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Breakfast links: Breaking the bank


Photo by swimparallel on Flickr.
Virginia roads bill passes House: Governor McDonnell's $4 billion roads bill passed the House and goes back to the governor for signature. Apparently McDonnell has no problem borrowing $3 billion for roads but is concerned about government's borrowing habits when it comes to essential Metro safety work; he's still balking at asking his fellow Republicans to restore that $150 million. (WUSA, TBD)

Where do people go late at night?: After we posted about station-specific traffic during Metro's late night hours, WMATA planners released passenger flow data showing where people are moving about the region after midnight. (PlanItMetro)

UMD to keep Campus Drive open to cars: After pedestrianizing Campus Drive for the summer, University of Maryland officials recommended that the road be kept open to vehicle traffic, potentially increasing the Purple Line's chances of using this central route through campus. (The Diamondback)

DC wants ownership of Southwest channel: Eleanor Holmes Norton introduced a bill in Congress to transfer ownership of the channel on the Southwest Waterfront from the Army Corps of Engineers to the District. This would allow DC to build a larger marina during the area's redevelopment and attract more boat traffic. (Examiner)

DCA could get more long-haul flights: A new compromise in the FAA reauthorization debate could allow as many as 16 more direct flights from western US cities into Washington National Airport. (WSJ)

VRE breaks ridership record: On Wednesday, VRE broke a milestone providing more than 20,000 trips, more than double the 10,000 trips per day goal that was set when the agency was founded in 1992. (Post, mcs)

DC relies heavily on property taxes: The District collected more than 20% of its 2010 revenue from property taxes on barely more than 100 buildings, almost all commercial office buildings. Imagine if the feds paid taxes their properties. (RPUS)

It's Mike Barnes: The new Montgomery County rep on the WMATA Board will be former Congressman Mike Barnes. (Chevy Chase Patch) ... No reporters seem to have been able to contact him in time or find relevant information beyond his biography.

And...: Don't forget: Federal Triangle and Smithsonian stations are closed this holiday weekend starting 10pm tonight. (TBD) ... Virginia could up the penalties for rolling stops to as much as $2,500 per offense. (WUSA) ... The bacteria you might pick up throughout Metro are no worse than those you get from your laptop. (TBD)

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Erik Weber has been living car-free in the District since 2009. Hailing from the home of the nation's first Urban Growth Boundary, Erik has been interested in transit since spending summers in Germany as a kid where he rode as many buses, trains and streetcars as he could find. Views expressed here are Erik's alone. 

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It's great that VRE is doing so well, but the numbers are a stark reminder that it's a drop in the bucket compared to Metro. Last year MARC set a record at 35,000 Even combined, VRE and MARC at top ridership are less than 10% of Metro on an average weekday.

by Gavin on Feb 18, 2011 9:11 am • linkreport

Taxing federal building is a non-starter. Whining about DC being the nation's capital is very tiresome.

Taxing nonprofits, however, is very possible. Hitting up the world bank/IMF/IFC for money would be a wise choice. I've noticed a lot of their staff biking, and I think you could find some money there. Hell, that is what they do isn't it -- loan money for stupid projects in the third world? I'm sure the streetcar qualifies....

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 9:14 am • linkreport

@Gavin

To be fair, the level of service that MARC and VRE offer is a drop in the bucket compared to Metro, too.

I still dream of a unified commuter rail system for the region, like the German S-Bahn networks. Through-running trains from MD into DC and onto VA and vice versa. Transit-like fare control, rather than the current old system of tickets and conductors... Service 7 days a week, with decent off-peak headways. Integration with Metro - allowing you to transfer to a MARC train at, say, Rockville or Silver Spring if you wanted an express ride into DC, or onto a VRE train at Alexandria for the same...

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2011 9:18 am • linkreport

@AlexB; hmm.

1. Get WMATA out of the bus business
2. Have them acquire VRE and MARC
3. Ditch metroaccess

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 9:21 am • linkreport

Here's a Metro map of what we could have if Alex's vision comes to fruition:

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/post/1709/the-metro-express/

by David Alpert on Feb 18, 2011 9:23 am • linkreport

@charlie

Given that MARC and VRE's turf extends way beyond the WMATA compact area, I think it would be a little more complicated than that, but having one commuter rail authority operating on an interstate basis would be the desired end result.

As you know, you can't just ditch MetroAccess. The law is the law, my friend.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2011 9:24 am • linkreport

@alexb; well, apparently if you are a commuter rail system you can!

I agree the "WMATA compact" would be a problem, but with WMATA turning into more of a tri-state compact it is far more possible.

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 9:26 am • linkreport

@charlie:
Just because you're a commuter rail operator does not mean that you can stop providing paratransit. You just don't have to provide paratransit trips for the commuter rail market.

MTA provides paratransit in Baltimore, despite operating commuter trains. So, if you're suggesting WMATA take over commuter rail in order to find a loophole, you're mistaken.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 18, 2011 9:28 am • linkreport

How do DC's commercial property tax rates compare to our neighbors? DC homeowners pay some of the lowest property taxes in the region (and really, some of the lowest in any East-Coast urban area)

For just once, I'd love for the Federal government to step in, and intervene to make DC's churches stop acting like businesses (or to make those that do pay their fair share of taxes).

It's one thing for churches being exempted from paying property taxes on their main worship space. It's quite another for them to be seemingly exempt from building codes, parking restrictions, and taxation on buildings that have nothing to do with the Church's central mission.

(Naturally, this could never be done at a local level, given the incredible amount of political power that the churches hold locally, but I can dream, right?)

by andrew on Feb 18, 2011 9:34 am • linkreport

@andrew

There's also RLUIPA:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Religious_Land_Use_and_Institutionalized_Persons_Act

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2011 9:39 am • linkreport

@MattJohnson; as others have pointed out, WMATA's rail system is already an effective commuter rail system. Lines such as Red and the new Silver would be called commuter rail systems in any system. Time for people to recognize that, and cut down and eliminate MetroAccess.

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 9:40 am • linkreport

Finally, the needed metro information to make a logical and reasoned decision as to late night service.

Per the article: "Analysis shows that more than half of the late-night boardings occur after the first hour of the late-night service period. Approximately one quarter of the late night trips being after 2 AM"

So we know that the average late night service sees 13,000 trips from 12-3. And we now know that atleast 50% (looks like almost 75%)of those 13,000 trips are taken from 12-1. and 25% of those trips (3200) are taken in the 2 hours between 1 and 3am.

I am sorry folks, 3200 trips total in two hours for a massive regional transit system consisting of 86 stations and more than 100 miles of track is no where near sufficient to pay to keep it open. No amount of waxing poetic about "urbanism" and "culture" can cover the fact that the system is alsmost completely unused for the last 2 hours it is open.

Close it at 1:00

by freely on Feb 18, 2011 9:45 am • linkreport

@charlie:
No. WMATA's rail system is a hybrid system. And as far as the federal government is concerned, it's heavy rail. Not commuter rail.

Besides, operating local bus service triggers the requirement anyway.

If you want WMATA and other transit operators out of the paratransit business, you'd best be advised to write your Congressmembers. Because getting rid of it requires a change to federal law.

by Matt Johnson on Feb 18, 2011 9:46 am • linkreport

"DC relies heavily on property taxes"

This article seems to be getting misinterpreted. It points out that 100 buildings supply 20% of the property tax revenue, not 20% of all city revenue. Their $400 million dollars account for about 4% of the total city budget. All property taxes account for something like 20% of total revenues.

by Rich on Feb 18, 2011 9:48 am • linkreport

Charlie,

I find your willingness to toss aside MetroAccess, an essential service for people with disabilities, wholly offensive. I recommend you drop the trope, it's pure bigotry.

by Erik Weber on Feb 18, 2011 9:49 am • linkreport

@matt; you obviously missed my first point.

A WMATA re-org that would shut down all bus service and let the various counties run their own buses; then take over VRE/MARC and re-designate all of WMATA as a commuter rail system. Then turn off MetroAccess and let the local jurisdictions run it.

On a more practical level, I don't see any real benefit to WMATA running VRE/MARC. Are there synergies? Aren't most of MARC/VRE problem related to their lack of rail? Forcing mergers on ticketing and station access could be done outside of a merge.

@Andrew; there is a brewing issue in the tax assessors office about the pricing model they are using. I've heard it was a fenty import designed to keep tax rates lower while mis-pricing buildings.

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 9:52 am • linkreport

For MARC run through service to L'enfant, Crystal City and Alexandria they need to do this first:

http://www.highspeedrailworks.org/_proposals/_recent/DC_Track%201b-Long%20Bridge%20study%20PE-NEPA%20application.pdf

by mcs on Feb 18, 2011 9:55 am • linkreport

@freely No:
Analysis shows that more than half of the late-night boardings occur after the first hour of the late-night service period. Approximately one quarter of the late night trips being after 2 AM.
So less than half of late night trips are taken between 12 and 1. And somewhere near a third are taken between 1 and 2. If you're going to close earlier but not cut altogether, I'd say 2 would be more rational.

A more logical move would be to truncate lines into the suburbs after a certain hour. Run some trains to the ends of the lines once ever 40 minutes or something since they have to get to the rail yards anyway, but cut down the level of service provided where there are very few people moving.

by Erik Weber on Feb 18, 2011 9:56 am • linkreport

@charlie

There's no particular reason to integrate VRE and MARC into WMATA specifically. The reason to integrate the commuter services would be to provide a high level of through-running, regional, express rapid rail service.

The reason WMATA comes up is that such an arrangement would likely require an interstate compact, and it very well could be easier to modify WMATA's existing compact than it would be to start anew.

Either way, the goal of better integrating WMATA into the existing commuter rail infrastructure is critical, no matter what the organizational structure is.

Regarding MetroAccess - it is indeed a major problem, but you don't seem to solve it at all - just punt it down the line and pass the buck. That's not a real solution.

by Alex B. on Feb 18, 2011 9:58 am • linkreport

@freely

Check your math. More than 50% after 1 AM means less than 50% between midnight and 1:

12am - 1am: 45 to 49%

Nearly one quarter after 2 AM:

2am - 3am: 23 to 24%

What's left?

1am - 2am: 27 to 32%

I have the actual numbers, but I'm trying to illustrate to you how you can figure out a lot from what I provided in the PlanItMetro post. It's definitely not only 3200 trips between 1am and 3am.

by Michael on Feb 18, 2011 10:05 am • linkreport

@AlexB; yes -- and in terms of ticketing, I suspect both WMATA and VRE benefit from NOT having interoperability. Where to attack the problem from a consumer point of view rather than looking at operations?

In terms of punting paratransit, yes. A bit. let's outline some of problems again:

1. WMATA has lost the ability to control the contract.
2. Local board members don't want to touch it, as they are the ones throwing more passengers at metroaccess.
3. Very unclear to me how the jurisdictional split of metroaccess is working. Clearly, I see far more metroaccess trucks in DC than elsewhere.
4. If you return the cost structure to local jurisdictions, they are more incentived to control the waste and fraud.
5. Again, given the blowup in numbers, what we are seeing here is not an explosion of wheelchair users. What we are seeing is a small number of people overusing a public good. Better dealt with by local jurisdictions than WMATA.

What are we paying for metro access this year -- 120M? $100 a trip?

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

There are more reasons freely's analysis is flawed.

As some people pointed out before, each late night trip is usually also the return trip from an earlier trip. So losing the late night service will probably also cut down on earlier service.

In addition, research shows that people are reluctant to depend on the last bus or train. If the last train is at 3 am, people will often leave wherever they are before 2 or 2:30, so that they're not brushing up against the end of the system. If it closed at 1, then a lot of people wouldn't even be willing to stay out past midnight or so.

It's not just that whoever rides the system in the last hour would lose out if it closed an hour early, it's that whoever rides in the hour or two before that would probably be reluctant to stay out late with the knowledge that the system may soon close and they'd be stuck.

by David Alpert on Feb 18, 2011 10:11 am • linkreport

"As some people pointed out before, each late night trip is usually also the return trip from an earlier trip. "

I wouldn't assume that. Common pattern -- you drive in (or share a cab in with friends), go out, then make you own way home via Metro after not scoring that night. I'm sure DA never had that problem while he was partying late night, but for the rest of us.....

AlexB made a great point earlier that framing this as maintenance vs. late night is stupid. Is framing this as revenue vs. late night any better?

by charlie on Feb 18, 2011 10:25 am • linkreport

Anyone know why the full Senate needs to vote on which flights service DCA (or read the rest of the WSJ article)?

by mattxmal on Feb 18, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

charlie: I think it's far more often the reverse, where people take Metro in and a cab out. Sure, occasionally people who live in different places will somehow get together to share a cab into the city (?) and then decide to all Metro home individually, but I think that's far less common than people Metroing from home or work to downtown and then deciding to share a cab home.

by David Alpert on Feb 18, 2011 10:33 am • linkreport

There's a law forbidding flights beyond a certain distance, except for a few exceptions individual Senators have gotten over the years so they can personally fly home without having to go to Dulles. The FAA reauthorization bill has been held up around disagreements over whether and how to change this.

by David Alpert on Feb 18, 2011 10:34 am • linkreport

@Michael,

You are right. It is 25% for the last hour, not the last two.

So half the total trips are taken between 12-1, and 3200 trips are taken between 2-3.

My original point still stands. We are keeping an 86 station, hundred mile REGIONAl system open for 2 hours for ~6400 people. It makes zero sense. These stats give a very compelling rationale for WMATA's budget folks to shit they system down at 2:00am(at a minimum), 1am if they really wanted to.

My point is this, even if we shut down all late night service after midnight, the inconvenience would be to a grand total of 13,000 people over a three hour period.

13,000 in a region of 5.4 million doesn't exactly make a compelling reason to spend the millions necessary to keep it open. Nor is the 2 night economic effect of 13,000 people spending money in the cities bars a compelling argument.

Worst case scenario.
None of those 13K go out.
Each of those 13K would have spent $50 bucks (seems high, but I'm making a point)during that 3 hours period for a total economic effect of 650K per night, or 1.3 million a week, or 67 million dollars per year. Assuming DC tax rates, we've denied local jurisdictions of 6.7 million dollars in tax money (a fraction of a percent of yearly budgets).

The District has 4700 food establishments. Lets make a very generous assumption that the loss of revenue would only be felt District establishments and only felt by a quarter of them, i.e. only 25% are bars/restuarants serving this 12-3 crowd when in reality many more of them are, hence the loss of revenue would be spread over a wider business base.

So we have a total loss of 60 million dollars of revenue spread over 1175 bars/restaurants which is a yearly loss of 51K in gross revenue per bar.

In doing so we made some incredibly unrealistic and generous assumptions.

1. That the entire 13,000 late night crowd that currently rides metro would simply not show up.

2. That each of those 13,000 spends a minimum of $50 in that 3 hour period, twice a week for the entire year.

3. That the only bars affected are District bars, and the pain is intensified by only spreading it to 25% of them with the assumption the other 75% doesn't service the late night crowd.

I think you can all agree that the economic effect, assuming the scorched earth scenario is almost non-existant. The realistic effects are obviously much less.

So here you go metro in deciding your hours.

You only have 13K people riding in that 3 hour period. Half of them are trips taken between 12-1. In the grand scheme, the system is almost unused those hours, the last 2 even less so.

The economic effect to the City treasury is less than a fraction of a percent.

by freely on Feb 18, 2011 10:57 am • linkreport

There's a law forbidding flights beyond a certain distance
But why? Does it have to do with incoming flights from beyond that ceratin distance between 10pm and 7am or something?

by Tina on Feb 18, 2011 11:02 am • linkreport

I'm all for the devolution of Metrobus from Metrorail. Let Metro focus on being a regional rail provider as it was formed to be. Metro could be better by being less encumbered with local bus and paratransit.

The local jurisdictions are more adept and providing bus service in their areas (this is proven with ART, etc), and they can still integrate the rider trip from bus to rail.

by Lou on Feb 18, 2011 11:06 am • linkreport

@Freely -- your math, which you describe as a worst-case scenario shows a revenue reduction of $6.7 in local tax revenue, not to mention the economic hit on the the local restaurant/bar economy.

If the impact were only half what you suggest, which seems somewhat reasonable, then a drop of $3.35 million in tax revenue would equal, and therefore negate, the savings of closing two hours earlier (2/3s of the $5 million estimate of running three hour late night service).

I agree that more economic analysis is necessary, but I do think that even the most rudimentary calculations show that cutting the late night service, while it would show a savings on WMATA's books, may not be in the best interest of the three jurisdictions.

by Jacques on Feb 18, 2011 12:08 pm • linkreport

@ freely: We are keeping an 86 station, hundred mile REGIONAl system open for 2 hours for ~6400 people. It makes zero sense.

We are keeping a more than hundred mile Interstate system, plus thousands of miles of state and local roads open all night as well. Does that make sense?

I was talking to some Italian guests yesterday. From southern Italy, not the rich part of Italy. They were surprised to hear that metro closed at all. "Zey close at miednait? Iez bieg ciety no?"

by Jasper on Feb 18, 2011 12:11 pm • linkreport

I always thought part of the reason metro closed at midnight (and took so long to run later on weekends) was due to the cultural influence of being southern, at least partly. For instance in Chicago where trains and busses run 24/7, and where the EL is much older than metro, there is also the history of factories with shifts of thousands of people working 24/7. Well, there used to be. there were also 24/7 restaurants and shops that experienced mini rushes that coincided with shift changes at 11pm, 3am, 7am etc.

by Tina on Feb 18, 2011 12:26 pm • linkreport

There's a law forbidding flights beyond a certain distance
But why?
Does it have to do with incoming flights from beyond that ceratin distance between 10pm and 7am or something?

The perimeter rule was established in 1969 by the FAA banning flights over 1,250 miles into DCA to encourage air traffic at Dulles. Because this was a federal rulemaking the only expediant way to overturn it for specific cities was by Congressional action, typically in the FAA bill -- Phoenix being a notable example (by McCain). Other exceptions include: two flights a day from Seattle to National, one from Los Angeles and four a day from Denver, which is a few hundred miles over the “limit.”

LaGuardia has(had) 1,500 mile restriction for similar reasons associated with the opening of JFK. Both airports have different restrictions on the total number of landing slots, aircraft noise thresholds for taxi, takeoff and landing as well as approach vectors.

by Some Ideas on Feb 18, 2011 1:40 pm • linkreport

There's a law forbidding flights beyond a certain distance
But why?

Because long distance planes are bigger, and DCA can not handle the largest planes. It's a safety limitation. Of course, safety limitations do not apply to our beloved members of congress flying. That's also why they don't have to stand in line with us at security check-points.

I so wish that TSA would force them to stand in line with the rest of us. The TSA would be abolished within days.

by Jasper on Feb 18, 2011 1:58 pm • linkreport

"because long distance planes are bigger..."

@Jasper -- Not necessarily so, one of the most common long distance planes for some of the city pairs in question is the 757 which can land easily at National (they can even land a 757 on the short runway, that's fun...)

Further, I wanted to double check my 1969 date (above). I found the following providing more detail on the intertwined nature of National, Dulles, introduction of jet service, the perimeter rule, landing slot and noise abatement on the following link: http://www.caan.org/history.html This provides all the back and forth on the reasons for the various flight restrictions .

by Some Ideas on Feb 18, 2011 2:25 pm • linkreport

Oh... and one other point of random trivia: The second FAA administrator, Nageeb Halaby, referenced in the linked article is the father of HM Queen Noor of Jordan.

by Some Ideas on Feb 18, 2011 2:31 pm • linkreport

the federal payment is in lieu of property taxes. "Taxing the feds" already happens. OTOH, taxing the churches would be a step, esp. given the way that their services and other events snarl traffic and take up street parking with a lot of suburbanites. And maybe we could get rid of Foundary Methodist's bell ringing in the middle of a residential area on Sunday ams.

by Rich on Feb 18, 2011 2:44 pm • linkreport

I'm pretty sure congressmembers get screened.

Lose the perimeter restriction, but cut down on noisy jets more.

Better yet, break up mwaa and let Dca and IAD compete.

by Charlie on Feb 18, 2011 2:46 pm • linkreport

Rich: What federal payment? There's no general federal payment to DC. The feds do pay for certain specific things, like the courts, or compensation for MPD's time handling motorcades or protests, and other items that are under specific legislation, but there's no "here's a pile of money that we'll give you to help out with your budget in lieu of paying property tax on our buildings."

by David Alpert on Feb 18, 2011 2:52 pm • linkreport

@freely

Some funny hoops you jumped through to reach total fail on your math there. A wee bit embarrassing.

You also say this piece of hilarity:
"13,000 in a region of 5.4 million doesn't exactly make a compelling reason to spend the millions necessary to keep it open."

Then why oh why has VRE existed for 20 years? If 9,000 was enough for VRE FOR AN ENTIRE DAY, then why is 13,000 for 3 hours on metro bad?

by JJJJJ on Feb 18, 2011 3:48 pm • linkreport

Yeah, Metro late night service costs ~$3 per trip to operate, but VRE costs ~$13 per trip to operate! Shut VRE down!

Again freely tries to prove his point by mixing up yearly vs. daily trips. 13,000 trips cost $3 million dollars!

by MLD on Feb 18, 2011 3:57 pm • linkreport

@Andrew -- I think you are misinformed on the subject of churches. The city does not enforce parking laws, which some churches take outrageous advantage of. However, churches are not exempt from building codes.

I'm not sure what you mean by buildings outside of the central mission, but for instance someone left my church residential property and we do pay property taxes on that property.

by Kate on Feb 18, 2011 5:29 pm • linkreport

Regarding churches:

1) Some churches are bad neighbors and create parking problems and that should be dealt with by actually enforcing parking laws.

2) Churches are subject to building codes.

3) Churches do pay property taxes on buildings that are not used for a religious or charitable purpose. I'm sure there are churches that abuse this, but you can go after them under existing law.

4) If you think churches should pay property taxes and want to change the law, try and do it, but do remember that there will be costs. The homeless shelter and lunch program for low income/homeless seniors would probably be something my church couldn't afford to do if we had to pay property taxes on the church building. I'd go after some of the faux nonprofit trade associations first.

by Kate on Feb 18, 2011 5:49 pm • linkreport

Why would we even consider closing such an important service for a measly three million dollar savings? We could easily increase savings ten times that if pensions were eliminated (and a 401k added) or WMATA workers paid more of their health care costs.

by H Street Landlord on Feb 18, 2011 9:00 pm • linkreport

Sorry for the double post! One didn't show up and I assumed I did something wrong. Now they are both here.

by Kate on Feb 18, 2011 10:09 pm • linkreport

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