Transit Ridership Down 2.3% in 2016

With little fanfare, the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) released its fourth quarter 2016 ridership report last week. When ridership goes up, the lobby group usually issues a big press release ballyhooing the importance of transit (and transit subsidies). But 2016 ridership fell, so there was no press release.

The report showed that light-rail ridership grew by 3.4 percent, probably because of the opening of new light-rail lines such as Seattle, where the opening of the University line increased ridership by 60 percent. In the past, light-rail ridership has grown with the addition of new lines, but the number of passengers per mile of light rail has fallen, indicating diminishing returns to new rail construction.

Commuter-rail ridership grew by 1.6 percent, mostly due to growth in New York City. Trolley bus ridership grew by 1.8 percent, almost all of which was in San Francisco. Demand-response (paratransit) grew by 0.7 percent.

The two most important modes, however, both declined: heavy rail fell by 1.6% and buses by 4.1 percent. Since these two modes together carry 86 percent of transit riders, their decline swamped the growth in other modes. “Other,” which includes ferries, monorails, and people movers, also fell by 0.2 percent.

. . . Los Angeles light-rail ridership grew by 8.7 percent, but for every light-rail rider gained, Los Angeles lost nearly six bus riders.

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Flight from Urban Cores Accelerates: 2016 Census Metropolitan Area Estimates

“The flight from the nation’s major metropolitan area core counties increased 60 percent between 2015 and 2016, according to just-released estimates from the US Census Bureau (Note). A total of 321,000 more residents left the core counties than moved in, up from 199,000 in 2015. This is ten times the decade’s smallest domestic migration loss of 32,000 for the same counties which occurred in 2012. Suburban counties continued to attract net domestic migrants, at a somewhat higher rate than in recent years and much higher than in the early part of the decade. The suburban counties gained 235,000 domestic migrants in 2016, compared to 224,000 in 2014 and more than double the low point of 113,000 in 2011 (Figure 1). “

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Los Angeles Traffic: Likely To Worsen with Higher Densities

The latest Federal Highway Administration data indicates that nearly 23,000 cars are handled by each freeway lane on the average day. Among the larger urban areas, only San Jose and close-by Riverside-San Bernardino have a volume of more than 20,000 daily. . . At the same time, public policy in California is calling for significant urban densification that will put an even greater strain on the roadway network. Any assumption that a more dense Los Angeles will be anything less than an even more horrific traffic environment is simply folly. . . despite the addition of a substantial urban rail system in Los Angeles County has been accompanied by a general decline in transit ridership on the Metropolitan Transportation Authority services compared to predecessor services operated by the Southern California Rapid Transit District in 1985. In 2016, ridership was even lower than the year before, despite the extensions of rail service to Santa Monica on the Expo Line and to Azusa on the Gold Line.

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The Economic Implications of Housing Supply

One of the impediments to housing production in California is a state environmental quality act that requires developers to assess the local environmental impacts of new housing. The result is that little new housing has been built in California, forcing people to move to places like Arizona and Texas. But California’s temperate climate means that greenhouse gas emissions there are far lower than in interior states. “If California’s restrictions induce more building in Texas and Arizona, which require far more artificial cooling,” says the paper, “then their net environmental [effects] could be negative in aggregate.”

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Focusing on Mobility Not Travel Mode for Better Economic Growth

For decades there has been an assumption that transit is an alternative to the automobile throughout the metropolitan area. The University of Minnesota Accessibility Observatory shows any such conception to be at best an exaggeration. Indeed, transit and walking provide only a small fraction of the access available by automobile. This is not likely to change at any practical level of public funding. As Professor Jean-Claude Ziv and I estimated that it could take all of an urban area’s gross domestic product each year just to provide the point to point access available by cars.

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The High Cost of a Home Is Turning American Millennials Into the New Serfs

Nowhere is this dynamic more evident than in California, where the state government has all but declared war on single-family homes by banning new peripheral development, driving up house prices throughout metropolitan areas. Regulatory fees typically add upward of $50,000, two-and-a-half times the national average; new demands for “zero emissions” homes promise to boost this by an additional $25,000.

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California as Alt-America

In sharp contrast to the 1960s California governed by Jerry Brown’s great father, Pat, upward mobility is not particularly promising for the state’s majority Latino next generation. Not only are housing prices out of reach for all but a few, but the state’s public education system ranks 40th in the nation, behind New York, Texas and South Carolina.  If California remains the technological leader, it is also becoming the harbinger of something else — a kind of feudal society divided by a rich elite and a larger poverty class, while the middle class either struggles or leaves town.

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Trump and California’s Economy

Defenders of California’s status-quo claim to be proud of California’s economic growth and worry about what Trump will do to that growth. If you are so impolite as to mention that this has been California’s slowest recovery in 70 years, as the following chart shows, you will be told that slow growth is good. . . That’s nonsense. Slow growth is anti-poor and anti-minority. Here’s a simple way to analyze economic policy: Ask how the policy changes the probability of a young person finding a job. If the policy increases their chances, it’s good policy. If it decreases the probability, it’s bad policy.

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Tearing Down American Dream Boundaries: An Imperative

Progressive politicians, dominant in California, talk incessantly about housing affordability, but blindly pursue policies that will make things even worse. It should not be surprising that the housing-cost adjusted poverty rate in California is the worst in union, underperforming even Mississippi. It should also not be surprising that Californians of every age group, including Millennials, are leaving state in larger numbers than they are being attracted.

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Overcrowded California

“California generally leads in both overcrowding and severe overcrowding. The state’s share of overcrowded households in the nation is 27 percent, while the state has 30 percent of severely overcrowded households, almost 3 times its 11 percent share of households. Only Hawaii has a higher severe overcrowding rate than California, at 3.8 percent of households California’s severe overcrowding rate is 2.9 percent. By contrast, average for the United States is a much lower 1.1 percent.”

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Economic Participation Matters Most

The best way up for people is — and always has been — the capacity to participate in the economy as an employee, entrepreneur, or owner. No amount of redistributive policy can achieve the same result. The safety net, as the name implies, is to prevent downward mobility; it has never been a very good trampoline.

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The Cities Where Your Salary Will Stretch The Furthest 2016

Most critical, however, is the clear downshift in the standard of living in my adopted home region, greater Los Angeles. Once L.A. was full of high-wage jobs, many of them tied to aerospace and manufacturing, as well as high-end business services. Those industries have been eroding for well over a decade, replaced, in large part, by lower-wage positions in hospitality, retail and health. Now it is one of the poorest big cities in America, yet one with extraordinarily high costs, particularly for housing. The cost of living in LA is 46 percent above the national average, driving real wage from a respectable nominal average $59,000 to a dismal adjusted $40,400.

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The House Prices are Too Damned High

Generally, a closely aligned relationship between trends in owner occupied and rented housing costs would be expected . This was certainly true until 1970 (Note 1).  In 1949 there was a 135 percent difference between the lowest median household value and the highest in the major metropolitan areas (Note 2). There was a similar 114 percent difference between the lowest gross rent and the highest (Figure 1). The house value variation was 18 percent higher than the rent variation. . . The close relationship between the variations in house value and rent was substantially broken in more recent decades. The 2015 American Community Survey shows that the variation among the major metropolitan areas in median house values is now a staggering 509 percent. The range between the least expensive and most expensive rental markets is a much smaller 158 percent (Figure 3). The difference in the variations between house value and rents across the nation rose to 222 percent, nearly nine times the 1969 figure.

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Urbanism, Texas-Style

Though California, with 12 percent of the American population, has more than 35 percent of the nation’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families welfare caseload—with Latinos constituting nearly half the adult rolls in the state—Texas, with under 9 percent of the country’s population, has less than 1 percent of the national welfare caseload. Further, according to the 2014 American Community Survey, Texas Hispanics had a significantly lower rate of out-of-wedlock births and a higher marriage rate than California Hispanics.

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The Incompatibility of Forced Density and Housing Affordability

New research supports the conclusion that anti-sprawl policy (urban containment policy) is incompatible with housing affordability. Build-zoom.com economist Issi Romem finds that: “Cities that have curbed their expansion have – with limited exception – failed to compensate with densification. As a result they have produced far less housing than they would otherwise, with severe national implications for housing affordability, geographic mobility and access to opportunity, all of which are keenly felt today as we approach the top of housing cycle.”

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