Portland is a PR machine for light rail & streetcar
Here are Some Facts About Portland Oregon
Some Transit Facts
How Trimet reports ridership
Trimet actually reports boardings which counts each time someone boards a transit
vehicle. 10,000 riders means 5,000 people making round trips. Or 2500 people getting
on a bus, transferring to rail going to work and then the reverse coming home. Trimet
calls it ridership which suggests that a different person is being counted for each
Rail and increased boardings
TriMEt publicizes the fact that some people who find rail more attractive that the
bus and start taking transit, thus adding to transit ridership. However, TriMet discontinues
any existing bus service on routes that get rail. These people have to take the train
or quit using transit. Trimet also re-routes area buses to feed the rail line instead
of going directly downtown. This adds an extra boarding to each trip as people transfer
from the feeder bus top rail. What previously was a one boarding trip becomes two
boardings. Presto, a big increase in the ridership report without needing any increase
But rail loses some transit riders
Rail stations are further apart than bus stops. Some people cannot walk the added
distance and go back to driving their car. Others don't like to transfer, especially
at crime prone stations in some neighborhoods. These people are lost to transit and
offset the new transit users that are attracted to rail. The net of these effects
is largely a matter of speculation with some rail critics claiming that rail does
not increase transit usage at all. For one example, see The Oregonian, July 22, 2004
Rail and removing cars from the road.
Discount this claim by around 2/3 because 2/3 (or more) of rail passengers would
be in buses if there were no rail. These are the people that rode the buses that
Trimet discontinued when rail opened. But we need to discount the remainder to the
extent that rail gains some riders, and loses some riders as mentioned above.
Light Rail Costs Less?
Bus lines replaced by light rail were often less expensive than the average line,
because they were high-demand routes. Rail also increases bus costs because the new
feeder lines to take passengers to trains are more costly than average lines. A better
comparison would be adding the costs of light rail and feeder-bus trips together
and stacking this figure against major trunk bus lines, the kind light rail replaces.
Oregonian July 12, 1998
TriMet Claims that MAX carries 26% of afternoon rush-hour commuters
Analysis:Both corridors have three traffic and one rail lane in each direction.
A rail "lane" is about the same width as a traffic lane. MAX carries 26% or one point
above 1/4 of the four lanes (counting a track as a line). Therefore MAX carries about
the same number of commuters as one lane of road. But MAX only took about 1/3 of
these commuters out of cars because around 2/3 of MAX riders were formerly in buses
before trimet canceled the bus service when max opened. And MAX does not carry freight.
Trimet claim: Ridership on buses and MAX has increased for 17 consecutive years.
However, the U.S. Census travel to work survey shows only a 1% travel to work market
share increase for transit in Portland between 1990 and 2000. That is an average
of 1/10 % per year. (Calculated from Exhibit 4.10, and 4.11 at http://www.jhwa.dot.gov/ctpp/jtw/jtw4.htm
) At that rate Trimet will have ½ of us out of our cars in only 500 years. (1% increase
in 10 years is a 10% increase in 100 years and a 50% increase in 500 years, neglecting
Frequent claim: Light Rail Carries As Many People as a six lane freeway.
First fallacy is comparing people in a transit vehicle on rails with people in private
vehicles on freeways. When you compare rail transit to road transit, road transit
has far higher capacity PER LANE (which are about the same width as a track + roadbed)
and is usually far cheaper). IF you run one 40 seat bus every ten seconds you have
14,400 people per hour without standing. Rail can only manage one train every few
minutes due to safety considerations.
Second Fallacy is assuming that all of the transit riders would each be in one per
car on the freeway. Most light rail riders were in buses before the rail was built
and they would still be in buses if the rail were not built. Less than 1/3 of them
would be in private cars (see above). When Portland's transit salespeople claim MAX
carries 3000 people per hour, only about 1000 of them would otherwise be in cars.
At about 1.2 people per car, that would only be 833 cars per hour. A freeway lane
is generally considered to have a capacity of around 1800 cars per hour. So that
is around 45% of one lane of a freeway (plus a few busses).
Counting methods are different: Rail counts all boardings along a line, freeways
counts cars past a point. This means that the road usage doesn't count all the cars
that use only part of the freeway away from the counting point, underestimating usage.
Transit does count every time someone steps on a vehicle even if they ride only a
Cost: Transit agencies like to brag about how low cost rail is. However they almost
always leave out the largest single cost: construction.
Rail relieves congestion:
Light-rail advocates have dropped the claim that train service will stop or significantly
ease street and freeway congestion. Portland is the national leader in building light
rail. It is also a national leader in traffic congestion (moremore). Critics say
that these two leaderships are related: Had we spent the money on one added lane,
instead of MAX, we would have been able to have all max riders in buses AND a lot
of extra road capacity and a big pile of money left over. And that extra money could
have been used for better bus service which would attract more riders to transit
than we now have. Critics say that light rail costs too much and does too little.
Construction of roads vs rail: A rail right of way is about the same width as a lane
of freeway, so both take up the same space and must be graded flat to the same width.
Tunnels are the same. The main difference in construction cost is laying down an
asphalt surface instead of ties, rails towers and wires. asphalt is much cheaper.
Rail doesn't Pollute
Light rail is electrically powered. In Portland Trimet purchases "green" power from
wind mills etc, but if Portland's light rail wasn't buying that power, they would
not shut down the wind mills. In most of the country, electricity comes from coal
burning, which is quite dirty: it contains trace amounts of uranium, thorium and
mercury which end up in the atmosphere in huge quantities due to burning billions
of tons of coal. see: www.ornl.gov/ORNLReview/rev26-34/text/colmain.html
General Motors and Streetcars:
The key thing to know is that although General Motors bought a number of streetcar
companies, companies that GM DID NOT buy also converted to bus. Here is the story
of this urban rumor: http://www.lava.net/cslater/TQOrigin.pdf
This is the claim that it is useless to build more road capacity because it will
instantly fill up. To believe this you have to believe that people would suddenly
drive to work twice each morning.
If you had more job choices, you would probably be able to find one that pays better
or has better working conditions. Compared to transit, automobiles provide those
more choices by allowing you to reach any point in a wider area than transit in a
given commute time. Recent data is showing that low income people increase their
income by 40% by getting a car (link pending).
Eyes on the street
There is only one category of people required, by law, to keep their eyes on the
streets and surroundings: motor vehicle drivers.
Claim: density reduces driving.
True, but at a rate slower than the density increases. For example, assume a one
square mile area with 10,000 people and 9,000 drivers. If you double the density
to 20,000 people and the ratio of drivers stayed constant there would be 18,000 drivers.
In reality some people will choose not to drive and there will be only, guessing,
16,000 drivers instead of 18,000 - a reduction of 2,000 drivers in this hypothetical
example. However this is still 7,000 more drivers in the same area - a big increase
in congestion. This is how density reduces driving AND increases congestion. Since
automobile pollution generally follows driving, this is also how higher density reduces
total pollution and increases pollution where people live. In order to have NO INCREASE
in congestion, EVERY ONE of the new people would have to be a NON-DRIVER. Also see
Oregonian October 16, 1998
Developers have been hesitant to build the type of housing Metro says the region
needs to attract more transit riders
The tax break also aims to help Tri-Met make the most of the public's investment
in the $214 million Banfield MAX line, which opened a decade ago
The incentive program could serve as a model for Washington and Clackamas county
local governments as the region expands it's light-rail system, Portland city planner
Mike Saba said
Housing developers, both for-profit and nonprofit, testified that the tax-incentive
program would stimulate the market for creative housing and mixed-use projects. Projects
with 15 or more units would be required to contain at least some housing for people
with low incomes.
Of course the real question is: is high density development desirable?
Have you noticed that they don't claim that rail reduces congestion any more? see
Oregonian October 16, 1998
Here is a note about that 22.6% recovery: What increase in ridership would it take
to break even? First, if there were no cost increase, a 442% increase in ridership
would do it. If the added capacity only cost ½ as much as the present, I guess that
an 884% increase would do. Of course it would not be this efficient, so probably
double that increase or more. Doubling that we are at 1768% increase. This is getting
close to all trips in the area on Trimet for the "mass" transit system to break even.
Not a very good example of mass production efficiency.
Commute times and density.
Very high density cities like Hong Kong have very short commutes. Unfortunately,
they are also very slow due to extreme congestion.
is what you get when people get affluent enough to move out of a tenement and into
a decent place to raise a family. What is wrong with that?
Typical Light Rail Promoter distortion of the Facts
Hmmm... So Portland's total local rail investment (so far) is about $512 million.
But, stimulated by that investment is about $3.8 billion in new real estate investment
within walking distance of a MAX rail station (defined as 1/4 mile). That would represent
something like $76 million per year in property taxes alone (at 2%). By itself, this
is a payback rate of about 7 years for the local investment - better than my high-efficiency
From the tables above, we can see that one-seventh of the transit fleet on 4% of
the routes carries about one-third of the entire transit ridership - and at 63% of
the cost of a bus running in the same geographic territory. If you are paying tax
support dollars either way, you'd save money by driving the buses into the Willamette
River and putting the riders on rail.
This claims that ALL development was due to the rail line
It claims tax income pays for the rail in 7 years, ignoring the fact that most of
these developments are either tax abated, or in an urban renewal district where any
taxes paid go to the district, not the city.
Rail only carries a lot of people because the bus lines are feeding passengers to
the rail line. Eliminate the buses and you eliminate most of the rail passengers.
(Rail is too expensive to go all over the neighborhoods - and too dangerous too)