A blog for better streets and public spaces in Portland, Maine.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Maine Turnpork Authority Broadcasts Its Anti-Transit Outlook

The Maine Turnpork Authority offered up a wonky and unconvincing rebuttal to the Maine Alliance for Sustainable Transportation's regional bus expansion proposal. It's too bad it was published on the Monday of a long weekend, when few people would actually read it, because it does a great job of showing where the MTA's priorities lie.

Author Scott Tomkins, a flack on the Maine Turnpike Authority payroll, makes it clear that his employer has no interest in expanding bus service or reducing Maine's dependence on fossil fuels. To support his regressive and self-serving point of view, Tomkins cites some dubious statistics, like "a 21 percent decline in Zoom ridership from FY 2009 to FY 2010." Ridership did decline last year, but that was mostly because of rising unemployment, which reduced the number of commuters moving between Biddeford/Saco and downtown Portland. In the previous five years, though, ridership on the Zoom had nearly doubled, from 25,000 daily riders in 2005 to 46,000 riders last year, before dipping to 37,000 riders last year.

To take a more useful and honest statistic, the average annual growth rate over the past five years - even when you include last year's dip - has been 11%. That's double-digit growth for the bus. Meanwhile, the growth in vehicle traffic on the Turnpike during the same period has been statistically insignificant - zero, in other words.

Anyway, citing a decline in employment as your reason you're not going to invest in bus service makes it sound like the Tomkins wants our region to fail.

There's also this nugget:
Assuming the same 0.8 percent market penetration as Biddeford/Saco, these two corridors would yield a total of just 66 new bus riders for the additional $7 million MAST proposes to legislatively force the MTA to invest in Zoom.
The current Zoom service does have pathetic market penetration, and that's because the Maine Turnpork Authority is in charge. Other bus systems - ones that have the support of the agencies that fund them - manage to achieve a 5% market share, and as we lay out in our business plan, there's no reason Zoom can't do the same, to more than triple its total ridership.

Unfortunately, the MTA has chronically under-invested in their bus service - it's almost as though they want it to fail. Bus riders don't pay the tolls that funds the Turnpork Authority's bloated payroll, after all...

But that's beside the larger point. Even with a 5% market share, the MTA would still need to provide $2.4 million a year to fund the service. But let's put that number in context: that's roughly as much as the agency would pay in annual interest for its new $40 million tollbooth.

Unlike the tollbooth, though, the bus service would actually provide tangible financial benefits to Maine's economy, saving commuters millions of dollars in congestion and gasoline costs, saving municipalities additional millions in avoided parking subsidies and road maintenance expenses.

Tomkins uses his dubious math to conclude that the bus would require "a jaw-dropping $29,756 per-rider subsidy" on the MTA's balance sheet. But that balance sheet doesn't include parking subsidies, or congestion costs, or health care impacts from air pollution and obesity, or gasoline expenditures.

Bus service is only expensive if you look at it through from the point of view of the Turnpork Authority's fantasy-land - a place where parking is always free, gasoline flows like water, car exhaust smells like roses, and no one ever dies of congestive heart failure from too many drive-thru meals.

In the real world, the existing Zoom service - even in its paltry state, with only 2 buses and 10 round trips a day - saves commuters, businesses, and municipalities in Cumberland and York Counties about $1.8 million a year - and that's after you subtract the actual cost of the bus service.

Our proposal aims to double that savings - pumping an additional $2.2 million into the local economy every year.

Here's the math, from our Turnpike for the 21st Century report. Scott Tompkins, you're welcome to try to challenge these numbers, the real costs that Mainers are struggling to pay to drive on your highway...

Round-trip costs between Biddeford and downtown PortlandSingle-occupant vehicle on Maine TurnpikeZOOM busProposed Downtown ZOOM routeNotes

Tolls and Fares$2.00$5.00$5.00
Gasoline plus maintenance and insurance$22.00$1.10$0.00(at Federal rate of $0.55 per mile, assuming a 1.5 mile drive to Biddeford P&R for ZOOM trip)
Public parking in Portland ($5/day)$5.00$0.00$0.00
Loss of productive time$20.00$3.33$0.00(Turnpike column assumes a 30-minute one-way trip, without congestion delays, at a rate of $20/hour; ZOOM column assume a 5-minute one-way trip to Park and Ride lot)
Total costs to individual:$49.00$9.43$5.00


Operating subsidy$0.00$15.00$15.00Fares cover roughly 25% of ZOOM service costs. Does not include federal tax subsidies for automobile ownership and oil.
Congestion externality$10.80$0.54$0.81Peak-hour congestion costs on urban LOS E streets and highways is $0.27/mile (TTI 2003 and Littman 2010). ZOOM congestion cost based on an assumed 20 passengers per vehicle, and increased by a factor of 1.5 to account for more frequent stops.
Parking subsidies$15.00$10.00$0.00Difference between nominal parking rents and market-rate prices for similar real estate in downtown Portland. See Peninsula Transit Study, 2008. ZOOM column reflects subsidies for Biddeford Park and Ride lot, where land values are lower.
Noise, water, and air pollution costs$3.00$0.30$0.45Average automobile pollution cost per mile is $0.075; the average new diesel bus pollution cost per mile is $0.15. Second and third columns assume an average 20 passengers per bus (Sierra Research 2000, Littman 2010).
Total exported costs:$28.80$25.84$16.26

Sum of all costs (individual plus social):$77.80$35.27$21.26

Total annual costs of 180 commuters (average daily ridership on existing ZOOM route)$3,360,960$1,523,664
Based on 2009 ridership and 240 annual work days

Total costs of 294 commuters (projected daily ridership on proposed ZOOM route)$5,489,568
$1,500,106Based on a projection of 294 daily riders on the proposed downtown ZOOM route (assuming a conservative 5% market share among workers whose origin and destination are within 1/2 a mile of the route) and 240 annual work days



Sierra Research COMMUTER Model, US Environmental Protection Agency Transportation Air Quality Center, 2000.

Evaluating Public Transit Benefits and Costs, by Todd Littman. Victoria Transportation Policy Institute, 2010.

Urban Mobility Study, Texas Transportation Institute, 2009.


Anonymous said...

Great, great article. Besides laying down in front of the construction trucks, how do we get these groups (MTA, DOT) to understand paving isn't the answer? This blog has crept up to become one of my favorites. Keep it up.

C Neal said...

Thanks, Anonymous, for reading - tell your friends!

One way we get the MTA and DOT to understand that paving isn't the answer is to go to the State House and tell our political leaders that we're going to take away funding from their payrolls unless they start making our transportation infrastructure more energy-efficient. In an age of fiscal restraint, leaders will be hunting for ways to save taxpayer dollars - we should all be pointing them to these wasteful, hidebound agencies.