Sunday, July 5, 2009


In the comments to my recent post comparing bus networks on each side of the Hudson, the always-informative Alon Levy suggested that the east-of-Hudson buses aren't as good because they don't need to be: "Long Island and the eastern Hudson Valley have rail service with 80% share of the commuters to Manhattan market."

Alon has a very good point, and it's one that I'll take up in a later post. But my main reaction on reading his comment was, "Why the hell aren't I notified about these things?" I mean, I knew it had to be high, but I didn't think it was that high.

I asked Alon where the data came from, and he gave some sources in the comments. Turns out it was even on an earlier version of the Metro-North homepage. He also gives some suggestions as to how it could be calculated by independent analysts like your Cap'n.

My question is, why isn't this reported on a monthly, or at least annual, basis? For every transit agency? Many of us want to get people out of their cars. It affects many of our goals. Wouldn't we want to know how many of them were already out of their cars before we started, and how well we're succeeding (or not)?

You'd think that something like the National Transit Database would have that data handy. Sadly, I couldn't find it. Their "Transit Profiles" tell you all about how many people each agency moves, how far, at what cost and with what kind of equipment, but not how well they're competing with private auto travel (or anyone else, for that matter).

(The National Transit Database does have lots of interesting information, including the fact that the Red and Tan Lines, a subsidiary of Coachusa, made an $8.4 million profit in 2007 (PDF), just over two dollars per trip. Yowza! I wonder how much that went down after the Pascack Valley improvements were implemented. By contrast, Transport of Rockland received over $12 million in subsidies, which is about $3.70 per trip. Guess which one uses the Lincoln Tunnel XBL?)

Of course, transportation bureaucrats and the elected officials who fund them don't care that much about market share. The bureaucrats care about staying employed, and the electeds care about getting re-elected (with maybe a few kickbacks along the way). At best they see transit as a government charity, and at worst as some meaningless government program. Run it well enough to keep people who matter from complaining, and they're happy. Most of the statistics in the National Transit Database are aimed at demonstrating that. If they ever cared about getting people out of their cars, they've given up on doing it through transit quality.

The bottom line is that anyone who does care about pollution, efficiency, carnage or sprawl, all of which require getting people out of their cars, should be working to get market share numbers for all transit services. And maybe finding a way to get the electeds to care about it. Otherwise we're all fumbling in the dark.

1 comment:

Jarrett at said...

Bravo. I can only say as an American who currently works mostly in Australia, Americans actually have relatively abundant data due to the clear government control of transit. The Thatcherite privatisation model that prevails in Australia means that if I want to ask how many people use a particular station (a station purchased and operated with public funds) I have to sign a confidentality agreement. The system combines the private sector's characteristic secrecy with the public sector's characteristic lack of competitive pressure. Worst of both worlds.