Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Starts and the FTA

I'm very impressed with the New Starts program in general, as a piece of effective policy. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has been very effective with the new Starts Program. They fund the initial segment, but they insist that each be built with the capacity to expand later on.

  1. Provides quality transit to places that have never had it
  2. Ridership metrics
A new transit system is expensive. The initial length contains a lot of one-time capital costs--stations, storage facilities, the first vehicles, etc. that subsequent expansion doesn't. But for a city that has never experienced quality transit, for whom 'transit' means a slow bus serving those too destitute to afford a car the idea of making that huge investment is preposterous. And the opposition is fierce. No one wants a station nearby, that will only be used by transients. 

Worse still are vanity projects. 'Monorail' has become emblematic of transit projects that over-promise and under-deliver. Something that will revitalize a dying downtown, solve parking problems without competing with the automobile, and attracts tourists!! New Starts helps fight this, demanding both opening day and ten year ridership projections. But New Starts also involves accountability provisions--not just for the local partner, but for the consultant preparing the projections. Inflating the forecast to justify access to 'free' Federal money becomes a much more dangerous game.

Now, if only road projects had to go through similar scrutiny. 

Monday, December 27, 2010

Frequent Network

After five years of living within a half mile of TRAX, I moved to Sugarhouse. Sugarhouse has pretty good transit service.   But my transit use has dropped to almost nothing. Reading Human Transit today, this comment struck me: 

For example, if we specify that the Frequent Network as a whole must be frequent until 9 PM, a few lines that we've included in that category may have to have their evening frequency expanded even though their ridership then doesn't seem to justify it.  That's right: we spend a little and in return we get a network and schedule that we can describe succinctly, and that our customers can remember. 
There was never any uncertainty when TRAX was coming, or when it stopped operating. Every weekday, it runs every 15 minutes, from 6:00 to 23:30. I live within a few blocks of the 21st South, 9th East, and 5th East bus routes. All are 'Frequent' buses, running every 15 minutes. But I haven't got the faintest when they stop running. I can look it up for each bus, but there is no 'branding' that unifies the different services. That should change.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Baby Boomers High-tide Expectations

Due to a psychological phenomenon known as 'anchoring', many baby boomers have had their expectation of the eventual sale price of their homes set by the recent bubble in property prices. These  'High-tide expectations' will continue to influence their expectations of the eventual sale price of their home for years to come.  This is compounded by the tendency to treat the home as their largest asset and retirement piggy bank. And for some Boomers, their home may be their ONLY retirement asset, increasing resistance to sell at anything less than the 'anchored price'. In many cases, these homes are paid off and entirely owned, so their is little financial pressure to sell a home for less than the expected value. Thus, Housing prices can remain sticky for years to come, until Boomers have run down all their other financial assets, and are forced to sell their homes for less than the 'expected' value.