Friday, December 29, 2023

The 2022 farebox numbers

Agency	Fare Revenues per Total Operating Expense (Recovery Ratio)
Port Imperial Ferry Corporation, dba: NY Waterway	1.43
Hyannis Harbor Tours, Inc.	1.41
Bay State LLC, dba: Bay State Cruise Company	1.35
Trans-Bridge Lines, Inc.	1.33
Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority	1.31
Hampton Jitney, Inc.	1.2
Seldovia Village Tribe	1
Peter Pan Bus Lines	1
Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission	1
Community Transit, Inc.	0.96
Chatham Area Transit Authority	0.93
Jalbert Leasing, Inc. , dba: C&J Bus Lines	0.92
A&C Bus Corporation & Montgomery & Westside Owners Association	0.83
Academy Lines, Inc.	0.78
SeaStreak, LLC	0.77
Chemehuevi Indian Tribe	0.75
Orange-Newark-Elizabeth, Inc.	0.71
University of California, Davis, dba: ASUCD-Unitrans	0.69
Chicago Water Taxi (Wendella)	0.67
Olympia Trails Bus Company, Inc.	0.66
Hudson Transit Lines, Inc.	0.63
Monsey New Square Trails Corporation	0.63

I remembered the National Transit Database a bit earlier this year, so here are the top hitters for 2022, and we can see the ridership recovery already. The four companies earning a profit from 2021 (Bay State, Trans-Bridge, Hampton Jitney and Hyannis Harbor) are joined by New York Waterway and the Chattanooga incline. Broadway Bus dropped from breaking even to earning just 23 cents on the dollar, and Peter Pan buses and the Seldovia Village Tribe ferries claimed to be breaking even. The Golden Crescent also claimed to be breaking even, but I think they're either lying or clueless or both.

It's not too surprising that the ferries did well in 2022: you can usually isolate from other riders on the upper deck. The New York Waterway ferries run every twenty minutes year round, charge $9 a ride and have gotten a lot of takers every time I've ridden them. They also load and unload passengers a lot more efficiently than the East River ferries operated by Hornblower.

Most of the Lincoln Tunnel buses are back over 50% farebox revenue, including Coachusa-owned Community Transit, Olympia Trails and ShortLine, so we'll see if they continue to improve. Red and Tan is only at 27%, which is probably why they still haven't brought back weekend service, but honestly I don't think they'll earn back those customers without losing money on the weekends for a few months.

Again, this just points to the foolishness of the Federal government and transit advocates. If the Feds had bailed out private transit companies the way they bailed out the airlines in 2020 and 2021, we'd be seeing a lot more people on the bus in New Jersey and the Hudson Valley.

The NTD now offers the ability to sort and filter in place, so you can sort and filter the data right in place, and even share a URL with your sorted and filtered data!

Thursday, December 28, 2023

Ten things to remember about public and private transportation


With a bunch of articles in the news recently about private intercity bus service, it's important to keep in mind several points:

  1. No transportation is completely private. Whether it's land, vehicles, fuel, air, research, wayfinding, public safety or search and rescue: you didn't build that.
  2. No transportation is completely public. Even in the strictest Communist states there have always been markets where people sell transportation without state control. In the United States, every government transportation agency buys goods and services from private vendors, and many contract their operations to private companies. Somebody, somewhere, is making a buck, and there's nothing you can do to stop it.
  3. Greedy, lazy people are everywhere. There's nothing about public ownership that guarantees good service.
  4. Most public transit used to be profitable. Most of the "public" transit systems around the world between 1850 and 1950 were built and operated by private companies, with large government subsidies. Some are still profitable today.
  5. Most roads and parking lots in the United States are socialist. And they're destroying the planet.
  6. Automakers and airlines are regularly bailed out by the government. Pundits and politicians only complain about bailouts and subsidies if they think they're going to the "wrong" people. Which ones they complain about usually tells you a lot about the pundits and politicians.
  7. It's all one big system. Whether publicly or privately owned or operated, public transit competes with publicly subsidized roads, airports, parking and personal cars.
  8. Private operators can take payment through larger fare systems. It takes a bit of planning, but it can be done.
  9. Transportation policy can't solve race, sex or class prejudice by itself. You may eradicate racism from buses, but as long as racism exists, racists will find a way to use transportation to oppress people.
  10. Trip cost is just one factor. For some people it's the biggest factor. For most, it comes after other criteria like trip time, safety, comfort and reliability.

Wednesday, August 9, 2023

Land trusts, co-ops and imperfect representation

Last month the New York Times ran an article by Claire Fahy about community land trusts. I've been hearing more about them lately: there's a group calling itself the Western Queens Community Land Trust that shows up to events, and my City Council member regularly indicates support for them. Several of the people I follow on social media also express support for them.

I've already explained one reason community land trusts are a bad idea: they assign benefits to people based on where they are. The intent is to grant people benefits as compensation for hardship, past (oppressive urban highways and drug laws, and yes I know that these things are not really in the past), or present/future (cheap roads, communication and energy in the country). Despite this intent, the benefits regularly go to people who don't need or deserve them, such as recent arrivals and wealthy vacationers. The benefits also fail to go to people who do need and deserve them, because they've left the area, because they are not part of the legally defined group, or because there aren't enough benefits to go around.

But even if you ignore the fact that it's not really fair to distribute benefits to people based on where they currently live, there's another problem: the trust part. Community land trusts don't have a mechanism to ensure that those benefits are reliably and evenly distributed to the people who live in their declared territory. The trusts are currently constituted as private nonprofit corporations, and I am not aware of any mechanism for governance, proposed or possible, that could make them genuinely representative. We're just supposed to trust them.

Fahy says "The concept of a community land trust began in 1969" and talks about a recent increase in the use of community land trusts in urban areas. That's probably true, but the concept of a nonprofit organization owning property and leasing it out to individuals and families is much older. And in fact, Fahy mentions that the concept was directly copied from the Moshavim model of settler colonialism in Israel, which is a dubious distinction.

Here in New York we have nonprofit housing developers like the Phipps Houses that have been renting at below-market prices for generations. We've also had housing cooperatives since the 1880s at least, and they don't live up to the lofty rhetoric of "community" we hear from some proponents.

I've lived in two different housing coops. One suffered from underinvestment stemming from an effort to keep rents affordable; another suffered from corruption by the officials who were responsible for running the property, and managed to get away with tens of thousands of dollars.

From what I've heard, these are relatively minor concerns in the grand scheme of what can go wrong with a housing coop. The condominium models used around the country and around the world are similar. Among the more extreme risks are the collapse of the Champlain Towers in Florida in 2021. Some have argued that the disinvestment we saw in Champlain Towers is a flaw in the condominium model.

Beyond the risk of corruption is a more general vagueness about governance. Who decides what the land trust should invest in? Which new properties should it buy? How much housing should it build, or allow to be built? What criteria should it use for who it sells/lends to? Should it develop and lease commercial properties, community facilities, parking? If it earns profits, what happens to those profits?

Who chooses the people that make those decisions? Are they appointed by elected officials? Are they elected at the bottom of the ballot, overshadowed by candidates for President, Mayor or Congress? Or in low-turnout off-year elections? Or are they elected by the membership of the Land Trust - and who gets to be a member? Are they even just a self-perpetuating board of directors? Where is the trust there?

Since they live in the midst of housing co-ops and nonprofit housing, you'd think the people who are promoting community land trusts here in New York City would acknowledge the existence of those models, compare the community land trust model to those models, and have some argument about why community land trusts are preferable, but I haven't seen anything like that. You might also think they'd acknowledge the problems of governance and function that have affected co-ops and nonprofits. Nope.

Community land trusts are also promoted as a way to combat the housing crisis. Fahy says, "The primary model in New York creates rental units," but they don't really create any units. They simply buy property and rent it out.

The trusts have the power to reduce displacement by keeping rents low and resisting pressure to sell, but I haven't seen a discussion of how that would address the core problem of housing: there isn't enough of it in places where people want to live. They're not any more capable of creating new housing than any other organization; in fact, they may impede it. This is no solution for the vast numbers of people who don't already own housing.

In sum, community land trusts are likely to serve the wrong people, and may not even successfully represent those people, or function competently at all. They are promoted as a solution to the housing crisis, but even if they function perfectly they're no better at creating new housing than any other organizational model, and likely worse.

Why are we still talking about them?

Sunday, January 22, 2023

The 2021 farebox numbers

screenshot of the list of 24 organizations with the highest farebox recovery ratios in 2021

Alexander asked on Twitter about the series of posts I did on farebox recovery ratios reported to the United States National Transit Database from 2007 through 2010. The Federal Transit Administration has continued to publish the NTD every year; I just got a little tired of compiling the data, and engagement kind of went down. But let's take a look and see how things are these days!

The Database for each year used to be published in December of the following year, so 2021 is now the most recent year available. The data used to be in Table 26, but the FTA staff is no longer numbering the tables, so now it's in the Metrics table. I've imported the 2021 Metrics table into Google Sheets for your convenience.

Since we're looking at traditional transit providers, the first thing to do is filter out the contract providers (any TOS but DO) and the demand response and vanpool providers (Mode of DR and VP). That leaves us with 22 transit providers.

The first thing I noticed is how many more ferry operators are reporting. In 2010 we had New York Waterway and BillyBey, but in 2021 we have eight: Bay State (Boston to Provincetown), Hyannis Harbor (also Cape Cod), Seldovia Village (connects Homer, Alaska to a Native village with no competing roads), New York Waterway, Chicago Water Taxi, Chatham Area Transit (connecting downtown Savannah to the Convention Center), SeaStreak (connects New York with bedroom and resort towns in New Jersey and Massachusetts) and the Chemehuevi Indian Tribe (connects one end of London Bridge to a casino across Lake Havasu).

In 2010 we had the University of Georgia; in 2021 we have the University of Arkansas and the University of California at Davis. Those don't really count because they're paid for up front by student fees. The Chattanooga inclined plane also broke even in 2021.

A couple of items were flagged by the FTA staff as "Questionable," including the claim by the Golden Crescent Regional Planning Commission that its bus service brings in $9.26 per trip in fares, when their website says they only charge $1.50. They didn't flag the Developmental Services of Northwest Kansas's claim that they earn $16 per trip in fares while only charging $3, but I find that questionable myself. Similarly with Iredell County Area Transportation Services' report of $7.75 per trip contrasts with their website's $1-3 fare. I'm guessing both of those are clerical errors.

That leaves nine bus companies, all in the New York area, making more than a 50% farebox recovery ratio in 2021, which you may remember was a difficult year for transit agencies: Trans-Bridge, Hampton Jitney, Broadway Bus, Olympia Trails, Peter Pan, Orange-Newark-Elizabeth, Monsey New Square Trails, Community Transit, A&C Bus/Montgomery and Westside, and Adirondack Transit.

To answer Alexander's question: there are six bus companies on this list that use the Lincoln Tunnel Exclusive Bus Lane: Trans-Bridge, Olympia Trails (the CoachUSA subsidiary serving Newark Airport from Manhattan), Peter Pan, Monsey New Square Trails (a commuter service focused on Hasidic Jews), Community Transit (a CoachUSA subsidiary serving East and West Orange and Livingston, NJ from the Port Authority) and Adirondack Transit. Of the buses making more than 75% farebox recovery ratio in 2010, some had gone out of business before the adoption of work-from-home arrangements when doctors began discovering COVID-19 cases in March, like Frank Martz Trailways.

Most of the companies missing from the short list were just losing a lot of money. Suburban Transit, the CoachUSA subsidiary serving New Brunswick area, made a 22% farebox recovery ratio in 2021. DeCamp made 21%, and Rockland Coaches, the CoachUSA subsidiary formerly doing business as Red and Tan Lines, made 19%. This is a useful lesson, because the management of these companies took a very conservative approach, canceling all service for months and leading restoration with peak-direction rush-hour service. Rockland has still not restored full-day or weekend service. In contrast, Trans-Bridge, Olympia Trails, Peter Pan, Monsey and Adirondack all run service middays, reverse-peak and weekends.

It wasn't flagged as "Questionable," but I find it questionable that Broadway Bus was able to run eight buses for $13.97 an hour total. If I'm not mistaken, Broadway Bus and A&C may have gone out of business since 2021. With three routes in Newark I don't quite understand how Orange-Newark-Elizabeth (a CoachUSA subsidiary) makes an 81% farebox recovery ratio.

The big success story in this list, of course, is Hampton Jitney, which made a 13% profit in 2021. The Hamptons were infamous as the destination for a number of wealthy people who (with no good reason) "fled the city." They did, of course, have to come back at least temporarily, and while they may be willing to drive out there, spending hours on the Long Island Expressway is a different story. So those who can't afford helicopters take the train or the bus.