Washington Post Covers Alignment Debate

Purple Line 7

The Washington Post today ran a story briefly describing the debate about where to locate the Purple Line on campus. While we think the new alignment being considered is superior to the now-abandoned Stadium Drive alignment, we continue to believe Campus Drive is the best alignment for campus. While administrators want to keep it off their “Main Street,” we think that’s precisely where transit belongs.

The Campus Drive alignment brings visitors to the heart of campus, maximizing ridership and minimizing expensive new infrastructure. According to a rough analysis completed last fall the majority of people traveling on Campus Drive today are already on transit, so why should they be relocated to a less convenient location?

We’re far from alone in our views: our Campus Drive petition has topped 200 signatures, including some of the campus’ leading academic experts in transportation planning, and a diverse group of students, staff, and alumni.

This debate aside, we think it’s important to note the community is unanimous in our agreement the Purple Line will be a good thing for both College Park and the region. We look forward to collaborating with all stakeholders to build this much-needed investment.

> Campus Drive Petition
> Previous posts on the Purple Line

12 thoughts on “Washington Post Covers Alignment Debate”

  1. Cautionary Tale from the LA Times

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    The MTA’s train wreck

    By pouring money into rail projects, the agency is pushing riders off the buses.
    By James Moore and Tom Rubin
    January 13, 2008
    Last year was an unexpectedly auspicious year in the history of public transportation in Los Angeles. Transit ridership — bus and rail — rose to 497 million boardings, a level not seen since 1985. That means less traffic congestion, stronger revenue for the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and more poor people without cars getting around the city.

    But there’s a wrinkle to this success. Since the mid-1990s, the transit agency, on court orders, has reinvested in its bus service, and this has helped bring back riders. Unfortunately, it may get no better from here on because of the agency’s goal of building a rail network.

    This is not the first time the MTA has faced this problem. In the early 1980s, bus boardings soared because sales tax revenue generated by passage of Proposition A in 1980 was used to subsidize fares at 50 cents. But in 1986, this money was shifted to rail projects, initially for the light-rail Blue Line that runs from downtown Los Angeles to Long Beach. It was the first step in a long-term effort to reintroduce rail transit into L.A.

    With the subsidy gone, bus fares rose sharply and ridership dropped. Blue Line service began in July 1990,but total bus and train ridership continued to plummet, reaching a low of 364 million boardings in 1996.

    In late 1996, the MTA settled a discrimination lawsuit brought by minority and low-income bus riders seeking improvements in bus service. Rather than continue the trial, the agency accepted the terms of a federal consent decree negotiated with the Bus Riders Union. Over the next 11 years, it added buses, started new lines and held fares in check to improve the country’s most overcrowded bus system. As a result, users of public transit gradually started to increase again. Yes, some chose the Blue, Red, Green and new Gold rail lines, but the majority of riders returned to buses. Most of the new rail riders were former bus riders forced to use trains because of bus service changes. And others were attracted by low rail fares and the added bus service that got them to and from the rail lines.

    Paradoxically, the MTA’s rail projects, which required fare increases and reduced bus services, have cost the transit system riders. Using MTA data, our analysis indicates that they produced a drop in train and bus ridership of more than 3 billion boardings from 1986 to 2007.

    Although we’ve now gotten back to 1985 levels in terms of public-transit use, the county population has grown by more than 2 million since then. That means, on a trip-per-capita basis, the transit system is still not performing — by 20% — as well as it did 22 years ago.

    The MTA says it has spent $7.1 billion on its Blue, Red, Green and Gold lines through June 2006.But this number ignores billions more dollars in associated expenditures, such as $100 million for Green Line rail vehicles, $153 million for the canceled Red Line extension to East Los Angeles and the canceled extension from Mid-City, and $899 million now being spent to extend the Gold Line to the Eastside. Phase I of the Exposition Line from downtown Los Angeles to Culver City will add more than $800 million to MTA spending, and Phase II of the line will cost at least $1 billion. The $7.1 billion also excludes $1.5 billion to operate the rail lines for the last 18 years and more than $4 billion to maintain them through 2025. And don’t forget the billions of dollars in interest on borrowing to build the lines.

    Taking all this into consideration and adjusting for inflation, the MTA has spent more than $11 billion since 1986 to build its rail network, and the effect has been to reduce total transit ridership on the system by more than 3 billion boardings. That’s a bizarre result.

    And transit service is certain to get worse. MTA data show that the median household income of its riders is less than $15,000 annually. Their transit choices are very sensitive to fares. But to help pay for its continued rail expansion, the MTA will have to raise fares as high as politically possible, then cut service and routes if ridership drops in response to the increases. Freed from federal court oversight in October 2006, the agency increased bus fares in July. Since then, ridership has dropped by 5%. More fare increases are scheduled for July 2009.

    The politicians who sit on the MTA board should be held accountable for this cynical strategy of pursuing rail lines at the expense of overall public-transit use and on the backs of low-income, bus-dependent riders. Bus fares and transit investments should promote not discourage transit use.

    James Moore is chairman of the Daniel J. Epstein department of industrial and systems engineering and director of the transportation engineering program at USC. Tom Rubin is a transit consultant.

  2. Sin V, so you’re saying it was a mistake for Washington to build Metro? We’d be better off with eight-lane highways through Cleveland Park and Georgetown?

    Here’s an answer from L.A.

    ********

    This past Sunday, the L.A. Times featured an op-ed titled “The MTA’s Train Wreck” by James Moore and Tom Rubin, which made the claim that Metro has made a major mistake by investing in rail instead of buses. Both Mr. Moore and Mr. Rubin are well-known transit experts and longtime rail critics. I’m a lowly blogger. So why is it that I disagree with their assertion that Metro is making a mistake by investing in rail transit?

    The gist of the opinion piece is that transit ridership has fallen even though Metro has invested over $11 billion on rail in the last 20 years. The authors imply that if expensive rail projects were scrapped and the savings were applied to add more bus service and lower the fares, transit ridership would increase. To be honest, I don’t disagree with this conclusion. However, I also don’t think it would solve any of the transportation problems our region faces.

    I think rail, more than anything else, has the potential to reorient the city and solve its most notorious problems, most of which stem from what many would consider its No. 1 problem, traffic.

    There’s no doubt Los Angeles is known worldwide for its traffic. It’s likely the first thing that comes to mind when someone is asked to think about Los Angeles. Surely it’s what most tourists who visit return home with tales of. And for those of us who live here, it is inseparable from our very existence. It’s a lifestyle. Traffic is life in Los Angeles, and traffic is hell, which is why even in a place where it’s 70 degrees and sunny every day of year, people can’t wait to get away.

    Traffic doesn’t just bring aggravation, boredom and hatred to Los Angeles, it brings a whole host of other problems. L.A.’s notorious pollution is no happy coincidence; it’s directly related to the sheer number of vehicles idling away day and night. Los Angeles is also known for racial segregation and for having a distinct divide between the very rich and the very poor. Now, I’m not saying that the car culture is the root of these evils, but it certainly has played its part. In a place so vastly spread out due to the existence of massive grade-separated roadways that require a heavy usage cost (car ownership) it becomes a little too easy for the haves to be oblivious to the plight of the have-nots while speeding along in their bunkers of steel and glass. Of course, now the playing field is starting to even out quite naturally as idling along a freeway isn’t exactly “speeding” and a two-hour commute isn’t exactly “easy.”

    Herein lies my problem with the article by Mr. Moore and Mr. Rubin: They still see transit as little more than a welfare program for those who can’t afford cars (a.k.a., “the poor”). I see transit as the solution to The Traffic Problem. Transit ridership increases or decreases don’t matter in regards to The Traffic Problem if the only riders are those who can’t afford cars in the first place. And in Los Angeles, because of The Traffic Problem, transit can no longer be seen as a welfare program. In other cities, perhaps, but in Los Angeles traffic is The Problem, and if The Problem isn’t solved, it’s likely we’ll all end up needing some sort of welfare.

    But this is the beauty of public transit: It doesn’t discriminate. I can’t just go pick up some food stamps, but I’m free to hop on any bus or train. So transit has the potential to be both a way to help give mobility to those who can’t afford a car AND solve The Traffic Problem by getting those who can afford cars out of them. The big issue, of course, is how to get those people out of their cars.

    I can tell you right now: Buses ain’t gonna cut it.

    Because while public transit isn’t discriminatory, discretionary riders most certainly are. Let’s face it, for the middle-class or rich, bus fares aren’t that expensive. You can get an EZ Transit pass that gives you unlimited access to almost every bus and rail line in Los Angeles County for $70 a month. Most people pay more than that for their wireless service. Or, say, to fill up their car’s tank.

    Money isn’t the real issue with discretionary riders. While Rubin and Moore are right that reducing fares would result in increased ridership, I doubt it would get many people out of their cars. I don’t think it’s the $1.25 fare that is stopping the guy who makes $100k a year from hopping on a Metro Rapid 720 to go from his home in Santa Monica to his job downtown. You could make buses completely free and it’s likely most people with a choice still wouldn’t ride them.

    This isn’t just rich people being snobbish jerks, either. Anyone who has ridden on both a bus and a train knows which is the better ride. Those who imply (like the Bus Riders Union) that poor people prefer buses to trains are guilty of a sort of “poverty pimping,” because in my experience, all humans, rich or poor, prefer comfort over discomfort. This is not to say that all buses are the hell-on-wheels that many non-riders imagine them to be, but that a train is and always will be a more comfortable ride than even the most well-built bus. Discretionary riders know this, and thus they are unlikely to give up one discomfort (sitting in traffic in their cars) for more discomfort (standing on a crowded, bumpy bus in traffic).

    Rail is the only mode that has the potential to get these discretionary riders to make the voluntary choice to leave their cars, because it offers advantages over both cars and buses. The advantages are simple and logical. The first, which I spoke of above, is the simple fact that compared to a bus, a train offers comfort. Perhaps not the comforts of a car, but it’s a step in the right direction.

    However, comfort alone isn’t enough to get people out of their cars; there needs to be more. Rail, unlike buses and cars, runs on its own fixed guideway, meaning that for the most part it does not have to deal with traffic. This is a big step in the right direction. By avoiding traffic and being comfortable, rail presents an attractive alternative to a car for the discretionary rider. Instead of sitting behind the wheel of a car idling on the freeway and worrying about the actions of other drivers, a discretionary rider can sit back, read the morning paper and relax as professional drives him/her to work. That sounds like a viable alternative.

    What’s more, rail transit is often like a “gateway drug” — people who start out riding the train will sooner or later find themselves on a bus. Because of this, rail has the capability to create a new lifestyle — I call it the transit-oriented lifestyle — that stands in stark contrast to the automobile-centered lifestyle.

    Of course, a common complaint, and a big roadblock in creating a city where people view transit as a lifestyle, is that the Los Angeles rail system “doesn’t go where I need to go.” This is why Metro needs to continue investing in rail infrastructure. An expansive system is THE missing element when it comes to attracting discretionary riders to public transit and getting cars off the road. Investment needs to be made to expand the rail system, expand the hours and increase the service frequency. Only then will we have a chance of solving The Traffic Problem.

    This is also where I take issue with Metro and its rail expenditures. Like Mr. Moore and Mr. Rubin, I feel Metro has wasted money on rail. A line like the Green Line, which many consider a rail line from nowhere to nowhere, is a perfect example. Even a line like the Gold Line to Pasadena, no matter how nice, seems like it was wrongly prioritized. Don’t even get me started on the serious proposals now to extend the Gold Line another 30 miles through the Inland Empire to Ontario. Rail infrastructure needs to be built where density and service demand it, and nowhere else. A priority list based on these factors must be made and adhered to. The cost is simply too high to waste money on lines without built-in demand. A rail line down Wilshire to Santa Monica should be priority numero uno.

    In fact, Wilshire provides the perfect example of where Mr. Moore and Mr. Rubin’s arguments fail. Wilshire Boulevard has tons of bus service, with articulated Rapid 720s and Super Rapid 920s barreling down the boulevard every four minutes during the day. Anyone who’s ever been passed by three packed-to-the-brim 720s in a row while waiting for a 720 knows exactly how more buses and lower fares are not going to solve anything, even if transit was just a welfare program.

    When we look at transit not as welfare but as an infrastructure necessity, we realize that in a city as big and densely populated (with people AND cars) as Los Angeles, rail should be the primary mode. With an extensive system, rail has the potential to move people to and from their daily activities in a much more efficient, economical and comfortable way than any other mode. It is the most sustainable mode as well. Urban rail transit in New York City has offered effective mobility to the citizens of that region for well over a century and weathered the unfathomable population growth that has occurred during that time. (NYC went from 942,292 people in 1870 to 8,008,288 in 2000.) The subways are undoubtedly more crowded these days, but they move as fast as ever and still live up to their promise of getting people where they need to go. Our freeways, on the other hand, have been around for only 68 years, yet long ago failed to live up to their promise of offering a speed and efficiency advantage over surface streets.

    It’s time we realized what all other great metropolises in the world know: An extensive rail system is essential for the mobility of its people.

    FredCamino is a regular Metro rider and founder of MetroRiderLA, a Los Angeles transit lifestyle blog.

  3. Ben,

    My point is that we need to keep buses affordable.

    I live in Montgomery County, work in DC, and usually car pool into the city with my wife. The other day I had the car (Honda Civic) in the shop and took the metro and bus to get to work. It had been quite some time since I had rode the Metro.

    What I am about to say is absolutely true. The bus ride from Friendship Heights to my house was much more pleasant than the Metro ride from downtown. The Metro cars are a mess, with the hand-holds on the back of the seats worn and torn, and the people all looking gray, sick, and unfriendly. It was a very unpleasant ride from Farragut North to Friedship Heights, though I must say it was fast.

    The interior of the bus (L8 to Wheaton), was beautiful. There were friends conversing on the bus and the driver was extremely pleasant. The atmosphere was so much better than on the Metro.

    The buses are now running on cleaner burning fuels. At least it says so on the outside of the vehicle. Buses are a critical component to the Mass Transit solution.

    Metro has to pay way more attention to keeping their cars clean and in good repair.

    We musn’t sacrifice the bus system to promote Light Rail.

    Does your group only support Light Rail or are you for all types of mass transit?

  4. By the way, the reason I still drive my car is COST and TIME.

    Option 1 = Public Transportation

    Daily cost for Metro / Bus * 2
    Bus Going to work $1.25
    Metro (roundtrip) $4.20 (Shady Grove to Farragut North = $9.00)
    Bus Going Home (w/ transfer) $.45
    $5.90 per person = $11.80 per couple

    > 1 hour total travel time each way

    Option 2 = Drive in Economy Car

    Parking = $6.00
    Gas $3.00 (actually less)
    Two Passengers = $9.00 per couple

    30 – 45 minutes travel time each way. *Often save 1 hour per day.

    Like most people, until the cost and/or time justify it I will continue to drive to work. This is why I have been harping on the speed issue. It is very important for most working adults.

    The Light rail will be too slow for most to use.

    There are other variables such as wear and tear on car, and comfort of trips that I won’t try to quantify here.

  5. Your recent experience is completely a matter of chance. There are plenty of nice, new metro cars, and plenty of old, dirty buses with cranky drivers. I’m certainly not saying we should neglect the bus system, but just because you had a nice driver doesn’t mean it’s a superior form of public transportation.

  6. I agree that the speed/cost miix has to be appealing to get people out of their cars. I live in Adelphia nd work in Beltsville. Yet, if I took the bus, it would take much longer than the 15 minutes it takes for me to drive. ALso, it would cost me around $3 to get to work on the bus. The same amount it costs for a tank of gas which I pay around $3 anyway. I get at least 25 miles/gallon. So, it’s cheaper for me to drive and I get there faster. That makes sense to me. How do you get me out of my car? Lower fares, and create more non-stop rides that connect busy transit hubs. Whether it be by bus or light rail. If there was rail line that traveled from Bladensburg to Laurel and cost about $2, that would be sweet. But, I’d still have to pay for parking. Which pushes my costs past the comfort level to get me out of my car. I’ve considered taking the MARC. I could drive to College Park metro and ride the Marc to the Murkirk station. But, that’s $7 – more than twice more what I’d pay in gas to go 5 miles. Though I am considering a motorscooter. 🙂

    Things would work out great if I didn’t have to pay for parking. I live off of Cool Spring Road. Buses don’t even come through there. So, I have to drive and park to ride any public transportation.

  7. J.L.

    How do you commute? I have a feeling most of the people in this debate haven’t been on a bus since middle school.

  8. The educational community is starting to laugh at the University of Maryland:

    http://chronicle.com/blogs/architecture/1482/u-of-maryland-wants-state-officials-to-move-planned-transit-line

    The totally lack of logic to the university position (e.g. safe in between Lefrak and S. Campus Dining Hall, but not on Campus Drive) would be their business if they weren’t going to be adding cost to the Purple Line, supressing ridership by poorly locating a stop AND simultaneously going hat-in-hand to both the county and state for funding assistance the east campus project which is beginning to smell of a too-many-cooks-spoil-the-soup syndrome. It is truly disgraceful. Maybe the Purple Line should just connect between Bethesda and Silver Spring and UM should get its little highway tether to I-95 and build lots of pretty brick-clad garages for the alums who don’t otherwise set foot in Prince George’s County.

  9. The University of Maryland administration is screaming that the world is flat while the rest of the world looks on in amazement.

    The safety issue is not a valid argument. College age students are adults. They know how to look both ways when they cross the street. Also, college students know how to read. They can read designated crosswalks with big red or orange flashing “Don’t Walk” signs. They can also hear if they happen to be visually challenged a horn or a bell signaling an approaching rail car. The University is not a daycare center. Come on people. Does the administration not have any faith in the cognitive ability of the students it admitted to its institution? One thing is for sure. The administration sure didn’t think about safety when they forced students to cross RT 1. and walk a mile to get to the College Park Metro station. To me, that’s just as dangerous.

    I visited Long Beach two years ago. People seem to get along fine there with the light rail running tight down the middle of a shopping district. And thanks to God, I didn’t get hit!

    My question is, what distinguishes a rail car from a bus? They both weigh tons. They both move. They both have breaks. They both have lights, etc. One runs on rubber tires and the other on rails. That’s it.

  10. jeuill

    How quickly you forget! This is the good old sue-happy U – S – of A! Too many people looking for their gravy train to pull in to the station! and too many schlock lawyers looking to help them “realize the american dream” of a nice fat settlement so they can collect money and do nothing. Its quite sad, but fear of litigation is a major force at play here.

  11. I drive to the CP Metro and take the Metro downtown. I also take the bus frequently to get around the city, just took it the other day actually. I guess it’s mostly a matter of personal preference.

  12. No one is proposing that we sacrifice the bus system to promote light rail. In fact, the coming of Metrorail has led to an enormous expansion of bus transit in Montgomery County. Ride On was started as a system to feed into Metrorail.

    ACT has been working to oppose the recently announced cuts in Ride-On service. The reality is that there is far more public support for rail transit than for buses. The rail system is the backbone of public and political support for transit, and bus service benefits from that support.

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