Transportation headlines, Monday, December 2

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Ridership discrepancy calls Metro’s estimation method into question (L.A. Times)

The article ponders the difference between Metro’s traditional way of estimating ridership and new data generated by the latched turnstiles at entrances to Red and Purple Line stations. The traditional ridership estimates have been running significantly higher than the turnstile counts since gates begun to be latched in June.

Metro officials say that the turnstile data is preliminary and not yet complete enough to serve as a substitute for ridership data. As for ridership, officials say the traditional estimates seem to be capturing trends on the subway and that the methodology behind those estimates is approved by the Federal Transit Administration.

Speed is cited as possible cause of deadly train crash in the Bronx (New York Times) 

No official word yet on the cause of the Metro North commuter train derailment just north of Manhattan on Sunday morning that killed four passengers and critically injured 11.

The speed limit along the curved stretch of track next to the Hudson River is 30 miles per hour and officials suggested Monday that the train was going faster; no one knows why. The NYT quotes an anonymous source saying the engineer told emergency workers he had to quickly apply the brakes.

Metro North’s Hudson Valley Line remains closed. It has been a difficult year for Metro North; two of its trains on the New Haven Line collided in May, injuring 70, and a railroad worker was struck and killed by a train in late spring.

More states raise taxes to pay for transportation (Kansas City Star) 

With Congress log-jammed, states and local governments are increasingly willing to raise taxes to pay for transportation improvements. Conservative groups are grumbling and may challenge some of the tax hikes, but politicians from both parties are finding that improving infrastructure is popular with voters.

In other words, the closer the politicians live to the actual people and land they govern, the more responsive they are.

Why mass transit is doomed in America: politicians don’t know people who use it (Salon) 

Race, class, fear and shame: transit barriers (KCET)

Two good semi-related articles. At KCET, long-time transit rider D.J. Waldie looks at some recent studies and articles that suggest the so-called ‘car bias’ remains strong and is preventing people from trying transit — even when transit may save them time and money. The big problem, as Waldie writes, is that new policies are encouraging denser developments near transit which may end up housing people who still won’t take the bus or train. Hmmm. No, make that a double hmmm.

At Salon, writer Alex Pareene gets grumpy on the fact that politicians in New York — which should be the most transit-friendly state in the nation owing to the Big Apple — consistently find ways to steer money away from transit.

But it’s not just a New York problem, Pareene writes before delivering a big-time spanking to Minneapolis and Atlanta. And then he finishes up his article with this eternally glorious paragraph which made the Source smile and then smile again:

Just about the only place where there seems to be hope for mass transit in America is, bizarrely enough, Los Angeles, where the system is currently in the process of growing and improving. Why there, of all places? Maybe because while Los Angeles politicians are as unlikely to ride buses and trains as politicians anywhere else, they do have a personal stake in seeing other drivers get the hell off the road.

13 replies

  1. I agree that using manual human labor just to go out and count is useless now when we have installed the gates that can do the counting automatically.

    It’ll be a far better to use those two dozen Metro workers to keep an eye out near the gates so cheaters don’t try to go through those disabled access gates.

  2. Just do tap in and tap out. Every city that has excellent mass transit system operate that way.

    Caltrain proves that it can be done without gates, Singapore proves that it can be done onboard buses.

  3. To 5:38 PM, that’s no different than someone getting off a bus who got off at the wrong stop, or someone who sees that there is a bus behind them which may be less full and opts to take that one (I use the Nextbus maps and sometimes do it on the 720 if I am not in a hurry, for a better experience). APCs work, Metro has been using it on the bus side for many years, and need to do so on the train as well.

  4. Dana,

    It’s not about whether it makes fiscal sense, it’s about making it more difficult for people to break the law. You want goods, you pay for it. This holds true for everything from buying a TV set at BestBuy to buying groceries at Ralphs, and paying Metro to ride the train. If you don’t pay, that becomes theft.

    There is no fiscal sense in maintaining a police force or invest in tools to keep the law in order. Does that mean we should not have a police force or invest in tools to maintain law and order?

    That’s what the fare gates are. It’s an equipment tool that helps maintain law and order. You ride, you pay. There doesn’t need to be a fiscal sense attached to it, it should be done no matter what the cost because it helps maintain law and order. You ride, you pay, if you don’t, you’re shut out of the system, times this process across the millions of people who take rail everyday throughout the LA area. Cops can’t enforce law and order in such a scale by themselves. Only machines are capable of doing this.

    Being said that, I think freeloading should be criminalized. It is the same as stealing, so punishment for freeloading should be made more tougher, like a bigger fine, plus a misdemeanor charge with mandatory community service.

  5. calwatch,

    Here’s a problem with an automated counter for the train. I get on the train. Click one. I get off the train. Click two. Oops this wasn’t my station, I get back on the train again. Click three. I get off at the correct station. Click four.

    So the counter says there were a total of four on and offs when it fact it should be just one entry into the system. There is no radar or laser technology to decipher which way the rider is going in or out, it just counts as a human goes through the door whichever way they are going.So what you end up with is over-inflated numbers that is inaccurate.

    The only way to get accurate information is to count in real time, the number of TAP-ins at the gate and the number of TAP-offs at the destination. I find it curious to wonder why Metro has never considered the effects of how much more harder running a transit system would be when there are more people riding the trains. All they had to do was go to every other city in the world that gets transit right and do everything exactly the way they do. Why is this so difficult to do here?

  6. From the Bay Area,

    If significant people are dodging fares as many people believe to be the case, then that is not a very accurate way of counting. My guess is long-term this is how they will do it. However, for now, where you just starting locking some gates, you need to figure out how many people were riding and not paying fares. Going to be tough to do that when you are right in the middle of locking the gates.

  7. Matt,

    Having no gates is not an excuse. Caltrain doesn’t have gates either but they still rely on TAP-in and TAP-out data for their distance based fare collections and ridership data statistics.

  8. From the LA Times,

    “From May through October, the number of people passing through turnstiles each month fell from 4.8 million to 4 million, according to the data. Over the same time frame, however, the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership estimates climbed by about 400,000 passengers.”

    If the Times was wrong Metro should say so and present their evidence. Now. Obviously Metro can’t. People should not be so easy fooled with the platitudes expressed over these issues.

  9. Josh Young,

    Simple answer to your question. About half of Metro stations do not and will not have gates.

  10. Lock the gates already, I have consistently stated a concern that the fiscal case for the gates was mis-leading and overstated. And I believe that is still valid. Certainly I never made any claims about impact on ridership.

  11. The LA Times article says: “Two dozen Metro employees create the estimates by counting the people who board every train at every station during key times of the day, said Conan Cheung, a deputy executive officer for the transportation authority.”

    So let me guess this straight. Our tax dollars are being used to pay 24 Metro employees to go out to each and every station at random times whose sole responsibility is to count how many passenger get on and off the train?

    Am I the only one who thinks this is nuts? Why does this city have to be so far behind in uses of technology compared to every other sane city in the world? The rest of the world does the same exact thing by real time TAP-in and TAP-out data collection from the fare gates. I cannot believe how we’re almost at 2014 and we still have to rely on human counters to do this. How much annual labor cost is being used for this inefficient method of data gathering?

    Relying on 24 people to do manual counting who ask for pay raises, overtime, union benefits, at random times versus an automated fare gate which does the counting automatically 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year whether it be rain or shine at the same time it does it job to prevent freeloaders from entering the system and collecting fares from honest riders. You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to figure out which is going to be more cheaper and more accurate in data collection.

  12. The data shows that the rail ridership numbers between October 2012 and October 2013 increased by over a quarter of a million even with latched gates.

    I guess that solves the baseless fears of “ridership is going to decrease” argument from those who were opposed to the idea of latching the gates.