Some regions have seen catastrophic drops in ridership since 2010: 30% or more in Detroit, Sacramento and Memphis; 20% to 30% in Austin, Cleveland, Louisville, St. Louis and Virginia Beach-Norfolk ; and 15% to 20% in Atlanta, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Miami, San Antonio and Washington.
Adding rail service hasn’t helped. To pay for new light-rail lines that opened in 2012 and 2016, Los Angeles cut bus service. The city lost nearly four bus riders for every additional rail rider. Atlanta, Dallas, Sacramento and San Jose have seen similar results. The rail system in Portland, Ore., is often considered successful, but only 8% of commuters take transit of any kind to work. In 1980, before rail was constructed, buses alone were carrying 10% of commuters.
The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s ridership has been falling steadily since 2014, losing on average 69,000 daily riders each month. The most recent 12 months of data show a decrease of more than 10% compared with the same period three years ago, and Metro’s current “annual boardings” — just under 400 million — represent a drop of almost 20% from the system’s 1985 peak, even though the county’s population has increased by nearly a fifth since then.
It wouldn’t be difficult to turn these figures around, as Metro’s history shows: The transportation authority should stop focusing primarily on building new rail and use a fair share of its voter-supplied wealth to lower fares and improve the bus system.
The package, which also includes some extra automotive fees, is expected to raise more than $5 billion a year for transportation projects, most of which are aimed at catching up on long-delayed maintenance work.
That’s one of the tricky aspects of the situation. To build public support, backers of the package hinted—but did not promise—that it would do something about the state’s worst-in-the-nation roadway congestion, but in fact it will do little, if anything, to relieve traffic jams.
Most of the proposed improvements won’t be obvious, like expanding a freeway would be, and motorists may wonder whether they are getting something tangible for the extra money they are paying.
Port officials said the plan seeks to accelerate pollution reductions while remaining sensitive to the economic effects of transforming the complex, which handles about 40% of U.S. imports and support hundreds of thousands of jobs across Southern California. Though the volume of shipments moving through the L.A.-Long Beach ports has tripled since the mid-1990s, they face increasing competition from East and Gulf Coast ports, which have less stringent environmental mandates.
By adopting the plan, the ports are expecting businesses and taxpayers to foot the bill. They are also sending a signal to manufacturers that there will be demand for cleaner trucks and freight-moving equipment, and, eventually, models with no tailpipe emissions.
Ships nearly three times as large as the ones crossing before the expanded locks opened in June of 2016 are bringing tens of millions of additional dollars in tolls and a trading boom to U.S. East Coast ports, allaying some fears that investments to cater to the bigger vessels wouldn’t see enough returns.
Since the start of the year, transiting tonnage at the Panama Canal has increased by nearly 23%, canal executives say. Last week marked the 2,000th transit of a ship that wouldn’t have fit through the old locks.
. . . The widened waterway means importers as far inland as Tennessee could find it cheaper to bring in Asian goods to ports like New York, Savannah, Ga., and Charleston, S.C., rather than move them by rail and truck from West Coast ports, which handle about two-thirds of Asia-to-Americas trade.