Transportation headlines, Tuesday, Feb. 26: art of transit, does light rail stop people from driving?, raising the gas tax?

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.

ART OF TRANSIT: A bus on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

ART OF TRANSIT: A bus on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles. There’s a color version after the jump — I like the photo but can’t decide which version I like better. You decide! Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Does light rail really stop people from driving (The Atlantic Cities) 

A new study in the UK showed little evidence that four different light rail lines (all in Britain) made much of any difference on car ownership rates or the amount of driving. Rail ridership in the light rail corridors did go up, but that mostly seemed to come at the expense of bus ridership. Excerpt:

With that in mind, the work still underscores some important lessons. For starters, it offers a sound piece of advice: cities considering a light rail system should strongly consider whether improving the local bus system would be cheaper and just as effective. It also provides yet another reminder of the irrational love people have for their cars; getting city residents to give up driving often requires more than just offering them a ride.

LA Observed: Traffic, bikes and the 405 (KCRW)

LA Observed Kevin Roderick’s weekly radio segment focuses on the lack of talk about traffic during the mayoral campaign. Voters seem interested, Roderick says, but it’s hard for any prospective mayor to credibly say they can fix traffic — thus the talk instead of providing alternatives to it, i.e. bikes and transit. Good segment.

The case for a higher gas tax (New York Times) 

Valerie J. Karplus, a research scientist in the Joint Program on the Science and Policy of Global Change at M.I.T., uses this op-ed piece to make the case that the only thing that will get Americans to drive less is more expensive gasoline. And by expensive she means a lot more than the current national average of $3.72. Excerpts:

But if our goal is to get Americans to drive less and use more fuel-efficient vehicles, and to reduce air pollution and the emission of greenhouse gases, gas prices need to be even higher. The current federal gasoline tax, 18.4 cents a gallon, has been essentially stable since 1993; in inflation-adjusted terms, it’s fallen by 40 percent since then.

Politicians of both parties understandably fear that raising the gas tax would enrage voters. It certainly wouldn’t make lives easier for struggling families. But the gasoline tax is a tool of energy and transportation policy, not social policy, like the minimum wage.

She argues that President Obama took the easier path by greatly raising the fuel efficiency requirements of new vehicles — something that won’t reduce driving much or raise much money for infrastructure improvements. I do think the new standards, however, have a good chance of greatly reducing air pollution in our region. But if driving greatly increases, then those gains could be for naught.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

Photo by Steve Hymon/Metro.

1 reply

  1. Re: the Atlantic Cities article, “Does Light Rail Really Stop People from Driving.” From the article, “The study’s biggest limitation is that it focused on the simple existence of light rail — not the quality of its service, or for that matter other factors like density or development or demographics.” Because of this limitation, I would call the study worthless! To judge light rail solely upon whether or not it makes people drive less is missing the point.

    One huge omission regarding the quality of light rail: the study does not consider the factor of right-of-way. A quality light rail (not a streetcar) travels on its own right-of-way. It is not bound by traffic and therefore has the potential to run swiftly and – more importantly – reliably. Buses often offer a bumpy ride, a dirty seat and the inability to move about freely within the bus. But I will bet that if you asked any bus rider what their #1 complaint is, the answer would be “…the bus was late.” Twitter Tuesday pretty much backs this up.

    Furthermore, light rail removes buses from city streets and makes them less congested. And safer for bicyclists.