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.

Our Mission: Monkeywrench the Anti-Transit Forces

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Monday, July 29, 2002

Repost from Last Week

From the Cabalmaster:

Who is Wendell Cox? Who Cares?
Well, for those of you not familiar with Internet flame wars on urban transportation subjects, Wendell Cox of Belleville, IL is the "Energizer Bunny" of the anti-urban and anti-transit movement operated by the various corporate and rich asshole-funded pseudo-academic, libertarian and "conservative" "think tanks" littering Washington, D.C. and the nation. Like the Energizer Bunny, Cox seems to keep going and going and going.

Besides his own firm, "Wendell Cox Consultancy" and his personal websites, and, Cox is has been listed now or in the recent past as "Associate" or "Senior Fellow" at the Heritage Foundation, the Texas Public Policy Institute, the Independence Institute, Heartland Institute, and many others. In reality, these monikers probably only indicate Cox has been hired to write an anti-urban or anti-transit paper or two for each organization.

The notable exception where Cox has NOT worked is the Free Congress Foundation, certainly because of Paul Weyrich and Bill Lind, both well-known and outspoken conservative transit supporters (see

8:47 pm 7/29/02

Toll Truckways
From the Cabalmaster:

In my estimation, truckers are even bigger crybabies than average motorists in their "four wheelers."

Now this from the source of many half-baked ideas about transportation, the L.A.-based Libertarian "Reason Public Policy Institute" (e.g., yet another corporate-funded front for pro-highway apologia):

Toll Truckways: A New Path Toward Safer and More Efficient Freight Transportation (pdf)

3:04 PM

Tollway Trial at a Dead End in California
From the Cabalmaster:

This would seem to prove that the driving public doesn't have as much tolerance for higher direct driving costs as tollroad and other pro-auto advocates claim, especially for "low value" trips. In other words, if society were to "internalized the externalities" of driving as many economists and environmentalists urge, auto usage would probably plummet...

Los Angeles Times

July 7, 2002

Tollway Trial at a Dead End in California

Transit: Pay-as-you-go highways have become a political nightmare. But backers say that with new approach, the roads can live up to early hype.


Political and financial problems have led many state leaders to conclude that California's nearly two-decade experiment with toll roads has failed, despite fervent hopes and vast investments.

When the state first embraced toll roads, think tanks, politicians and government officials couldn't find enough superlatives to describe them. Whether government-run or privately owned, toll roads were transportation's future--an effective way to build highways when the state had little money for new construction. So enthusiastic was the Legislature that it helped create seven of them--five in Orange County.

Today, the governor says "Freeways should remain free." California legislators speak openly of scrapping the toll-road experiment. Even the most ardent supporters are tempering their positions. "I've been burned, and the public has been burned by the whole thing," said state Sen. Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks), who supported legislation that approved the 91 Express Lanes on the Riverside Freeway and three other privately owned tollways. "We must never allow the state's obligation to build a first-rate public highway system to be compromised again."

To non-Californians: when Tom "I Never Met a Highway I Didn't Like" McClintock and Governor Gray Davis agree on something, the "something" must be significant.

For remainder of article see LA Times archives Los Angeles Times Archives

2:27 PM

NumberMan does a Number on Ottawa BRT
From the Cabalmaster:

Co-conspirator, member in good standing of the Secret World Wide Transit Cabal, NumberMan, does a number on the Ottawa Bus Rapid Transit system: Bus_Rapid_Transit1.pdf

1:45 PM

How Anti-Transit Deception Works

From the Cabalmaster:

NumberMan has put together a short paper describing how the "Urban Transit (Dis)information" merchants operate.
Transit_Disinformation 7-02.pdf

12:47 PM

Why Wendell Cox Hates Portland - IV
From the Cabalmaster:

In 1986, its last "all-bus" year, Tri-Met:
---Posted unit operating costs of
$1.96 per boarding (2001$s), and
$0.57 per passenger-mile.

In 1988, the first full year of LRT service, Tri-Met:
---Posted unit operating costs of:
$1.62 per boarding (2001$s), and
$0.44 per passenger-mile.

System ridership began falling shortly before the opening of Eastside MAX, and remained static for the next several years owing to the depressed state of the regional economy. But introduction of rail service led to a sharp drop in unit operating costs: cost per boarding fell by 17 percent, and cost per passenger-mile fell by 23 percent.

Despite the efforts of Wendell Cox and others to prove the opposite, Portland's rail transit service generated a large increase in transit cost-effectiveness.

In 1998, the last full year before opening of Westside MAX, Tri-Met:
---Posted unit operating costs of:
$1.94 per boarding (2001$s), and
$0.51 per passenger-mile.

In 2000, the first full year of Westside MAX operation, Tri-Met:
---Posted unit operating costs of:
$2.23 per boarding (2001$s), and
$0.55 per passenger-mile.

Cost per boarding increased by 15 percent, and cost per passenger-mile increased by 8 percent.
However, a sharp drop in rail operating costs was offset by an increase in bus costs.

Rail operating cost per vehicle-mile fell by 40 percent (to $8.34; 2001$s).
Rail operating cost per vehicle-hour fell by 27 percent (to $144.40).
Rail operating cost per passenger-mile fell by 19 percent (to $0.30).

Bus operating cost per vehicle-mile rose by 9 percent (to $6.55).
Bus operating cost per vehicle-hour rose by 7 percent (to $81.13).
Bus operating cost per passenger-mile rose by 31 percent (to $0.72).

The bus changes look deceptively low in percentage terms. However, a small increase in bus costs will have a large impact on overall system costs. Even at 2000, after the opening of Westside MAX, buses accounted for:

82 percent of Tri-Met revenue vehicle-miles.
86 percent of revenue vehicle-hours.
72 percent of boardings.
60 percent of passenger-miles.

Without the rail lines, Tri-Met's overall operating budget would have been roughly 15 percent higher in 2000, assuming the same ridership levels. That's almost $30 million per year.


12:40 PM

Why Wendell Cox Hates Portland - III

From the Cabalmaster:

In 1974, Tri-Met:
--- Operated 14.5 million vehicle-miles.
--- Operated 1 million vehicle-hours.
---Spent $52.7 million (2001$s) for operations.
---Posted unit operating costs of:
$3.64 per vehicle-mile (2001$s), and
$52.70 per vehicle-hour.
---Posted 7.7 passenger-miles per revenue vehicle--mile.

In 1988, the first full year of LRT service, Tri-Met:
---Operated 18 million bus vehicle-miles.
---Operated 1.5 million bus vehicle-hours.
---Spent $84.8 million (2001$s) for bus operations.
---Posted unit operating costs of
$4.66 per bus vehicle-mile, and
$56.73 per bus vehicle-hour.

--Operated 1.4 million LRT vehicle-miles.
---Operated 75,900 LRT vehicle-hours.
---Spent $8.4 million for LRT operations.
---Posted unit operating costs of
$5.97 per LRT vehicle-mile, and
$110.53 per LRT vehicle-hour.
---Posted 9.1 passenger-miles per revenue vehicle-mile for bus.
---Posted 23.0 passenger-miles per revenue vehicle-mile for LRT.

In 2001, Tri-Met

---Operated 23 million bus vehicle-miles.
---Operated 1.9 million bus vehicle-hours.
---Spent $153.9 million for bus operations.
---Posted unit operating costs of
$6.70 per bus vehicle--mile, and
$82.89 per bus vehicle-hour.

---Operated 5.1 million LRT vehicle-miles.
---Operated 290,000 LRT vehicle-hours.
---Spent $40.0 million for LRT operations.
---Posted unit operating costs of
$7.93 per LRT vehicle--mile, and
$139.93 per LRT vehicle-hour.
---Posted 4.0 passenger-miles per revenue vehicle-mile for bus.
---Posted 17.6 passenger-miles per revenue vehicle-mile for LRT.

Unit operating costs have increased in Portland, but at a much slower rate for rail than for bus.
Increase in operating cost per vehicle-mile, 1974-1988:
Bus: 28 percent.
Rail: N/A.

Increase in operating cost per vehicle-mile, 1988-2001:
Bus: 44 percent.
Rail: 33 percent.

Increase in operating cost per vehicle-mile, 1974-2001:
Bus: 84 percent.
Rail: N/A.

Increase in operating cost per vehicle-hour, 1974-1988:
Bus: 8 percent.
Rail: N/A.

Increase in operating cost per vehicle-hour, 1988-2001:
Bus: 46 percent.
Rail: 27 percent.

Increase in operating cost per vehicle-hour, 1974-2001:
Bus: 57 percent.
Rail: N/A.

Bus service effectiveness rose by 18 percent to 1988, then fell by 56 percent to 2001. Rail service effectiveness also declined, but by 31 percent.

A city wanting to obtain Portland-style transit ridership increases might not be able to increase its operating budget fast enough without the cost savings provided by rail.


12:38 PM

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

Why Wendell Cox et al Hates Portland - II

From the Cabalmaster:

In 1974, Tri-Met:
--Carried 25.8 million boardings.
--Spent $52.7 million (2001$s) for operations.

--Posted unit operating costs of $2.04 per boarding and $0.47 per passenger-mile (estimated).

In 2001, Tri-Met:
--Carried 90.4 million boardings.
--Spent $193.9 million for operations.
--Posted unit operating costs of $2.14 per boarding and $0.54 per passenger-mile.

Despite nearly three decades' worth of labor and fuel cost increases, the inflation-adjusted unit operating expense increased by only five percent (per boarding) to 15 percent (per passenger-mile). Meanwhile, ridership increased by a factor of 2.5. Tri-Met would have posted net reductions in unit operating cost if not for the ongoing regional recession.

Light rail has saved Tri-Met a cumulative total of about $175 million in operating expenses compared to a "do-nothing" strategy. This is based on traffic actually carried since the first light-rail line opened. Eastside Max generated about $9 million in annual operating cost savings. This jumped to almost $32 million after Westside Max opened in 1999.

Portland's light rail lines pay for themselves out of operating cost savings alone. Hence the vitriol from you-know-who.


3:02 PM

Rail Replaces Buses, Ridership Grows

From the Cabalmaster:

Here is a selection of the facts and figures compiled by Dr. Srdjan S. Nedeljkovic, MD, and posted at

TORONTO opened new streetcar line 604 (Harbourfront), between Union Station and Spadina Avenue, in 1990. This replaced a branch of the Spadina bus line (77B). Ridership increased dramatically. By the late 1980s, the 77 bus carried 31,000 passengers per day. Today, even in winter, streetcars carry about 38,000 per day -- a 23 percent increase.

In July 1997, streetcars replaced buses on the Spadina line. Service was less frequent than buses "officially" provided -- but ridership went up anyway: by 7 percent on weekdays, and by 15 percent on weekends. Passengers commented that the ride was more pleasant than aboard the old Spadina buses, weaving in and out of traffic.

In 2000, Toronto opened a new streetcar line between Spadina and Bathurst streets, permitting direct service between Union Station and the Canadian National Exhibition grounds. This service (509 Harbourfront) replaced part of bus route 121 (Front/Esplanade). Ridership increased by a factor of four!

(In Toronto, ridership on streetcar routes declines when buses provide temporary replacement service to permit trackwork.)

SAN FRANCISCO posted large ridership increases when historic "PCC"-type streetcars replaced trolleybuses on Market Street. Prior to opening of the F-Market streetcar line in 1995, trolleybus line 8-Market averaged 5,400 passengers per day. By 1996, the first stage of the new F Line carried 7,800 per day (up by 44 percent). Traffic was up to 9,700 per day by 1998. Following completion of the second stage, from downtown to Fisherman's Wharf, ridership shot up to 20,000 per day.

Buses Replace Rail, Passengers Vanish

PHILADELPHIA carried 412 million revenue passengers in 1954, about 52 percent of them aboard streetcars. In that year, the Philadelphia Transportation Company had 46 streetcar routes and about 1,500 cars. It is true that the majority of these cars (1,000) were old, but the city also had 500 modern PCC cars. A new management purchased 1,000 new buses in 1955-57 and replaced 32 streetcar lines. In 1958, following the conversions, PTC carried just 343 million passengers, about 20 percent of them aboard streetcars.

PTC streetcar traffic (revenue passengers) fell by 145 million (214 million at 1954 to 69 million at 1958).

PTC bus traffic increased by 76 million (198 million at 1954 to 274 million at 1958).
About 32 percent of the former streetcar passengers, 69 million annual revenue passengers, are unaccounted for. According to U.S. Census Bureau data, the population of Philadelphia fell by just three percent between 1950 and 1960.

Philadelphia's last three "surface-only" streetcar lines were converted "temporarily" to bus in 1992. Traffic on route 23 (Germantown) fell from 30,000 to 21,300 passengers per day, a decrease of about 30 percent. Traffic on route 15 (Girard) fell from 17,000 - 18,000 per day to 9,400 per day, almost a 50 percent drop. It is true that Philadelphia lost population between 1990 and 2000 (about 5 percent), and the Girard Avenue corridor lost about 10 percent. However, the decline in transit ridership was again out of proportion to the change in population.

SUBURBAN PHILADELPHIA: The right-of-way used by the suburban streetcar route to Ardmore, west of Philadelphia, was paved in 1967 and turned into a busway. Modern buses -- which were air-conditioned -- replaced older streetcars which were not. Ridership fell by 15 percent. Two other lines, to Media and Sharon Hill, continued to use streetcars, and these attracted more non-work trips.

BOSTON suspended rail service along its Arborway route in 1985. During the last year of rail operation, the line carried about 50,000 passengers per day. The replacement bus service, route 39, is the busiest in Boston and carries about 18,000 passengers per day.

The "vanished" passengers did not switch to the relocated heavy-rail Orange Line. In 1988, one year after the new Orange line service opened, route 39 buses carried 28,000 passengers daily and the outer three Orange Line stations (in Jamaica Plain) saw 16,270 daily boardings. In 1993, route 39 ridership had fallen to 17,167 per day, but the number of boardings at the same three Orange Line stations remained stable: 16,339 per day. As the result of the bus substitution, more than 10,000 trips were lost to transit between 1988 and 1993. It is likely that these passengers switched to driving: while transit use was declining in Jamaica Plain between 1988 and 1993, ridership increased on the remainder of the light-rail Green Line system (from 157,406 to 166,862) and the heavy-rail Red Line (from 129,386 to 139,239).

2:05 PM

Clean Alternative Fuel, Eh?

From the Cabalmaster:

In Ontario, "natural" gas often has a high sulfur content because the fuel which is commonly gasified is . . . coal.
Among the problems associated with CNG buses:

*The mean time between failures for a CNG bus is 1/2 that of a diesel bus.

*CNG fuel requires large, energy-consuming compression and fueling stations, so that buses can be fueled quickly and returned to service.

*Garages need extensive rebuilding to prevent gas explosions from leaks, including replacement of many electrical systems and additional ventilation, since gas tends to "pool" in service pits under the buses.

*CNG buses cannot operate in underground stations.

*The quality of manufacture of some component subsystems (notably the storage tanks) is intended for vehicles with an expected life of less than ten years.



12:54 PM

Another "Pot and Kettle" Story

From the Cabalmaster:

The rail transit patronage prediction business is far more successful than toll road prognosticating, particularly after the Federal Transit Administration forced patronage projections to be far more conservative than prior to the "Pickrell Report."

Although the following article dates from 2000, we believe it is timely in view of the current resurgence of interest by adamant free market advocates in toll roads as a purported remedy for traffic congestion and the travails of financially constrained highway developers. Seems the only people who benefit are the consultants and the land developers.

Flawed figures leave toll roads running flat


Summary: A consulting firm has grossly overestimated traffic projections for five different projects in Florida, leaving the state to deal with the cost overruns.

© St. Petersburg Times, published July 16, 2000

KISSIMMEE -- The most expensive turnpike in Florida is a ribbon of asphalt through a quiet countryside near Orlando. For most of its 12 miles, the few cars that use the Osceola Parkway scoot past grazing cattle, tall pines and stately cypress.

In the middle of nowhere, drivers tap the brakes and fish for their wallets. Time to pay the toll.
At $1.25 per car, the Osceola Parkway was supposed to pay for itself. But five years after the Osceola opened it has attracted such meager traffic that taxpayers must subsidize it. County officials say that by the time all its debts are paid, the $150-million road could wind up costing more than $1-billion.

For rest of article, see

Wendell "The Pot" Cox Calls Charlotte Transit Kettle "Black"

A recent Charlotte (NC) Observer article ("Cost of transit plan more than doubles," Dianne Whitacre, Sun, Jul. 21, 2002, contains the sort of pontification that we've come to expect from Wendell:

"'It's bait and switch,' said Wendell Cox, an Illinois-based expert and critic of rail systems who has studied the Mecklenburg plan. 'Obviously there is inflation, but this is not Argentina. And they always 'forget' stuff.'

"Cox said the city should rescind the tax and put the project -- with its updated cost -- back before voters."

The Charlotte plan includes $1 billion in new spending on expanded, improved bus services that was not included in the original 1998 plan approved by voters. The article also notes the following:

"Underestimating is a common problem for highway projects, too. In 1999, an audit showed the N.C. Department of Transportation didn't consider inflation and routine price overruns when it estimated highway costs. As a result, the state had $2 billion in promised roads it couldn't afford."

Based on Wendell's line of reasoning, North Carolina should rescind that portion of its state gasoline tax that would pay for those "promised" roads, and send the projects -- with updated costs -- back before voters.

We suppose Cox also wants to see the $1 billion for expanded bus service rescinded?!

We Transitcabalists were under the distinct impression that Cox strongly supported better bus service!

12:06 PM

Saturday, July 20, 2002

Wendell's Fudge Factory

From the Cabalmaster:

From a Secret Cabal Member whom might be called "NumbersMan"

Anyone who is allergic to fudge is advised to avoid Wendell (Cox')s "Demographia" website.
I've been tracking annual changes in transit travel (passenger-miles) for about 15 metro areas for as far back as I can get data. I decided to see if Wendell has anything useful.

Wendell's compilation of 2000 transit work trips and "market share" came from somewhere -- but not, in some cases from the Census Bureau. Because of a problem with Vermont data, release of "data set 3" tables has been delayed. Therefore, "journey to work" data for some metro areas -- Denver, Houston, and Portland are three on my list -- do not appear on the Census Bureau website.

So where did Wendell get his 2000 data for these (and other) areas?

I found that all five of the Portland-Salem metro-area counties were on the site, and so could add up "journey to work" figures in this manner. Perhaps that is what Wendell did. (He's not telling, at least not on his website.)

Some Cabal members have wondered why Wendell attacks Portland in such vitriolic fashion -- and not, say, St. Louis.

There are three answers:

1.) Portland is a national leader in the type of land-use controls that libertarians, some conservatives and so forth find ideologically grating.

2.) Transit ridership in St. Louis has not improved over the past 20 years (from 1980).

3.) Transit ridership in Portland has improved dramatically over the past 20 years.

--In Portland, annual transit pass-mi increased by 89 percent from 1980 to 2000, and the rail share increased from zero to nearly 37 percent.

--The number of persons responding that their primary mode for "journey to work" was by transit actually declined from 1980 to 1990. But, in absolute terms (using Wendell's numbers), the number increased by 61 percent, to 63,126. Only New York, Seattle and San Francisco had larger numerical increases.

--Four-county totals showed (at 2000) 59,881 people traveling to work by "transit." The three rail options added to 7,602.

(The categories are "streetcar or trolley car," "subway or elevated," and "railroad." There are probably some individuals who do travel to work by Amtrak, but I'e assigned all of these to MAX.)

So, that makes 52,279 "bus or trolleybus" trips. In 2000, Tri-Met carried about 260,000 bus boardings per weekday. Assuming that each "worker" accounts for two daily transit trips (not necessarily true, as found by a METRA survey during the early 1990s), Tri-Met's bus patronage was about 40 percent work trips.

In 2000, Tri-Met carried about 70,000 MAX boardings per weekday. Using the same method, the rail patronage was about 22 percent work trips. Keeping in mind that the principal market for transit today is work trips, and CBD work trips at that, it appears that MAX has been remarkably successful at attracting non-work trips -- in other words, at competing with autos.

When people get as shrill as Wendell does about Portland, one begins to wonder what the person (. . . and his funding sources . . .) are afraid of. Now we know.

3:43 PM

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