Greater Greater Washington

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You can't be serious that county planners believe development around Metro stations would "undermine economic growth." I can see how they are always chasing the bright, shiny thing, like National Harbor, as the silver bullet for growth. I can see the narrow-mindedness and decades out-of-date thinking that causes the county to keep building more cheap townhouses and cul de sacs on farmland. But only complete knuckleheads would think development around Metro stations harms economic growth.

by Steve in Smarter growth will expand Prince George's tax base on Apr 21, 2015 9:28 pm • linkreport

Buses supply a much rougher ride than trains. I get thrown around like popcorn on them. Rail rides are FAR less likely to throw you into the lap of your neighbor or out into the aisle.

by Capt. Hilts in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 9:25 pm • linkreport

@CBF: What you say makes sense. But I wonder whether for infrastructure spending it might still make sense for the Feds to ignore sine benefits. Should the Corps provide a nice beach to a community without flooding over a flood-protection dune to a community without recreation? Or a nice train ride to 100 people instead of an equally efficient bus ride for 150? That just feels different to me than the regulatory setting.

Maybe the feds should only give what people need, not what they want. But when the Feds are taking, then everything they take counts. Your mileage may vary.

by JimT in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 9:19 pm • linkreport

Stating a preference for rail over bus is meaningless without comparing the costs. For example, I may have a strong preference to ride rail for a trip, but would be unwilling to the extra cost, whether through fare or tax. I'd much rather take the train to NYC, as trains are my favorite way to travel. However, I find a $20 bus fare to be irresistible. Moreover, what people say and do are often entirely different things. The way around this is through revealed preference, in which the choices that people really make between alternatives are compared.

The only proper way to account for preferences in deciding between transport modes is to look at the ridership figures. You can then factor in costs (and other relevant factors) to make a final decision. As I have said before, the option to defer investment itself has value. It may be more cost-beneficial to use buses with an option to convert to rail, rather than to commit outright to one or the other. This is a result from real options theory, in which I wrote my dissertation.

by Chuck Coleman in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 8:52 pm • linkreport

Some quick background. I've taught, I've taken graduate level courses in teaching literacy, and I've tutored through Reading Partners. While I don't think the program is perfect, I do think it's effective for a large portion of students. It is well anchored in current pedagogy and the process, which you have poorly described, is logically sound. While you have the right to voice your opinion on the program, you provide very little evidence to refute the claims that Reading Partners professes. There is absolutely nothing of substance in your post.

Background knowledge is certainly essential to a student's learning, but to claim that extensive practice of a variety of literacy skills with individual attention is not helpful for struggling readers is bold and requires much more proof. These students have the same amount of background knowledge as their peers, yet struggle to read in comparison. For these students, their literacy deficits go beyond background knowledge. The fact that they gain months, rather than fall further behind (what usually happens), is very noteworthy.

by All About Lit in Volunteer tutors aren't the answer to DC's reading crisis on Apr 21, 2015 8:29 pm • linkreport

Jarrett and others have noted how the typical American "bus-rail" comparison usually appears:

"Do you want a shiny new train that will run frequently, be fast and only stop at major points, will either have its own right of way or preference on the streets, and will get the best efforts of the transit agency's maintenance staff. And you'll get a station or at least a nice place to wait.

Or do you want to ride on our 10 year old buses that get stuck in traffic, stop every block or so, and may only be superficially cleaned up by our maintenance staff because bus riders are captives and will take what they can get. And your stop will be a pole you can stand next to.

Oh you have a rail preference? How interesting! How important for our data!"

Washington is one of many cities where the transit agency has admitted that they have neglected bus service in favor of rail. Boston is another. Los Angeles Metro got sued over this issue and chose to settle. These aren't the only cities--just the ones where neglect of the bus system became a public issue Those aren't exactly environments that will generate a meaningful bus-rail comparison.

When you do an apples-apples similar service and conditions comparison you get about a 10% pure preference for rail. Worth taking note of, but maybe not the core basis for decisionmaking about hundreds of millions of dollars--or in the case of heavy rail often billions of dollars--of public funds.

by Wanderer in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 8:26 pm • linkreport

Everything Bradley wrote, yes.

by Tina in Smarter growth will expand Prince George's tax base on Apr 21, 2015 5:56 pm • linkreport

On the statistical side, the self-selection bias (the bias that affects accuracy of statistical studies) around transit stations is stronger near rail because rail is generally better service. It is known that people who prefer transit concentrate near transit, and it is presumably also well documented that those who place a very high value on transit concentrate near higher quality transit (e.g. near rail rather than bus). Any study that attempts to determine whether consumers prefer rail to bus has to account not just for the differences in service quality and travel time, but also for variations in self-selection bias near better quality transit. It may take a particular and carefully crafted study design to parse consumer preferences and there are a lot of confounding socioeconomic variables - including race - that come into play. But also, let's not forget that we cannot really compare rail and bus because neighborhoods with rail are planned differently and TOD in areas with rail is marketed differently. We don't do anything comparable with BRT in this country, but some countries do seem to get BRT to work like rail and they do seem to achieve redevelopment around rail. That's not to say that a preference for rail does not exist - assume it exists and that it exists across international boundaries - but I would assume that more exposure to bus services that operate like rail systems may reduce that preference over time. People liked horses before they liked cars. But it will not be as easy to get people who ride transit to like buses as it was to get people who ride horses to switch to riding in cars.

by FaceMan in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 5:50 pm • linkreport

I agree that Montgomery County has allowed growth to expand beyond the capacity of the existing roads and beyond the reach of mass transit. It is extremely difficult (read: impossible) to curtail building that is compliant with the zoning. It is also not always cost effective to operate mass transit where housing style lacks the density to support even a highly subsidized transit system. M-83 was planned for this situation: less dense housing with dependence on cars to reach mass transit or for regular commuting. Since shopping is also distant from residences, these are car dependent communities. We can bemoan that they are, but it is unconscionable to build massive car dependent developments based on a plan to increase road capacity, then tell those residents that they will simply have to pay the price in daily gridlock and poor emergency service access because we now believe that their homes should not have been built in that way. The houses are there. The bus routes, Metro, CCT, BRT etc are not. The fastest and cheapest way to serve these communities is to build the infrastructure - M-83 - that they were designed around. And let's be clear, we are not talking about 30 miles of highway. This is a 6 mile section of arterial road. The sky will not fall if it is built.

by GreyD in Montgomery backtracks on a sprawl-inducing highway on Apr 21, 2015 5:49 pm • linkreport

Well, I've made similar arguments for awhile, and it's a shame you didn't see fit to cite them, especially this recent post, about the hullaballo about property values.

1. PGC development paradigm and transit.

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/11/another-lesson-that-prince-georges.html

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2011/11/another-lesson-that-prince-georges.html

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2015/01/prince-georges-county-embarks-on-zoning_27.html

2. PGC and house vs. locational and other values

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2015/01/washington-post-series-on-dashed-dreams.html

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2015/02/the-five-components-of-housing-value.html

3. The lost opportunity of University of Maryland as an economic development anchor (although yes, organizations have located in the area because of the university and the Beltsville Agriculture Research Station).

http://urbanplacesandspaces.blogspot.com/2015/01/more-prince-georges-county-college.html

by Richard Layman in Smarter growth will expand Prince George's tax base on Apr 21, 2015 5:39 pm • linkreport

Could part of the problem not just be that we design bus service to meander through suburbs, but we approach costly rail projects with a more sober understanding of the trade-offs between speed and access to service? I agree that BRT has enormous potential but we don't have great examples of BRT, let along BRT driven TOD. But I think we could. However, if we did have such models of BRT and TOD performing in a manner similar to our more desirable rail transit systems than we would probably find that building a BRT capable of drawing TOD either involves 1) very costly construction (perhaps still cheaper than rail but much, much more costly than we would probably be willing to spend on BRT) or 2) politically nearly-impossible trade-offs that involve giving busses priority over private cars as well as other network changes that favor pedestrians and these may have to be paired with slowing traffic speeds in order to create suitable and comfortable pedestrian access to BRT stations (e.g. the same debate that MoCo has having over taking away car lanes and median BRT versus curbside BRT but on terms even less favorable to cars). The difference again seems to be less about cost than about whether the BRT/rail has dedicated ROW and how that ROW interacts with the rest of the network given that the ideal BRT would presumably still be running in the same surface arterial corridor as mixed traffic but in its own ROW.

by FaceMan in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 5:26 pm • linkreport

Alex & Fitz - For examples, please see text and numerous links in the Dissent article.

by Ben Ross in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 5:18 pm • linkreport

The astoundingly high population densities in developing world cities is an excellent argument for streetcar (probably more like Metro) suburbs. When your city's average density is twice or three times that of Manhattan but with no transit to speak of, you're going to end up with some truly heinous conditions.

Yep. One of the original rationales for the NYC subway was to clear out the incredibly dense parts of lower Manhattan.

by MLD in The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area on Apr 21, 2015 5:15 pm • linkreport

The town centers are a good idea and on net a positive. By all means we should retrofit Fairfax County to look more like the suburban counties of NY (lots of walkable town centers around commuter rail). But, at the end of the day, Fairfax County is always going to be a suburban county where the car is the dominant mode of transit for most people. Fairfax is simply to massive a landmass to every be seamlessly linked together. There is nothing inherently wrong with that.

But, the DC region is missing is it's Manhattan. The city proper is not very dense for a major city, no reason the city shouldn't have a million people in it. The would give the city a density of similar to SF. If we are interested in truly creating car-free, walkable living the core is where it will be done. We should work on building up a central core of 10 miles or so with a contiguous neighborhoods of 50k p/sm. People generally due what is easier. Offer areas where it is actually easier to not have a car.

by chris in Topic of the week: Suburban retrofits in our region on Apr 21, 2015 4:40 pm • linkreport

Consumers like the idea of rail. Economists pay attention when they actually consume it.

by Jack Jackson in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 4:34 pm • linkreport

It would have been helpful if the author used some specific economists as examples, citing their work to demonstrate what exactly he's arguing against.

by Fitz in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 4:11 pm • linkreport

What would it take to build a walkway from the Landover to the neighborhoods on the other side of 50? Those neighborhoods are completely cut off from a horrendously underused station.

I live one station down from that. It may pack the trains in the morning a bit more, but it may also uncork some pent up demand. That could show the county that a little investment in those stations might be the way to go.

by Loren L in Smarter growth will expand Prince George's tax base on Apr 21, 2015 3:57 pm • linkreport

The astoundingly high population densities in developing world cities is an excellent argument for streetcar (probably more like Metro) suburbs. When your city's average density is twice or three times that of Manhattan but with no transit to speak of, you're going to end up with some truly heinous conditions.

For perspective, though, Manhattan topped out at about 102,000 people per square mile in 1910. It doesn't beat Dhaka region's 112,000, but it was very congested despite being well-served by transit.

by David Edmondson in The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area on Apr 21, 2015 3:52 pm • linkreport

JimT

But if we applied that to the Ben Cost of regulations, we would get some very bad policy as BCA justified - for example if we banned SUV's we would get less emissions and we would not count the lost consumer surplus due to preferences (I suppose we could quantify some of the benefits of using an SUV, but I think those are dwarfed by the preference) So we have to include preference when doing fed regs, trade policy, etc. So we would have to have an assymetry between how we do reg BCA, and how we do investment BCA. I think that could incent bad policy.

Again, I am not saying we have to include as Ben wants, the benefit of meeting the rail preference. But I think absolutely ruling out such preferences undermines the entire logic of BCA, which is based on traditional microecon and utility theory. And I am all for shaming free market ideologues like O'Toole who do not see the inconsistency in their positions (or who see it, but choose to ignore it)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 3:44 pm • linkreport

The gov't already has the category of Combined Statistical Areas. Though they aren't quite the same as an MSA, they indicate that there are moderately close ties between the adjacent MSAs, in this case D.C. and Baltimore, or

Washington-Baltimore-Arlington, DC-MD-VA-WV-PA Combined Statistical Area

As there is more development in Maryland, and expanded connections (such as more frequent MARC service and maybe expanded Metro service?), perhaps the area will be listed as a single MSA in the future.

by Citizen in The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area on Apr 21, 2015 3:32 pm • linkreport

ROW near Bailey's shopping Center/Skyline can be accquired from service road...it's just used as a free parking lot for local service vans anyway.

by alexandrian in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:27 pm • linkreport

yes, the dynamic changes from "vdot won't let us" to "we're vdot and we won't do it"

Yes that's another way to put it.

I think 7 from seven corners down to 395 at least has enough ROW where you could do dedicated lanes and keep the number of existing lanes. So that's not a problem.

In the city of Falls Church it's not that big of a deal to have shared lanes. That's the type of environment (denser, more urban) that you'd want for that kind of service.

If the line isn't going to connect with East Falls Church then it should go down Hillwood on the east side of Falls Church. There's actual retail there and density compared to the mansions on 7 between 7 Corners and 29.

And then Van Dorn is the better terminus. More opportunities for development with just as much access as King Street considering yellow line trains also visit Van Dorn.

by drumz in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:26 pm • linkreport

Re Mark Center

No the endpoints for West End transitway, IIUC, will be Van Dorn Metro Station and Shirlington. Mark Center will be a key point on it. And connecting there between the two lines would make sense.

As for the ROW - 1. City of Falls Church is a city, so I presume they would control it within City boundaries, as would the City of Alexandria. A good part of the route in Fairfax is in areas with existing service lanes - I believe that in determining if lanes were being taken away from autos, VDOT would not count the removal of the service lanes - so they could add transit lanes without taking away general lanes, or widening the road. In some places they might be able to buy ROW and widen the entire road. I am not familiar with all the details, but my strong understanding is that the constraints faced by Col Pike do not apply here.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:21 pm • linkreport

@CBF: Thanks. The question of which benefits to count in an evaluation of public infrastructure spending is tricky.

Until I have more time to think about the matter, my tentative opinion is that local governments should spend on whatever makes people happy (parks, nice trains, stadiums, pretty beaches), while the feds should limit the benefits they count (environmental benefits, ridership, no stadiums, flood-damages avoided).

by JimT in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 3:20 pm • linkreport

Another item: South Korea also holds greater than a 35% worldwide market share in LCD screens (used in televisions, computer monitors, tablets and smartphones).

by Citizen in The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area on Apr 21, 2015 3:19 pm • linkreport

+1 that South Korea is not a "developing country."

It's the 13th largest economy in the world. Per capita, it is ranked 30th or 31st, about the same level as Italy, New Zealand and Israel. It is one of the two leaders in supertankers and shipbuilding, reaching as high as 50% market share in the worldwide market in 2008. They are a top manufacturer of oil-drilling platforms. They are the 5th largest automobile manufacturer, 16th in construction output (including many of the mega-skyscrapers in the Middle East), and a top country in computer chips, smartphone chips (for Apple, Samsung and LG phones) as well as smartphones.

Hardly what anyone would call a developing country.

by Citizen in The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area on Apr 21, 2015 3:14 pm • linkreport

@drumz: yes, the dynamic changes from "vdot won't let us" to "we're vdot and we won't do it"

by Mike in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:13 pm • linkreport

Woah, just came back to this discussion turned minor scandal. I don't do this intentionally, but have been late arriving to the pick up point at which point the driver called to ask me where I am, at which point I say "Sorry, I'm just down the block will be there in a minute." The driver rolled 50 yards down the block and met me just inside the surge zone. Crazy, I know. I wouldn't blame him for docking me a star for being late but I guess that's the risk you run in the sneaky surge avoidance game.

by dno in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:10 pm • linkreport

With Columbia Pike the restriction was written out in the documents that "gave" the road over to Arlington County. It was a condition they had to meet in order to do other things with the road.

That stemmed from the fact that Arlington is one of the only counties in the state that controls its roads.

So what restrictions there are they won't be the same as what happened with Columbia Pike.

by drumz in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:07 pm • linkreport

Telling consumers they're wrong to feel the way they do is extremely unusual...

Ben, can you cite an actual example of an economist (or even just a transit critic) telling someone that their feelings are wrong?

Let's not conflate things: there's a big difference between making the case that someone's preference for rail is wrong, as opposerd to arguing that someone's rail prefernce isn't worth the additional cost.

by Alex B. in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 3:05 pm • linkreport

@ alexandrian

They could still keep the 28X bus as a stub off of Rt. 7 to Mark Center. Any bus improvements along Rt. 7 would speed up the 28X from Mark Center to Tysons.

by Andy L in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:04 pm • linkreport

It is wonderful to live in a world with internet search

https://www.google.com/search?q=modal+preference+ridership+forecast&oq=modal+preference+ridership+forecast&aqs=chrome..69i57.11088j0j8&sourceid=chrome&es_sm=93&ie=UTF-8#q=%22+modal+preference%22+ridership+forecast

It turns out that the issue of modal preference does in fact come in the ridership forecasting literature. But ridership forecasting involves estimation of logit and probit models, survey methodology, and lots of other things rather more demanding (so to speak) than battling back and forth with ideologues like O'Toole, and journalists like Barro.

The ONLY serious transportation voice in this debate is Jarrett Walker, and even he, I think, fails to address the issue with sufficient insight.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 3:03 pm • linkreport

@CBF

I don't expect the Route 7 to go to Mark Center...isn't that the point of the West End Transitway?

PS do you live in Park Center? I pity anyone who has to bike along/across King Street...

by alexandrian in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:02 pm • linkreport

Are there any VDOT restrictions with taking away a traffic lane on Rt. 7 for a dedicated busway, similar to the problem on Columbia Pike?

by Andy L in Breakfast links: More transit, please on Apr 21, 2015 3:02 pm • linkreport

Forgot to include that buses belch diesel exhaust, a significant health hazard.

BTW, if buses are such a good deal, then they should be cheaper. That would help balance out rider preference.

by tondo in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 3:01 pm • linkreport

"Ben's characterization of the entire sub-profession "

Ben mentions O'Toole, who works for Cato, IIUC, and Barro, who writes for the NYT. I do not think either makes a living running ridership forecast models. There are people who do so, and those are the kinds of people I think of as transportation economists. Pundits are, well, pundits.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:58 pm • linkreport

@drumz

"it always seems like a rail project has to contstantly answer criticism of 'why not more buses' all the way until the project is actually running (or even after!)."

Right. It costs more...a lot more. Forgive us taxpayers for thinking SOME "rail" projects, like the H Street mixed-traffic line, are not worth the costs because they don't do anything buses can't do.

by Brett M in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:57 pm • linkreport

I agree that most people, fairly or not, have an ingrained preference for rail over bus. The counterpoint that buses (especially BRT) can have some of the best attributes of rail – frequent service, off-board fare collection , etc. – is also true.

Another point to consider is the permanence of rail. As noted in the linked beyonddc article, this can be a downside, compared to more flexible bus routes that can be adjusted as necessary. But in terms of something like BRT, flexibility is not the goal – a cheaper/more efficient version of rail is.

A key difference is that, once built, a rail line cannot be easily moved or removed according the whims of the public and/or political leaders. Whereas an initially bus-only BRT lane can theoretically be converted to mixed traffic or even car only if an anti-transit politician or coalition comes into power. While, ideally, frustrated motorists who watch BRT vehicles zoom by would recognize the anti-congestion properties of transit, the unfortunate reality is that car-dependent commuters (who have enormous political clout) could lobby to use that space for more cars.

Frankly, I'm not sure how legitimate this fear is, but I think it deserves to be raised. Does anyone have any examples of this happening (or threatening to happen)? Or am I just another anti-bus fearmonger? For the record, I think BRT can be a great tool, but it's important to look at more than just the initial price tag when comparing to rail.

by Cyco in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:56 pm • linkreport

JimT

I recall that note on the ridership projects from the PikeRail study. The evidence issue is not simple - there simply are not that many mixed traffic streetcars in the USA, nor that many fully seperated BRT. The basis for claims of higher ridership, are ridership increases when buses were switched to rail in places like Portland. But those are never perfect, because they were not run as controlled experiments. I think FTA just pulled out a compromise number to get something reasonable.

I do think Ben is getting at not so much the ridership question, but the consumer surplus question. Note we do include consumer surplus for consumer preference for speed, or higher frequency. It is of course possible to exclude cons surplus for mode preference, but I can see the argument that that is arbitrary, and not in keeping with the basic economic principles that underlay BCA. I wouldn't expect FTA to include it, but I can see poking at O'Toole for not calling for its inclusion.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:55 pm • linkreport

@logandude

Thanks, I'm aware. I guess I just disagree with Census' classification of "rural" as well the noncontiguity of Laurel (and Baltimore urban area for that matter), Waldorf, Fredericksburg, and Waldorf.

by Brett M in The Washington region is the world's 77th largest urban area on Apr 21, 2015 2:51 pm • linkreport

@Hill Centric -- noted; thanks for the correction. Thus, as the feed-to school Stuart-Hobson is well regarded, this may also contribute to the boost in L-T; a few years back L-T was not so popular.

BTW, I think the main conclusion of the article -- test scores aren't everything -- has always been obvious.

by tondo in School waitlist data can tell us what families want on Apr 21, 2015 2:50 pm • linkreport

Yet preferences only go so far. Transportation decisions are always a matter of cost-benefit analysis, and preference can only do so much. Like, yes, there's obviously a preference for fixed-guideway modes like rail, but they're also far more expensive to build, run, and maintain. Economists need to account for that, and it would take a ton of revealed preference for transit(ridership after it opens) to overcome that. Rail costs way more, and almost always fails to hit ridership projections even under decent conditions and widespread support(as in, not the DC Streetcar).

by JPC in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:50 pm • linkreport

@CBF: I thought that we were mainly talking about the ridership projections given Ben's characterization of the entire sub-profession and Mark's confirmation that ridership projections for rail fail to make the distinction.

You seem to be partly refuting Mark's confirmation. If FTA allows some rail preference in the model, but caps it, the obvious question is whether the reasons for the cap is the lack of credible evidence that the preference is greater than the cap, or some sort of policy reason.

A separate question is whether a train ride makes people happier than a bus ride so that there is additional consumer surplus for riding the train compared with an equal number of people riding a bus. As long as those train rides are being subsidized, I concur with people who say we should not include that in the analysis of whether to support bus or rail.

by JimT in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:44 pm • linkreport

And also, transit proponents (rail or bus) don't tend to fight bus improvements when they come along (even when a rail line gets "downgraded" to just BRT or something else) but it always seems like a rail project has to contstantly answer criticism of "why not more buses" all the way until the project is actually running (or even after!).

by drumz in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:44 pm • linkreport

There is some intrinsic preference for trains over buses (smoother ride), but the intrinsic preferences for trains are much, much smaller than the misguided or cultural preferences for trains.

Right, but even that intrinsic preference gets dismissed (usually with the moralizing that I talk about) even when in the same breath some will talk about how governments shouldn't be encouraging other things (like walkable, mixed use communities) because consumers "prefer" sprawl.

by drumz in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:38 pm • linkreport

"There is some intrinsic preference for trains over buses (smoother ride), but the intrinsic preferences for trains are much, much smaller than the misguided or cultural preferences for trains."

Has ever addressed the issue of intrinsic differences (smoother ride) leading to higher ridership, which then leads to improved frequency, etc?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:37 pm • linkreport

@puck I don't think it is nearly that black and white. Most people don't have all three choices and even if they do, the parameters differ widely. I prefer the train but the station is a mile or two away. I like buses more than driving but the bus stop is a quarter mile away. I wouldn't consider taking the bus to go downtown but I use it frequently when around town especially now that we have Metroway. Most of the time I drive because I can't get where I'm going via transit (or if I can it would take at least twice as long).

by movement in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:35 pm • linkreport

While I don't dispute it, where is the survey that says people prefer "rail over bus"? The referenced poll data suggest more people think rail is neglected, but not that they have a "preference for rail over bus" (It also shows that roads are perceived as more neglected than buses, sidewalks and bike lanes).

But let's say there is some other poll that suggests people prefer rail, does that mean all rail projects are worth the investment, e.g., the H Street mixed-traffic streetcar line? Or that people will want to use mixed-traffic streetcars that are slower and less versatile than buses? I think not.

by Brett M in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:33 pm • linkreport

"As a society, we have strongly associated rail with off-board fare collection, new vehicles, frequent service, quality stations, level boarding, middle-class riders, etc. and bus with old vehicles, infrequent service, no stations, and poor riders.'

On the other hand. To get frequent service you need lots of riders. If there is even a small residual mode preference for rail (due to its inherent attributes) that extra ridership could justify higher frequency. Which will draw people who do not have a mode preference for rail. And people of a higher SES, which will in turn draw people intersted only in that. Which again can mean more ridership, and higher frequency. The ridership frequency interrelationship means even a small actual modal preference can multiply itself. It is not as simple as seperating out "the real attributes of rail" from the "rail as proxy for things buses could have" - if Jarret Walker has ever addressed that analytic problem, I have not read it.

A fortiori, the ideological opponents of rail (who do not even acknowledge the benefits that Walker does) do not address it.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:33 pm • linkreport

@puck

If you go to any developed country - US, Germany, Japan, etc - and ask people what kind of housing they'd like to live in, the vast majority will say a single-family home in the suburbs. Yet only the U.S. has a high number actually living in that type of housing, because SFH is expensive and inefficient and only affordable with huge governmental subsidies, which the U.S. chooses to provide.

Your dislike of buses isn't tied to the fact that it is physically a bus, it's because buses are perceived as being low-class, low-frequency, and forced to sit in traffic. Like I said before, if you provide high-quality transportation, people will use it regardless of stated preferences. I think trains are super cool and love the experience of riding one, but if the choice were between a low-frequency train or a high-frequency bus that is comparably fast, I'd choose the bus every time.

Also note that nothing I've said implies that want is 'totally' decoupled from use. I'm sure it has some kind of effect on the margins. But a few die-hard auto drivers or train enthusiasts shouldn't dictate transportation policy (nor should a huge number of suburb-lovers dictate housing policy.)

by beetroot in Consumers say they like trains. Why don't economists care? on Apr 21, 2015 2:30 pm • linkreport

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