California

Sacramento Wants to Boost Rail Ridership By Banning Drive-Throughs and Gas Stations Near Transit

The logic of the policy is perplexing.

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Junpinzon/Dreamstime.com

Faced with falling ridership, American cities have been experimenting with increasingly desperate measures to get people back onto buses and trains.

New York, which saw subway ridership plunge by 30 million trips from 2016 to 2017, is cracking down on transit's competition, with politicians pondering a cap on the number of rideshare vehicles allowed in the city and a mandatory floor for Uber and Lyft prices. Los Angeles, where transit use is stubbornly stuck at about 5 percent of all trips, is spending billions to build out its light rail network and cluster more development around transit stops. Washington is investing in flashy marketing campaigns and a new merch shop to reverse its Metro system's near 20 percent decline in ridership since 2012.

But Sacramento has the most creative approach. Absurd, but creative. City staff there are drafting an ordinance that would ban building new gas stations, drive-throughs, and other auto-related businesses within a quarter mile of any of the city's 23 light rail stations. (Also to be prohibited, for reasons unclear: marijuana cultivation sites.) Other businesses "not considered transit-supportive"—car lots, auto repair businesses, manufacturing sites, wholesale outlets—would still be allowed, but only if the city grants them a special permit.

Preexisting businesses would be grandfathered in.

Though the plan is still in the early stages, the Sacramento Bee reports that it has already attracted support from some city councilmen and from the Sacramento Regional Transit (SacRT), which operates the city's buses and light rail network. "I'm encouraged that this will attract new riders," SacRT head Henry Li tells the Bee.

How exactly this is supposed to attract new riders is a bit of a mystery.

Would a motorist really decide to switch to transit if using a drive-through window is not an option, or would he instead just patronize a different fast-food joint that's further away from a light rail station? Would someone really leave her car at home because she can't gas up near a transit stop that she isn't using already?

If anything, this seems like it would further deter light rail by inconveniencing people whose commutes involve a mix of transit and driving. It's fair to assume that fewer people will use the 16 park-and-rides located at Sacramento's light rail stations if they can't get gas or food anywhere nearby.

The way city planners explain it, booting businesses that cater to motorists will open up room for new development that will better serve riders, thus boosting ridership.

"You wouldn't ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal," city planner Jim McDonald tells the Bee.

Yet the businesses targeted by this ordinance can and do cater to both transit-takers and motorists alike. After all, restaurants with drive-through windows typically have dining rooms too. And plenty of gas stations make money selling not just low-margin gas but soda, snacks, and cigarettes.

Surely some businesses would think twice about locating near light rail if they knew that their access to customers who drive will be curtailed. Serving a transit-only crowd probably doesn't sound very enticing right now, given that the number of people using Sacramento's transit system has been spiraling downward for years. In 2017 alone, ridership declined by about 10 percent.

That reflects a larger trend. In fiscal year 2009, the city's two light rail lines serviced an average of 58,000 riders every weekday. By the end of fiscal year 2016, that number had fallen to about 44,600 weekday riders, even though the city had opened a whole new light rail line during that time. According to a study by the Cato Institute's Randal O'Toole, less than 3 percent of commutes are taken via transit in the Sacramento urban area.

Transportation works best when people can make real choices about what mode of travel works best for them, and when businesses can dynamically respond to those choices. Policy makers' role should be to facilitate these choices, not to try to reverse them—and especially not with a measure as hamfisted as this one.

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101 responses to “Sacramento Wants to Boost Rail Ridership By Banning Drive-Throughs and Gas Stations Near Transit

  1. Another shit-talking post from Christian.

    Though, this raises a question I often have: Why is it always light-rail? What about it specifically is so important that it always seems to be what cities want.They’re less flexible buses, and it seems like the savings in energy costs need to be read over decades for them to become useful.

    1. Because politics is all about control. Trains have routes to set in stone, and people to coerce into living along those routes, and businesses to select and bribe and coerce into relocating to those routes.

      1. “”and businesses to select and bribe and coerce into relocating to those routes.””

        If it’s good transit, you don’t need to bride, or coerce via law for any business to locate there. Business go were the people are. So if Sacramento feels comfortable about ridership, they don’t need to do anything. When the people come, businesses will pay outrageous rents to be close to the train stations.

        Now if they don’t think ridership will be good, then they may feel the need to coerce. So I think that says something about how they really feel about their light rail plan.

        1. That’s just silly. Politicians never take the route that people already want, because there’s no satisfaction in that, no display of power.

        2. Proximity to a train stop is an asset that politicians can dole out. First when selecting the location, and again when (re)zoning around it.

          Think of all the towns and lived and died based on where the train tracks were laid across the West. Plus light rail means construction which means union jobs.

          And middle class people will ride subways and light rail. Buses are for poor people.

        3. if ita good transit its not going to be light rail.

    2. They’re European and thus cool, and not plebeian and low-class like buses, which are for proles.

      (I’m only kidding a little.

      I mean, Scarecrow isn’t entirely wrong, though his point works both ways – a business that sees a rail line may not need to be bribed or coerced; it may see the rail line as a much more unbreakable promise by the City that “there will always be transit here” than a bus line … which can be moved with almost zero marginal cost, comparatively.

      If you’re trying – not that I recommend it – to “fight urban blight”, a rail line is a way to trustably promise commitment to an area, precisely because the route can’t really change.)

      1. Yeah, because everyone wants to locate a business close to a transportation system that has declining ridership.

    3. What about it specifically is so important that it always seems to be what cities want.

      Everyone wants to be Paris or New York. Seriously, I really think it’s that simple.

      1. I don’t.

        We don’t need “light rail.” What we do need is flying cars so that I can cross the bay sans bridge.

        1. Couldn’t you just use a trebuchet?

          1. I was thinking about that, actually. A series of trebuchets and coordinated nets. They could call them hoverrails, to make the lefties happy.

            1. Wait, ?berschiene. More European.

              1. No German. Too fascist sounding. Needs to be “Rail A?rien.” Except that sounds too much like “Rail Aryan.” May have to go back to the drawing board . . .

                  1. Perfect.

                    1. With a little sun in the logo. Probably need a less weapony sounding name for trebuchet, too.

                    2. Probably need a less weapony sounding name for trebuchet, too.

                      “seau d’arbre”

                    3. Because, as chance would have it, the Dutch would be “boom emmer.”

              2. “HyperRails”

                Design a series of tubes that conform to the trebuchet’s trajectory.

            2. Better call, Elon.

              He’ll love the idea. He will claim it’s his idea, though.

              1. He’ll love the idea. He will claim it’s his idea, though.

                Not when it crashes into a barrier or parked fire truck and burns the occupants to a crisp he won’t.

                1. No, no, this would be SpaceX Musk not the other iteration.

                2. You’re right. Up until the first fiery death Elon will claim it’s his idea.

          2. Couldn’t you just use a trebuchet?

            Check out Mr. Frenchy McFrenchPants over here.

          3. Not in California (I assume that the bay is “the bay”).
            A trebuchet is a weapon. Not gonna happen in CA.
            You will need FAA approval as well, and be able to prove the commuters are not drones in disguise.
            It might help to have a plan for inclement weather too.

      2. Don’t discount the shiny legacy angle.

    4. Have you seen True Detective season 2?

    5. Why is it always light-rail? What about it specifically is so important that it always seems to be what cities want.

      Because it involves a lot of construction jobs and a lot of public-sector union jobs and ‘light rail’ doesn’t have the same reputation to the elites as ‘buses’.

      That said – it really is stunning how blind both major sides are. To one side, rail is the only possible option. To the other, private cars are. And neither gives a damn about the best purpose here – Transportation works best when people can make real choices about what mode of travel works best for them, and when businesses can dynamically respond to those choices.

      What can work IMO is something similar to the ‘ground transport’ nodes at some airports – with shuttles/vans/taxis/etc to rental cars and hotels and downtown and indl parkA etc. All run by different companies. Where the city just maintains the space, leases out the loading slots, publicizes the schedules, and maybe gets some periodic feedback. I could see cities repurposing some intersections in residential neighborhoods for that purpose if they eliminate the private car thru traffic there.

      1. “To one side, rail is the only possible option. To the other, private cars are.”

        You’re only partly right. Rail is the only option for one side, whose explicit stated goal is to force people out of their cars. The other side doesn’t care all that much if you want to ride the choo-choo, but would really prefer to be not forced to do so too, just because *you* think it’s a good idea.

    6. Light rail is less filling, but it still tastes great.

    7. Because poor people ride the bus. Buses are dirty and noisy.

      High class people catch the light rail. It’s simple enough for them to figure out.

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  2. “You wouldn’t ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal,” city planner Jim McDonald tells the Bee.

    Something tells me Jim McDonald doesn’t ride light rail.

    1. Of course he doesn’t. He wouldn’t want to associate with those icky “little people “, now would he?

    2. Very unlikely. Now, Ed Koch? Koch road the fuckin subway, ’cause he was gangster.

      1. Real gangsta’s ride black SUV’s with their posse.

        /Kwame Kilpatrick

    3. If you could drink coffee and smoke on the train, many people would use it instead of driving.

    4. Something tells me Jim McDonald doesn’t buy groceries, either. Show me how you’re going to get 15 bags of food from the store to the station, on and off the train, and make it from the station home, all before the frozen food melts.

      1. First, of course, is that no one woke enough to ride the train is going to buy frozen food. Only free range organic pesticide free non-gmo etc foo foo food allowed on the train. Second, you are only allowed to buy enough food for the next days meals. If you die in your sleep there will not be so much waste that way. Of course, no one who pushes light rail actually rides light rail, it is just about control of the movement of the plebes.

  3. “You wouldn’t ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal,” city planner Jim McDonald tells the Bee.

    Or, as is apparently the case for most Sacremento citizens, not ride it.

  4. How can this NOT be restraint of trade?

    1. Restraint of Trade in American law, as I understand it, is about contract law.

      Cities have nearly plenary zoning and business-permitting power, sadly, AFAIK.

  5. Every one of these proposals only hurts the poor and in the long even homeless people are hurt since they will now have farther to go to get food. but this really isn’t about helping anyone its about the sustainability of government jobs and largess when what is provided is not needed

    1. also so much for late night workers being able to get a Mcdee to eat while riding the rails home from a long day of work. nope this only hurts everyone but the train operators

      1. of course maybe this will be used to add dining cars. I knew there was a money angle to this

        1. $5.75 for a microwave hotdog?

          1. Plus convenience fees and taxes, of course. And a small surcharge to clean up the plastic straws brought on board because the paper ones leak. So $9.98

        2. Yeah, someone was on Amtrak over the weekend.

      2. Don’t forget the poor schmucks who work AT McDonald’s, whose commute will be even longer because there’s no light rail to get them to work. They’ll have to make AT LEAST $15/hr just to get to work.

    2. ” even homeless people are hurt since they will now have farther to go to get food.”

      Meh. They have literally nothing else to do.

  6. Look, it’s getting a lot more difficult to get the pieces moved around the chessboard these days. Increasingly they’re asserting their own goals that don’t line up at all with any kind of utopian checkmate. What do you want?

  7. “The logic of the policy is perplexing.”

    No, it’s not that perplexing.

    1. You live in Seattle, so you’ve already gone through the pain of understanding the mindset.

  8. “How can we force these peons to live the way we want them to, rather than how they want to?”

    The eternal cry of the Urban Planner.

    1. “If only we could pass a law forcing them to ride our magnificent trains.” *sigh*

  9. Boston, which has a well-used and robust public transit system, has seen similar declines in recent years: “ridership overall on the Red, Orange, and Blue subway lines dropped 3.6 percent between July 1, 2014, and June 30, 2017.” Rather than panic about this change or cast blame or vilify competition, Massachusetts Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack appears philosophical: she does not “think riders were abandoning the T, just shifting to ride-sharing services, bicycles, and their own two feet when those options saved money or were more convenient. ‘There is more competition,’ she said. ‘Choice is a good thing.'” Hard to argue with that.

    1. What the fuck is she doing working in government in Massachusetts?

      1. Don’t worry. They had her ripped apart by the Long Boats soon after this quote was taken.

      2. Crying.

    2. “robust?”

      It is decrepit and is constantly out of order, late, and inefficient.

      It has only gotten worse under the cucky “leadership” of Too Tall Deval aka Charlie Baker. Like most GOPers, Baker, has zero, non-crony, entrepreneurial skills.

  10. If anything, this seems like it would further deter light rail by inconveniencing people whose commutes involve a mix of transit and driving.

    Inconveniencing travelers is just a bonus, the icing on the cake, for these people. Whether or not it deters light rail, well, since when have they ever been deterred by the high cost, the low ridership, the lousy service, the lack of maintenance, customer dissatisfaction or any other drawback to mass transit? Or government-operated anything else, for that matter? The purpose of government operated mass transit is to provide money and power to government workers, administrators, rent-seekers and functionaries, if they gave a crap about actually moving people around efficiently they’d let FedEx handle the job.

  11. If you live in California, sell you property immediately!

    You window of opportunity to escape that madness is closing.

    1. True, but you could say that applies to Georgia as well : )

      1. Bailed two years ago because of retirement. But I did not live near Atlanta, so life was actually pretty good. I just could not stay where there are signs that say “Caution, bridge ices before roadway”. Nothing like that in Florida.

  12. “”””You wouldn’t ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal,” city planner Jim McDonald tells the Bee.””

    Maybe, maybe not.

    If I had to wait an hour for the train. I wouldn’t. So it depends on how often the trains run. If you don’t have strong ridership, they don’t run often or require a lot of subsidy.

    I live in NYC and take trains to places all the time. But long waits can push me to figure out another option.

    1. Yeah, I’m so not riding transit to buy groceries, and I doubt all those dirty minorities who shop at Costco would either.

  13. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Sacramento, but it doesn’t strike me as a “public transit/rail” kind of place.

    1. Yeah, no wonder Ladybird wanted to get out of hicksville and head to the big A.

    2. its not and they are talking about installing some 4 block long line downtown separate from the light rail that will only screw up traffic. clearly another case of someone getting lots of government money when a bus can accomplish more with less cost.

    3. I haven’t spent a lot of time in Sacramento, but it doesn’t strike me as a “public transit/rail” kind of place.

      It isn’t. As with most “mass transit” systems in CA, Sac’s light rail is almost purely ornamental. Sac has a population of 500k, and the nearest other “big city” is Stockton, with 320k, about 50 miles away (where the light rail doesn’t go).

      Sac is a tight downtown surrounded by miles and miles of low-density sprawl. It really wants to be “bright lights, big city,” but it just ain’t.

      1. Stockton is like Mordor… only dark bad people live there.

  14. Who on earth would ride light rail, or a bus, to buy groceries (if they had a choice)?
    The idea is insane ? grocery shopping carts are rarely filled with ‘one person can carry’ worth of stuff.
    It’s a reversion to shopping before refrigeration ? buy daily, or every couple of days.

    Oh, but it’s going to hurt the bulk retailers. So, not a bug but a feature.

    1. considering they keep harping on food waste they will probably soon make it illegal to buy more food than you can eat in a day anyway.

    2. Right? Get with the program people, just order it off Amazon.

  15. I ride a fair bit of Uber. It doesn’t seem to be a cost-effective way to commute. Certainly not in comparison to light rail. Assuming that light rail was a viable option pre-Uber.

    I suppose that if parking is hella expensive and light rail only made sense to the extent it saved you $25/day in parking and Uber was $10 each way and you could take the carpool lanes…. Hmmmm.

    1. It’s not a viable option for everyday commuting unless you don’t own a car. And even then, it depends. The program is a cab substitute, mostly.

      1. The program is a cab substitute, mostly.

        Exactly this. I used it this weekend to see a movie downtown. $15 one way, $18 back. Yes, it sounds expensive but parking would have probably cost me around $15 anyway, plus the hassle of getting parking, then walking from the parking place to the theater etc., etc.– I’m perfectly happy paying the premium for the curbside service.

        1. If you are not paying hundreds a month in car payments, and hundreds more in insurance, you can afford a lot of uber/lyft/cab trips.

  16. California experiments with yet more reasons for sane people to flee the state.

    1. It’s like someone who works for Disneyland recently told me – they’ve been trying to find the price point that will keep the park from filling to capacity every day, and they just can’t. They could probably issue beatings on the way in and people would still want to go. That’s how CA government approaches its job.

      1. At least with Disney I think most people go once or twice in their lives with the kids. And the tickets are about 1/2 the total vacation cost.

      2. “It’s like someone who works for Disneyland recently told me – they’ve been trying to find the price point that will keep the park from filling to capacity every day, and they just can’t.”

        Wife and I have discussed this; when we’re vacationing, we get pretty casual regarding the prices. And, added anecdote, there is a water-front restaurant in SF (Scoma’s) which exists largely on tourist diners. The food IS good, but not that good; a crab Louis (in season, fresh crab): $47. For a salad.
        https://scomas.com/?page=menus
        We don’t eat there any more.

  17. “You wouldn’t ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal,” city planner Jim McDonald tells the Bee.

    “Actually, more precisely — you *shall* ride it to buy groceries, get a haircut or have a meal.”

  18. Nothing says that a service is wanted quite like government being forced to quash competition to it.

  19. When we go grocery shopping, we fill the trunk. How could we do that on the bus? There is a reason that the first thing people do when they get a little money is buy a car. The busy-bodies can suck it.

    1. When I go grocery shopping, I fill a cooler with things that cause food-borne illness if they spend any time at room temperature. This policy is literally. Going. To. Kill. Children.

  20. “But Sacramento has the most creative approach. Absurd, but creative.”

    That’s where moonbeam lives, and he didn’t get that nickname by random.

  21. “”You wouldn’t ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries … ,” city planner Jim McDonald tells the Bee.”

    That is beyond retarded. Practically nobody would take transit to go grocery shopping if they didn’t have to. Unless you’re one of the hipster doofuses who lives in a downtown studio apartment who eats out all the time, taking transit to shop would mean going to the market three or four times a week. At least. If you live alone. If you have a family, one of you might as well quit your job or give up sleeping.

    Want to bet when Top Man McDonald says “you would ride it to buy groceries”, he doesn’t mean he would?

    1. “Want to bet when Top Man McDonald says “you would ride it to buy groceries”, he doesn’t mean he would?”

      In SF, the ‘ride your bike to work’ day, always a photo-op for the local politicos, is scheded for days when rain is a 000001% possibility.

      1. I ride the ford gobike from the caltrain to my office and was so embarrassed when I saw those people cheering for me.

  22. I would start by making it illegal for city employees to own cars.

    1. Since politicians seem to want to force people out of their cars, it makes you wonder why they haven’t started with the low-hanging fruit- public employees.

    2. Own cars? The government provides them for employees. At least in a lot of cities.

  23. You wouldn’t ride light rail to a gas station, but you would ride it to buy groceries,

    You see things like this and wonder – has this guy ever bought groceries in his life? Maybe it was just at the picturesque local stores he patronized during his gap year in Europe?

    Because Americans buy large amounts of groceries once every week or two – not picking up the makings of dinner on the way home from work. And transit’s a pain in the ass. It takes for-fucking-ever to get anywhere. You’re certainly not going to want to have to make multiple stops while using it. That would turn what, in a car, would be an hour’s outing into a half a day wasted standing around holding your bags waiting for a trolley.

    1. It also pretty well wipes out the possibility of buying anything frozen and getting it home before it’s a puddle.

  24. Why doesn’t someone just come up with an application for your cell phone that allows you to summon a car and driver to pick you up exactly where you already are, and take you exactly where you want to go, with minimal delays, for a competitive price? Wouldn’t that be a lot easier than figuring out bus and train schedules and schlepping your way to the bus/train stop, then waiting for the next vehicle, then getting off somewhere in the vicinity of your destination and walking the rest of the way in the rain?

    1. Because if they did, the governments would have a world class competition to see who could ruin it the fastest. Taxes, regulations, permits, background checks, outright bans, whatever. The monster must die. I mean really! Allow people individual choices? Madness! Take a ride where we say, when we say; no choices other than walking. (ADA be damned)

  25. All they have to do is crack down on handicap placard abuse and stop letting lazy downtown employees continue to abuse a parking system set up specifically for people who need mechanical assistance in order to shop/work downtown. These days any ailment qualifies a free loader a free parking space close to work while people who need mechanical assistance are relegated to the light-rail system because there are no parking places available due to the abusers. that won’t happen though. Sacramento is control crazy.

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