BART Is Falling Apart Too | The Antiplanner
. . . too few riders, too high costs, and no interest in maintenance.
"As if it were jealous of all of the attention that has been focused on the DC Metrorail system, the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system is having its own maintenance problems. Its railcars are old and need to be replaced; last week a series of mysterious power surges disrupted trains; and the agency recently admitted that many of the security cameras on its trains are either fake or broken.
In response to these problems, BART sent out a series of less-than-apologetic tweets to its customers listing a variety of excuses for its failings. “Planners in 1996 had no way of predicting the tech boom – track redundancy, new tunnels & transbay tubes are decades-long projects,” says one. “BART was built to transport far fewer people, and much of our system has reached the end of its useful life. This is our reality,” adds another."
This is the same problem we see cropping up in Portlandia, and many other cities. Rail transit became the rage back in the 70's and 80's, and the construction done then is at or past its replacement date. The problem is the federal government was willing to pay for the vast majority of the initial construction costs of these projects, but now that the projects need capital maintenance, the federal government will not pay for this. The cost of this new, and massive maintenance is nearly always equal to the original capital cost to build out the original project. Unlike private enterprise which sets aside money for these known costs, these public entities simply act like these costs will never come due. They whistle past the graveyard for years until, the maintenance cannot be deferred any longer, and even then they only budget for small maintenance projects, hoping beyond hope that this will be all that is necessary. And so BART trains burn, Portlandia train crash, and DC Metrorail is a disaster closing the system during normal operating times just to attempt to figure out what is wrong.
The ultimate problem is that if the fare for these outlandishly expensive rail transit projects was fully charged, the per ticket price would be commonly far north of $15 or $20 per trip, and in many cases much more. Instead, the initial capital costs are never amortized, nor are the 40 year capital maintenance costs ever amortized, or acknowledged. Even the fare box revenues generally only account for about 20-30% of the operating costs, and routine maintenance. So, for Portlandia which comes in right at these figures, the actual cost per ride should be $10 per ride, plus the cost of amortizing the original capital construction costs, and perhaps one half of the capital maintenance costs which occurs at the end of 40 years of operations.
For the Portlandia MAX Eastside light rail line, this would mean about $450 million in original capital costs, and $250 million in capital maintenance costs should have been amortized since the line first began operating. This $700 million was never captured, and so TriMet does not have the funds to perform the necessary capital maintenance, expand lines, or build new lines. In modern parlance, this is known as "sustainable."
"The Washington Post‘s “Dr. Gridlock” asks why last week’s Metro shutdown didn’t lead to worse congestion. “Metrorail carries people on more than 700,000 trips” per weekday, he said. “It’s role can’t be overstated,” he added, overstating its role.
According to 2014 data from the American Community Survey, only 248,000 people out of 2.6 million employed workers in the DC urban area commute by Metrorail, and that number has probably declined since then. At least, Metrorail ridership has declined, as the system carried more than 900,000 trips per weekday in 2014, which itself is down from nearly a million weekday trips in 2009.
In any case, at least 200,000 of Metrorail’s daily riders aren’t commuters, so they probably travel during less-busy times of the day. While even 248,000 commuters sounds like a big number, it’s not. With 2.6 million employed workers in the DC urban area, Metro rail carries less than 10 percent of DC-area workers, and (since some people work at home) slightly more than 10 percent of DC-area commuters."
And many local areas have even a smaller percentage of total commuters. Portlandia's TriMet, both bus, and rail, carries about 7.3% of total commuters. This number is so small that total disruption would do little to change commuter travel in Portlandia. Daily trips in the metro area are even lower, with TriMet only handling 2.3%, truly de minimus.
"Dr. Gridlock is correct that the effects of the shutdown weren’t as bad as some expected because people adjusted: they worked at home or found alternate means of getting to work. But a planner he quotes is probably wrong in saying, “We can’t live with this sort of experience on a regular basis.” In fact, DC can probably live without Metrorail easier than it could live with the higher taxes that would be needed to keep the system fully functional."
The Antiplanner is correct. The tax burden, ridership cost escalation, and further decimation of the bus lines would fall hardest on the poor, the people we are putatively attempting to help with public transit. Somewhere during the past 20 years, transit went from an antipoverty device to a green device, with the goal switching to saving the planet from carbon. This is perhaps the most absurd idea ever. Transit in Portlandia is considered to be great, yet when Maddog helped Maddogsson with a school project analyzing the fuel use, pollution, and carbon footprint of public transit versus the private automobile, he found that transit in Portlandia used more fuel, polluted more, and produced more carbon than the average car, even with nearly half of the riders using electric rail transit. What he found was that the average Portlandia transit rider was creating about as much pollution, and carbon as a Chevy Suburban SUV.
Brilliant! A transit system which is rigidly unmovable, massively expensive, and which uses more fuel, pollutes, and has a greater carbon footprint than the cars they are allegedly replacing! All the bad, none of the good, at more than 10 times the cost! Woo hoo!