Fact Check: ‘One of the Best Light Rail Lines’ In the Country

Fact Check: ‘One of the Best Light Rail Lines’ In the Country

File photo by Sam Hodgson

The San Diego Trolley

Image: Mostly True

Statement: “The existing blue line today is probably one of the best light rail lines in the entire country,” said Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG, in a July 17 interview with Voice of San Diego.

Determination: Mostly True

Analysis: It’s not often that people say nice things about San Diego public transportation.

The city’s reputation as a sprawling ode to Southern California’s automobile dependence is well established.

So it was surprising to hear Gary Gallegos, executive director of SANDAG, the regional transportation authority, say the most popular line in the city’s light rail system is among the best in the entire country.

Since the statement was so out-of-step with conventional wisdom, we decided it deserved another look.

The blue line runs from the U.S.-Mexico border through the South Bay, Barrio Logan and into downtown San Diego. By 2018, SANDAG will have expanded the line all the way to University City.

Part of the calculation to expand the blue line to University City — rather than to build light rail service to some other part of the city — was based on the ridership of the existing line, which makes it easier to count on a solid return on the investment of extending service an additional 11.2 miles.

Gallegos was explaining that calculation when he made this bold statement.

But he was also relatively vague.

He hedged a bit by saying the blue line was “one of the best” lines nationwide.

And he didn’t specify what metric he was using as a basis for his claim.

Spokespeople for SANDAG and MTS, which operates the local public transportation system, said Gallegos was referring to a metric called farebox recovery ratio, or a line’s operating expenses divided by its fare revenue. It measures a transit line’s cost effectiveness.

“The blue line and the San Diego Trolley system as a whole rank at the top of light rail lines in the nation in terms of ability to recoup operating costs,” said Helen Gao, a SANDAG spokeswoman.

Here’s a chart of farebox recovery ratios for the best-performing national light rail systems, using 2011 data from the National Transit Database.

 

The blue line itself has a farebox recovery ratio of 76.4 percent, compared with the overall trolley system’s 57 percent. Boston, the next highest performing system in the nation, has a 49 percent recovery ratio. Los Angeles comes in at 21 percent.

The blue line, clearly, does a great job of recouping its operating expenses.

So, how does that metric fare as a single, catch-all description of a transit line’s effectiveness?

“When you look at financing public transit and providing reliable transit, the first thing taxpayers ask is, ‘Does this make sense?’” said Elyse Lowe, executive director of local advocacy group Move San Diego. “Transit relies on its ongoing operating revenue to be successful, so I really think (farebox recovery ratio) is the gold standard because you want to know people are buying in.”

Lowe said one complaint of the trolley system as a whole, including the blue line, is that its stops aren’t located in areas where it’s possible to walk from home, meaning people often have to rely on a car even if they use the trolley on a regular basis.

But the blue line remains effective because it goes all the way to the border, where it begins with thousands of riders using it to access jobs throughout San Diego.

“Clearly it was very smart to build the trolley all the way to the border,” Lowe said.

That decision also reveals another strength of the blue line: its original cost of construction.

The line’s capital cost in 1981 was $87.5 million, or $5.5 million per mile. Two years later, planners added a second track to the line, bringing the total cost to $119.25 million.

Adjusting for inflation, the original expenditure comes in at more than $300 million in 2013 dollars. That’s a lot, but consider the proposed extension of the blue line to University City is currently carrying a projected cost of $1.7 billion, more than five times the inflation-adjusted original expenditure.

“Between farebox recovery ratio, on top of the blue line being cited often as one of the cheapest lines in the country, that combination means it’s probably the top-performing line financially in the country,” said Juan Matute, a researcher at the Institute of Transportation Studies at UCLA’s Luskin School of Public Affairs.

But Matute also said judging the line entirely by its financial performance reveals the priorities of its planners.

“There’s a very businesslike focus about operating and always making sure there’s a return on investment,” he said. “In other parts of the state, transit is seen as a social service that connects people to jobs. That’s just not going to show up in (farebox recovery ratio).”

Matute said his preferred measure of a system’s overall performance is “passenger miles per annual vehicle revenue miles.” It’s basically a way to measure the average number of riders on a transit vehicle. It tells you whether a transit line is being used, rather than just whether it’s financially viable.

Here’s how the San Diego Trolley ranks among other light-rail systems nationwide based on that metric.

 

By that standard, San Diego still does pretty well, but it’s no longer the clear top performer. It’s closer to the middle of the pack.

Based on a purely financial assessment, Gallegos was right to place the blue line among the nation’s best-performing light rail lines.

What he didn’t mention was any other way to measure how effective a line is, such as how well it allows residents to save money by ditching their car, what percentage of the population makes use of the service or how satisfied customers are with their trolley experience.

Consider this: A system consisting of one bus tasked with covering the entire city would cost little to operate and could be entirely full at all times. Though effectively useless, the hypothetical line might notch a 100 percent farebox score. Farebox alone doesn’t tell a transit line’s whole story.

But outside of a super-metric that properly weighs competing priorities and spits out a single answer on the “best” line in the country, farebox is an important measure.

Our rubric grades a statement “mostly true” when it is accurate but misses an important nuance.

That fits Gallegos’ statement, which accurately described the blue line as one of the most financially successful in the country, but didn’t acknowledge other ways a public transportation line performs.

If you disagree with our determination or analysis, please express your thoughts in the comments section of this blog post. Explain your reasoning.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.

Voice of San Diego is a nonprofit that depends on you, our readers. Please donate to keep the service strong. Click here to find out more about our supporters and how we operate independently.


Andrew Keatts

Andrew Keatts

I'm Andrew Keatts, a reporter for Voice of San Diego. Please contact me if you'd like at andrew.keatts@voiceofsandiego.org or 619.325.0529.

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48 comments
Don Wood
Don Wood

The only beef I have with the city's trolley system is that it was designed on the cheap, using existing freight railroad lines to save money, instead of tearing up the old trolley rails which run east along University Avenue out to La Mesa. Unfortunately, unlike the old trolley lines, freight lines don't necessarily connect where people live with where they live. It was also stupid to run an west to east line through Mission Valley instead of along University, but its a done deal and hopefully over time it will lead to more transit use by MV residents. SANDAG knows where people live and where they work. What we need is a light rail line that connects the two. We aren't there yet. SANDAG is too busy using Transnet tax revenues to widen freeways to subsidize more sprawl development in the outlying areas of the county.

Don Wood
Don Wood subscriber

The only beef I have with the city's trolley system is that it was designed on the cheap, using existing freight railroad lines to save money, instead of tearing up the old trolley rails which run east along University Avenue out to La Mesa. Unfortunately, unlike the old trolley lines, freight lines don't necessarily connect where people live with where they live. It was also stupid to run an west to east line through Mission Valley instead of along University, but its a done deal and hopefully over time it will lead to more transit use by MV residents. SANDAG knows where people live and where they work. What we need is a light rail line that connects the two. We aren't there yet. SANDAG is too busy using Transnet tax revenues to widen freeways to subsidize more sprawl development in the outlying areas of the county.

Jeremy Ogul
Jeremy Ogul

One thing I would point out is that MTS's farebox recovery rate is much lower than it used to be. In the 1990s the rate was in the 90 percent range. I think it would be interesting to explore why the farebox recovery rate has fallen so much since then, despite much higher prices to ride the trolley.

Jeremy Ogul
Jeremy Ogul subscribermember

One thing I would point out is that MTS's farebox recovery rate is much lower than it used to be. In the 1990s the rate was in the 90 percent range. I think it would be interesting to explore why the farebox recovery rate has fallen so much since then, despite much higher prices to ride the trolley.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

If you look at our ridership versus similar sized metros we're actually pretty average. Not the best, and not the worst, right around middle of the pack. UCSD and University City was an excellent choice for a new destination. Our system has a good amount of deserving destinations served: Tijuana, 32nd St Naval Station, NASSCO, Petco Park, Convention Center, Gaslamp, Amtrak Station, Courts & Offices in Downtown, Grossmont Shopping Center & Hospital, SDSU, Qualcomm Stadium, Mission Valley Shopping Centers, Old Town, and others, plus soon to add UCSD and Offices + Shopping of UTC area. So, the trolley goes to a lot of good places. However, it grades very poorly in communities served. The blue line is about as inaccessible as possible for residents from San Ysidro, Chula Vista & National City. Most of the Green Lines Stops are not easily accessable to nearby residents- Grantville & Morena basically stop in Industrial areas; the stops in Mission Valley miss Hotel Circle, and are not within walking distance to a high percentage of a seemingly densely populated area; and much like the eastern portion of the Green Line, the Mid Coast Extension south of UCSD will have it's stops on the side of the freeway. Ironically the Orange line which appears to actually go through a lot of communities rather than around them, serves basically only one good destination: downtown. Nearly our entire system was built on or next to railroad and freeway right of ways. Very cost effective, but very ineffective in terms of being accessible to communities.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

If you look at our ridership versus similar sized metros we're actually pretty average. Not the best, and not the worst, right around middle of the pack. UCSD and University City was an excellent choice for a new destination. Our system has a good amount of deserving destinations served: Tijuana, 32nd St Naval Station, NASSCO, Petco Park, Convention Center, Gaslamp, Amtrak Station, Courts & Offices in Downtown, Grossmont Shopping Center & Hospital, SDSU, Qualcomm Stadium, Mission Valley Shopping Centers, Old Town, and others, plus soon to add UCSD and Offices + Shopping of UTC area. So, the trolley goes to a lot of good places. However, it grades very poorly in communities served. The blue line is about as inaccessible as possible for residents from San Ysidro, Chula Vista & National City. Most of the Green Lines Stops are not easily accessable to nearby residents- Grantville & Morena basically stop in Industrial areas; the stops in Mission Valley miss Hotel Circle, and are not within walking distance to a high percentage of a seemingly densely populated area; and much like the eastern portion of the Green Line, the Mid Coast Extension south of UCSD will have it's stops on the side of the freeway. Ironically the Orange line which appears to actually go through a lot of communities rather than around them, serves basically only one good destination: downtown. Nearly our entire system was built on or next to railroad and freeway right of ways. Very cost effective, but very ineffective in terms of being accessible to communities.

Ron Hidinger
Ron Hidinger

Despite being the cash cow, it is the worst maintained of the lines. The only line still using the old cars, track alignment that can throw you out of your seat, electronic signage unreadable, fare vending machines only recently upgraded to something that works. It seems the other lines get the attention in order to attract new customers but the blue line "good enough" for them.

Ron Hidinger
Ron Hidinger subscriber

Despite being the cash cow, it is the worst maintained of the lines. The only line still using the old cars, track alignment that can throw you out of your seat, electronic signage unreadable, fare vending machines only recently upgraded to something that works. It seems the other lines get the attention in order to attract new customers but the blue line "good enough" for them.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

So by "one of the best" you mean "Loses less money as a percentage of fares collected than others" The system is operating in the red. It doesn't reduce traffic by any meaningful amount, it costs millions in subsidies per year, it doesn't recover capital costs and is heavily subsidized, and overall it's less efficient than a car. The other thing you don't mention is that based on 2012 APTA numbers ridership is down to 75% of what it was in the 2007 peak, and down to 85% of what it was in 2011. The way this article was written it could make the lifeboat count on the titanic look like the best as well.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

So by "one of the best" you mean "Loses less money as a percentage of fares collected than others" The system is operating in the red. It doesn't reduce traffic by any meaningful amount, it costs millions in subsidies per year, it doesn't recover capital costs and is heavily subsidized, and overall it's less efficient than a car. The other thing you don't mention is that based on 2012 APTA numbers ridership is down to 75% of what it was in the 2007 peak, and down to 85% of what it was in 2011. The way this article was written it could make the lifeboat count on the titanic look like the best as well.

Sam Ollinger
Sam Ollinger

I would determine "best" based on how close MTS is in meeting its own stated mission. And farebox recovery or the ROI is based on only one element of MTS' mission statement: "Obtaining maximum benefit for every dollar spent." The entire Mission Statement adopted by the SDMTS is: "to enhance the personal mobility of San Diego metropolitan area residents and visitors by: - Obtaining maximum benefit for every dollar spent. - Being the community’s major public transportation advocate. - Increasing public transportation usage per capita. - Taking a customer-oriented approach. - Offering high-quality public transportation services. - Responding to the community’s socioeconomic interests." What metrics does MTS use to determine success based on those other elements of the mission statement? Is the decision to expand the trolley line to University City and not into the older/mid-city parts of the city meeting the stated mission of "responding to the community's socioeconomic interests?" How is MTS increasing public transportation usage per capita? And if ROI was the only measurement worth crowing about, how does SANDAG's purchase of the SR-125 fit into that - considering that it was a poorly performing piece of infrastructure and, if I understand the issue correctly, a not previously proposed purchase within SANDAG's own 2050 RTP.

Sam Ollinger
Sam Ollinger subscriber

I would determine "best" based on how close MTS is in meeting its own stated mission. And farebox recovery or the ROI is based on only one element of MTS' mission statement: "Obtaining maximum benefit for every dollar spent." The entire Mission Statement adopted by the SDMTS is: "to enhance the personal mobility of San Diego metropolitan area residents and visitors by: - Obtaining maximum benefit for every dollar spent. - Being the community’s major public transportation advocate. - Increasing public transportation usage per capita. - Taking a customer-oriented approach. - Offering high-quality public transportation services. - Responding to the community’s socioeconomic interests." What metrics does MTS use to determine success based on those other elements of the mission statement? Is the decision to expand the trolley line to University City and not into the older/mid-city parts of the city meeting the stated mission of "responding to the community's socioeconomic interests?" How is MTS increasing public transportation usage per capita? And if ROI was the only measurement worth crowing about, how does SANDAG's purchase of the SR-125 fit into that - considering that it was a poorly performing piece of infrastructure and, if I understand the issue correctly, a not previously proposed purchase within SANDAG's own 2050 RTP.

David Kissling
David Kissling

The Green Line in Mission Valley shows the major flaw with the Trolley. It connects destinations, but not origins. Fashion Valley, Mission Valley Center, Qualcomm Stadium and SDSU are all destinations that attract lots of San Diegans, but the trolley completely ignores where those people start out from, instead forcing them to rely on driving to a park-and-ride station or taking a bus. Bus service in San Diego is incredibly weak, with poor frequencies that make the trolley a much less attractive option. The Green Line could have a much higher ridership if the zoning in Mission Valley was different, but its completely designed around the car. Nobody, even in Mission Valley's new Trolley-adjacent apartments will ditch their car and voluntarily ride the trolley as long as parking is free and plentiful, the roads are fast and wide, and walking is a major inconvenience. I say this as someone who tries to use transit as much as I can. I'm a daily commuter on the Coaster, and when I was still a student at SDSU rode the bus/trolley from PB. But outside of weekday commutes, I only use the Trolley if I'm going Downtown or to a game at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego can build a great, walkable, transit-oriented core, but not until major changes are made to how land use decisions are made, parking requirements are liberalized, and until the Trolley connects to residential neighborhoods. Build a line from Downtown to Hillcrest and North Park, and run a spur from the Mid-Coast Corridor down Grand Avenue to Pacific Beach and watch ridership and revenue vastly increase, but sticking with the status quo of avoiding residential neighborhoods and building massive parking lots around stations won't change anything for the Trolley.

David Kissling
David Kissling subscriber

The Green Line in Mission Valley shows the major flaw with the Trolley. It connects destinations, but not origins. Fashion Valley, Mission Valley Center, Qualcomm Stadium and SDSU are all destinations that attract lots of San Diegans, but the trolley completely ignores where those people start out from, instead forcing them to rely on driving to a park-and-ride station or taking a bus. Bus service in San Diego is incredibly weak, with poor frequencies that make the trolley a much less attractive option. The Green Line could have a much higher ridership if the zoning in Mission Valley was different, but its completely designed around the car. Nobody, even in Mission Valley's new Trolley-adjacent apartments will ditch their car and voluntarily ride the trolley as long as parking is free and plentiful, the roads are fast and wide, and walking is a major inconvenience. I say this as someone who tries to use transit as much as I can. I'm a daily commuter on the Coaster, and when I was still a student at SDSU rode the bus/trolley from PB. But outside of weekday commutes, I only use the Trolley if I'm going Downtown or to a game at Qualcomm Stadium. San Diego can build a great, walkable, transit-oriented core, but not until major changes are made to how land use decisions are made, parking requirements are liberalized, and until the Trolley connects to residential neighborhoods. Build a line from Downtown to Hillcrest and North Park, and run a spur from the Mid-Coast Corridor down Grand Avenue to Pacific Beach and watch ridership and revenue vastly increase, but sticking with the status quo of avoiding residential neighborhoods and building massive parking lots around stations won't change anything for the Trolley.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

Ron, the blue line is the original segment of our current light rail system, and therefor it is the oldest. They have already started the upgrade to the blue line to switch to the new cars. That was the ceremony in Barrio Logan that Filner was at in one of his first appearances after the accusers started stepping forward. They just finished upgrading the Orange line and it now uses the new cars, and now they're upgrading the blue line.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

"Cash cow" is a misleading term. It operates in the red, it does not turn a profit.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

Ron, the blue line is the original segment of our current light rail system, and therefor it is the oldest. They have already started the upgrade to the blue line to switch to the new cars. That was the ceremony in Barrio Logan that Filner was at in one of his first appearances after the accusers started stepping forward. They just finished upgrading the Orange line and it now uses the new cars, and now they're upgrading the blue line.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

"Cash cow" is a misleading term. It operates in the red, it does not turn a profit.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Freeways are part of the necessary system, regardless of whether they could be smaller and still be part of a necessary system. You could put smaller oxygen lines on a bottle, up to some point where it is just barely enough to keep a patent alive, but regardless of the size the line is necessary. Look, I understand the near religious anti-car mindset that some people have, but I also know that trolleys are a luxury item that mostly serves as a subsidy for low cost labor from the border area to downtown. As far as the article you posted a link to, it is rife with factual errors, as an opinion piece it is obviously written by someone who either didn't do their research, or who has an agenda. Trucks pay rather large taxes and fees. Is it as much as they should pay? No, the cost should be increased and passed on to customers who buy the items shipped, but really it's the liberals who shift this cost away from commodities hat even the lower class would have to pay for and onto the taxpayer who generally is the more successful, it's wealth redistribution. Also the railroads were built with huge subsidies, and trolleys are far more subsidized than the roads. Everyone benefits from the roads, but the main benefactor of the blue line is the downtown service industries that profit on the cheap labor the rail brings in.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Freeways are part of the necessary road system, it is absolutely necessary to have those roads no matter their size, and the freeway is cheaper than the road for the needed capacity due to economies of scale. Railroads offer savings with large economies of scale, but are unsuited to bursty traffic and low volume use, which is why the 18 wheeler is the king of infrastructure except for large production, like coal or lumber shipping. But none of that makes the case for trolleys any more attractive from a cost-benefit standpoint. Trolleys don't make economic sense whether the railroad to road transport ratio is optimal or not. Express tolling is fine, as long as the funds stay in the roads are not diverted to expensive nonsense like trolleys or overpaying public road workers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Freeways don't "operate", toll roads do, but freeways (and the predecessor highways) are needed infrastructure that carry not just passengers but food and services, trolleys are not. Trolleys simply exist to subsidize low cost labor and some tourism, for us mainly to the border. If our highways disappeared tomorrow it would be death and disaster on a massive scale. We would hardly notice the trolley disappearing. Express tolling wouldn't reduce congestion unless the money is put back into road infrastructure at a fair, reasonable (read not bloated public union) rate to increase the road capacity. I (like most) would have no issue with the $.80 gallon gas tax being removed and replaced with a similar road tax, but people who want road taxes usually want them spent on other things, the way trolleys and other wasteful programs get money from gas tax today. More lanes do reduce congestion if properly designed (but as any driver who has merged four lanes into one to get on 163, proper designing and our road engineers don't seem to share a zip code).

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"The system is operating in the red." As do our freeways, even before factoring in the negative externalities of driving. "It doesn't reduce traffic by any meaningful amount..." Public transit never will, and neither will widening roads, because as soon as you make more room on the road, there's somebody ready to take it. This happens over and over again. Permanent congestion relief at the lowest cost to taxpayers is achieved the same way any other shortage is eliminated: by charging the market clearing rate. In the case of roads, that means express tolling.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

I know you were referring to our system in particular, but you seem to be generally opposed to public transit. I don't know how big of an impact our system has on reducing roadway congestion, but if you look at the recent BART strikes in the Bay Area the impact was tremendous. That's just one example of public transportation's benefit to drivers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Freeways are part of the necessary system, regardless of whether they could be smaller and still be part of a necessary system. You could put smaller oxygen lines on a bottle, up to some point where it is just barely enough to keep a patent alive, but regardless of the size the line is necessary. Look, I understand the near religious anti-car mindset that some people have, but I also know that trolleys are a luxury item that mostly serves as a subsidy for low cost labor from the border area to downtown. As far as the article you posted a link to, it is rife with factual errors, as an opinion piece it is obviously written by someone who either didn't do their research, or who has an agenda. Trucks pay rather large taxes and fees. Is it as much as they should pay? No, the cost should be increased and passed on to customers who buy the items shipped, but really it's the liberals who shift this cost away from commodities hat even the lower class would have to pay for and onto the taxpayer who generally is the more successful, it's wealth redistribution. Also the railroads were built with huge subsidies, and trolleys are far more subsidized than the roads. Everyone benefits from the roads, but the main benefactor of the blue line is the downtown service industries that profit on the cheap labor the rail brings in.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Freeways are part of the necessary road system, it is absolutely necessary to have those roads no matter their size, and the freeway is cheaper than the road for the needed capacity due to economies of scale. Railroads offer savings with large economies of scale, but are unsuited to bursty traffic and low volume use, which is why the 18 wheeler is the king of infrastructure except for large production, like coal or lumber shipping. But none of that makes the case for trolleys any more attractive from a cost-benefit standpoint. Trolleys don't make economic sense whether the railroad to road transport ratio is optimal or not. Express tolling is fine, as long as the funds stay in the roads are not diverted to expensive nonsense like trolleys or overpaying public road workers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Freeways don't "operate", toll roads do, but freeways (and the predecessor highways) are needed infrastructure that carry not just passengers but food and services, trolleys are not. Trolleys simply exist to subsidize low cost labor and some tourism, for us mainly to the border. If our highways disappeared tomorrow it would be death and disaster on a massive scale. We would hardly notice the trolley disappearing. Express tolling wouldn't reduce congestion unless the money is put back into road infrastructure at a fair, reasonable (read not bloated public union) rate to increase the road capacity. I (like most) would have no issue with the $.80 gallon gas tax being removed and replaced with a similar road tax, but people who want road taxes usually want them spent on other things, the way trolleys and other wasteful programs get money from gas tax today. More lanes do reduce congestion if properly designed (but as any driver who has merged four lanes into one to get on 163, proper designing and our road engineers don't seem to share a zip code).

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"The system is operating in the red." As do our freeways, even before factoring in the negative externalities of driving. "It doesn't reduce traffic by any meaningful amount..." Public transit never will, and neither will widening roads, because as soon as you make more room on the road, there's somebody ready to take it. This happens over and over again. Permanent congestion relief at the lowest cost to taxpayers is achieved the same way any other shortage is eliminated: by charging the market clearing rate. In the case of roads, that means express tolling.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

I know you were referring to our system in particular, but you seem to be generally opposed to public transit. I don't know how big of an impact our system has on reducing roadway congestion, but if you look at the recent BART strikes in the Bay Area the impact was tremendous. That's just one example of public transportation's benefit to drivers.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

High pollution levels are caused by the basin effect. Your retort is meaningless to this point. It is the basin effect that causes pollution to accumulate rather than disburse. The pollution from 22,000 cars can be estimated, but regardless of how it is estimated it is meaningless because it is such a small percentage of the total traffic, which is likely close to half a million cars a day based on a 3 million total pop. I could probably come up with a fairly good measurement of the total reduction that represents, but it would just be getting a more accurate definition of meaningless.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

You bring up a good point about ROI. SANDAG should calculate the cost of the air pollution prevented by the Blue Line (up to $1,600 per person annually according to the below report) and factor that into the Blue Line's ROI.Dirty Air Costs California Economy $28 Billion Annuallyhttp://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.htmlJane V. Hall and Victor Brajer Air pollution costs the California economy more than $28 billion annually, according to a new study released today and co-authored by two Cal State Fullerton economics professors. The study, which focuses on the South C...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

High pollution levels are caused by the basin effect. Your retort is meaningless to this point. It is the basin effect that causes pollution to accumulate rather than disburse. The pollution from 22,000 cars can be estimated, but regardless of how it is estimated it is meaningless because it is such a small percentage of the total traffic, which is likely close to half a million cars a day based on a 3 million total pop. I could probably come up with a fairly good measurement of the total reduction that represents, but it would just be getting a more accurate definition of meaningless.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

You bring up a good point about ROI. SANDAG should calculate the cost of the air pollution prevented by the Blue Line (up to $1,600 per person annually according to the below report) and factor that into the Blue Line's ROI.Dirty Air Costs California Economy $28 Billion Annuallyhttp://calstate.fullerton.edu/news/2008/091-air-pollution-study.htmlJane V. Hall and Victor Brajer Air pollution costs the California economy more than $28 billion annually, according to a new study released today and co-authored by two Cal State Fullerton economics professors. The study, which focuses on the South C...

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

The problem with our system practically requiring a portion of most trips to be on bus or in car is that negates the main benefit of the trolley. The trolley benefits from a dedicated route that doesn't get clogged up with traffic. So, you could laugh at commuters in the cars slugging through the streets and freeways during rush hour, except it's highly likely that you're going to have to take a portion of your own trip in a car or a bus and then you're slogging through the muck right along with them.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

The problem with our system practically requiring a portion of most trips to be on bus or in car is that negates the main benefit of the trolley. The trolley benefits from a dedicated route that doesn't get clogged up with traffic. So, you could laugh at commuters in the cars slugging through the streets and freeways during rush hour, except it's highly likely that you're going to have to take a portion of your own trip in a car or a bus and then you're slogging through the muck right along with them.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"Freeways are part of the necessary road system" We had non-freeway roads long before we had freeways, so the above statement must be false. "Railroads...are unsuited to bursty traffic and low volume use, which is why the 18 wheeler is the king of infrastructure" It has nothing to do with the massive subsidies given to the trucking industry but refused to the railroads? (see the linked article below) "Trolleys don't make economic sense whether the railroad to road transport ratio is optimal or not." If freeways made sense, they would be able to pay for themselves without the need for the TransNet sales tax or zoning laws that force property owners to overbuild their parking lots. Right now, even if gas taxes were completely devoted to highways, total user fee revenue would only account for 65% of the cost of those highways.Rank hypocrisy on 'subsidies'http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/84269192.htmlI am puzzled by much of the opposition to public subsidies for commuter rail and high-speed rail spending. I have yet to hear these opponents object to the massive public subsidies for all of the other modes of transportation in the United States. So...

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"freeways (and the predecessor highways) are needed infrastructure that carry not just passengers but food and services, trolleys are not." Controlled-access freeways are a luxury, not a necessity. Roads are a necessity. Railroads are roads, and can carry anything freeways can carry, using just one-third the fuel. "Express tolling wouldn't reduce congestion unless the money is put back into road infrastructure...to increase the road capacity." By saying that, you're making the claim that demand for roads is perfectly inelastic with respect to price. Even food doesn't have zero elasticity of demand. Nothing does. "More lanes do reduce congestion..." For a short time, at best. Express tolling *permanently* eliminates traffic congestion.

Carrie Schneider
Carrie Schneider

Or, expensive parking. The rates in big citiies are in the $45 per day range. This is a strong incentive to use public transportation. Another weakness of our system is no connection to the airport. Let's fix that!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

Seriously? BART has around 400,000 daily riders with 9 less stops than the Trolly and it's 90,000 riders. BART also serves a major metropolitan area with poor road access, the blue line simply parallels I-5 from the border to downtown. Even with that huge huge huge huge difference in ridership levels the BART strike wasn't that bad, and I have no doubt the disruption would have been temporary as people adjusted. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/BART-strike-adds-half-hour-to-drivers-commute-4641805.php http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/BART-Strike-Barely-Felt-in-Marin-213889121.html Also look at this, the BART strike caused bride gridlock, but bridge traffic only increased to 128,065 from the monday before 125,892. Was it that 1% increase in bridge traffic? No, read the article, it was that the increase due to the strike all had to go through the cash lanes. No such issue, with bridge or cash lanes, exists here. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/07/03/bay-bridge-sees-brunt-of-extra-traffic-during-bart-strike/ We are not SF, and SDMTS is not BART, and for the average taxpayer SDMTS is just a hole in your pocket money falls out of. Handy to keep wages down for low skilled labor at a cost to the general public, and handy for sailors to go to TJ, but overall not a real benefit.BART strike adds half hour to drivers' commutehttp://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/BART-strike-adds-half-hour-to-drivers-commute-4641805.phpFor the tens of thousands of people forced off BART by the strike and onto Bay Area freeways, Monday's drive to work wasn't much worse than if a motorcycle wreck had blocked two lanes of the Bay Bridge for 20 minutes around 7 a.m.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"Freeways are part of the necessary road system" We had non-freeway roads long before we had freeways, so the above statement must be false. "Railroads...are unsuited to bursty traffic and low volume use, which is why the 18 wheeler is the king of infrastructure" It has nothing to do with the massive subsidies given to the trucking industry but refused to the railroads? (see the linked article below) "Trolleys don't make economic sense whether the railroad to road transport ratio is optimal or not." If freeways made sense, they would be able to pay for themselves without the need for the TransNet sales tax or zoning laws that force property owners to overbuild their parking lots. Right now, even if gas taxes were completely devoted to highways, total user fee revenue would only account for 65% of the cost of those highways.Rank hypocrisy on 'subsidies'http://www.jsonline.com/news/opinion/84269192.htmlI am puzzled by much of the opposition to public subsidies for commuter rail and high-speed rail spending. I have yet to hear these opponents object to the massive public subsidies for all of the other modes of transportation in the United States. So...

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"freeways (and the predecessor highways) are needed infrastructure that carry not just passengers but food and services, trolleys are not." Controlled-access freeways are a luxury, not a necessity. Roads are a necessity. Railroads are roads, and can carry anything freeways can carry, using just one-third the fuel. "Express tolling wouldn't reduce congestion unless the money is put back into road infrastructure...to increase the road capacity." By saying that, you're making the claim that demand for roads is perfectly inelastic with respect to price. Even food doesn't have zero elasticity of demand. Nothing does. "More lanes do reduce congestion..." For a short time, at best. Express tolling *permanently* eliminates traffic congestion.

Carrie Schneider
Carrie Schneider subscribermember

Or, expensive parking. The rates in big citiies are in the $45 per day range. This is a strong incentive to use public transportation. Another weakness of our system is no connection to the airport. Let's fix that!

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Seriously? BART has around 400,000 daily riders with 9 less stops than the Trolly and it's 90,000 riders. BART also serves a major metropolitan area with poor road access, the blue line simply parallels I-5 from the border to downtown. Even with that huge huge huge huge difference in ridership levels the BART strike wasn't that bad, and I have no doubt the disruption would have been temporary as people adjusted. http://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/BART-strike-adds-half-hour-to-drivers-commute-4641805.php http://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local/BART-Strike-Barely-Felt-in-Marin-213889121.html Also look at this, the BART strike caused bride gridlock, but bridge traffic only increased to 128,065 from the monday before 125,892. Was it that 1% increase in bridge traffic? No, read the article, it was that the increase due to the strike all had to go through the cash lanes. No such issue, with bridge or cash lanes, exists here. http://sanfrancisco.cbslocal.com/2013/07/03/bay-bridge-sees-brunt-of-extra-traffic-during-bart-strike/ We are not SF, and SDMTS is not BART, and for the average taxpayer SDMTS is just a hole in your pocket money falls out of. Handy to keep wages down for low skilled labor at a cost to the general public, and handy for sailors to go to TJ, but overall not a real benefit.BART strike adds half hour to drivers' commutehttp://www.sfgate.com/bayarea/article/BART-strike-adds-half-hour-to-drivers-commute-4641805.phpFor the tens of thousands of people forced off BART by the strike and onto Bay Area freeways, Monday's drive to work wasn't much worse than if a motorcycle wreck had blocked two lanes of the Bay Bridge for 20 minutes around 7 a.m.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Jim, you're trying to argue that air pollution has zero cost, just as you tried to argue earlier that demand for roads is perfectly inelastic. The world isn't perfectly black and white.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"high pollution levels are caused by the basin effect" Pollution is caused by human activities, not by the basin effect. "The trolley...does not reduce pollution by any measurable, impactful way here in SD." The trolley carries 80,000 daily riders, so at 1.8 two-way riders per car, the trolley moves as many people as 22,000 cars do. Surely the total pollution from 22,000 cars can be measured.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones

The problem with that line of thinking is that the figure is $0 even if you believe the numbers in the study, because high pollution levels are caused by the basin effect, and the trolley ridership is insignificant as a percentage of total commuters. The trolley does nothing to prevent pollution collecting in basins in the San Joaquin Valley, and does not reduce pollution by any measurable, impactful way here in SD.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, you're trying to argue that air pollution has zero cost, just as you tried to argue earlier that demand for roads is perfectly inelastic. The world isn't perfectly black and white.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"high pollution levels are caused by the basin effect" Pollution is caused by human activities, not by the basin effect. "The trolley...does not reduce pollution by any measurable, impactful way here in SD." The trolley carries 80,000 daily riders, so at 1.8 two-way riders per car, the trolley moves as many people as 22,000 cars do. Surely the total pollution from 22,000 cars can be measured.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The problem with that line of thinking is that the figure is $0 even if you believe the numbers in the study, because high pollution levels are caused by the basin effect, and the trolley ridership is insignificant as a percentage of total commuters. The trolley does nothing to prevent pollution collecting in basins in the San Joaquin Valley, and does not reduce pollution by any measurable, impactful way here in SD.