Thursday, January 27, 2011

Transit Woes of Seattle

What's it really COST to build, manage, and use different types of transportation? Rather than opine, simply gaze upon this table of data for a few minutes... [Story at Bottom.]

Link to readable spreadsheet:

Transportation Costs

TYPE Initial Cost Annual Cost* People Cost Origin Trip Cost Typical Distance Cost per Mile Lane USE Cost

Walking 2000000 36000 1 36000.00 120.00 2 60 0.0000277777777777778
Car 2000000 36000 2 18000.00 60.00 26 2.30769230769231 0.0000555555555555556
Bicycle 2000000 36000 1 36000.00 120.00 8 15 0.0000277777777777778
Motorcycle 2000000 36000 1 36000.00 120.00 26 4.61538461538462 0.0000277777777777778
Van 2000000 36000 12 3000.00 10.00 26 0.384615384615385 0.000333333333333333
Bus 2000000 36000 46 782.61 2.61 15 0.173913043478261 0.00127777777777778
Light Rail 180000000 10000000 400 25000.00 83.33 15 5.55555555555556 0.00004
Subway 300000000 20000000 800 25000.00 83.33 31 2.68817204301075 0.00004
Heavy Rail 22000000000 400000000 2000 200000.00 666.67 200 3.33333333333333 0.000005
Charter Air 1200000 800000 120 6666.67 22.22 500 0.0444444444444445 0.00015
Airlines 110000000 60000000 400 150000.00 500.00 1500 0.333333333333333 0.00000666666666666667
Sources for above figures:$.htm

These costs are PER MILE of ROAD or rail, not per car or per train engine. Aircraft costs are thrown in as comparison per AIRLINE, rather than lane. Most airports have multiple airlines. For long distances it is still really the least expensive option. But, walking? That's very expensive when you consider the cost of the pathway, and the fact that the path usually occupies space that could be used for traffic. Recreational paths are not considered, and do not impact traffic.

For example, most of the Burke-Gilman trail occupies easement alongside traffic, and could easily be made into one or two more lanes. Where it goes rural, it's not a commuter route, especially in zones where the "trail" is nothing more than signs and you're just riding in normal streets with traffic or on a sidewalk.

The chart reveals some interesting data, and even though I just cobbled it together from the diverse data I was able to dredge up on various transit pages, it rapidly becomes clear why transportation remains an ongoing problem in the United States.

Facts of the chart:
Walking wastes the most lane space. Many thousands of people would need to use EACH mile to make the cost of NOT using a Bus or Train worthwhile. At best I see a few dozen people per hour on the B&G, and they're mostly cyclists.

Cyclists tend to ride a bus partway and ride the bike partway. That data is nearly impossible to obtain, so I haven't compared it. Cyclists in this chart are assumed to ride the entire commute on a bike. They share a feature with motorcycles - it takes a LOT of them to offset the use of mass transit.

Buses have the 2nd lowest cost per mile based on ridership, but have the highest per lane expense! It's the least efficient form of mass transit. Partly because busing shares lanes with traffic, and even the largest buses only hold a few dozen people, but also because of the fuel and maintenance costs buses are grossly inefficient. This chart ignores that mechanical cost though and simply looks at per use cost or passenger efficiency. Busing is worse than any other mode of transit.

Vans and Airlines are both cost effective, but Vans are 2nd worst at passenger efficiency, while airlines are the best choice possible.

Cars and Motorcycles have a higher per mile cost, but are far more passenger efficient. This should come as no surprise to anyone who would rather drive to work alone than ride a bus or carpool.

Light rail costs the most per mile, but has the 3rd highest passenger efficiency, only after both modes of flight. It's the most efficient ground transportation possible.

These figures are not considering gas prices, ticket costs, or any single-use factor. These are facts concerning the construction and maintenance costs of a SYSTEM, and how well that SYSTEM serves the public. An aircraft carrying 400 people is better than 1 person in a car if the destinations are similar. However, the car is better than any other mode of transit for flexibility and costs [road costs, not car costs!]

Buses and trains are hugely expensive systems, and of the two only a train has the carry capacity to offset that cost. Busing has ALWAYS been subsidized by the state and rarely makes any money. That is why you don't have bus lines going right by your house in a rural area. The density of an area has to be HIGH for a bus to be cost effective.

Still, cities rely on busing primarily because it puts more people to work [repairs, drivers, and maintenance] than any other system except an airport. Many cities rely on the state subsidies given for busing, thus their reluctance to develop better systems.

Trains actually have far fewer maintenance and staffing requirements than any other system, and serve the greatest number of people, but not as rapidly as aircraft can. The greater the distance, the more useful it is to fly. [At least until Mag-Lev is developed and widespread.]

As our nation grows more tightly packed, with an excess of 300 million people in America now, the need for additional infrastructure for both transit and employment are more important than ever before. Obama was right to demand a nation wide rail system.

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