Transportation headlines, Thursday, August 16

Here is a look at some of the transportation headlines gathered by us and the Metro Library. The full list of headlines is posted on the Library’s Headlines blog, which you can also access via email subscription or RSS feed.

L.A.’s first freeways (KCET So Cal Connected)

A nice look at the earliest freeways in the Los Angeles area and the thinking that went into the planning and building of them. A four-mile section of Ramona Boulevard and a 1.5-mile segment of freeway over the Cahuenga Pass were the preludes to the 6.8-mile Arroyo Seco Parkway opening in 1940. It’s still in use today as the Pasadena Freeway, although it looks nowhere near as good as does in some of the many fine photos on this post. A recent attempt to spruce things up doesn’t really work — today the road is lined by a lot of chain-link fencing, suffers too much graffiti and has a lot of trash along its edges.


Amtrak’s Pacific Surfliner in San Diego. Photo by Justin Brown, via Flickr creative commons.

Romney says he would eliminate Amtrak funding (CNNMoney)


There are three major areas I have focused on for reduction in spending. These are in many cases reductions which become larger and larger over time. So first there are programs I would eliminate. Obamacare being one of them but also various subsidy programs — the Amtrak subsidy, the PBS subsidy, the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts, the National Endowment for the Humanities. Some of these things, like those endowment efforts and PBS I very much appreciate and like what they do in many cases, but I just think they have to strand on their own rather than receiving money borrowed from other countries, as our government does on their behalf.

A related post on The Hill says that zeroing out Amtrak in the budget would be difficult to do, given the popularity of its Northeast Corridor routes between Washington and New York. If Amtrak shut down those routes, commuters would fly instead, which could create bottlenecks across the country as major airports are overwhelmed trying to handle commuter flights. The federal government provided about $1.5 billion to Amtrak in fiscal year 2011; the total federal budget that year was about $3.63 trillion.

Why should we stop talking about ‘bus stigma’ (The Atlantic Cities)

Transit planner and writer Jarrett Walker takes exception to those who suggest that many people avoid the bus because of the stigma attached to it — as is the bus is only for the poor or minorities. In his view, the problem with buses is that they too often don’t offer the fast and frequent service that people want. Good bus service, he believes, attracts a good number of riders across all spectrums. Excerpt:

Mass transit, even the indispensable bus, will continue on that path to greater relevance to the degree that citizens care about it and demand that it be funded. Right now, many people who don’t use transit are making a rational choice, based on its current usefulness and their alternatives; no stigma is needed to explain that behavior. As transit improves, and especially as other options become more expensive, decisions will continue to change, person by person, family by family, and ridership will grow as a result. At some point in that process, journalists will stop talking about a stigma. But the solution to the “stigma” or “class” problem, all along, was to refuse to define it that way.


7 replies

  1. Ken W.,
    Public-private hybrids are a risky business (e.g. bank, airline, mortgage lender bailouts). In addition, there may be issues here with the transit unions. You may, however, be on to something at least in the sense that the MTA could lease (to private entities) the right to provide services that are not currently being provided. E.g., why isn’t there more advertising at Metro stations? And what about private companies providing some more basic human needs (i.e. consuming nutrition and eliminating it)? The only pay toilet that I have seen is the one at the NoHo station, and I think that many of us know that snack/water vending is tolerated — to a certain extent — on the Blue Line. How about leasing the right to sell food and drinks? Amtrak and commuter trains tolerate (and sometimes even sell) food without being overrun by rodents and cockroaches. Some transit agencies sell inexpensive licenses to entertainers. And what about selling partial naming rights to certain stations and/or lines. Of course, none of these ideas will make MTA turn a profit, free of taxpayer support, but at least some of them are worthy of consideration.

  2. Dave,

    It doesn’t have to be an “all-or-nothing” solution. Privatization and government ownership can go in tandem.

    Look at how true private-public partnership rail works over in Asia. Majority of the shares are held by their respective governments, but at the same time, private investors also have a stake in them through shares that are able to be bought, sold, and traded on the open market.

    Amtrak is none like that. It’s 100% owned by the US government and no one can buy Amtrak stock. If Amtrak can publicly release at least 20-30% of its stock in the open market just like how rail is done elsewhere, then it can become a true private-public enterprise.

    Unfortunately, the US likes to think in terms of black-and-white. 100% government 0% private, or 0% government and 100% private. Why not 80% government and 20% private? Why is that option never on the table?

  3. John J: History, if you would re-read it, would tell you just about any Private transportation agency, will go bankrupt, if not supplemented by federal and state grants, and other types of funding. AMTRAK will not surivive if it is privitized.That is the ultimate truth, like it or not. If AMTRAK disapeared tommorrow, I gurantee the flying situation would spiral down, with the flying experience becoming intolerable. I would like to see our defense budget cut in half, and the money saved going to transit, bridge, freeway, and road repair.

  4. I agree that the Pacific Surfliner is great. I have taken it from Santa Barbara to Santa Ana. Unfortunately, rail policy has been the Achilles heel of urban planning for half a century. We heavily subsidize roads, gasoline, and automobiles (ethanol, auto bailout, cash-for-clunkers, etc.). When we do support mass transit, it is often with a bias toward busses since “they can go anywhere” [including getting stuck in traffic jams :-)]. And our rail policy gives preferential treatment to freight trains. Amtrak has often made funding decisions based too much upon political clout. (Anyone recall the train service to Robert Byrd’s hometown?) A level playing field for rail funding would be a good start.

  5. Just because government cuts off Amtrak funding doesn’t mean poof the Northeast Corridor or the Pacific Surfliner routes are gone. The government should not be running everything. Do you think the government should be running all of our media and companies as well? No.

    The Northeast Corridor and the Pacific Surfliner are one of the more successful routes in Amtrak. Why not just privatize those routes? Instead of Amtrak paid for with taxes, it’ll become Amtrak Inc. with people allowed to buy and sell stocks just like any other transportation company. Clearly anyone can buy Ford, General Motors, Chrysler, Boeing Aircraft, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Delta stocks right? Why can’t we buy Amtrak stocks?

  6. Two little notes on Amtrak:

    The Pacific Surfliner from Union Station to Downtown San Diego is awesome. Directly from Downtown LA to Downtown SD in a couple hours, where you can walk to a nearby hotel for a great weekend getaway. I highly recommend the trip!

    Also, Ann Romney takes the Surfliner from Solana Beach to Moorpark when she stays in their La Jolla home and rides her horse in LA. Obviously, they can pay their way on the train whether it’s public or private, but I find it funny that Mitt specifically leaves Amtrak out when he says he does like the other services he would cut subsidies for. Clearly he should be able to understand the usefulness of it?

  7. I have “bus stigma” due to the MTA’ BIAS AGAINST EXPANDING BUS SERVICE!