10 Lame Reasons to Delay Mass Transit

Who knew that discussions about mass transit could be so funny? Check out this excerpt from a guest column in the Seattle Times by Mayor and Sound Transit Board chair Greg Nickels:

As Sound Transit prepares to move forward with a proposal for the November ballot, there are those who favor more investments in mass transit, just not this year. We have helpfully compiled a “top 10” list of the reasons to wait:

10) Everything has been said, but not everyone has said it. A two-year delay will enable us to hear from those who are still mustering up the courage to make up their minds.

9) True, the 15-year Sound Transit plan would add light rail, commuter rail and regional buses. If we wait two years, though, it might include hydrogen-powered, personal hovercrafts. That’d be cool.

8) Local media need an infusion of advertising cash from a certain Eastside shopping center developer who wants another two years to tell you that freeways are still the best transportation for the region. No matter what.

7) More debate will give us more information. There’s so much more to discuss, it just seems premature to have a vibrant light-rail system after only 40 years of talking about it.

6) There is so much room for new highways, it just makes sense to build new lanes. Interstate 5 through downtown Seattle seems like it is ripe for a little widening. And the Eastside and Montlake are united in wanting a bigger Highway 520, right? Right? Oh, wrong.

5) Mass transit is popular. So popular, you may not have a seat on the bus. But standing all the way home improves your calf muscles and physical stamina. This strength-building exercise works even better in high heels.

4) You can worry more about climate change. Need an extra two years to get your head around species collapse and widespread global drought? Waiting for mass transit will give you time to bone up on the latest news about how our indecision and bad habits are torching the planet. Books on tape are great for the car!

3) By waiting two years, we can do the same project but spend about $1 billion more. With the price of everything going up — steel, concrete, gas — a delay will cost big bucks. But indecision is worth it. Isn’t it?

2) Congestion will only get worse. That leaves more time in the car to listen to talk-radio hosts jawbone about the lack of transportation alternatives.

And the No. 1 reason why we should wait for mass transit …

1) Pumping the car with $70 of gasoline feels more special when there isn’t an alternative. Let’s face it — gas prices aren’t coming down. Why ruin gas-station heartburn by giving people a way out of their cars and into light rail?

12 thoughts on “10 Lame Reasons to Delay Mass Transit

  1. Snowed In

    Aren’t these the reasons Cap Metro built a commuter rail system that apparently benefits mostly Leander, instead of, you know, a practical, multifaceted plan that would actually benefit all of Austin?

  2. Kraft

    Cap Metro wants a plan that would benefit all of Austin. How many times have they been shot down?

    The Leander line was built on existing track that’s owned by Capital Metro with as little capital cost as possible. Is it perfect? No. Is it a step in the right direction? Yes. Are there more steps to be taken? Yes.

    What’s better? Waiting until every single piece of the puzzle can be played at once, or playing the pieces that can be played and working toward a completed puzzle?

    My favorite reason to delay any type of transportation improvement (highway or mass transit): NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard)

    Everyone seems to want to improve [blank]- transit, highways, streets, whatever, but no one is willing to let it happen near them.

    I’m not saying transportation systems should destroy neighborhoods in a Robert Moses-style, but you can’t keep the number of car-lanes, add bike lanes (or separate facilities) and add light-rail (on the street grid or not), without someone somewhere losing property for the betterment of the community.

    Having to purchase ROW sucks all the way around, but it is needed. As long as the City or whomever works with me and keeps me in the loop, please please put transportation improvements in my backyard.

  3. M1EK

    No, kraft, it’s not a step in the right direction – because commuter rail can’t ever be extended in ways which help the residents of Austin.

    They chose to pursue commuter rail when Austinites voted FOR light rail in 2000 – giving rail to the people who voted against it in 2000 (Leander). So, no, I’m not buying this revisionist history.

  4. Kraft

    Okay, Austin voted for light rail. Why didn’t it happen in 2000? Cap Metro, all on their own, decided to forget about light rail and put in a commuter line to Leander?

    Too many people were too vocal in fighting against light rail. The commuter line was palatable enough to get past the challenges into completion.

    Is it a perfect solution? Is the best? Is it a complete solution? No, no and no. But, it introduces a transportation option that does not operate on the highway/roadway–if it works well, people will begin to be more open to options outside of the road/car-centric culture of Texas.

    Will it improve the transportation situation in Austin? I’m sure it will, namely along 183/Mopac. Will it help me (living in 78704 working in 78705)? No, but that’s fine with me. All of these various solutions help improve the overall situation, which is a step in the right direction in my opinion.

    But, let’s say I’m wrong. What’s the right direction? What steps do we take–steps that will actually pass through the political and cultural climate of Austin?

    Light rail, obviously, didn’t make it. It may have been voted favorably, but it wasn’t favorable enough to be realistic.

    Is commuter rail the best step? I don’t know, but it is a step beyond doing nothing. Doing nothing, waiting for a solution that will fix all things and be perfectly acceptable to all people, is what got Austin into this mess in the first place,.

  5. Kraft

    Slightly related, on the topic of incompatible transportation options:

    Commuter rail cannot be expanded to a light rail solution for central Austin.

    New York City, which is seen as having a great public transit system, has two types of subway trains/lines that are not compatible with each other (numbered trains and lettered trains can’t run on the other), in addition to commuter rail.

    Again, if I was playing SimCity and could do whatever I want, I would do things much differently. But, I’m glad something is happening advancing public transit.

  6. M1EK


    Inside the city limits, it passed in 2000. When you added in the other parts of the service area, it (barely) failed.

    Ironically, the people responsible for the failure in 2000 are getting rail service, while essentially nobody inside Austin will be able to get any benefit out of the thing – while light rail a la 2000 would have provided great service to both groups.

    As for co-existing with light rail, the problem is that there’s one great corridor for a light rail starter line in this city – and commuter rail is now squatting on half of it. No other option exists which can bring in 46,000 people/day – there’s no other combination of a dedicated rail corridor which can then transition into an arterial street corridor which takes you by all the major activity centers. This new proposal is a very shaky route which is our best hope to go forward, but it’s a very slim hope.

    Finally, even in NY, commuter rail loses passengers because of transfers (to the subway!) – they’re spending a billion or two moving the LIRR farther in the city because of this.

  7. dirtdirt

    essentially nobody inside Austin will be able to get any benefit out of the thing

    I think you need to broaden your vision just a smidge, and maybe even try taking a glass half-full approach for a minute.

    Even if people from Leander were the only people riding the trains, they would take cars off the road, reducing congestion/pollution/parking issues for those who still drive.

    But it is sort of besides the point. The whole “people IN Austin can’t use this” argument is specious. Although the terminus is indeed in Leander, all the stops but one (Cedar Park) are in Austin. Or does North Austin not count?

    Nobody thinks that the Commuter Line is a perfect solution. But it is, definitely, absolutely, a part of the solution. Instead of slagging the MetroRapid you should hope to hell it is successful. It is what we have now, and if it ends up being a boondoggle we can say goodbye to any new transit projects for, what, 20 years?

  8. M1EK

    dirtdirt, the only station in Austin with a big parking lot is the one right on the edge that’s primarily going to attract Cedar Park riders (who, of course, don’t pay any property taxes). There’s a small lot on tap for Howard, and after that, the lots function as basically drop-off locations, with relatively few people close enough to walk to the stations (unlike 2000’s light rail line). No service at all in central Austin.

    To say nothing of the fact that since every train ride will require a bus ride at the destination end, it’s unlikely that this service will attract anybody who’s not already willing to ride buses – meaning most of its ridership is likely to be existing riders of the express (98x) buses; and for most of those folks it’s not even a good decision to take the train/bus combo (since the bus takes them straight to UT/Capitol/downtown sans transfer), so expect reductions in 98x services fairly soon after the inception of commuter rail service to ‘encourage’ more to switch.

  9. chrysrobyn

    I've got to agree with everyone who posts here, and it's comically relevant to the post; a series of jokes which are funny to those who already ride the bus, but uninformed, unrealistic sarcasm to the rest.

    Train service from Leander: Yes, anything is better. A lot of people go downtown, but we're replacing express busses with trains here. Only a few people will switch from cars to trains; they have a stigma against busses. Most people will still find that they can't get to where they need to, or that they need a car to get to the station anyway, so why not keep driving?

    Yes, Austin needs lots more in order to do better. When I lived in Leander, I walked two miles from deep within Block House Creek (near Scottsdale Road) to get to the Leander bus stop (when it was at the church). Most people won't do that. Now that I'm in Wells Branch, my 15 minute trip to work would take over an hour if I took the bus because of a long wait at Tech Ridge; and that's if I'm waiting for the bus when it shows up for its hourly rounds. For me, the train will likely take that down to 30 minutes mostly because it avoids the Tech Ridge burden.

    I see a lot of mostly empty busses. Seems to me like it would be a more efficient system if there were small circulators at each major park&ride and busses or trains just to take people between them.

  10. BonBon!

    An unfortunate truth: Commuter rail is no solution. I don’t think Capital Metro is selling it that way. They just want to appear concerned and MetroRail allows them to do that. I’d like to see more data as to commuter rail’s applicability for future rail expansions which would benefit more Austinites. Independent assessments, as Capital Metro’s Rah-Rah Rail mentality is unnerving and encourages little confidence. Suggestions, links?

    Saying commuter rail is a “start” is not good enough, especially if the people upon whom its success is dependent are those primarily responsible for rejecting the original concept of rail in 2000. That’s my understanding of m1ek’s argument. Am I correct in that assessment? Politics, not good public policy, won the day.

    It’s not encouraging to think that the future of efficient, quality public transportation in this ever expanding city rests upon an alternative implemented on the cheap, but it is the hand we were dealt. One need only read the comments surfacing regarding the subject of street cars to understand that high gas prices or no, the cultural mindset of this “green” enclave is still CARS, CARS, CARS!

    I hope some good comes of MetroRail, but it does appear as though a mini-band aid is being applied to a gaping, effusive policy wound.

  11. M1EK

    I would argue that you can’t call something a “start” unless it can be extended somewhere of use – and commuter rail absolutely cannot – we will never see those commuter rail trains disgorging passengers in front of UT or the Capitol. Never. They can’t make the turns; they are not compatible with street running other than in a long straightaway (or in conditions like Newark/Camden where it’s easy and reasonable to condemn city blocks so the train can make turns).

    And the same people who wouldn’t ride express buses straight to their destination are now going to do a 3-seat ride (car, train, shuttle-bus)? Yeah, right. Even with a good 3rd seat (reserved guideway streetcar), this is a tough sell.

    This isn’t what successful cities did – there’s nobody that started with commuter rail and ended up with a well-utilized transit system. The path to success is to ALWAYS start in and work your way out; not the other way around.

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