Monday, January 24, 2011

Why “ Public Transportation service cuts will affect only bus riders” is a myth...

If you are among those who still think that Port Authority’s service cuts will only affect bus and T riders, you may want to read this post carefully. Because we have enough information at this point to draw quite a complex and accurate picture of the impact that the lack  public transportation services will have on drivers, the air we breathe and the local economy.


What if your daily commute will take 3 minutes longer? After all 3 minutes does not seem to be that much time and a trip of 30 minutes does not seem to be much longer or costlier if it lasts 33 minutes...[1]
According to a study developed by Tim Lomax and David Shrank from the Texas Transportation Institute (Developing a Total Travel Time Performance Measure ) those 3 minutes will cost you more than you may think.  The study offers a better measure for the way traffic congestion will cost commuters in terms of travel time and wasted fuel. Instead of matching fuel costs with miles traveled or time spend in traffic, Lomax and Shrank use the Travel Time Index (TTI) as measure. TTI is the ratio between the actual travel time and travel time in ideal traffic conditions or free-flow in an urban area.

For now Pittsburgh does not fare that bad - with a Travel Time Index of 1.17- it is the  29th most congested  areas among the 101 urban areas evaluated in 2009.  For Pittsburgh TTI of 1.17 implies that each auto commuter wasted 27 gallons of fuel due to congestion and spent $778 per year just for being stuck in traffic. But if the average auto commuter will have to spend 3 more minutes in traffic, the area’s TTI will also be higher and so Port Authority's 35% service cut would’ve caused a 0.08 increase in the region’s TTI from 1.17 to 1.25. Now I know that bare numbers are hard to translate into real traffic conditions, but I will use the information from the   National Congestion Tables  to draw a more tangible picture of what congestion would mean to someone who would  live in Pittsburgh's urban area for a TTI of 1.25*.

·         A Travel Time Index of 1.25 will make traffic congestion in the Pittsburgh Urban Area comparable with Chicago rather than with Charlotte as it is now.

·         Among urban areas of similar size, i.e. large urban areas, only Austin and Las Vegas are likely to have worse traffic than Pittsburgh.

·         The average auto commuter will waste about 5-6 more gallons of gas on average and spend $161.5 more for being stuck in traffic.[2]

·         The situation will be much worse for those commuters who spend most of their commute time within the city limits.

Us, our children and the air we breathe

According to  the Clymate Analysis Indicator Tool in 2005 USA accounted for 18.33% of the global yearly greenhouse emissions, second only to China and it is ranked as number one for cumulative emissions in the 1990-2005 period. The main factor beyond poor air quality is no longer an industry - as once were the manufacturing, chemical and mining - but our traditional fuel powered vehicles . The more the vehicles on the road the higher the emissions … [3]

The local economy

On the short term the most visible impact – two weeks ago I accompanied a coworker in order to help with a conference downtown and he drove in circles trying to find a parking place as three garages and a parking lot we had passed were already full by noon.
On the long term – if the study quoted by AP and Yahoo! News is even remotely correct -crude oil reserves will be depleted before an alternative energy personal vehicle will be available for the mass markets. And investors will avoid putting their money in area that do not offer multiple alternatives for their employees to commute or in other words economic growth will stagnate in areas where the main option for commuters is a personal vehicle.


...Port Authority's service cuts will only be 15% come this March. Thus less routes will be affected and impact could be somewhat limited during peak hours. So, there shall be less car trips than we feared and Pittsburghers will not experience Chicago like traffic this spring. But without a long term solution for dedicated funding for local public transit and multimodal networks the day when traffic in Pittsburgh will be as bad as in Houston may not be that far.

[1] According to a study we had mentioned here and here , if former governor Ed Rendell  was not able to prevent the 35% service cuts by finding a temporary  funding solution the average  commute time during peak hours within the Region was estimated to increase by 3 minutes.
[2] Considering a 9% increase in vehicle hours (Transit Operators Committee: Request for Data retrieved from KeepPGHmoving grace to the Downtown Partnership.)
[3] or more details see table -Transit Operators Committee: Request for Data
* these numbers are rough estimates

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