More on Metro costs revisited

Tory has responded to my previous post on the costs of light rail and LRT versus BRT. I appreciate the discussion, and want to add a few extra points to the mix.

– I’m not claiming that transit, rail or otherwise, will cure Houston’s congestion problems. I am saying that I believe it can help keep those problems from getting worse as we densify, which current trends and public preferences say we’re going to be doing. Right now, I’d call Houston’s surface streets crowded but for the most part tolerable. It may take me longer than I’d like to go between Allen Parkway and Rice University on Shepherd/Greenbriar, but it’s (usually) not so bad that I’ll seek any viable alternative to it. But there’s no doubt in my mind that traffic on that route is worse than it was, say, ten years ago, and there’s equally no doubt that it will be worse in ten years’ time. The only hope I see to keep it from becoming intolerably crowded is to provide alternatives to driving.

– In the meantime, as conditions degrade on thoroughfares like Shepherd, I think the first place where you’ll see the effects is on parallel streets like Dunlavy. To some extent, we’ve already seen those effects, which I believe is why streets like Woodhead, Hazard, and Mandell all got those accursed speed humps installed back when that was the craze. When I lived near Woodhead and Richmond in the early 90s, I used Woodhead as my north-south road whenever possible; I avoided Shepherd if I could. Then the speed humps were installed, and I started using Shepherd instead. I’m sure that was the intended result back then, as Woodhead is basically a residential street that was never supposed to be used for that kind of driving. Same thing with Morningside, which was once my preferred option to Kirby. I note this to point out that to a large degree, some alternatives to these increasingly crowded arterial roads are already essentially foreclosed, and if people start to choose them anyway, I’d expect the residents who once lobbied for those speed humps to demand further action in the name of keeping their streets as quiet as they’re supposed to be.

– Which brings me back to the point that I believe it is vital to start planning and implementing rail transit extensions now, because I believe we will come to a point where all this new, dense development will make that kind of addition sufficiently more difficult and expensive as to render it impossible. Basically, the more that can be done before there’s a lot of high-end stuff already in place, the more feasible it will be. Note that I think the same constraints will eventually hinder freeway projects. How much harder do you think the next Katy Freeway widening will be to do, after the new feeder roads have been thoroughly re-developed? This is one of the sticking points for the I-45 widening, after all, because it’s a much greater burden to have to condemn properties in established neighborhoods and retail areas. What are we going to do when we can’t easily add capacity to the highways?

– Finally, just to reiterate, I am not opposed to BRT. I am more than happy to consider BRT as a vital part of any future expansions of the Metro rail solutions plan. For the existing 2012 plan, however, this is simply not an option due to the political reality of the situation. The people who voted for the 2004 referendum were very clear on this point when BRT was first substituted in. When the time comes to vote on the next phase – because as we know we only ever have to vote on rail construction – then we can make sure BRT is explicitly part of the plan. Until then, it’s LRT all the way.

I’ll have some more thing to say on this topic in the future, but for now, I appreciate again the discussion that we’re having. Please let me know what you think.

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One Response to More on Metro costs revisited

  1. Regarding energy efficiency, look at MetroRail’s energy consumption per passenger mile based on
    Metro FY 2007 budget (PDF)

    I’ll assume that the average trip length for a passenger on the 7½ mile line is 2½ miles, which may be an understatement. Metro thought they would lose light rail riders because of the Q-Card implementation, but it hasn’t worked out that way so far. Light rail boardings will probably exceed the 10,807,000 projection:

    Number of boardings: 10,807,000
    Average trip length: 2½ miles

    Annual MetroRail passenger miles 27,017,500

    Power consumption for MetroRail propulsion: 7,236,000 KWH

    Budgeted cost per KWH: 11.3026¢

    Total Annual Power Cost: $817,856

    Annual Power Cost ÷ Passenger Miles = 3.027¢ per passenger mile

    The only less energy-intensive way of getting around Houston is walking or bicycling.

    Another telling set of numbers is the rising cost of diesel. Since 2002, due to bus service cuts and substitution of MetroRail for travel in the Main Street Corridor, Metro’s diesel consumption has declined by 12% from 15,903,948 gallons to 14,502,611. Yet, in the same period, the cost of diesel paid by Metro has soared by 259% to $37,229,062.

    Metro Diesel Cost Chart

    We’re coming to the end of the internal combustion age. North America will either move to an electric transportation system, or we won’t get around at all. The time to have started this was in the 1970’s. Now that
    peak everything
    is upon us, the cost of building enough electric rail to retrofit the transportation system will be pretty steep, but really there is no other choice.

    Metro needs to stay away from internal combustion. Public transit needed to go to electric traction yesterday.

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