The Transportist: February 2017

Welcome to the fifth issue of The Transportist. As always you can follow along at the blog or on Twitter.

Transportist Posts


Academic Conferences




Transport Links

Walking and Biking

Public Transit


AVs and Robots




EVs and Renewables and Environment


Tolls and Pricing







Reading List

Previous Editions


What’s Behind Declining Transit Ridership Nationwide? | CityLab

Laura Bliss at CityLab writes: What’s Behind Declining Transit Ridership Nationwide?
Pick a culprit: The rise of ride-hailing services, budget cuts, cheap oil, or bad service.

My quote:

New York City’s subway system has posted its first dip in ridership since 2009, according to data from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The news follows a news week full of reported transit passenger declines in Los Angeles and San Francisco. And, for years, nearly every city in the U.S. (with a few notable exceptions) has posted negative percent changes, too.

Which raises two questions as old as public transit itself: Where do the riders go, when they go? And how can cities bring them back?

Some of the factors behind these declines are national, as the transportation scholar David Levinson points out via email. The economy is expanding, and oil prices are plunging. People are buying more cars and driving them more often, both to work and to weekend activities that are better served by vehicles. American cities continue to suburbanize, and as they do, taking transit often becomes a less attractive option. Immigrants, long a strong base of ridership for agencies, are increasingly moving out of urban centers… and buying and driving their own vehicles.


I think the fall in transit (as shown in this link from Twitter, which appears to be APTA / NTD data, but I don’t see it on their site) is much larger than Uber etc., due primarily to an expanding economy, continued suburbanization, and low gas prices. Only a few cities have stemmed it with transit investment and reorganization (Houston and Seattle notably).

Uber is an over-valued and over-exposed niche player (compare the total number of Uber+Lyft+taxi trips in the US with total transit ridership, or even the fall in ridership) that gets too much media attention for their own (or anyone else’s) good. Society would be better off if they were given attention appropriate to their market share.
I don’t know how accurate this site is, but  says New York has a monthly Uber revenue of $26M. At $5 – $10/trip (I don’t know what that is), it is 2.5-5M trips per month.
In contrast
New York’s Subway alone has 9 million trips per day, so 270 M per month (50 – 100 times). And that doesn’t include bus or commuter rail.
Obviously drops in service wouldn’t help ridership numbers, WMATA is the best example I know. I don’t know how systematic that is (one could look at the National Transit Database and quantify See Exhibit 1, which implies increasing Vehicle Revenue Hours nationally, which suggests it is not a systematic problem ). For instance, MetroTransit in Twin Cities has not had systematic service drops (in fact expansion overall) and still sees ridership drops though according to this list.
In short the expanding economy increases ridership because:
  1. People have more $ to buy and drive cars
  2. People have more jobs to go to, and thus are more time constrained. Cars are faster than transit almost everywhere on a point-to-point basis.
  3. People feel like getting out more with $ in their pockets, and cars are better at that for most people going to most places in the US. More substitution of out-of-home for in-home activities takes place.

Unexpected versus expected network disruption: Effects on travel behavior

Recently published:

This paper discusses the observed evolution of traffic in the Minneapolis-St Paul

Figure 2: Five cordon circles around the Twin Cities for the I-35W Bridge, where the closed bridge is marked with an ‘x’ (Cordon 1 is the innermost cordon line, increasing to Cordon 5 as the outermost cordon line)
Figure 2: Five cordon circles around the Twin Cities for the I-35W Bridge, where the closed bridge is marked with an ‘x’ (Cordon 1 is the innermost cordon line, increasing to Cordon 5 as the outermost cordon line)

(Twin Cities) region road network following the unexpected collapse of the I-35W Bridge over the Mississippi River. The observations presented within this paper reveal that traffic dynamics are potentially different when a prolonged and unexpected network disruption occurs rather than a preplanned closure. Following the disruption from the I-35W Bridge’s unexpected collapse, we witnessed a unique trend: an avoidance phenomenon after the disruption. More specifically, drivers are observed to drastically avoid areas near the disruption site, but gradually return after a period of time following the collapse. This trend is not observed in preplanned closures studied to date. To model avoidance, it is proposed that the tragedy generated a perceived travel cost that discouraged commuters from using these sections. These perceived costs are estimated for the Twin Cities network and found to be best described as an exponential decay cost curve with respect to time. After reinstituting this calibrated cost curve into a mesoscopic simulator, the simulated traffic into the discouraged areas are found to be within acceptable limits of the observed traffic on a week-by-week basis. The proposed model is applicable to both practitioners and researchers in many traffic-related fields by providing an understanding of how traffic dynamics will evolve after a long-term, unexpected network disruption.

Riverview Corridor – Promising Alternatives?

Riverview Corridor Draft Evaluation Summary
Riverview Corridor Draft Evaluation Summary

The Riverview Corridor is proposed to run between downtown St. Paul, the Minneapolis-St. Paul Airport and Bloomington Minnesota, roughly along W. 7th Street (Fort Road), though there are some alternatives which deviate through the old Ford Manufacturing Facility in Highland Park. Recently, some alternative have been evaluated for different routes and technologies. The results were presented on a board. Bill Lindeke took a photograph, and I put it into Excel so I could compute the “In progress” numbers. The table is cut and paste below:

Draft Evaluation Summary: Most Promising Alternatives

2040 Ridership New Riders Transit-Dependent Riders Capital Cost (2015$) Operating Cost (2015$) Operating Cost/ Rider Capital Cost/ Rider
1 No Build  10,700
2 ABRT    7,100  TBD  TBD  75M  4.7M  662  10,563
3 BRT W 7th – Hwy 5/ Ft. Snelling  14,100  2,300  3,700  415M  10M  709  29,433
4 Rail W 7th – Hwy 5/ Ft. Snelling  20,400  2,700  4,600  1,010M  23M  1,127  49,510
5 BRT W 7th – Ford Site  12,400  1,300  3,300  615M  23M  1,855  49,597
6 Rail W 7th – Ford Site  19,000  1,800  4,400  1,210M  28M  1,474  63,684
7 BRT W 7th – CP Spur – Ford Site  11,100  1,000  2,900  620M  14M  1,261  55,856
8 Rail W 7th – CP Spur – Ford Site  18,400  1,500  4,200  1,250M  28M  1,522  67,935
9 BRT W 7th – CP Supr – Hwy 5 – Fort Snelling  13,300  1,900  3,600  450M  10M  752  33,835
10 Rail W 7th – CP Supr – Hwy 5 – Fort Snelling  19,600  2,200  4,500  1,090M  23M  1,173  55,612


I don’t place a whole lot of stock in these (or other forecasting numbers), and certainly wouldn’t be confident in saying that rail to Fort Snelling will get more riders than rail to the Ford Site based on the a 5% difference in model outputs and some assumptions, but the general idea is right, Rail is more expensive than BRT. Modelers believe it will attract more users, but not enough to justify the cost. The winner, as always in this region, is Arterial BRT (what most people might call Rapid Bus). (Even if different model results somehow put it below No Build in ridership, I am sure that will change). Arterial BRT has both lower capital and operating costs per rider, by a lot.

Long-time readers may recall that line was planned to be the ‘B Line‘ until St. Paul self-sabotaged in 2014 and delayed that in hopes of chasing the mirage of a future streetcar line. The B-Line would be running this year, and St. Paul would have a second successful Arterial BRT. These plans are a decade away. The moniker ‘B Line’ has been reassigned by MetroTransit to the Lake Street/Marshall Avenue line. At best it is now at position F in the queue.

The more important point is not that a single Arterial BRT (like the successful A Line) attracts fewer riders, it is that you can do 5 of them for the price of one rail line and get probably twice as many riders overall. The key is not the technology, it is the frequency, directness, and reliability of service. I expect you could do two Arterial BRT lines (one down W 7th, one to the Ford site), at 10 minute headways throughout the day, 5 minute headways where they came together if you didn’t want to do an express route, and be far better off in terms of both service, ridership, and cost.

Some history on earlier studies of this route (this has been studied for decades now) can be found at this post. The reason it is 5th in the queue for regional LRT lines (after Hiawatha/Blue, Central/Green, Southwest/Green, and Bottineau/Blue) is because its ridership is inherently weaker. Downtown Bloomington plus St. Paul don’t make downtown Minneapolis. It has a weaker argument than other Arterial BRT corridors, notably Lake Street, Chicago-Fremont, and Hennepin Avenues as well.

On Restoring Obama to the Presidency, Constitutionally

Like the Blues Brothers, it’s time to put the band back together. There may be many people who could be President, but there is only one with the actual experience, who is young enough, who can get us out of the hole dug in the past year.

That person is, of course, Barack Obama.

But the 22nd Amendment you say? What it actually says:

Section 1

No person shall be elected to the office of the President more than twice, and no person who has held the office of President, or acted as President, for more than two years of a term to which some other person was elected President shall be elected to the office of the President more than once. But this Article shall not apply to any person holding the office of President, when this Article was proposed by the Congress, and shall not prevent any person who may be holding the office of President, or acting as President, during the term within which this Article becomes operative from holding the office of President or acting as President during the remainder of such term.

Yes, he cannot be elected President by the electoral college. But that does not mean he cannot be chosen as Acting President by Congress. The Constitution is a document ripe with loopholes. Here is the plan

  1. Elect Obama to be Speaker of the House of Representatives
  2. Impeach (and Convict) the President
  3. Do not let the Vice President (now President) appoint a replacement
  4. Impeach (and Convict) the Vice President (or new President)
  5. Deploy the Presidential Succession Act, and the Speaker of the House becomes Acting President for the duration of the term.
  6. Rinse,
  7. Repeat.

This obviously requires several things to happen, each of which is admittedly unlikely, but this is a strange world.

First, elect Obama to be Speaker. This assumes the Democrats retake the House (and the subsequent steps require the Senate as well), so say this begins in 2019, after the 2018 midterms. Obama need not be a member of Congress to be elected Speaker, that is merely a custom.

Second (and Fourth), Impeach and Convict the President. Impeachment in the House requires a majority vote. Conviction in the Senate requires a two-thirds vote (Article I Section 3). This is the hard part. The VP could be impeached before the President as well, so long as step three takes place. The grounds for Impeachment and Conviction are determined solely by Congress and are “Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors” the last of which is pretty broad and essentially a political question.

Third, the Twenty-Fifth Amendment allows the President to nominate a replacement for Vice President, which is how Gerald Ford and Nelson Rockefeller assumed the office. This requires a majority vote in both Houses. Clearly the Houses can pass or vote down the nominations. Congress declines to accept

Fifth, the Presidential Succession Act names the Speaker of the House as third in line, so if the Presidency and Vice Presidency fall vacant, the Speaker becomes Acting President.

In effect, if the Senate is controlled by a two-third majority, and the same party has a majority in the House, the US could become a Parliamentary government.

The reason this is so difficult is the electoral landscape. Even assuming the Democrats take back the House in 2018, the 2018 Senate election will see one-third of seats up (as per the Constitution), of which only 9 are currently Republican (23 Democrat and 2 independent). So if the Democrats hold all their seats and take all 9 Republicans, the Democrats will still have  only 55 seats (plus 2 independent). That is short 10 seats for a two-thirds majority. So the Democrats will need to persuade ten or more Republicans to either vote for Conviction or switch parties. Not unheard of, but improbable. One imagines getting them to vote for the Conviction of the President will be easier than for the Conviction of the Vice President.

On Non-Publications

By the time you reach a certain point in an academic career, you have accumulated both publications and non-publications. Publications are articles that are published in journals or edited volume or proceedings. Non-publications are articles sitting in a metaphorical desk drawer. They were probably presented at a conference, but not published in a formal proceedings, or sent to a journal and given the dreaded revise and resubmit (R&R), or worse, rejected after a long time. (A quick rejection is a godsend compared to a slow rejection). You and the student both moved on to other projects and, despite your nagging the now former student, the paper never gets revised. Or it gets revised and rejected and resubmitted and then asked for a new revise and resubmit, at which point the now former student effectively abandons it.

From a social point-of-view, this is a useful process IF the papers are truly bad, as it saves other people from wasting their time reading it. However, from a social point-of-view this is an extremely wasteful process IF the papers are not bad, because perfectly fine, if not necessarily brilliant or profound, empirical observations or modeling methods are not published, and thus not cited, not included in review articles or meta-analyses, and thus not in the canon of human knowledge and thus we are collectively impoverished.

There are several problems:

  1. Academics in many fields only cite peer-reviewed work. So simply finishing the paper/thesis/dissertation/report and placing it online in an archive is insufficient to get much visibility most of the time.
  2. Revise and resubmit is a potentially endless process without strong editors. No paper is perfect, there is always more that could be done, and so in the case of Perfect v. Good, Perfect is favored and the paper is rejected. There are enough papers that good journals can be picky. There are enough journals that this paper  can easily be resubmitted. Even if it is resubmitted once, it ties up more reviewers and wastes social and human capital. While it might slow down the writing process some, and reconsideration can add value to papers, R&R also slows down the accumulation of knowledge, and more importantly leads to abandoned papers.
  3. Students move on. Most university research is student-driven. A faculty member is a supervisor, may have come up with the basic idea and the funding, and directed the research and edited the paper, but the student did most of the work. If the student becomes an academic themselves, they are often (but not always) properly motivated to revise and resubmit until the paper is accepted. If the student goes into industry, the motivation is weak. Now we could hold the student’s degree hostage until publication (I hear this happens in developing countries), but that seems both mean and unreasonable and an attempt to absolve ourselves of the responsibility of determining whether the research is in fact degree-worthy. And it doesn’t work if the paper is not in the thesis.

So the solutions:

  1. Don’t revise, but resubmit elsewhere and hope for better results. We all know the peer review process is highly random. Nevertheless starting the process over again is not appealing, consumes time, and in any case will require some changes (almost nothing is accepted unmodified, sadly), which the former student has already indicated an unwillingness to do. The likelihood of effort decreases with time and distance from when the work was originally done. Hopefully these changes are not at the analytical level.
  2. Send it to a pay-to-play journal. But if the journal has a bad reputation, the paper will be greatly discounted and not emerge from the black hole of non-citation in which it presently lies.
  3. Edit a Journal Special Issue or Book, and throw the paper in. While this is one way of escaping peer review, it seems a lot of extra work just to get a publication.
  4. Do nothing, let the research whither on the shelf. Maybe someone else will edit a Special Issue or Book and invite you to submit something that turns out to be this very paper, with a light touch for required revisions.
  5. Try to somehow motivate the former students to take the lead. Unfortunately there is always something more urgent (classes, proposal deadlines, conference deadlines, more recent papers that need R&R, health, family, etc.) that sucks away time. There is nothing less urgent than peer reviewed articles in fields which take 2 years from submission to publication.
  6. Change people’s perception of the non-peer reviewed literature so that publication is not essential for people to read and cite. I firmly believe the journal system will collapse eventually. But we are not there yet.

I personally am stuck with about dozen of these non-publications which seem to me publishable more or less in current form (excluding papers that need lots of work or are half-finished) but are going nowhere due to the priorities of the lead former student authors, these are included on my working papers page with papers currently under review. They are not coherent enough as a group of papers to stick in a single book (maybe parts of two or three books), and that seems a lot of work, especially given book chapters are discounted relative to journal articles in everyone’s perception (and thus their effectiveness). Editing a special issue and loading it with 6 of your own papers (even if each is with a different lead co-author) seems to violate some norm or another, and again the coherence is weak. Editing six special issues and loading each with 2 of your own papers is more socially acceptable, but really a lot of work for the end to be achieved.

So while I don’t want to say the world misses out on our brilliance, it is clear human knowledge is poorer as a result of this process.

7th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability

7th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability

We are pleased to invite you to attend and participate in the 7th International Symposium on Transport Network Reliability, which will be held in Sydney on 17-19 January 2018. The objective of this symposium is to provide a forum for participants from universities, government and industry to exchange ideas on the latest developments in the field of transport network reliability. Transport networks support the full spectrum of human activities and their supporting supply chains, and when disaster strikes provide life lines for rescue services and survivors, so their reliability is a matter of global concern. There will be ample time for interaction among participants, a welcome reception, lunches, morning and afternoon teas, and a conference dinner.

University of Sydney Business School CBD Campus, Level 17, 133 Castlereagh St, Sydney, NSW 2000.

Details at:

Recommendations to Minnesota Legislature on Transport

I presented to a committee of the Minnesota Legislature earlier today. These are the bullet points from the key policy recommendations:


  • The value (benefits – costs) of preserving existing links is generally far greater than the value of new links, especially new links serving future (speculative) development (development-oriented transportation).

Reduce & Reuse

  • Most roads are under-used most of the time. There is ample capacity outside the peak.
  • Most of the pavement is unused even at peak times; there are large gaps between vehicles both in terms of the headway between vehicles and the lateral spacing between vehicles. Americans drive 6 foot wide cars in 12 foot lanes, often on highways with wide shoulders.
  • Most seats in most cars are unoccupied most of the time.
  • Most cars contain far more weight than required to safely move the passenger. While bigger cars might be safer for the occupants, they are less safe for non-occupants. This is an inefficient arms race.
  • Many roads are so wide we use them for storage of vehicles most of the day.
  • There is excessive delay at traffic lights, especially during off-peak periods, wasting time and space.
  • Smoothing and spreading demand brings peak travel times closer to freeflow times, and thus raises accessibility.

POLICY IMPLICATION: Increased throughput per square meter of pavement due to Vehicle Automation (along with flattened demand) indicates fewer square meters of pavement are required.

Make investments that have high rate of return.

  • The more benefits per $ spent, the more things that can be built.
  • Explicitly consider Benefits and Costs when making investments. This is hard since this requires forecasts of the future, which is changing.
  • Focus on projects that most effectively expand accessibility for all, (efficiency), or for those with fewer opportunities (equity).

Make investments that are flexible and adaptable.

  • The next 50 years are going to see far more change than the past 50 years in transportation.
  • Locking into investments serving today’s (yesterday’s) needs will lead to future stranded investments and fewer resources to improve accessibility tomorrow.

Allow local governments more autonomy in funding transit with their own money

  • If a Minnesota City or County wants to tax itself to pay for something that is locally beneficial, this is nobody else’s problem.
  • Let a thousand flowers (or at least 87) bloom.

Accelerate the End of Congestion (and fund roads) via Pricing

Today’s Minnesota gas tax does not:

  • address congestion, which requires time of day differentiation.  Traffic congestion is a problem. It is not getting measurably worse over the past decade, but it is not getting obviously better. Even if traffic reduces in the aggregate, it won’t disappear to zero in the next decade.  Congestion reduces accessibility.
  • recover pavement damage from heavy vehicles.
  • raise revenue from vehicles that do not use gasoline for fuel.
  • pay for crashes, which are borne individually through worsened health and life outcomes, and socially through the health care system.
  • pay for the full cost of pollution (which is offloaded to the health sector).
  • pay for local roads (which are paid for by property taxes mostly).
  • account for rising fuel efficiency.
  • account for cost inflation in the road sector.


  • Fix the Gas Tax
    • Replace the local property tax share and other state and local general revenue (so-called dedicated revenue) like Motor Vehicle Sales Tax with a user fee.
    • This means a Higher Gas/Diesel Tax (User Fee) for Gasoline/Diesel powered cars and trucks and Lower Property Taxes.
    • Return the new revenue back to local governments.
    • Impose a Distance/Time-based Fee for Electric Vehicles
  • Phase in a Replacement.
    • EVs don’t pay gas tax, yet use roads.
    • Retaining the highway user fee principle requires charging EVs once a sufficient number make it relevant.
    • Vary vehicle mileage charge for EVs and opt-ins (and eventually all vehicles) by location and time-of-day.
    • As more and more users drive EVs, this becomes the standard over time, without riots in your districts.



Update: The audio of the Presentation and the slides are now available:


Wednesday, February 8, 2017
Met at: 1:00 PM
Presentation by Professor David Levinson
University of Minnesota
The Future of Transport and Directions for Minnesota Policy

Presentation by Randal O’Toole
Senior Fellow, CATO Institute
LRT and Long-Term Planning Concerns in the Twin Cities Region

Transportation and Regional Governance Policy

I will be in the Basement of the Minnesota Legislature tomorrow (Wednesday) to talk about ‘Transportation and Regional Governance.’ I might mention something about about accessibility and automated vehicles as well. I will take the Green Line to get there. I am paying out-of-pocket for my travel expenses.
Someone else will also be on the agenda.
Chair: Rep. Linda Runbeck
Location: Basement Hearing Room
Presentation by Professor David Levinson
University of Minnesota
The Future of Transport and Directions for Minnesota Policy

Presentation by Randal O’Toole
Senior Fellow, CATO Institute
LRT and Long-Term Planning Concerns in the Twin Cities Region

Someone is already concerned, he wrote:
I see for the February 8th meeting you have two presentations. I’d like if the presenters could email me the presentations. Specifically I’m interested in the data and sources for the presentation that’ll be presented by Professor David Levinson. I am concerned about the accuracy of the presentation regarding the claims he may have that multi-Billion dollar transit corridors have any effect on lowering freeway congestion, cut polution, or provide return on investment to the non-riding tax payers who pay for them. Having this data a head of the meeting will greatly help.
Strange being accused by a complete stranger of inaccuracy in advance for things you might say based on never having heard me speak before and never having read anything I have ever written.
I was told by the chair that Mr. O’Toole, who pretends to not know who I am,  was put on the docket for “balance”. While at first I was appalled at the concept, I have come around.
More generally, facts should always be “balanced” by anti-facts, otherwise we might make informed decisions, and that might be at odds with how we wished the world worked, and thus lead to unhappiness.  I am told in physics when facts meet anti-facts they both annihilate each other. Economists on the other hand believe bad facts drive out good.