The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal

Informed but opinionated commentary and analysis on urban transportation topics from the Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal. Names have been omitted to protect the guilty.

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Monday, July 29, 2002

Cox's Weird Arithmetic

From the Cabalmaster:

In his recent commentary on the National Review website, Wendell Cox apparently is incapable of doing simple arithmetic.

According to the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) the http://National Transit Database, public transportation in the United States carried about 9.6 billion trips in 2000. This calculates out to 34 annual trips per capita for the 283 million residents of the United States, a 3% market share if trips are considered, rather than the somewhat misleading passenger mile measure favored by Cox.

According to the Federal Statistics Office, Germany, approximately 9.8 billion trips by bus, light rail, regional rail, and intercity rail were taken by Germans during 2000. This is about 127 annual rides per capita, based on 77 million residents. Transit therefore has about a 10% market share in Germany once transfers have been factored for, and assuming similar numbers of total daily trips made by Germans as by Americans. The Federal Statistics Office, Germany also included statistics for automobile trips, totaling 49.8 billion during 2000.

Given that about 30 to 35 percent of German trip-making is by foot or bicycle (not counted in these particular statistics), it is NOT necessarily the case that a 600 to 750 percent increase in New York, Chicago, and San Francisco patronage would be necessary. Rather, about a three to four fold increase would be needed, spread throughout the nation. Passenger miles are relatively less important than Cox maintains, if only because transit trips would be shorter in more compact, mixed use urban areas.

Small cities such as Calgary, Alberta (pop. 850,000), show that large percentages of downtown trips can be attracted to transit, 40 percent in this case. Many non-downtown trips are also made in Calgary by LRT and bus; total annual per capita patronage is similar to Germany at over 100 annual trips per capita. And this is under conditions of relatively cheap gasoline prices.

The right policies—and right type of transit service such as LRT in traffic-free right of way, could attract similar percentages in places like Oklahoma City, Fort Worth, Tulsa, Phoenix, etc., that currently have pathetic transit shares, if the correct policies were in place (e.g., mostly paid parking for commuters).

Of course, using CoxLogic(tm), walking and bicycling trips would barely count. While these non-motorized modes may account for 30 to 35 percent of total travel by Germans, they wouldn’t count for much since the passenger miles traveled are relatively low—walking trips tend to be very short, often substituting for longer trips by car or transit. It is unlikely anytime soon that transit can account for 30% to 40 percents of trips in U.S. urban areas by itself.

However, working hand in hand with developing mixed land uses as advocated by the so-called New Urban and Smart Growth movements, it is still quite possible to obtain transit plus walking/bicycling shares of 40 to 50 percent if the right policies are put into place.

7/29/2002 07:02:00 PM

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