Building a Transit System That Is Doomed to Failure

RECEIVED Thu., July 19, 2007

Dear Editor,
    "Commuters will only switch to transit if they are delivered to their final destination – within a couple of blocks" [“Streetcar Desires,” News, July 20].
    The part which was left out, in what's becoming a disturbing trend of analysis-free journalism at the Chronicle, is that choice commuters will also not accept transfers as part of their daily commute, unless we're talking about the Manhattan end of the scale where the transit alternative has the benefit of competing against $50 parking.
    Transfers from commuter rail to streetcar will not be any more attractive to daily commuters than transfers from commuter rail to shuttle bus – and choice commuters, as shown in South Florida with Tri-Rail, simply will not do the latter. Once you ride every day, the fact that the streetcar isn't any faster or more reliable than the bus was becomes very obvious.
    It's time to remind people yet again: We did not decide to build what worked in Dallas; Portland, Ore.; Denver; Salt Lake City; Houston; and Minneapolis (light-rail or what we would have built in 2000 and should have tried again in 2004). What we're building instead was what failed in South Florida – a transit alternative that is utterly noncompetitive with the car and will continue to serve only the transit-dependent at an incredibly high cost while derailing transit momentum for decades.
Mike Dahmus
Urban Transportation Commission, 2000-2005
   [News Editor Michael King responds: By "analysis," Mike Dahmus (or "M1EK," his online handle at his Bake-Sale of Bile blog and in our online forums) consistently means arguments that agree with his own positions on mass transit, however intransigent and inflexible those positions may be. As it happens, we agree with him that light-rail is a better permanent solution for Austin, and that's why we have repeatedly endorsed light-rail proposals. However, in the absence of light-rail, we don't find it particularly useful to hold our breaths on transit questions until we turn blue (or bile green) nor particularly helpful to respond to every interim proposal with cheerless variations on "it's pointless, and it won't work."]
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