Monday, April 30, 2007

Investment Criteria for Public Transit Capital Projects

An anonymous comment on the post on the first (and only?) meeting of the Suburban Transportation Commission (no website), co-chaired by two federal legislators, Representatives Bean and Kirk inspires today's post. Anonymous quoted Metra's Executive Director to the effect that Metra does a bad job serving the rapidly growing numbers of reverse commuters and suburb to suburb commuters.

Anonymous then argued that Metra's current capital program is not well aligned to serve these new markets. Instead, Metra's program is directed at buttressing its current hub-and-spoke system. Anonymous discounted Metra's suburb-to-suburb STAR Line:

The STAR Line is intended to serve the intersuburban and reverse commute, but is not very compelling for that purpose. The STAR line in part will use railroad tracks laid down by the EJ&E Railroad - formerly a unit of United States Steel to move material between its plants in Gary Indiana and Waukegan. It cuts a wide arc around the region and was designed to bypass people and jobs over 100 years ago - which it still does to a large extent today. Consider that in DuPage alone, only about 20% of the jobs and people fall within a five mile buffer of the STAR line. Surely there are more compelling locations to begin a transit system for the suburbs.

The full comment is pasted in below. Its conclusion that Metra's capital program is misaligned is certainly fair game for discussion. Go to it.

The comment is especially interesting because it begs a larger question, namely, what investment criteria should guide the allocation of capital dollars in the region's transit system. It may come as a surprise that the RTA does not have (of if it has it doesn't use) such criteria even though it is statutorily charged with the primary responsibility for the public transit capital program and must approve each service board's capital program. You also might be surprised that the region's federally-chartered MPO--once CATS and now CMAP--has no published criteria for transportation investments and fails to rank or prioritize proposed projects in its regional plans (see links to 2030 plans at right). Even though we live far from the big forests, log rolling is well-practiced when it comes to public transit investment decisions.

Here's my list of criteria for allocating capital money to transit agencies:

1. Expected ridership per capital dollar invested.

2. Congestion relief benefits per capital dollar invested.

3. Reduction in vehicle miles traveled per capital dollar invested.

4. Incremental cost of operating and maintaining the capital investment per capital dollar invested.

5. Passenger miles (or trips) generated on other transit services (e.g., Pace feeder service to new Metra station) per capital dollar invested.

6. Degree of commitment to transit supportive development in the area served by the proposed investment.

If the RTA and/or CMAP develop and apply investment criteria for transit capital decisions, what should those criteria be?

COMMENT:

Anonymous said...

In a recent statement to the newly formed Suburban Transportation Commission, Metra Executive Director Phil Pagan acknowledged that Metra does not do a good job serving reverse or intersuburban commute markets. Nor will it in the future if Metra's current program of system expansions is any indication

1. Union Pacific West Line upgrade - $596 million
2. Union Pacific Northwest Line upgrade - $223 million
3. SouthEast Service - $941 million
4. STAR Line - $2,000 million.

The Union Pacific lines are existing radial routes to downtown Chicago. The upgrades are no doubt needed to serve the traditional commute, but these lines are not proximate to major suburban employment centers and have few city stations; and are not well suited to serve the reverse and intersuburban commute.

The SouthEast Service is yet another radial line to downtown CHicago, in close proximity to an existing line - the electric district.

The STAR Line is intended to serve the intersuburban and reverse commute, but is not very compelling for that purpose. The STAR line in part will use railroad tracks laid down by the EJ&E Railroad - formerly a unit of United States Steel to move material between its plants in Gary Indiana and Waukegan. It cuts a wide arc around the region and was designed to bypass people and jobs over 100 years ago - which it still does to a large extent today. Consider that in DuPage alone, only about 20% of the jobs and people fall within a five mile buffer of the STAR line. Surely there are more compelling locations to begin a transit system for the suburbs.

The future of transit in the collar counties is probably in bus - specifically high performance Bus Rapid Transit which does not yet exist in the region, but is taking hold in other North American cities. Bus is more flexible than a railroad, and can rely on on an extensive network of tollways and arterials as shared use facilites.

The DuPage J seems to be a logical place to begin a suburban transit system at least in DuPage. It is proximate to major employment centers and appears to match up well with intersuburban travel patterns. Adding a connection tothe CTA Blue line would bring in reverse commuters from CHicago.

The STAR Line is a speculative boondoggle whose benefits have not been demonstrated. Can any readers shed light on how it emerged as a top priority for the region?

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Congestion relief #2? When will people stop trying to force Transit to be the Easy Wipes for Highways? Transit has enough burdens--not the least of which is its fractional market coverage compared to highways. Why don't the wonks wonk some legislation to get the lawyers to reduce court backlogs? Maybe an Audit report or two to mush it along.

David said...

STC -
What's the best way to get in touch with you? I'm interested in talking with you about some upcoming events that we are helping to put together.
Thanks,
David
dlebreton(a)cnt.org

Anonymous said...

Nice, but maybe not practical. At least not for short term or annual capital allocations. Your criteria 1, 2, 3, and 5 would require extensive and time consuming regional travel demand modeling. You'd have to keep re-running the model to consider the value/benefit of any single capital improvement. The model used by CMAP is very complex - perhaps a little outdated and very onerous. I'm fairly certain that only one person in the region really understands it and all of its nuances and patches. The RTA no longer has any modeling capacities, but perhaps it should so that it could identify transit priorities for the long range RTP process and evaluate the projects in its own Strategic Plan. Of course, you could find some other way to estimate the potential results, but probably not objectively nor with a reasonable level of confidence.

And I don't get what Criteria 6 means. It sounds nice, but you're either talking about political commitment (the resolutions in the mail..) or practiced commitment, which would be what?

Anonymous said...

anonymous 12:41---

Do you know what modeling is? I don't think so. For performance measures you'll need actual observations not "modeled" projections. Drop that notion. Back to Performance Measures--no one, including our Mr. Moderator has ever bothered to articulate "Values" as in Value System-- for all that data--eh--yes, performance measuring...that's it. So, how about measuring some real output, not running tires per vehicle flats or passenger periodical miles per dollar spent per British thermal unit. What is the Mobility Kenneth? The mobility output and what is it worth to us? How many ways can you do this: Access/Supply/Consumption/Demand/Cost?

Anonymous said...

Now then--about those value systems....If "Revenue" as in Revenue Miles is what you value, then start now on reducing the system to the most lucrative routes/services. If "Ridership" as in System Ridership is what you cherish then expand the system substantially and forget about the cost. If it is "Congestion" that you abhor as in Reducing Congestion then forget Transit altogether and put $1B into Pace's subsidized car rental/Van Pool program and highway technology. If you value Mobility Options as in "Modern Transportation System" then forget about all those delightful Rail Projects and expend your "Capital" according to Fra Pacioli and don't worry about empty buses. If you want transit to be more "Effective" then measure the managers. And finally if it is the "money and the governance" that you hold dear--then why are you fooling around with transit anyway?

Anonymous said...

Oh-- and what about the federal influence on investment decisions? If the feds selected substantial New Starts for the Region would we leave that money on the table and pursue local priorities or would we start New Rail projects-- optimal or not? Or Rail Mod for that matter. What is the local value system, do we have the fortitude to stick to it or are we all just following the money?

Anonymous said...

RTA and CMAP are worse off than you know. As a casual observer of urban affairs in our region for over 20 years, I have never seen the regional transit agencies (RTA, Metra, CTA and Pace) and the metropolitan planning organization -whoever or whatever that is these days, in such disarray as they are now. Not to mention the total disintegration of the statte department of transportation. The RTA, Pace and IDOT in particular are outstanding in the lack of understanding of management. It appears that nobody is leading or manning these organizations.

The transit agencies seem to be focusing entirely on politics (worse still - personal politics), lobbying, funding and public relations. The RTA is seeking $10 billion +. Not content to sit on the sidelines during this scramble for public money, the metropolitan planning organization (CMAP) - ostensibly a planning agency is now seeking a staggering $500 million in bonding authority; for what? Does CMAP want to be a funding agency; an implementing agency? Or can it possibly be satisfied to function as a planning agency doing good old fashion planning that the region so desperately needs. IN their frenzed grab for public money, the aforementioned agencies may yet be headed for their own Gotterdammerung. Think Berlin, 1945.

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