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January 07, 2014

Koch Bros (d/b/a Reason Foundation) Want Your Transit, Too

The Reason Foundation has just released a new position paper: Transit Utilization and Traffic Congestion: Is There A Connection? The report contains these four Key Findings, presented verbatim below, and then uses these key findings as a springboard for their ideological purposes:
  • Statistical analysis of the 74 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. over a 26-year period suggests that increasing transit utilization does not lead to a reduction in traffic congestion; nor does decreasing transit utilization lead to an increase in traffic congestion
  • Policies designed to promote transit utilization can in certain instances increase traffic congestion— as appears to have been the case in Portland, Oregon.
  • Vehicle-miles traveled per freeway-lane-mile is strongly correlated with traffic congestion: the more people drive relative to available freeway capacity, the worse congestion gets.
  • Data from New York and Los Angeles indicate that the most effective way to increase transit utilization is by reducing fares, as well as by improving basic, pre-existing service


I'd like to review their four Key Findings, identify the fallacies and offer a more accurate statement of the conclusions supported by the data, and then finally observe the Reason Foundation's preferred framework.

  • Statistical analysis of the 74 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. over a 26-year period suggests that increasing transit utilization does not lead to a reduction in traffic congestion; nor does decreasing transit utilization lead to an increase in traffic congestion
    Here's a better statement of the conclusion justified by the data:
    • Statistical analysis of the 74 largest urbanized areas in the U.S. over a 26-year period suggests that, given the dynamic, multi-variable transportation economy seen in those cities over those years, no correlation can be established between transit and congestion. In each city, economies, industries, and population centers have changed; highway and transit coverage has shifted; cities have grown and atrophied. In other words, there is no available statistical basis to assert any of the following:
      • increasing transit utilization leads to a reduction in traffic congestion
      • decreasing transit utilization leads to an increase in traffic congestion
      • increasing traffic congestion leads to an increase in transit utilization
      • decreasing traffic congestion leads to a decrease in transit utilization
  • Policies designed to promote transit utilization can in certain instances increase traffic congestion— as appears to have been the case in Portland, Oregon.
    Here's a better statement of the conclusion justified by the data:
    • There is no statistically significant quantification of the effect of transit policy on traffic congestion. However, in one of the 74 cities, transit policy may have increased traffic congestion. This is not unexpected; development of a integrated, sophisticated transit programme (BRT lanes, bus lanes, HOV lanes, bike lanes) may well have the effect of increasing single-occupant vehicle congestion.

      This is exactly the sort of tradeoff that local government experiments with when setting transit policy. Transit policy is properly focused on moving people most effectively, and not on reducing traffic congestion for single-occupant vehicles. That this result appears in one of 74 cities suggests that transit is not a problem for traffic congestion.

  • Vehicle-miles traveled per freeway-lane-mile is strongly correlated with traffic congestion: the more people drive relative to available freeway capacity, the worse congestion gets.
    This conclusion makes the fallacy of comparing 'vehicles' in the first clause with 'people' in the second clause, which introduces a major bias in a transit-POV discussion. Also, this presentation conflates 'freeways' with transportation, while freeways are only one dimension of the transport economy. This is a better statement of the conclusion available from the data:
    • Vehicle-miles traveled per freeway-lane-mile is strongly correlated with traffic congestion: the more vehicle-miles driven relative to available freeway capacity, the worse congestion gets on the freeway.

      Any steps to reduce (by moving people in multi-passenger vehicles) or redistribute (to other modes or timeframes) vehicle-miles-travelled will have the effect of reducing freeway congestion.

  • Data from New York and Los Angeles indicate that the most effective way to increase transit utilization is by reducing fares, as well as by improving basic, pre-existing service.
    The two largest cities of the 74 examined found that transit utilization is most effectively increased by reducing fares, improving reliability and increasing frequency. These conclusions are not statistically available for most cities.


So, in summation: the Reason Foundation's four key findings are twisted, self-serving misrepresentations.

Who is the Reason Foundation? The Reason Foundation is funded, in part, by what are known as the "Koch Family Foundations," and David Koch serves as a Reason trustee. (SourceWatch)

They play with ALEC: Dr. Adrian Moore, Vice President of Public Policy of the Reason Foundation, is an Advisor to the American Legislative Exchange Council's Commerce, Insurance & Economic Development Task Force. Reason Foundation representatives have also advised ALEC Task Forces on issues such as state budgets (transit, employee unions) and health reform.

In general, the Reason Foundation's raison d'etre is to provide sophisticated-appearing justifications for the Privatization Industry. In several fields, they seek to take the activities of government (generally universally available, non-profit services) and move them to private industry; industry then cherry-picks the profitable segments and allows the non-profitable segments to die off, leaving the public unserved or overcharged.

Nice work if you can sleep at night, I guess.

1 comments:

Joe said...

One of the first things traffic engineers learn is that if you build a highway and it doesn't fill up, you put the highway in the wrong place. A proper study would have looked at congestion as a homeostatic parameter, and compared transit use to economic activity or, as you suggest, trips by people. Reason does this all the time; they don't seem like liars in person, so it must be something in the culture that makes them miss basic concepts in the service of their mission.

I don't like person-miles as a metric, either. Moving a hundred commuters 5 miles each is a much better thing than moving ten commuters 50 miles each. But I'm not in the mainstream on that.

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