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Tuesday, January 29, 2008


Can you have too much mass transit?

Apparently, yes. I've written before about the capitalist death spiral approach to mass transit:
...raise the rates to make a profit, ridership drops, raise the rates some more to make up for it, ridership drops, cut the number of trains or buses, thereby reducing the frequency and providing even less incentive to use it, ridership drops some more, continue until death.
There are, however, rare exceptions to that rule, and San Francisco has been considering becoming one of them. Alas, it won't be happening:
Eliminating fares on San Francisco's Municipal Railway - an idea Mayor Gavin Newsom wanted explored - would worsen delays, overcrowding and financial burdens on the already strained transit system.

The consulting team hired by the city, led by Sharon Greene & Associates, looked at what happened when other jurisdictions adopted free transit programs. In larger cities, such as Austin, Texas, Trenton, N.J., and Denver, ridership increased by nearly 50 percent.

If that happened to Muni, which now provides nearly 700,000 trips on an average day, the annual operating and maintenance costs would rise by nearly $69 million. Muni's annual budget is about $670 million.

The extra costs would come from paying more drivers, maintenance and cleaning crews, supervisors and security guards.

In addition, the city would have to add an estimated 267 buses and streetcars to its fleet of about 1,000 at a cost of approximately $537 million. New storage and maintenance yards also would be needed to accommodate the new vehicles.
Less pollution, more jobs (for drivers, maintenance crews, and workers in bus factories), and all at an annual cost of $69 million plus interest on bonds used to finance the new buses. Can't have that.

Just for a point of reference, San Francisco's population of 750,000 or so is 0.25% of the U.S. population. The U.S. is currently spending approximately $150 billion/year on the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan (we won't even go into the complete military budget), making San Francisco's share $375 million/year. Enough to not only pay for the increased operating costs of a free mass transit system, but enough to cover all of the capital expenses in under two years, without even the need to sell bonds.

By the way, in case you're thinking of moving to Austin or Trenton or Denver to take advantage of those free transit programs, forget it:

The experiments in Trenton, Austin and Denver were abandoned, and higher costs were cited as just one reason.

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