How San Diego’s Transit System Stacks Up Nationally, in Four Charts

How San Diego’s Transit System Stacks Up Nationally, in Four Charts

Photo by Sam Hodgson

The San Diego Trolley

San Diego’s much-maligned transit system is in the process of implementing a series of upgrades.

The trolley’s blue line, the most successful leg of the existing network, is heading toward final approval of an extension that would allow a rider to head from University City, through downtown San Diego, to the U.S.-Mexico border without a transfer.

And construction is now under way on a high-frequency bus line called bus rapid transit, or BRT, that’ll connect SDSU and the mid-city neighborhoods, Chula Vista and Escondido to downtown San Diego. It’s meant to have similar service levels to a rail system, at a fraction of the cost.

As those changes get under way, here’s a look at San Diego’s existing transit system in a national context.

Let’s start with a ranking from the American Public Transportation Association, a national advocacy group for public transportation, of the 25 cities with the most “unlinked passenger trips” on public transportation. That’s the number of times a resident boards public transit, without counting transfers as additional trips.

 

It’s a blunt measure of how many times people decided to use transit, but it also ends up giving a high ranking to large cities, like Los Angeles, without accounting for how many residents there never use public transportation.

San Diego ranks 14th, just after Denver and ahead of Minneapolis.

San Diego does a little bit better if you rank those same cities by passenger miles, rather than total boardings.

 

But these raw measurements of transit trips or transit miles traveled leave a major elephant in the room: Not many people use public transit as a primary means of transportation.

Here’s a chart showing how people in San Diego get to work. Public transportation accounts for all modes besides taxis.

 

How does that measly blue slice, accounting for 4.1 percent of the working population, or roughly 25,700 people, stack up with other large cities?

Not very well.

Here are the same 25 cities we looked at before, ranked by the share of the city’s population that commutes via public transit, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

These numbers refer to the population of each specific city, not the overall metro area. The previous two top 25 lists ranked overall metro areas.

 

San Diego comes in second to last, ahead of just Phoenix, by this measurement.

That means there aren’t many people in San Diego who’ve been able to exchange their car payment, gas expenditures, time spent in traffic and any repairs for daily usage of the public transportation system.

Correction: An earlier version of this post said construction was set to begin on a bus rapid transit line. Construction got under way in July.

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.

  • 185 Posts
  • 0
    Followers

Show comments
Before you comment, read these simple guidelines on what is not allowed.

80 comments
SourPina
SourPina

I have not used the trolley system here because I was told that it isn't safe (forgive me, I'm fairly newt o the area). As a young woman who would be commuting alone (and who deals with street harassment on a regular basis as is), hearing that has made using our public transportation system a huge deterrent for me. I'd rather sit in my car and waste gas versus starting my day by being bothered by creepers and then arriving to work angry or scared.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider

It seems to me that these charts inadvertently overstate the usage of light rail. "Public transit" includes BUSES, and FAR more people use buses than light rail. This point should have been emphasized -- not just mentioned in passing. As I recall, one U-T story about 5 years ago had the city bus to rail commute ratio at 7 to 1. If that is indeed true, then the percentage of people commuting via rail is not the (paltry) 4.1% in the chart, but rather only one seventh of that, which is 0.63% Yet most people commenting here are assuming that "public transit" is RAIL, or mostly rail. If we REALLY cared about getting people to work without their cars, we'd improve our bus system for a tiny fraction of the cost of these light rail boondoggles.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider subscribermember

It seems to me that these charts inadvertently overstate the usage of light rail. "Public transit" includes BUSES, and FAR more people use buses than light rail. This point should have been emphasized -- not just mentioned in passing. As I recall, one U-T story about 5 years ago had the city bus to rail commute ratio at 7 to 1. If that is indeed true, then the percentage of people commuting via rail is not the (paltry) 4.1% in the chart, but rather only one seventh of that, which is 0.63% Yet most people commenting here are assuming that "public transit" is RAIL, or mostly rail. If we REALLY cared about getting people to work without their cars, we'd improve our bus system for a tiny fraction of the cost of these light rail boondoggles.

Mike Richards
Mike Richards

What these graphics show is true both in San Diego and California in general. We spend too much time and money to provide a service that the vast super majority of persons don't want or won't use unless its a temporary solution. One example is there is a higher bang for the buck in "carpooling" than using public transportation. For the amount of money spent to build out light rail or the stupid bus rapid transit, we could provide van pools for a lot less money and a smaller workforce on the public dole. San Diego will never have a ridership above 8-10% even if they could offer 7/24 service, which they don't. Provide services direct from the housing areas to work areas without having to go to downtown first. And get the cost down to reasonable levels. Under current "union mandates" this will never happen because the workers tell the employer when and where they work rather than the other way around. When it takes over 1 1/2 hours to get from say Lemon Grove to the businesses in Miramar with a minimum of 2 transfers and assuming you don't waste 15-30 minutes waiting for next leg of trip, no one will give up their personal transportation mode to sit in traffic with buses. Even at todays cost of gasoline, insurance and maint. it cost less than subsidized bus and light rail. (Ask the MTA to document full costs including government subsidies to continue running, and the long term cost of the government employee retirement costs) We could all buy a hybrid or electric vehicle for less money.

Mike Richards
Mike Richards subscriber

What these graphics show is true both in San Diego and California in general. We spend too much time and money to provide a service that the vast super majority of persons don't want or won't use unless its a temporary solution. One example is there is a higher bang for the buck in "carpooling" than using public transportation. For the amount of money spent to build out light rail or the stupid bus rapid transit, we could provide van pools for a lot less money and a smaller workforce on the public dole. San Diego will never have a ridership above 8-10% even if they could offer 7/24 service, which they don't. Provide services direct from the housing areas to work areas without having to go to downtown first. And get the cost down to reasonable levels. Under current "union mandates" this will never happen because the workers tell the employer when and where they work rather than the other way around. When it takes over 1 1/2 hours to get from say Lemon Grove to the businesses in Miramar with a minimum of 2 transfers and assuming you don't waste 15-30 minutes waiting for next leg of trip, no one will give up their personal transportation mode to sit in traffic with buses. Even at todays cost of gasoline, insurance and maint. it cost less than subsidized bus and light rail. (Ask the MTA to document full costs including government subsidies to continue running, and the long term cost of the government employee retirement costs) We could all buy a hybrid or electric vehicle for less money.

Donald Kimball
Donald Kimball

Public transportation thrives best at horrendous traffic choke points, like Manhattan Island in New York City, or the San Ysidro boarder crossing. We all observed during the Sprinter brake repair outage that buses can replace the Sprinter line at a lower price, and about the same level of service, and Sprinter ridership fell well short projections. On the other hand, the San Yisidro connector lines are thriving.

Donald Kimball
Donald Kimball subscribermember

Public transportation thrives best at horrendous traffic choke points, like Manhattan Island in New York City, or the San Ysidro boarder crossing. We all observed during the Sprinter brake repair outage that buses can replace the Sprinter line at a lower price, and about the same level of service, and Sprinter ridership fell well short projections. On the other hand, the San Yisidro connector lines are thriving.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

If you look at the first two charts the only metros that rank higher than San Diego are those in a primary statistical area with a larger population, with the exception of Portland, and there are multiple areas within a more populous primary statistical area that rank lower than San Diego. From what I've heard Portland has strict anti-sprawl policies. Also, Denver is going to climb up that list soon. They are in the midst of significant expansion of their light rail system. Portland and Denver are two areas in the western U.S. of similar population to San Diego (all three are prominent craft beer locals as well.) San Diego needs to keep up.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

If you look at the first two charts the only metros that rank higher than San Diego are those in a primary statistical area with a larger population, with the exception of Portland, and there are multiple areas within a more populous primary statistical area that rank lower than San Diego. From what I've heard Portland has strict anti-sprawl policies. Also, Denver is going to climb up that list soon. They are in the midst of significant expansion of their light rail system. Portland and Denver are two areas in the western U.S. of similar population to San Diego (all three are prominent craft beer locals as well.) San Diego needs to keep up.

Donald Kimball
Donald Kimball

I would like to see passenger-miles by public transportation divided by total commuting vehicle miles. I suspect that the share of commutes via public transportation in terms of passenger-miles is much lower than the 35% reported for San Francisco or Boston. Just counting commutes is a form of statistical discrete data distortion, without taking quantity into consideration. For example, a commuter in Boston may drive by car 5 miles to the rail station, and then take a 5 mile trolley ride. Like others this forum, the vastly superior Google self driving car will make public transportation obsolete in 20 years time.

Donald Kimball
Donald Kimball subscribermember

I would like to see passenger-miles by public transportation divided by total commuting vehicle miles. I suspect that the share of commutes via public transportation in terms of passenger-miles is much lower than the 35% reported for San Francisco or Boston. Just counting commutes is a form of statistical discrete data distortion, without taking quantity into consideration. For example, a commuter in Boston may drive by car 5 miles to the rail station, and then take a 5 mile trolley ride. Like others this forum, the vastly superior Google self driving car will make public transportation obsolete in 20 years time.

William Hamilton
William Hamilton

Public transportation fails when it tries to be all things to all people. To be successful, public transportation needs to clearly identify its market(s) and then make it the easy "first-choice" for those markets by being the most convenient, cheapest, safest and most reliable form of transportation for them...

William Hamilton
William Hamilton subscriber

Public transportation fails when it tries to be all things to all people. To be successful, public transportation needs to clearly identify its market(s) and then make it the easy "first-choice" for those markets by being the most convenient, cheapest, safest and most reliable form of transportation for them...

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Our urban core is not high density compared to most cities, and it is small. San Diego has a topography that prevents it being a clone of other cities with high density building. And very few people in our city want to turn us into a Philly or Chicago type city. We are not suited logistically for large scale mass transit, we can't afford the extra cost, and it runs counter to the nature and feel of San Diego.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

"All of these solutions work in real cities like New York, Chicago and Madrid" New york has a population density around 20k per sq mi, Chicago is 12k, San Diego 3k. It is logistically impossible to make San Diego like a high density city as far as public transportation goes. It's a pipe dream, and it will never happen. And that's a good thing. If you want the high density them move to where it exists.

tarfu7
tarfu7

Buying a vehicle for everyone - even if cost feasible - is a red herring because it completely ignores the issue of traffic congestion. There simply isn't enough room on our roads to accommodate our existing level of traffic, let alone the ~30% population growth that is projected over the next few decades. And our most-congested roads (i.e. those most needing expansion) are located in fully developed parts of the region, meaning that there is very little room to expand without incurring massive land-acquisition costs (which would make these highway projects just as expensive as rail, if not more). Let's not forget that highways ALSO cost the public billions of dollars to build and maintain. You can complain until you're blue in the face about the problems of public transit. It's certainly not perfect, especially here in San Diego. But you can't avoid the reality that our old ways of getting around simply aren't going to be sustainable over the long term.

tarfu7
tarfu7 subscribermember

Buying a vehicle for everyone - even if cost feasible - is a red herring because it completely ignores the issue of traffic congestion. There simply isn't enough room on our roads to accommodate our existing level of traffic, let alone the ~30% population growth that is projected over the next few decades. And our most-congested roads (i.e. those most needing expansion) are located in fully developed parts of the region, meaning that there is very little room to expand without incurring massive land-acquisition costs (which would make these highway projects just as expensive as rail, if not more). Let's not forget that highways ALSO cost the public billions of dollars to build and maintain. You can complain until you're blue in the face about the problems of public transit. It's certainly not perfect, especially here in San Diego. But you can't avoid the reality that our old ways of getting around simply aren't going to be sustainable over the long term.

paul jamason
paul jamason

Thanks for the stats Richard, I've seen them from you many times in the old North County Times comments. But you didn't answer my question - why should mass transit users (bus riders) be stuck in the same traffic as solo drivers? That's a major dis-incentive for using public transit and getting more cars off the road. And less cars is great for folks who refuse to consider mass transit. If you truly support funding improved bus transit (which I doubt) then you might have mentioned BRT lanes when you called for widening SR-78... which did just see the completion of a $41 million widening project. Our generations may be a lost cause, but there are plenty of young people who are rejecting the auto-first approach you're really advocating. I've attached a recent article on this from Forbes - right up your political alley.The Top 3 Reasons Why People Are Driving Lesshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/michelinemaynard/2013/07/27/the-top-3-reasons-why-people-are-driving-less/You're seeing the studies showing that Americans are driving less than they used to - the one mentioned in Monday's New York Times. Maybe you heard the discussion of this on NPR's Here and Now last week. Or, you've noticed your teenager has no intere...

paul jamason
paul jamason

Richard, you advocated widening SR-78 instead of building the Sprinter so that "everyone" could use its half billion dollar cost (incidentally, it cost 1.3 billion to widen I-15). I assume bus riders would use this money by sitting in traffic with solo drivers - or did the U-T omit your advocacy of bus-only lanes?The Sprinter's long road to todayhttps://admin.utsandiego.com/news/2008/mar/09/the-sprinters-long-road-to-today/NORTH COUNTY - When Sprinter trains carry their first paying passengers as early as this morning, the trip will represent the culmination of a long and often divisive quest to reinvent public transportation in North County. It took three decades of p...

paul jamason
paul jamason

Richard, are you figuring in replacement cost of buses into your operating costs? From what I've read, "a full life cycle calculation of BRT v Rail for any given corridor may favor rail because of the replacement costs of buses versus rail vehicles (rail vehicles are more expensive but last twice as long, and can add capacity more easily). Also running more buses to match the frequency and capacity of rail incurs more driver hours."

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

Good stat Derek, I had only heard the opposite.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

According to the National Transit Database for 2011, the Sprinter costs 67 cents per passenger mile to operate, while the Breeze buses cost $1.01. So no, buses can't replace the Sprinter line at a lower cost.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant

I agree that busses could provide a lot of the same benefits as rail systems at a lower price tag IF they have dedicated lanes that operate apart from the other traffic.

paul jamason
paul jamason subscribermember

Thanks for the stats Richard, I've seen them from you many times in the old North County Times comments. But you didn't answer my question - why should mass transit users (bus riders) be stuck in the same traffic as solo drivers? That's a major dis-incentive for using public transit and getting more cars off the road. And less cars is great for folks who refuse to consider mass transit. If you truly support funding improved bus transit (which I doubt) then you might have mentioned BRT lanes when you called for widening SR-78... which did just see the completion of a $41 million widening project. Our generations may be a lost cause, but there are plenty of young people who are rejecting the auto-first approach you're really advocating. I've attached a recent article on this from Forbes - right up your political alley.The Top 3 Reasons Why People Are Driving Lesshttp://www.forbes.com/sites/michelinemaynard/2013/07/27/the-top-3-reasons-why-people-are-driving-less/You're seeing the studies showing that Americans are driving less than they used to - the one mentioned in Monday's New York Times. Maybe you heard the discussion of this on NPR's Here and Now last week. Or, you've noticed your teenager has no intere...

paul jamason
paul jamason subscribermember

Richard, you advocated widening SR-78 instead of building the Sprinter so that "everyone" could use its half billion dollar cost (incidentally, it cost 1.3 billion to widen I-15). I assume bus riders would use this money by sitting in traffic with solo drivers - or did the U-T omit your advocacy of bus-only lanes?The Sprinter's long road to todayhttps://admin.utsandiego.com/news/2008/mar/09/the-sprinters-long-road-to-today/NORTH COUNTY - When Sprinter trains carry their first paying passengers as early as this morning, the trip will represent the culmination of a long and often divisive quest to reinvent public transportation in North County. It took three decades of p...

paul jamason
paul jamason subscribermember

Richard, are you figuring in replacement cost of buses into your operating costs? From what I've read, "a full life cycle calculation of BRT v Rail for any given corridor may favor rail because of the replacement costs of buses versus rail vehicles (rail vehicles are more expensive but last twice as long, and can add capacity more easily). Also running more buses to match the frequency and capacity of rail incurs more driver hours."

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

Good stat Derek, I had only heard the opposite.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

According to the National Transit Database for 2011, the Sprinter costs 67 cents per passenger mile to operate, while the Breeze buses cost $1.01. So no, buses can't replace the Sprinter line at a lower cost.

Joshua Brant
Joshua Brant subscriber

I agree that busses could provide a lot of the same benefits as rail systems at a lower price tag IF they have dedicated lanes that operate apart from the other traffic.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, how can we know freeways are truly necessary if their users aren't willing to pay enough to cover their costs? Isn't that a sign that we've built more than the optimal number of freeway lane-miles? If not, would we know when we've reached that point? The concept of "diminishing marginal utility" says that such a point must exist.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

Not true, freeways are a necessary component of our infrastructure, We need them not just for transportation, but also for services and supplies. Trolleys are not necessary in any way, and are incapable of replacing roads. No one can honestly give public transportation anywhere near the weight as our roadways, public transportation is an expensive luxury with several alternatives, roadways are critical infrastructure.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"it makes no sense to build the trollies before there is sufficient demand." The same goes for freeways. If a freeway can't pay for itself 100% from user fees, then it isn't worth building or expanding.

Jim Jones
Jim Jones subscriber

The growth projections are wrong, and regardless of that, the high density growth isn't the "smart" way to grow. People who want a high density New York or Chicago lifestyle already have that choice, in New York and Chicago. People who want to live downtown SD can already live downtown. Massively rebuilding downtown from the infrastructure in the dirt up to allow higher density is more expensive, not as "smart" as expanding. Even if we grew 30% in pop over the next few decades, only a small portion of that growth is going to want to live downtown. Most are going to want what most San Diegans have, low density housing. Regardless, it makes no sense to build the trollies before there is sufficient demand. It's done for political pandering, the same sort of thing that has our schools so badly subpar and so expensive, our government so layered, slow, red taped and expensive, and our potential so unrealized. Calling throwing money away on densification no one wants and calling it "smart" growth is like Filner saying "I'm a hugger."

tarfu7
tarfu7 subscribermember

Jim, you discuss density as if it is a permanent state. But that ignores the ~30% population growth that is projected in our region between now and 2040. As Derek noted, this provides us with plenty of opportunity for infill development and densification. Issues like land use and public transit are long-term issues that need to be viewed from long-term perspectives. Those who do not want increased density need not take part; they can still live in our vast suburbs and drive everywhere they go. But the number of people who do want density - especially among the younger generation - is growing quickly as gas prices and congestion continue to worsen. This growing cohort wants to to take advantage of walkability, mixed-use development, and transit services, rather than being stuck in isolated neighborhoods and traffic jams. There is no reason why our large region cannot accommodate both ways of life.

Daniel Nava
Daniel Nava subscribermember

Why does low density mean the population needs to drive? Low density *increases* the need to connect neighborhoods that are distant from each other with effective public transit. I have lived in DC and had extended visits to New York, I don't think anyone has suggested a comprehensive subway system with hundreds of stops. But expanding the Trolley to go more places people actually want to go and would be useful to visit via light rail: Beach, Airport, Bars. Increasing road safety for cyclists, and advocating for zoning that is conducive for increasing the walking numbers, can all work for weaning a city like San Diego off its destructive automobile addiction.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Jim, why is infill development impossible, and why is it impossible to build a taller building when an old building is torn down? I think you made that up.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider

Paul, I think the question you are asking should be stated differently -- from a cost-benefit standpoint. Why should 3,900 people/day have a half-billion dollar train built for them so that they can get to work or home a bit faster (about 10 minutes saved from Oceanside to Escondido, as I recall NCTD figures)? A train that requires an additional $10+ million annual taxpayer subsidy, provides unexpected prolonged disruptions, blocks road traffic with crossings, and has no sinking fund for replacement of worn equipment and track? Should not a fraction of that money be spent on improving SR-78 to reduce congestion for ALL travelers? As for your incentive for getting people off the roads, we already have it. Sprinter. It's not working, even after cutting the bus ticket price and higher gas prices. That approach has been a failure, with ridership far below the Pollyannaish projections of NCTD. You wishing results were different does not CHANGE the results. As for BRT, again, the cost benefit-ratio is not worth it. You COULD have HOV lanes with buses taking advantage of less traffic, but you should open it up to some cars as well, charging a fee while MATERIALLY reducing traffic congestion (more than buses). As for the snide comment about me likely not favoring improved bus service, that is uncalled for, and untrue. You are better than that.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider

Paul, the NCTD admits that about 75% of their ridership consists of former bus riders. Hence we are talking about relatively few cars being removed from 78. The 2012 Sprinter average daily ridership was reported at 7,800 and I believe they chose not to include Saturday, Sunday and holidays in that figure. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprinter_(light_rail) BTW, that's considerably less than the projected 11,600 mentioned in your outdated 2008 article, and about HALF the 15,000 projected when they sold the public on SPRINTER. I might add that this "unexpected" reduction in usage is more the rule rather than the exception in such projects. If only 25% of that is former car travelers, that comes to 1,950 people. Given that cars travel round trip, that comes to 975 cars. Given that the average ridership of a car is 1.2 people, the actually number of cars removed from 78 comes to 813 cars -- and that assumes that ALL these people would have traveled 78 vs. secondary roads. According to an old (2003) NCTD analysis, SR-78 carried 72,500 vehicles a day round trip. http://web.mit.edu/1.011/www/finalppr/jvelasco-1.011_Project_Paper-final.pdf So assuming zero increase since 2003, the vaunted half billion dollar Sprinter reduced that traffic AT MOST 1.12% Big Whoop.Sprinter - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprinter_Look up sprinter in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Richard, Sprinter trainsets only cost $4.35 million each (and seat 136, as much as 2-3 buses), not half a billion dollars. And when was the last time a train line needed to be moved to meet changing demand? It just doesn't happen.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider

Paul, a bus costs about $600,000. Make it $700,000 for our purposes. 20 buses -- MORE than enough to carry the Sprinter traffic, comes to $14 million. A well-maintained bus is good for 10 years if not more. Compare that capital cost with the half BILLION dollar Sprinter -- remembering that its trains AND tracks have to be replaced from time to time at considerable cost (just ask BART). As for operating costs, that's already included in Derek's previous comparison, and indeed, the per passenger mile operating cost of higher load Sprinter route buses likely reduces the per mile cost per passenger. Moreover, buses can adjust routes and frequency to meet changing demand. Rail is based on central planners' unerring ability to forecast both volume and geographical demand several decades into the future. Given California's rapidly slowing population growth, they already guessed wrong.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

"the roads ARE free to buses, in the sense that they are in place already." As is the Sprinter track. Meanwhile, every additional vehicle you put on a road reduces the road's remaining capacity (especially during rush hour), and that is a cost which can be quantified in dollars. Buses cause road wear, and that is another cost. Air pollution is another cost, which is why the Sprinter could and ought to have been electric instead of diesel. "train tracks aren't shifted to meet changing demand... They CAN'T be shifted." Well, they can be, but nobody would ever want to, because when you build something as permanent as a train track, you attract development near the stations which doesn't happen near bus stations. And then there's no need to move the train tracks closer to population centers because they're already there. So it's a big non-issue.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider

Derek, the roads ARE free to buses, in the sense that they are in place already. Their "track" is already laid, and maintained. It's the INCREMENTAL cost of buses vs. trains that we have to consider. Stated differently can you cite some roads NOT built because a bus line was opened? I think not. I'm amazed you think I'm saying that the physical trains cost anywhere near a half billion dollars. No Derek, the entire (VERY expensive toy) train SET costs a half billion dollars. In addtion to the trains, we have to have tracks, parking lots, stations, road crossings -- and the underlying real estate. It's not MY figure, it's the NCTD figure of what the Sprinter cost. Yes, it might take two or even three bus cycles to match the train replacement cycle. I've considered that. That my generous $14 million (too many buses) and multiply it by three. $42 million vs. a half billion dollars. You point out the obvious, that train tracks aren't shifted to meet changing demand. My point exactly! They CAN'T be shifted. Buses can. The fact that trains are bigger than buses begs the question whether (and how often) such seating capacity is needed. Not often. Dragging 136 seats up and down the track is not the same as moving 136 PEOPLE up and down the track. Moreover, buses can run more frequently with relatively smaller loads, and can be more flexible for getting people closer to their REAL destinations, which seldom are right next to the tracks (except for SMSU).

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann

Richard, when you say buses cost a "tiny fraction" of the Sprinter, you are conveniently leaving out capital costs. How much did the roads and freeways cost that those buses run on? They aren't free. And then there's the fact that a city bus lasts less than 10 years (Edit: 12-15 years), but San Diego is still running trollies built in the 1980s.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider

The NCTD buses run the less traveled routes, so their per passenger cost is higher than the Sprinter, that runs the MAIN traveled route. If we had buses making the SPRINTER run, their per passenger cost would be considerably lower. But FAR more important, you are talking about OPERATING COST, conveniently leaving out CAPITAL costs. The Sprinter cost a half BILLION dollars. Buses to run that route would cost a tiny fraction of that amount. Factor capital costs in, and buses cost 1/5 to 1/10 -- or even less -- the per passenger mile cost of the Sprinter (and indeed, almost all light rail lines).

Richard Rider
Richard Rider subscribermember

Paul, I think the question you are asking should be stated differently -- from a cost-benefit standpoint. Why should 3,900 people/day have a half-billion dollar train built for them so that they can get to work or home a bit faster (about 10 minutes saved from Oceanside to Escondido, as I recall NCTD figures)? A train that requires an additional $10+ million annual taxpayer subsidy, provides unexpected prolonged disruptions, blocks road traffic with crossings, and has no sinking fund for replacement of worn equipment and track? Should not a fraction of that money be spent on improving SR-78 to reduce congestion for ALL travelers? As for your incentive for getting people off the roads, we already have it. Sprinter. It's not working, even after cutting the bus ticket price and higher gas prices. That approach has been a failure, with ridership far below the Pollyannaish projections of NCTD. You wishing results were different does not CHANGE the results. As for BRT, again, the cost benefit-ratio is not worth it. You COULD have HOV lanes with buses taking advantage of less traffic, but you should open it up to some cars as well, charging a fee while MATERIALLY reducing traffic congestion (more than buses). As for the snide comment about me likely not favoring improved bus service, that is uncalled for, and untrue. You are better than that.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider subscribermember

Paul, the NCTD admits that about 75% of their ridership consists of former bus riders. Hence we are talking about relatively few cars being removed from 78. The 2012 Sprinter average daily ridership was reported at 7,800 and I believe they chose not to include Saturday, Sunday and holidays in that figure. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprinter_(light_rail) BTW, that's considerably less than the projected 11,600 mentioned in your outdated 2008 article, and about HALF the 15,000 projected when they sold the public on SPRINTER. I might add that this "unexpected" reduction in usage is more the rule rather than the exception in such projects. If only 25% of that is former car travelers, that comes to 1,950 people. Given that cars travel round trip, that comes to 975 cars. Given that the average ridership of a car is 1.2 people, the actually number of cars removed from 78 comes to 813 cars -- and that assumes that ALL these people would have traveled 78 vs. secondary roads. According to an old (2003) NCTD analysis, SR-78 carried 72,500 vehicles a day round trip. http://web.mit.edu/1.011/www/finalppr/jvelasco-1.011_Project_Paper-final.pdf So assuming zero increase since 2003, the vaunted half billion dollar Sprinter reduced that traffic AT MOST 1.12% Big Whoop.Sprinter - Wikipedia, the free encyclopediahttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sprinter_Look up sprinter in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Richard, Sprinter trainsets only cost $4.35 million each (and seat 136, as much as 2-3 buses), not half a billion dollars. And when was the last time a train line needed to be moved to meet changing demand? It just doesn't happen.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider subscribermember

Paul, a bus costs about $600,000. Make it $700,000 for our purposes. 20 buses -- MORE than enough to carry the Sprinter traffic, comes to $14 million. A well-maintained bus is good for 10 years if not more. Compare that capital cost with the half BILLION dollar Sprinter -- remembering that its trains AND tracks have to be replaced from time to time at considerable cost (just ask BART). As for operating costs, that's already included in Derek's previous comparison, and indeed, the per passenger mile operating cost of higher load Sprinter route buses likely reduces the per mile cost per passenger. Moreover, buses can adjust routes and frequency to meet changing demand. Rail is based on central planners' unerring ability to forecast both volume and geographical demand several decades into the future. Given California's rapidly slowing population growth, they already guessed wrong.

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

"the roads ARE free to buses, in the sense that they are in place already." As is the Sprinter track. Meanwhile, every additional vehicle you put on a road reduces the road's remaining capacity (especially during rush hour), and that is a cost which can be quantified in dollars. Buses cause road wear, and that is another cost. Air pollution is another cost, which is why the Sprinter could and ought to have been electric instead of diesel. "train tracks aren't shifted to meet changing demand... They CAN'T be shifted." Well, they can be, but nobody would ever want to, because when you build something as permanent as a train track, you attract development near the stations which doesn't happen near bus stations. And then there's no need to move the train tracks closer to population centers because they're already there. So it's a big non-issue.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider subscribermember

Derek, the roads ARE free to buses, in the sense that they are in place already. Their "track" is already laid, and maintained. It's the INCREMENTAL cost of buses vs. trains that we have to consider. Stated differently can you cite some roads NOT built because a bus line was opened? I think not. I'm amazed you think I'm saying that the physical trains cost anywhere near a half billion dollars. No Derek, the entire (VERY expensive toy) train SET costs a half billion dollars. In addtion to the trains, we have to have tracks, parking lots, stations, road crossings -- and the underlying real estate. It's not MY figure, it's the NCTD figure of what the Sprinter cost. Yes, it might take two or even three bus cycles to match the train replacement cycle. I've considered that. That my generous $14 million (too many buses) and multiply it by three. $42 million vs. a half billion dollars. You point out the obvious, that train tracks aren't shifted to meet changing demand. My point exactly! They CAN'T be shifted. Buses can. The fact that trains are bigger than buses begs the question whether (and how often) such seating capacity is needed. Not often. Dragging 136 seats up and down the track is not the same as moving 136 PEOPLE up and down the track. Moreover, buses can run more frequently with relatively smaller loads, and can be more flexible for getting people closer to their REAL destinations, which seldom are right next to the tracks (except for SMSU).

Derek Hofmann
Derek Hofmann subscribermember

Richard, when you say buses cost a "tiny fraction" of the Sprinter, you are conveniently leaving out capital costs. How much did the roads and freeways cost that those buses run on? They aren't free. And then there's the fact that a city bus lasts less than 10 years (Edit: 12-15 years), but San Diego is still running trollies built in the 1980s.

Richard Rider
Richard Rider subscribermember

The NCTD buses run the less traveled routes, so their per passenger cost is higher than the Sprinter, that runs the MAIN traveled route. If we had buses making the SPRINTER run, their per passenger cost would be considerably lower. But FAR more important, you are talking about OPERATING COST, conveniently leaving out CAPITAL costs. The Sprinter cost a half BILLION dollars. Buses to run that route would cost a tiny fraction of that amount. Factor capital costs in, and buses cost 1/5 to 1/10 -- or even less -- the per passenger mile cost of the Sprinter (and indeed, almost all light rail lines).