Trains and light rail versus roads and buses

The Government has an obvious preference for railway lines over roads, but there are concerns about the rail option in the US, where in many areas passenger numbers are static or falling.

Installing railway lines is expensive, and it is relatively inflexible, both in the short term and the long term. It’s far easier to deploy buses over a wider area, and to move buses to where they are most needed at any given time.

I suspect the preference for rail is because it can be electric, while battery run buses don’t seem to have caught on yet. And roads for buses can mean roads available for cars as well.

But what if there are big advances in battery and fast charging technologies, making electric buses more viable? That would be a great alternative energy industry to invest in, but if successful it could make newly installed  light rail infrastructure limited and expensive.

Stuff: As Government signals big light rail spend, public transport concerns grow in US

As the Government signals it wants to spend billions on light rail in Auckland and billions less on major roading projects in the decade ahead, worries about the future of public transport are growing in the US.

Those concerns were summed up by a story in The Washington Post last month, headlined Falling transit ridership poses an ’emergency’ for cities, experts fear.

Data showed 2017 was the lowest year of overall transit ridership in the US since 2005. A 5 per cent decline in bus ridership was the main problem, but some commentators suggest the figures indicate light rail is also struggling, given the heavy investment in the mode in recent years.

In the US, the debate about light rail is particularly fierce, with skeptics often suggesting buses will do the job perfectly well if organised properly, as well as being lower cost and more flexible.

In its transport policy for the 2017 election, Labour said light rail to Auckland Airport was part of a range of projects that would ease congestion. “A world-class city in the 21st century needs a rail connection from its CBD to its airport.”

But that is just one route. The population is scattered across a wide area in Auckland.

Auckland Transport said light rail would have fewer stops, but be more frequent and travel faster than buses.

Fewer stops and more frequent only for those with easy access to the rail routes.

Light rail also had much greater capacity than buses and cars.

Really? Again, the capacity is only where their are rail routes. And it depends on how many buses or cars you use. Obviously, one train has more capacity than one car, but it’s not a one to one equation.

Among the most forceful opponents of light rail in the US is Randal O’Toole, a senior fellow at the libertarian Cato Institute. O’Toole blogs as The Antiplanner’ “dedicated to the sunset of government planning”. He’s a big supporter of buses over light rail.

Last October Cato published a paper of his called The Coming Transit Apocalypse. In it he said public transport use in the US had been falling since 2014, with many major systems having “catastrophic declines”.

Ride-hailing services, such as Uber, were the most serious threat “as some predict that within five years those ride-hailing services will begin using driverless cars, which will reduce their fares to rates competitive with transit, but with far more convenient service”.

He made the extreme prediction: “This makes it likely that outside of a few very dense areas, such as New York City, transit will be extinct by the year 2030.”

He did note that in 2014, transit ridership in the US reached its highest level since 1956,with 10.75 billion trips, but was not impressed. “This is hardly a great achievement, however, as increased urban populations meant that annual transit trips per urban resident declined from 98 in 1956 to 42 in 2014.”

n a similar vein is a report published last July by private Chapman University in California, called The Great Train Robbery, written by high profile urbanists Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

According to that report, many new transit lines, including light rail, built in US cities had not reduced the percentage of people who commuted alone by private car.

“The focus on new rail services rather than on buses has failed to improve basic mobility for those who need it and has been associated with a decline in transit’s share of commutes in some cities.”

n a similar vein is a report published last July by private Chapman University in California, called The Great Train Robbery, written by high profile urbanists Joel Kotkin and Wendell Cox.

According to that report, many new transit lines, including light rail, built in US cities had not reduced the percentage of people who commuted alone by private car.

“The focus on new rail services rather than on buses has failed to improve basic mobility for those who need it and has been associated with a decline in transit’s share of commutes in some cities.”

An Auckland Transport report said more than a third of employment growth in Auckland between 2013 and 2046 – about 100,000 jobs – was expected to be within 5km of the city centre.

That’s still a lot of people outside the city centre.

What if there is a major move towards dispersal of the workforce, around the city and to cheaper areas elsewhere in the country? It’s easy to re-deploy buses, but impractical to re-deploy railway lines.

However this could all be moot. The current Government seems intent on benefiting some with better rail links, but not addressing the needs of those who live away from railway lines.

And regarding the light rail link to the airport – what if we stop using fossil fuels but solar powered long haul aircraft don’t take off?

Or more feasible, what if small capacity shuttle air travel becomes a thing – this could render railway links obsolete.

 

 

 

‘We speak English in this country’

A story from Australia on intolerance (on a train is Sydney) but also of people standing up and supporting someone being abused.

‘We speak English in this country’

A Sydney train has once again become a battleground for racial tolerance after a young woman was subject to a vicious tirade from a fellow passenger.

Natalie Soto, 20, was speaking Spanish to her mother over the phone as she rode a train into the Sydney CBD on Thursday morning.

“My mum just wanted to make sure I had caught the right train. Her English isn’t very good so I was speaking to her in Spanish,” Soto said.

Abusing someone for speaking a language other than English is as pathetic as it is ridiculous.

A few years ago I arrived in Switzerland, and was met by my daughter at Zurich airport. We got on a train and chatted in English on the way to where she lived at the time.

Another passenger politely asked – in English – where we were from.  We told her, and then had a friendly chat. It was a nice early experience in a strange country.

Soto could hear the angry grumblings of a woman sitting two rows in front of her but was shocked when she realised the woman’s gripe was with her.

Soto said she initially paid no attention to the woman.

“I didn’t really take any notice until she turned around and looked at me and said ‘get that dirty wog off the train, she’s giving me a headache’,” Soto said.

“I thought ‘okay, this is about me’,” she said.

But Soto’s fellow passengers soon came to her defence.

That’s when Soto started recording the scene on her camera phone.

“It’s not English. Why should we have to listen to f—ing rambling,” the woman can be heard saying on the recording Soto posted to Facebook.

“Because we are a multicultural country,” a young woman fires back as she swivels around in her seat in view of Soto’s camera phone.

“Are we?” the blonde woman says.

“Unless you’re Aboriginal, you have come from another country to live here. We’re all from different cultures,” the young woman responds.

“Yes, just look at the carriage,” Soto replies, referring to her fellow passengers.

“We speak English in this country. If you can’t speak it in public don’t speak it [sic] at all,” the blonde woman said.

The woman seemed to be taken aback that Soto responded in English, the 20-year-old said.

“Lucky for you I can speak multiple languages and I can understand exactly what’s going on,” Soto said.

“Speak it in your own home, don’t speak it in public,” the blonde woman responded.

“Does it make you uncomfortable?” Soto asks.

“Yeah it does,” the woman responded.

“I think you really need to question yourself,” Soto said.

“Do you want me to speak my f—ing language and see how you f—ing like it?” the blonde woman says.

“So her speaking another language is not okay but you saying the c-word in front of children is okay,” said the same young female passenger who spoke up earlier.

The Australian born retail assistant, born to a Chilean mother and German father, said it was not the first time she had been called a “wog” or copped unpleasant comments from strangers who overheard her speaking Spanish.

But her encounter on the train was by far the most aggressive, she said.

Very sad to see this sort of ignorant abuse, but it seems to be not uncommon – “The incident is the latest in a string of racial tirades filmed by commuters on Sydney trains and buses.”

Last night I spent about twenty minutes in a queue to get into a lantern display in Dunedin. A group of people just in front of us spoke in a non-English language, including on the phone. No one else seemed to care about it.

I have no idea whether these people lived locally or were visitors to the city, and it doesn’t matter which.

We actually interacted with them just as we entered the event building as they let us go in front of them as they wanted to wait for others who they knew. Friendly, and in English because they assumed we would understand that language.

As it turns out for one of the group I was in English is their second language – and they know English better than many people who were born in New Zealand.

Not that this matters. People should be free to speak in any language they like in New Zealand. And in Australia.

It’s good to see that someone was prepared to stand up for  someone being abused on the Sydney train for ‘being different’ in public. I hope that most Kiwis or Australians would do the same.

We speak English in these countries – and many other languages as well.