Tuesday, January 30, 2007

confusing counterarguments

We'll I seem to have hit a nerve. Given some of the mail I have received I feel like I shot someone's cat. People seem to love Curitiba woman and her prescription to solve all of our public transit funding problems here in the burgh. Don't you think I wish it were true?

Let's just clear up a few things. It is a perfectly legitimate view to think there is some new route map that would make sense for PAT to use. Whether it would make sense to blow up 50 or 100 years of commuting patterns to implement is a question worth posing but that is another matter. Realize that generations of people have at this point voted with their feet to live on of off those bus routes. But what I have discovered is people do not understand what the Sunday cartoon was actually advocating, whether the authors realized it or not.

Here are some facts. The innovation of the Curitiba system at its core is a Bus Rapid Transit system. People who argue that a Curitiba system should be implemented are almost always making an argument about why subways and other Light Rail Transit (LRT) type systems should NOT be built. So everyone who says something like "the system works in DC (or fill in your region of choice with a subway)" are contradicting themselves. If you think a subway/LRT system is needed then you would typically be arguing against the implementation a Bus Rapid Transit (or Curitiba) system. Nothing I said implies that a DC-like system would not induce many more people to ride public transit.... but that is NOT what is being put forth in that Sunday cartoon by referencing the Curitiba system.

Here is the irony. If you were to say OK, Ms. Curitiba is great, let's implement it here. What would you do? You would build a system of bus only roadways, utilize transit only tunnels and bridges where appropriate and in an American version probably build park and ride lots dedicated specifically for the busways. What would this look like? It would be identical to the East and West Busways, the Wabash Tunnel and NSC and the underutilized PAT parking lots. So many of the things that are considered by many to be the cause of our problems are now suddenly the solution because they appear in a cartoon?

Think this is wrong. I have plenty of esoteric academic references but here is a quote in the Seattle Post Intelligencer talks about the Curitiba system and then says in the next sentence:
"The first advanced U.S. bus rapid transit system was developed in Pittsburgh and operates on dedicated bus ways completely separated from other traffic"
Here is a quote from San Diego:

"Conceived more than 30 years ago in transit-dependent Curitiba, Brazil, which is southwest of São Paulo, bus rapid transit still is something of a novelty in the United States. The service is available in Pittsburgh and Orlando, Fla., among other areas, and is coming to Boston, Cleveland and Eugene, Ore" (emphasis added)
The service is available in Pittsburgh??? Sensing a pattern? The Curitiba system is not about putting in some glass tubes to ease ingress and egress from buses....a nice accessory I am sure, but anyone want to predict what they would look like in short order if put into place here. It's about the busways.

Which leads to this unspoken requirement of putting in (or expanding technically) a Curitiba-like system in Pittsburgh: it would be expensive. It means building more busways or expanding ones we have. Personally I think that makes sense but nobody should think it would be cheap no matter how you do it. What did the West Busway cost?

My problem with the cartoon is that it leads people to think there is some simple and inexpensive solution to PAT's financial problems and that just isn't the case. Let's make a bold prediction that even is all the proposed cuts are put in place and nothing else happens, PAT will be in a similar situation in short order.. maybe a couple years from now.. but maybe not even that long. At the very least the solution proposed in the cartoon is something that a) we have already tried to implement here more than most other American cities and b) is expensive to implement more fully.

Maybe someone should try and solve the City's fiscal miasma with a cartoon. I would like to see that.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

What about "simplifying and spreading out" the existing system? For example, there are peak times that buses are utilized, morning and afternoon rush hours. There are also an abundance of stops along certain routes which delay transit, bog down vehicular traffic and cause unnecessary wear and tear to roadways. Possible solutions:
1. Have all buses drive in a simple "loop" pattern "around" downtown, not through the maze of 1-way streets, pedestrians and drivers - buses can get in & out more quickly; Will also lessen damage to such streets as the expensive brick Grant Street & will lessen pollution to building structures now covered in black bus emissions
2. Don't completely eliminate certain extended routes, just shorten routes & number of trips
3. Use peak period pricing - charge $2.00 during rush hour and $1.50 during off-peak periods -
4. Use smaller & less expensive buses for smaller routes
5. Use Luke Ravenstahl's free billboards to advertise bus pass sales

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 5:32:00 PM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

All good ideas. What they have with the Brazilian system I do not know? if that is the question. Are they enough to make a dent in the current funding crisis? These are all things that should be considered on their own, I dont think they are going to solve the current problems at hand.

but specifically. Economists love the idea of peak pricing. I think there is de facto peak pricing already. A lot of mid- day riders are already disproportionately the elderly or other groups who are not paying full fare as it is. It also depends on whether you mean some revenue neutral differential or something else.

I honestly do not know the full answer about why most transit systems do not use smaller buses. There may be some obvious reasons, but this is neither a new idea here, nor a new idea elsewhere. You like to think there is some rationale for it. Maybe it’s bus-envy among the drivers I do not know. If I remember it right, when PAT bought all the long articulated buses in the 80’s only to discover they were not street legal after they arrived. I think they had to get some state legislation modified for them to legally be on the road.

but again.. if these ideas help the financial bottom line, that is great but it’s hard to see how it will begin to address the level of funding PAT needs, especially if it can not expect the flex funding this time around. The deficit they are talking about is more than their entire farebox revenue isn’t it?

ah.. you mention the expensive Grant Street brick. That is a topic unto itself. The city got some money to help pay the extra cost to put it in but they were also promised some ongoing support to help maintain it because of its higher cost. Funny how I don’t think that ongoing support ever arrived. Will fight that battle some other day….

Tuesday, January 30, 2007 9:05:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Absent the construction of new dedicated busways, there are ways you could implement express-type service along heavily-travelled axes to reduce redundant service. Leaving aside the convention center idea that the cartoon was advocating, you could preserve bus service on 5th & Forbes with enforced bus lanes and a dedicated set of traffic lights that move them along. Hub-type bus transfers would go a long way to reducing the number of miles each route needs to ply, while still preserving service to the areas where people have specifically chosen to live because of the existing bus service.

I'm not sure I understand why you're defending the current route structure. Yes it's disruptive to propose changing bus routes and requiring people to transfer along routes where they've been accustomed to riding through -- but isn't it vastly more disruptive to cut service to some neighborhoods altogether? And if the desired end is greater efficiency, are we really gaining it by just cutting down the number of different routes, given that the ones that remain still ply redundant paths downtown?

Wednesday, January 31, 2007 11:19:00 AM  
Blogger C. Briem said...

I am not defending the current route structure other than saying there is a question of not doing more harm than good in the process.. but I am pointing out that this is all a false choice with regards to the Port Authority making it through the next couple of years. Rejigger the entire route structure to its theoretical maximum efficiency. I predict that if that is all that happens, we will be in this same situation within a year or two. If you accept the premise that the entire problem here is all embedded in the route map, then the battle is lost. It's all short term thinking in terms of where public transit is going in the future, not just here but across the US. Is it viewed as an adjunct to the welfare system or a public service. That is the question and the debate someone ought to have.

Wednesday, January 31, 2007 11:37:00 AM  
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