolly is probably going to be free, because nobody seems to be on it to take fares or check if you have a ticket or not. The first and last time I rode it, it took a leisurely hour and a half (with transfer) to slowly amble from San Jose Airport to Mountain View, stopping frequently at empty stations where nobody stood to embark or disembark – a drive I can do in about ten minutes.
    Also parking for commuters at BART stations is a risk/reward function since the parking locations are in undesirable and unsafe locations: your car may or may not be broken into when you return, you may or may not be robbed at gunpoint, and if female you may or may not be raped in the parking lot.
    There are parts of the Bay Area I won’t drive to or through, and BART stations factor high among them. I used to do it when I was a kid back in the 70’s – take BART – but not anymore.

  46. For all those lamenting the “unfair” subsidization of roads: what do you think buses and goods (eg. the munchies you buy from your grocer/supermarket) use?

  47. Ridership has fallen as more people are laid-off/not working and not commuting. I know of several companies that have also left SF because the advantage not longer is worth the cost.
    Often BART is only cost effective it allows you to avoid expensive SF parking. BART employees have above market benefits and wages, no local politician wants a strike.

  48. “It’s unclear whether BART’s ridership decline is also reflected in ridership for San Francisco’s bus-dominated (and fairly useful) Muni system”

    THPPTHHTHEHTTHHTHTHT!!!! WHAT??!!! You must be joking, MUNI is a damn joke. Note, this is also misleading, BART goes between SF and various suburbs; MUNI is in-city SF mass trans. They aren’t interchangeable other than along one shared corridor (along Market Street).

    Anyway, I think only one other commenter addressed this (Muni is a “hell hole”)(dramatically inadequate understatement; I’d go with “hole that opens up to hell spewing vomit and sewage constantly, accordion music playing all the while, while some gnome tickles the back of your eyeball with a garden hoe inserted rectally”). BART at least runs on time and is comparatively refreshing to ride.

  49. Two points:
    The Pacific Electric Railway System was HEAVY rail – it was a classic interurban system of the early-20th Century – and they ran freights at night to service trackside industry, and team-tracks. If you had ever ridden one of the Big Red Cars, you would know there was nothing “light” about them. And, what you show in that Roger Rabbit clip is actually an L.A.Railways (streetcar) PCC car in PE livery.

    CA now has the “tenth largest economy”?
    Thank Arnold! We were #7 when you took over from Grey Davis.

    1. Several of the elevated lines in Chicago used to do freight service, too. (Back when they were steam powered.) The South Shore line in NW Indiana is now advertising freight services again.

  50. I live in Fremont and commute to San Jose. A couple years ago when the gas prices were really high (heck, it is still high here), the Valley Transit Authority mailed me some coupons so to try the VTA bus service for free from the Fremont BART station to North San Jose.

    It was worth the try as the N. San Jose bus stop was close to work, so I showed up at the BART station one morning to give it a whirl. Turns out you need to pay for parking at BART, and to pay for it, you have to enter the BART turnstile and put $1 and your parking spot number into a vending machine. There was no option for paying for parking for commuters looking to use the bus.

    Oh well, I continued driving.

  51. Mass transit is usually a bad deal, public or private, as long as a long-lasting personal automobile is around. People will gladly pay extra to avoid having to rely on someone else’s vehicle and someone else’s driver on someone else’s schedule. Both systems share someone else’s roads, so that’s the only part that’s a wash.

    The only time mass transit pays is when the cost of parking is very high or it has a dedicated lane to avoid traffic slowdowns. In Chicago, the Blue Line on the subway/El was so slow it was slower than bumper-to-bumper traffic on the Kennedy Expy. And the CTA in their infinite stupidity DOUBLED the price of parking at every station that had parking to help make driving a car more cost effective. This includes stations with parking gargages with plenty of unused spaces

    Even the local commuter rail is fucked up. Most stations don’t have enough parking, but the rate stays the same which is lost revenue in a sensible world. And with some trains SRO, they’re afraid to raise the fares.

    So you have a city service with underpriced service and overpriced parking, and a suburban service with underpriced parking and underpriced service (on some routes). (I’ll admit the price for the city service may only be underpriced in terms of its overpriced labor.)

    Like the underpriced loan risks at Too-Big-To-Fail banks, the systems are perpetually asking for a bailout.

  52. Why does Reason always go out of its way to hate transit? Would you rather live in a world of only chain stores and strip malls? I have no problem with government supported transit and the kind of development that supports it.

    BART is losing riders because it is badly run and the union is greedy, hence the far increase. But that’s another story which has little to do with the recession or the magical “freedom” of the car that Reason is so obsessed with.

    1. Not true. Reason, and all libertarian for that matter, love rickshaws. The impoverished human-powered kind, of course. Oh, and we prefer to sip Mai Tais while riding in same.

  53. The last paragraph demonstrated why people shouldn’t try to learn history from cartoons… Los Angeles passenger rail transit had been generally losing money since the mid-1920s, because it could not compete with the automobile in speed or convenience….and local politicians had deliberately capped fares for their own political gain at the expense of the private company operators. The only thing keeping the private system afloat was it’s use for the delivery of small packages and freight…which died with the post WWII boom in trucking. While GM & oil companies *did* try to monopolize the supplies of parts and fuel for new bus transit lines …they did not have to destroy the trolley lines, as they were dead or dying regardless of anything the monopolists did or did not do.

  54. Mass transit in the West, where everything is not condensed, is inconvenient and more and more costly to the taxpayer. I have lived in Colorado’s third largest city (guess) for going on 28 years and have never taken mass transit anywhere. First because I have no reason to go to downtown Denver and secondly because mass transit doesn’t go anywhere I want to go…unless I first go inconceivably into downtown Denver for a connection. In fact I can go roundtrip to Colorado Springs (60 miles south) in less time and money than taking mass transit to any destination I frequent in the metro area. Mass transit is not for the poor or the planet…it’s for downtown Denver. Few of the millions that live in the Denver area work in or need to go to downtown Denver. In addition transit parking leaves one’s auto subject to smash and grabs.

  55. How self-sufficient are public roads and highways? Are the user fees covering their construction and maintenence?

    1. No even close. Actually, at the federal level, the interestate system fell below 50% of its funding from gas and excise taxes. So even with almost no capital costs, our pathetic gas tax (which doesn’t adjust for inflation) can’t even cover half the interestate system’s O&M.

  56. Why do roads and highways need to be self-sufficient? Neither is essentially a privileged right-of-way for a monopoly. Roads and highways are true public infrastructure. With respect to transit, when demographics change you can change the route of buses. Try that with rail.

    1. IrC, people move TOWARDS the train stations, not away from them.

      1. You’re statement would have to become significantly less vague just to avoid being a gross generalization. Which people are you claiming tend to move toward which train stations?

        Let’s assume by “people” you mean people who reside in the continental U.S. Most folks in that demographic clearly don’t live near a train station, so, if that’s what you meant by “people” your statement is absurdly, obviously not true.

  57. Light rail ridership is down, but is car-travel up? Dunno. State economy’s in the toilet, people are fleeing the state in droves. Might not be any increase in car travel, either.

  58. Mass Transit…Greyhound for the less fortunate and Penance for the environmental self-righteous.

  59. The Reason that The Highways of modern construction fall apart is due to the relity that they aren’t built to the original specs for the Inter State and Defense Highway system. The requirements were for a capacity of 250k pounds over a 40 foot span per lane. Also, trucks were supposed to have their own road ststem. If you really want to know who’s paying for the roads, ask a trucker how much he pays in road taxes per year/truck!

  60. Ridership down? No surprise here. I used to commute by bus to work, then the fare went up 3 times in one year to the point it was more cost effective to drive to work. So I drove, saved money and abandoned the bus. Its that simple folks!!! Basic economics!

  61. Possibly its b/c less people are going to work and b/c there are less people in California in general?

  62. San Diego is down because the price is ridiculous. It used to be that the downtown area was $1.25 and if you went out of that area it was $2.00. Now the price starts at $2.50 each way if you want to go even one stop or $5.00 for a day pass. For most people that means that it is $5.00 a day to use the trolley. If you are anything under 20 miles away its probably cheaper just to drive. THIS is why we NEED a carbon tax. People will always do whats cheaper, even if in the long run its bad for them. We know burning fossil fuels is bad for us and our environment but we still do it because it is cheap.

  63. i believe the unemployment rate has to play some part in the decline of ridership. why would i take the train if i am unemployed?

    in terms of fares being raised you can blame conservatards for that. if we didnt spend so much money on silly defense projects and funneled more towards public works our infrastructure wouldnt be falling apart.

  64. Wait! What??? We’re in economic melt-down!!!!

    They’re unemployed! They’re not using their car *instead of* public transport … they no longer have a reason to use either car or public transport!

    They’re just not going anywhere, either privately or publicly!


  65. Economic melt-down or not, the Peeps haven’t stopped driving – try and get out onto Hwy 101 at 3:00 anywhere from Burlingame to Santa Clara – the metering lights are there for a reason – congestion – and they’re working, there’s still a ton of car-traffic. The fact is BART serves only a small fragment of the local population – and locally people don’t move TO a train or BART station, they move AWAY from them because those neighborhoods are highly undesirable.

  66. Americans lack the understanding as to why a Mass Transit System, and the expontental movement of an individual’s time, is this centuary’s challange with the devalueation of the US dollar from the invation based on a lie, and the lose of human capital.
    Bad loans are one thing, however stupitity is an other because the military mentality from the last adminstration and past century, and how We get out of the hole is with new business development and houseing at the different rail stops, and that is the equation.(jobs)
    As Americans what we have is intellectual capitol and work is redefined with home offices and the need to network. via this product, and the use of time.

    The social ecology of how you get people out of their car is………

    EX: Q.O.L. (Quaility of Life)

    Habit X Consensis / TIME = QOL

  67. All we need is get back to normal

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  72. very rare and narrow circumstances, BART can be a good way to get to either San Francisco or Oakland Airport. The Merc points to low gas prices to explain the drop in ridership

  73. You’ll need your tin foil to keep your prozac in

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