Transit Fantasy

Though I love the idea of bullet trains and other forms of rapid transit, our family will never use them, always preferring to drive our own car, even when having to fight through traffic.

It appears others do also, as this article from New Geography notes.

An excerpt.

According to The New York Times, the car used to be “king” in the city (municipality) of Los Angeles. “’A Different Los Angeles’, The City Moves to Alter its Sprawling Image,” was another story that seeks to portray the nation’s second largest municipality as having fundamentally changed. Following this now popular meme, a Slate story in 2016 referred to Los Angeles becoming “America’s next great transit city.” Los Angeles has surely become America’s greatest transit tax city, with Los Angeles County voters in 2016 approving a fourth half-cent sales tax increase principally for transit since 1980. Yet transit’s market share has fallen, not only in the nation’s largest county but even in the city of Los Angeles.

The Ascent of Transit: A False Narrative

The Los Angeles political establishment and media is virtually unanimous in its praise for the now quarter century old rail system. Yet, despite more than $15 billion being spent on rail transit the already meager levels of transit commuting in the city have fallen further, while solo driving has risen to an all time high. Unless platitudes are more important than results, rail’s success is a false narrative. People are driving more and using transit less according to the American Community Survey for 2015.

The share of city of Los Angeles residents commuting by transit fell from 11.2 percent in 2010 to 9.5 percent in 2015 (Figure 1, note truncated axis). The 2010 figure was the highest decennial census year transit figure in the period starting in 1980. Just five years later, in 2015, however, the city of Los Angeles transit commuting share had fallen below 1980 levels.

In 1980, 10.8 percent of the city’s commuters used transit, a figure that fell to 10.5 percent just before the initial Long Beach “Blue Line” opened in 1990. While new light rail lines and the Metro (subway) line opened after 1990, transit’s market share fell further, to 10.1 percent by 2010. During the 2000s, transit commuting rose 1.1 percentage points to the 11.2 percent figure, propelled by unprecedented gasoline price increases. But progress was short-lived as the share dropped to 9.5 percent in 2015.

City of Los Angeles Surge in Driving Alone

At the same time, commuters were turning even more to driving alone. In 2015, 69.8 percent of work trip access was by solo drivers. This represents a substantial increase from the 66.8 percent drive alone share in 2010. From 1980 to 2010, driving alone edged up slightly, much less than the increase in the last five years. In 1980, 65.1 percent of commuters drove alone. In 1990, a nearly identical 65.2 percent drove alone. In the last five years, driving alone has risen more than the entire previous 30-year increase in the city of Los Angeles.

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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