Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Railroading the Public in SE Wisconsin

Heads up Southeast Wisconsin, The Antiplanner points out the choo-choophiles conveniently dropped a workable bus route idea because only rail based transit fits their development control desires. Trains are their only answer, regardless of price.

A Commuter Train for Milwaukee?: Normally, the Antiplanner does not like to use names like “liars” and “cheaters,” preferring to let the facts speak for themselves. But, time and again, these words turn out to perfectly apply to the people who put together rail transit projects.

Take, for example, the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Transit Authority, or RTA for short, which covers Kenosha, Racine, and Milwaukee counties. Created in 2005, RTA wants to run a commuter-rail line it calls the KRM, from Kenosha through Racine to Milwaukee.

The planned commuter line would run 14 round trips per day, which means each train would have about 240 people on board. That’s about five bus loads. So why not just buy five buses for each planned trainset and move people by bus instead? The newsletter explains that RTA considered a bus alternative, but it would attract only a third as many people as the rail line. It would also cost only an eighth as much to start up, so I always wonder why don’t they just invest three-eighths as much in buses and carry as many people as the rail line.

But then I noticed that the rail line was projected to have seven stops between Milwaukee and Kenosha, while the bus line would stop 27 times. As a result, the bus would take almost twice as long as the train. No wonder it attracted so few people! The train would average just 38 miles per hour and RTA admits that it would not go significantly faster than motor vehicles, so there is no reason why buses could not be run on schedules similar to the train. So why didn’t they consider an alternative in which buses stopped only seven times?

It turns out they did. The report from the consultant hired by RTA included a bus-rapid transit alternative that stopped fewer times than the regular bus alternative. It included some exclusive busways, so it cost a lot more than the regular bus alternative, but it would cost only half as much as the train. Moreover, it was projected to carry as many riders as the train. Naturally, RTA told the consultant to drop this alternative from further consideration.

Anyone who travels understands the value of time which is why the America public voluntarily adopted personal transportation as the most efficient use of individual time. The key to understanding the KRM shenanigans is realizing the consulting firm develops a bus alternative with an equal number of stops that is as fast as train travel at much less expense, and was told by the SE Wisconsin RTA to deep six that part.

The RTA retains a bus alternative designed to move at a glacial pace with 27 stops because Federal funding requires a bus based plan in the grant request. Does this report alteration rise to the level of malfeasance? Hard to say but worth asking the question.