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This article is my attempt to cut through the wall of transportation propaganda and demonstrate that quality public transportation is easily affordable for the State of Texas.
What if you live in a major Texas city and are concerned about climate change? What if you need to spend more on your family and less on your car? Probably the most effective action you could take is to use public transportation instead of driving. Using public transportation could increase your cash and significantly reduce your carbon footprint. Texas is the top CO2 emitter and probably the top methane emitter as well. The transit option, however, is deliberately made so impractical that very few Texans can even consider this mode. There is effectively no choice in transportation offered by the State of Texas.
The basic fact of transportation policy is that different modes are rivals. The public interest is served by a diversified and practical transportation system with each mode having appropriate resources. The transportation system in Texas, however, is designed to maximize the profits of the corporate oligarchy — the banking cartel, fossil fuel companies, car makers and dealers, and highway contractors. These special interests totally dominate transportation policy in Texas to serve one goal — cars only! So the short explanation of why public transportation is so lacking in Texas is that the oligarchy cannot allow a practical alternative to the motor vehicle tribute system.
Motor vehicles are the technology that creates an endless treadmill of payments for loans, fuel, maintenance, and taxes, what may be called the motor vehicle tribute system. It is maintained by controlling infrastructure so it is designed solely for motor vehicles and by reducing mass transit to an ineffective backwater. On the public relations front, information available to the public is limited so that facts are hidden, cars are glorified, and competing modes are ignored or disparaged. Thus, the media is funded by automobile advertising and dutifully promotes the motor vehicle monopoly. I think this is why most people believe that public transportation is too expensive and mainly for poor minorities, just as they visualize driving on an idyllic open road while their daily automotive experience is stressful, frustrating, and polluting.
I present a proposal for a state-level subsidy for municipal bus service, which would take less than 10% of the TxDOT budget, a small amount given that as much as 50% of the Texas population could be helped. Hopefully, you will see that your city's transit system could be hugely improved for the cost of a single highway project. Hopefully you will see that quality transit may be the only practical way to deal with much of the traffic congestion that has made Texas cities unbearable car parks. Hopefully you will realize that TxDOT can complete 100% of their highway projects with 90% of the funding. I also hope you will realize that, just as you personally lose money on your car, it is unreasonable to expect public transportation to be profitable. The profits from public transportation are made by the people served, not by the operation itself. And hopefully you realize that the worsening reality of climate change requires that we transition away from our current transportation system.
Bus Subsidy Proposal
My proposal is that about ten percent (10%) of the annual Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) budget be allocated to bus service for the large cities in Texas. These would be Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, Austin, San Antonio, and El Paso. I estimate the amount at approximately $1 Billion annually. The full subsidy amount would be allocated each year, so the percentages will not change over time. The intention is that the transit operators use these buses to improve frequency and connections in targeted areas of their service territories.
The basic idea is that an amount per bus is placed in a special account and used to cover the purchase price and an operating-life subsidy. Comfortable, attractive, and reliable buses would be purchased directly by TxDOT for cash and distributed proportionally to the cities. Cash purchase eliminates the cost of debt, which can be considerable. The subsidy would be specific to the bus and designed to cover direct operating costs only, leaving administration and peripheral matters as the operating agency's responsibility. The operating costs would be independently estimated by TxDOT, based upon necessary expenses such as driver compensation, maintenance schedules, fuel cost, and hours of service. The subsidy would be paid monthly and would be reduced by a factor or percentage of the fare collected for that particular bus. For example, if the percentage is 75%, a $1 fare collected would reduce the subsidy by $0.75. TxDOT would have no authority over local wages, schedules, fare rates, or payment policies. The cities would each be allowed to add to the subsidy fund at any time. Buses generally have a ten-year operating life, at which time they can be rebuilt for approximately half the original price. I believe it is reasonable to fund 1,000 buses per year in this manner.
Use this calculator to see how the proposal would work.
Assumptions: The hourly wage is multiplied by 1.25 to estimate actual employee cost. Bus average speed is 12 mph. Bus miles are speed multiplied by hours by days. The maintenance factor is $0.40 per mile. The percentage of the TxDOT budget is the annual operating subsidy multiplied by the bus count and divided by the approximately $10 Billion annual budget.
|Bus Price||Bus Count||Total Purchase||Purchase
At a rate of 1,000 added buses per year, this proposal would more than double the bus fleets in Texas major cities over a four year period. I think the proposal would work best with mid-sized buses, but the point is to obtain the buses that are needed to significantly improve transit service. While there are many factors that affect transit ridership, the single most important factor is the level of service. A higher level of service results in increased ridership (Transit Ridership). More buses are the basic resource needed to achieve higher levels of service. The proposal also rewards increased ridership, which would provide an incentive for transit agencies to actively work to better serve the public. The present (2018) bus count for these agencies is set out in the table. I do not think the administration expense for the additional buses would necessarily increase the present administrative costs and may actually improve the agency finances.
|Note that the Operating Budget may include rail service, on demand service, and other services, so it is not a direct representation of agency operating costs for bus services.|
|Ft. Worth||Trinity Metro||112||2.00||$92M|
|Bus Count Total||3008|
The key to success for the proposal is ridership. The higher the ridership, the more useful the bus service and the the lower the subsidy. We must keep in mind that bus service is maintained for many reasons and high ridership is not always the priority. The Transit Ridership Recipe Nevertheless, the large cities in Texas absolutely need a high ridership bus network in many areas.
So what are the factors that increase the service level and ridership? I think there are three primary factors: 1) practicality of the bus system, 2) quality of the bus and related facilities, and 3) the fare amount and payment method. I want to think of bus service as a stand-alone operation where people choose the bus because it is advantageous for them. In other words, the bus service should be a capable competitor in the transportation rivalry. It is helpful to regard transit as a network, where the user base, connectivity, and transmission speed are the key quality determinants.
The practicality of the bus system can be summarized by two features: frequency and connections. How often does the bus run, i.e. how long a time does one spend waiting. This is a major consideration for anyone taking the bus. The ideal time is probably less than 10 minutes, so there will be several buses running the same route. The bus route must intersect with several other routes to maximize connections and allow riders to reach many destinations. Improved frequency and connections make the bus system much more practical. The realities of these factors require more buses. In order to be twice as frequent, you will probably need twice the buses. In order to have more connections, you may need more routes and the buses for these routes. One could also include the size of the buses in the practicality factor. If buses are indeed as frequent as 10 minutes, they might not need to be so large. For example the Midibus is widely used in other parts of the world. (example electric MidiBus)
Reliability is a vital aspect of practicality. This refers not only to there being no breakdowns, but also to the bus always arriving at its scheduled time. A very important factor here is avoiding traffic jams caused by too many cars on the road. This leads to dedicated bus lanes or bus-only lanes in areas where traffic jams are likely. Another way to improve bus service is to implement signal light priority for buses, where signal lights turn green for approaching buses.
The quality of the facilities is also an important factor. Covered bus stops reachable by clear sidewalks are definitely more desirable than a mere signpost near the curb. Also the comfort and other features of the bus are important. Having wifi for communications matters. I believe that riding experience can be improved in meaningful ways with better designs, such as smoother suspensions. Placing ridership as the priority also means designing buses that serve riders in all aspects. I believe the mindset of transit authorities is too oriented to large buses because they believe that 40 seats may bring in more revenue that 30 seats. But when the cost of the buses is considered, the mid-sized bus may prove to be more comfortable and rider-friendly and end up more economically rewarding.
The fare is obviously a major factor for riders. It is not only the amount, but also the method and convenience of payment. The convenience of a smartphone app, sliding a card, or paying at the stop before boarding are ways to improve the fare payment experience. To avoid boarding delays, even dollar fares may be better than fares requiring coins. While fare revenue is important, public transportation agencies make a mistake thinking that they must increase fares when competing modes are heavly subsidized. Instead they should focus on increasing ridership and increasing their value to the community.
The economics aspect of this bus subsidy proposal also merit discussion, but it is a major topic in itself. My opinion is that public transportation can play a major role in improving the economy and reducing the property tax burden on urban dwellers. Money spent on public transportation will tend to circulate in the local economy longer than money spent on automobiles. Cars are ususally made overseas, loan or lease payments and fuel payments go to Wall Street or OPEC and highway contracts are often managed by foreign multinational or out-of-state companies. The effects of public transportation on economics are many and varied, but I think the basic facts are that public transportation reduces overall transportation costs and increases the value of properties by reducing the expenses and space needed for automobiles. In places, as much as half the built area in Texas cities is devoted to roads and parking lots. Urban sprawl greatly increases infrastructure costs and reduces taxable value, forcing cities into a poor financial position and necessitating increased taxes. This topic is discussed in Transport Works. Again, the broad economic aspects are too extensive to discuss in this article. I urge interested readers to research this topic further.
Thank you for reading this article. I hope your curiosity has been stimulated and your understanding of transportation issues has been improved. You might also contact your state representative and request public transportation funding from TxDOT.