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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Wednesday, February 26, 2003

Wendell Cox Is Not Mediocre, But Sometimes, He's Dense -- 1

"It is the unfortunate destiny of the ridiculous to be subject to ridicule."
James Howard Kunstler

"Truth passes through three phases: 1) It is ridiculed. 2) It is violently opposed. 3) It is accepted as self-evident." Albert Schopenhouer. In the United States, rail is currently passing through Phase Two.

From the Cabalmaster:

The Secret Worldwide Transit Cabal is pleased to bring you the results of our latest random visit to "The Public Purpose" / "Demographia."

We spotted a page titled "International Urban Rail: Passengers per Line Mile By City" (see: The "test" statistic -- presented without supporting data (as usual . . . ) is annual passengers per line-mile. Cities and systems are arranged in rank order, and an index is computed -- although we don’t fathom what this index, normalized on Hong Kong’s MTR, is supposed to demonstrate.

Similar pages include:

"Urban Rail Productivity: Selected International Urban Areas" (see:

"Urban Rail Productivity: Selected International Urban Areas Ranked" (see: This page compares systems in other cities to those in Tokyo.

We TransitCabalists are not impressed, nor should you be (but you know we're opinionated, don't you?). All the compiler(s) did was divide annual boarding counts by total route length. This tells nothing at all about "transportation" -- that is, travel. Putting it another way, "The Public Purpose" presentations make sense if -- and only if:

1) One assumes that the average travel distance for urban rail passengers is the same, worldwide.

2) One doesn't care about average travel distance, which means one doesn't care whether boarding "passengers" travel or not.

(Some of the newest subway stations in Tokyo have "community" areas, including carpet, chairs, table and bookshelves--complete with books and magazines. There may be something to point 2), at least in Tokyo...)

The correct "test" statistic would be traffic density--passenger-miles per mile of route (or pass-km per km of route). Although the unit sounds clumsy, the concept is simplicity itself: The number of passengers transported over each mile of route (in both directions) per year.

(As we've noted before, passenger light-years per light-year of route would also give the same number . . . and might be appropriate for the Denizens of Demographia, whom we think are sometimes out in space.)

Some transit foes who don't like this approach complain that passenger-km or passenger-mi data are "not available." Lame, lame, lame.

Average trip length may often be calculated directly (as from National Transit Database data for U.S. operators). In the absence of passenger-km or passenger-mile data, or traffic-density statistics, average trip length may be estimated with good precision. Reyolds, for example, presents one technique for doing so (Reynolds, D. J. 1971. Research Monograph No. 3: The Urban Transport Problem in Canada, 1970-2000. (Prepared for the Honourable R. K. Andras, Minister Responsible for Housing, Government of Canada.) Ottawa.).

We'll continue with our discussion of density - density of traffic, density of boardings, and density of Wendell - next time.

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