Friday, May 1, 2009

The Cost of Rail Transit Maintenance

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by Rafael

Talking Points Memo published an AP article on a new study that the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) compiled at the request of a group of 11 US Senators led by Dick Durbin (D-IL).

The scope included nine transit operators across the nation that together deliver 80% of all rail transit boardings, based on 2006 data. The largest of these was New York City Transit with 1804 million annual passenger boardings - about 48% of the national total of 3775 million. The BART network was also included, weighing in with 99 million, just ahead of the Long Island Railroad with 96 million.

Many of the agencies studied also operate buses and/or ferries but the focus was kept narrowly on rail services, a total of 14 modes. The objective was to highlight the huge backlog of maintenance works, called "state of good repair" in industry parlance. How the available funds are distributed was last defined in the TEA-21 law of 1998. Once new fixed guideways, including Bus Rapid Transit and HOV lane-miles, have been in operation for seven years, they become eligible for some federal funding to assist with maintenance. As a result, the share of funds available to the oldest and most heavily used systems, i.e. those included in the study, has declined even though a rising share of their assets are in urgent need of repair or replacement. In particular, failure to replace broken or worn out components in a timely fashion can compromise operational safety - it's not just a customer satisfaction and retention issue.

In total, FTA estimates that the operators included in the study have accumulated a total state of good repair backlog of $50 billion. After that is eliminated, they will need an additional $5.9 billion per year to maintain that status.

The study comes as Congress is gearing up to overhaul highway and transit programs over the next six years through soon-to-be-introduced legislation that some lawmakers estimated will seek about a half trillion dollars.

If passed, this new surface transportation bill would amount to $85 billion annually, of which only a fraction would go toward rail maintenance. Even that sum may not be nearly large enough: the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) recently published a report card on the national infrastructure, concluding that some $2.2 trillion would need to be invested to bring all of it up from a D average to straight A's. Granted, ASCE is not a disinterested party in this context, but the sum being considered in Congress amounts to just 25% of the number suggested. The upshot is that the conflict between maintaining existing and building new infrastructure such as HSR will remain acute far beyond the next six years.

The concept of using local transit services as HSR feeders will only work if they offer an acceptable customer experience. How many potential HSR customers would be prepared to ride BART if its interiors looked as bad as this subway train in New York?

15 comments:

Rob Dawg said...

The objective was to highlight the huge backlog of maintenance works, called "state of good repair" in industry parlance. How the available funds are distributed was last defined in the TEA-21 law of 1998. Once new fixed guideways, including Bus Rapid Transit and HOV lane-miles, have been in operation for seven years, they become eligible for some federal funding to assist with maintenance.Imagine that. Maintenance is a capital cost in transit math world.

Raise fares.

jim said...

Well for one thing, let's keep in mind that with the dems in, and billions in stimulus money floating around, everybody and their mother is producing studies that show a need for more money. The fact that rail needs to be maintained isn't some big new surprise. By the way, aside from the graffiti , I wish bart did look like that - to remove the nasty carpet and the nasty cloth seats, which I refuse to touch, and replace them with linear bench seating will open up tons more rush hour space to relieve over crowding. you the original plan for bart was "no standess" lol I read that in some old literature once. One idea I'd propose for increased funding would be to add toll express lanes to existing freeeways and give people the option to get through rush hour on the i-80 or the 405 etc by paying say, 10 cents a mile to get in a fast lane and by pass traffic. then people have the choice, and some money is raised.

jim said...

as this already covered - just posted on teh cahsr website: http://www.cahighspeedrail.ca.gov/images/chsr/20090427141159_CAHST_TWG_SF-SJ_v11_Final.pdf

bossyman15 said...

ummm what is covered?

jim said...

oh typo - "was" this already covered is what I meant - its something newly posted on the website - however after looking it over - there isnt much info there except a time frame for meetings

Alon Levy said...

Jim: some of the newer urban rail systems like to pretend they're commuter rail, so they have fancy seats. If you think BART is bad, go to Washington, where the Metro runs trains with 2-by-2 railroad-style seating, or Paris, where the RER has railroad-style seating as well, even on lines that set world records for crowding.

jim said...

yes well, I mean in the beginning, when BARt was new and californians in general were new to using this type of system, ti made sense to offer a sort of "modern luxury experience" if you will, to get people excited about it. ( prior to that our familiarity with "subway' was what we saw of new york city in the movies and you know what the new york subway looked liked in the 70s. But now, they have serious oever crowding with no real other options as the tube and subway are maxed out. So tis time. and really the cloth and carpet - gross with a capital G. Even the munis subway seems sanitary compared to bart trains. I think I heard though, that bart is considering removing some seats. I rarely use it anyway except to go to the airport or tanforan.

Christopher Parker said...

I agree that fares need to be raised on transit systems, but lets concentrate on rush hour fares and leave off-peak fares be.

Fares should not be the same for rush hour and non rush hour service. To begin with, rush hour service costs more, because you need much more equipment and capacity in general which otherwise spends 20 hours a day sitting around idle. Also rush hour traffic will bear a higher fare before ridership is impacted. It's worth more to people because they are going to work, it's more competitive because driving is worse in rush hour.

Increasing off-peak travel with reduced fare plans and marketing often makes financial sense for transit and rail services - extra revenue is gravy with little extra cost and lower fares can mean higher revenue if more people ride. In rush hour this is not so because the capacity isn't there.

mike said...

I agree that fares need to be raised on transit systems, but lets concentrate on rush hour fares and leave off-peak fares be. That is the correct strategy if all you care about is maximizing the revenue of the transit agency. But the whole point of the transit system is to relieve road congestion, which is worst during peak hour. The return to moving someone from road to transit is highest during peak hour, so we should be offering the lowest fare possible during peak hour to encourage as many people as possible to leave the roads.

Robert Cruickshank said...

But BART *doesn't* look like that, thank god, and neither do many NYC cars. Even in LA, where modern graffiti art was born, Metro Rail's cars are clean.

As to the issue of funding transit, people will pay a higher fare if the service is efficient and reliable. Of course, the fare ought not be too high, and we need a higher gas tax to help make up for lost sales tax and state assistance money as well as to grow the system.

SF Commuter said...

A thought to consider: The New York Subway system fare is $2, with a proposed (approved?) rate increase to $2.50 later this month. There is a metrocard for a full day's travel for $7.50.

http://www.mta.info/metrocard/mcgtreng.htm#unlimited

I've recently started a position in downtown San Francisco, and end up needing to commute from San Mateo. Driving up to Millbrae BART seems the best bet for now, but round trip from Millbrae to Montgomery Street is $8. With parking, it is $180 for four weeks -- since the monthly parking in the garage near the office is $200, there isn't much financial incentive. The extra time public transportation takes is offset by the extra cost of the drive from Millbrae to downtown...

Alon Levy said...

To begin with, rush hour service costs more, because you need much more equipment and capacity in general which otherwise spends 20 hours a day sitting around idle.

Conversely, rush hour service has more passengers, who pay the same fare no matter how crowded the train is. In New York, rush hour trains on the Lex line can get 1,300 passengers; at night, the number is closer to 300.

Driving up to Millbrae BART seems the best bet for now, but round trip from Millbrae to Montgomery Street is $8.

Yeah, that's because San Mateo County opted out of public funding for BART. In SF, Alameda, and Contra Costa BART gets some tax revenue, but in San Mateo it has to recover the full cost of operations.

Besides which, BART is operated as a subway/commuter rail hybrid, with longer lines, which increases cost. Millbrae to Montomgery is about 16 miles. Few commutes on the New York City Subway are that long. From the northernmost section of the Bronx to 42nd Street it's 15 miles. And most people don't get on the subway in the Bronx, but in Manhattan and the nearby parts of Brooklyn and Queens.

jim said...

Another solution I never here talked about any more is flex time. doing away with "rush hour" altogether would buy most transit systems a lot of time before they would need to expand capacity not to mention it would relieve the worst of the freeway congestion. Also, keep in mind that mazed out freeways and transit act as a from of self regulation that makes people think twice about the choices they make. If a commute becomes unbearable then folks will consider other options about where to live and work. After all, no amount of transit, just like no amount of expanding freeway lanes will ever solve the problem, it only exacerbates it in the end.

Rafael said...

@ SF Commuter -

have you looked into the cost riding Caltrain from San Mateo to 4th & King plus SF Muni's N-Judah line (or a bus) into downtown?

In Summer, you could use a folding bicycle for the last mile on either end, possibly one with electric motor assist.

Deacon said...

One way that funds can be attained for inner city transit would be to have something like the congestion charges in London. Create zones working from the city centre outward and charge according to zone and vehicle type. It doesn't have to be an obscene amount. I think in Cities such as New York that could rake in a fair amount.