Sunday, December 31, 2006

Is The MBC's "Invest to Expand" Proposal Worth The Expense?

The relationship between the 2030 Regional Transportation Plan, its 2006 Update, and the RTA's Moving Beyond Congestion outline of proposed capital projects bear close scrutiny.

The RTP sets out and prices five capital investment scenarios:

1. System Commitments: This appears to be maintaining the status quo, including current capital projects, and no more. Cost: $48 billion

2. Service Intensive: "Transportation strategies that improve user benefits under existing management, operations and capacity conditions." Cost: $49.3 billion

3. System Intensive: "Limited capital improvements and operation changes on the existing system." Cost: $52.7 billion

4. System Additions: "Capacity additions to existing major highways and rail facilities." Cost: $66.2 billion

5. System Expansion: "Significant new segments to the region's major highway and passenger rail system. . . they fundamentally change the way travelers use the transportation system, and they have the potential to induce significant land use changes." Cost: $58.9 billion

(Pgs. 57-60, 66 of 219)

The Moving Beyond Congestion proponents have outlined three capital investment scenarios for the region's public transit system:

1. Invest to Maintain: "Preserve our current system and maintain the services we have." Cost: $34 billion

2. Invest to Enhance: "Improve existing service and expand service into new transit markets in the mid-term future." Cost: $39 billion

3. Invest to Expand: "Major expansion projects identified in federal legislation, project concepts proposed by the transit agencies, other government agencies, partners and the public." Cost: $56.9 billion

It appears that the MBC's "Invest to Enhance" scenario combines the "Service Intensive" and "System Intensive" scenarios in the RTP, while its "Invest to Expand" scenario tracks the "System Additions" and "System Expansion" scenarios.

The MBC's "Invest to Expand" scenario will cost $22.9 billion (67 percent) more than its "Invest to Maintain" scenario. The RTP casts some doubt on whether this extra $22.9 billion is a good investment for the region. The RTP contains transportation system performance projections for each of its scenarios. The projections indicate that the MBC's "Invest to Expand" scenario will deliver limited value. The "Invest to Enhance" scenario, however, promises a greater return on investment.

Table 7 (pg. 70 of 219) has the following projections with respect to work trips in 2030 under each of the scenarios:

Scenario/ Transit Share/ Transit Travel Time/ Auto Travel Time

Service Commitments 13% 46.2 minutes 26.5 minutes
Service Intensive 20% 45.3 minutes 26.5 minutes
System Intensive 21% 46.0 minutes 26.8 minutes
System Additions 17% 42.5 minutes 25.6 minutes
System Expansion 19% 41.5 minutes 26.0 minutes

These projections indicate that a relatively modest $5 billion additional investment in the MBC's "Invest to Enhance" scenario--which tracks the "Service Intensive" and "System Intensive" RTP options will do the most to increase transit ridership. Indeed, projected transit ridership drops under the most expensive MBC scenario according to the RTP.

These RTP projections also seem to indicate that an increased investment in public transit will not make a dent in auto work trip travel times. Under any investment scenario, auto travel times for work trips range between 25.6 minutes and 26.8 minutes. This small variance makes one wonder about the veracity of the MBC's claims that increased investment in public transit will yield substantial congestion relief benefits.

It appears that the only significant change that will result from the "Invest to Expand" option will be a roughly 10 percent reduction in the trip times for public transit users. Yet, even with this time savings, transit's market share under this scenario is less than under the less expensive scenarios. To put it another way, is it worth a $17.9 billion investment (in today's dollars) to achieve a 10% reduction in public transit work trip times when that investment does not increase transit's market share?

The RTP's projections in Table 8 (pg. 71 of 219) with respect to all trips--as opposed to just work trips--is just as sobering when it comes to the efficacy of the MBC's "Invest to Expand" scenario.

Scenario/ Transit Share
System Commitments 8%
Service Intensive 11%
System Intensive 11%
System Additions 10%
System Expansion 11%

Again, these projections call into question the notion that building substantial new public transit capacity in the region will increase transit's market share. The more modest "Invest to Enhance" MBC option appears to produce all of the market share gains for public transit.

In a coming posts we will look at other data from the RTP and what it says about the efficacy of investing in a major expansion of the region's public transit system.

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