Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

General discussion of passenger rail proposals and systems not otherwise covered in the specific forums in this category, including high speed rail.

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Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Sun Nov 12, 2017 7:44 am

A guest columnist writing in the Wall Street Journal questions the need for revived streetcars and Light Rail systems when driverless autos are on the horizon:

https://www.wsj.com/articles/its-the-la ... 1510354782

Fair Use:

...When it comes to mass transit, politicians never learn. Last month, Nashville Mayor Megan Berry announced a $5.2 billion proposal that involves building 26 miles of light rail and digging an expensive tunnel under the city’s downtown. Voters will be asked in May to approve a half-cent sales tax increase plus additions to hotel, car rental and business excise taxes to pay for the project.

San Antonio’s mayor, Ron Nirenberg, also wants to lay rail, even though his city’s voters blocked light-rail plans in 2000 and 2015. In 1933, San Antonio became the first major city in America to replace its streetcars with buses, which are faster, more flexible and cheaper to buy and operate. Nevertheless, Mr. Nirenberg has strongly supported rail construction on “high density corridors,” though he wants the transit agency to work out the specifics.

In the Tampa, Fla., area, transit planners are proposing a 35-mile light-rail line to St. Petersburg. They don’t know how to pay for it, especially since Tampa voters rejected a sales tax for light rail in 2010 and St. Petersburg voters rejected one in 2014


While no question any mass transit can deliver more operational efficiency than personal transportation, history clearly has shown that as economies develop, the participants in such opt for personal over mass transit.

Finally, if the "Paywall Police" are on patrol, sometimes a little patience works to read the posted material.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby electricron » Sun Nov 12, 2017 9:01 am

While autonomous cars will probably save on the need for parking, they're still going to clog the roads and highways. Visualize Manhattan photos or videos of streets clog with taxi cabs and delivery trucks, it'll be the same photo with autonomous taxi cabs and autonomous delivery trucks instead.
One train will still deliver at least a hundred more passengers than one car with just one occupant or four occupants. So the news article is wrong.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby bdawe » Sun Nov 12, 2017 4:37 pm

I think the 'reasonable light rail proposal' is usually one where you have an existing rail right of way that could be re-purposed for transit.

But if you're just laying rails in the street, probably best to go with the bus.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby mtuandrew » Sun Nov 12, 2017 10:59 pm

I beg to differ - the Metro Transit Green Line is almost entirely street running, the majority in a traffic-separated median right-of-way. It seems to be doing fine with ridership and speeds, and I expect it will for the foreseeable future. Sometimes railroad rights-of-way just don’t go where people want to go, but boulevards often do.

When you start getting down to streetcars and shared ROWs, I think there are still merits to fixed-guideway trolleys, but as you say it’s a harder sell with driverless taxis coming.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby RRspatch » Mon Nov 13, 2017 2:46 am

One interesting thing about self driving cars that everyone is overlooking is that all those on-board computers, radar and Lidar suck up huge amounts of power. Unless they'res some big break through in battery tech these cars will have to remain gas powered for now. So much of cutting back oil consumption or carbon emissions.

https://hardware.slashdot.org/story/17/ ... y-headache

https://hardware.slashdot.org/story/17/ ... car-demand

And lets not even get started on how well they'll preform on ice and snow.
Then it comes to be that the soothing light at the end of your tunnel
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby djlong » Mon Nov 13, 2017 8:27 am

Tesla's development have kind of put that thought (too much power consumption) to rest.

While the software isn't fully there, all the hardware needed for full autonomy is now being put in every Tesla vehicle. Despite this, Tesla's can still get over 300 miles of range.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby deathtopumpkins » Mon Nov 13, 2017 9:16 am

Before giving any consideration to this opinion piece, it's worth noting that Randal O'Toole has a very notorious reputation in many circles as being vehemently anti-transit, almost to the point of absurdity.

And I don't know about you guys, but I'm sick and tired of hearing "driverless cars are coming!" as an excuse to not build transit. Even among my colleagues in the engineering profession, all too often I hear "why should we be building any new rail lines when we'll all have driverless cars in 10 years and congestion will be a thing of the past!?" This argument ignores the reality that putting more cars on the road (even if autonomous) will only increase congestion, and rail will still play an increasing role in our transportation network. In this case autonomous vehicles are just being used as another excuse to further O'Toole and the Cato Institute's anti-transit agenda.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:24 am

Mr. Pumpkins, if my noting of "guest columnist" did properly identify the material as opinion, please accept my apology.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby deathtopumpkins » Mon Nov 13, 2017 12:25 pm

That was not meant to be a dig at you at all, Mr. Norman. I've just seen this article pop up in multiple circles now and wanted to remind people as to its origin so that they may consider that in their interpretation of it.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Gilbert B Norman » Mon Nov 13, 2017 1:43 pm

Mr. Pumpkins, your immediate comment is noted with great respect.

It would appear that you have noted the material posted or referenced to at other sites you visit. If those participants elsewhere cannot, or will not, distinguish between news reporting and opinion, "booey on them" for we the members of this site participating at this forum, do not appear to be troubled with such. That the Journal's URL address notes "article" is not in itself grounds to address the material as news.

Finally, that we have received the number of comments on this material which means either we have many a Journal paid subscriber around here, or just maybe, the "Paywall Police" have been out munching doughnuts :P :P (apologies to any Sworn Peace Officers around here).
Last edited by Gilbert B Norman on Tue Nov 14, 2017 8:27 am, edited 1 time in total.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby mtuandrew » Mon Nov 13, 2017 11:40 pm

I haven’t read the article, Mr. Norman, but the same arguments have been in use since the beginning of public vs. private transit. For a time, wasn’t Personal Rapid Transit supposed to fill this role?
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby Backshophoss » Tue Nov 14, 2017 12:39 am

Mr Norman, The "paywall" goons are on duty. :(
AS noted by others,this is a rehashed opinion piece,getting quite "stale" over time.
Automated operations of motor vehicles is still in the "R and D" stage, and will be for awhile longer.
As Tesla found out,it's not close to perfection yet!
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby fredme » Tue Nov 14, 2017 2:46 am

Well, the world went crazy with all these self-driving cars, I even read somewhere that in the future 50% of people in the US will chose to live in mobile self driving homes rather than rent or buy normal houses.
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby ExCon90 » Tue Nov 14, 2017 3:32 pm

mtuandrew wrote:I haven’t read the article, Mr. Norman, but the same arguments have been in use since the beginning of public vs. private transit. For a time, wasn’t Personal Rapid Transit supposed to fill this role?

I seem to recall that in its very early days BART was supposed to be based on Personal Rapid Transit. Imagine what it would look like today if they'd ever gone through with that. Maybe they did some serious thinking when it came down to actually designing it?
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Re: Wall Street Journal Columnist - Who Needs Light Rail?

Postby johndmuller » Wed Nov 29, 2017 9:02 pm

Trying to think objectively here.

It seems to me that there are more than a few commuters who would opt for public transit if the choice were between transit and driving themselves in an unpleasant amount of traffic, but who would instead opt for self driving cars (in that same unpleasant traffic) over transit if that were the choice. Having someone else drive you in traffic is a whole lot better than doing the driving yourself.

Most of the time, driving will get you back and forth to work quicker than taking mass transit; it might also be cheaper, too, but that can be argued. For a number of years, I commuted from Capitol Hill in DC to Crystal City, just across the river in Virginia. It was a decent trip on the Metro, moderate walks at each end (about 10-15 minutes altogether) and a change of lines in the middle - not bad, would even get a seat for at least half of each trip. Still, that trip took about 45 minutes each way via Metro. Driving, it was about 15-20 minutes in the morning and 15 to as much as 35-45 in the evenings; if I wasn't up for traffic coming home, I could look out the window at the traffic on the 14th St. bridge and pick my time to leave accordingly. That was a pretty compelling case for driving, even though I was otherwise predisposed to take the Metro and the Metro trip was about as good as one could expect.

Certainly some driving commutes are very unpleasant, enough so that even a somewhat longer transit commute is more desirable, but if the quality of driving is improved by the self driving car, it goes back to being more desirable. The fact that one's choice to drive leads to increasing congestion in the future doesn't necessarily factor into an individual's choice in the present, as there is also some amount of unpleasantry and congestion with transit as well, no matter the relative degree.

In other circumstances, using suburban commuter rail requires parking at the station for the majority of riders; this may not always be available, or predictable enough to commit to using transit. Nobody wants to buy a monthly pass on the train and then have to drive anyway because the commuter lot is full and you miss the train; just the idea that you might have that happen. . . . But if your car could drop you off (and later pick you up) at your station and then go to (& from) home by itself, Voila! Even better if the office had some cars that could pick you up (and later drop you off) at its station and take care of the work-end's last mile.

For non commuter trips, self driving cars might well compare favorably to Amtrak if the major reason for taking the train is avoiding the tedium/stress/fatigue of driving moderate to long distances. If the self driving car removes this obstacle, other decision factors, i.e. the fare (especially if 2 or more people are travelling together) and the convenience of having a car at the destination could easily impel the decision toward the self driving car.

These decisions are also dependent upon the exact nature of the self driving car experience. If one is required to be alert enough to the driving to be able to take over with only 1 or 2 seconds or even less lead time, and one has to keep hands on the wheel feet ready, that would not as much release from responsibility as if one only had to take over to select which parking space for the car to use.

So, aside from "We'll have to wait and see exactly what the effect will be", I think it is also fair to say that there will be some impacts on the choice of driving versus transit and there will be some in each direction too.
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