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Tuesday, April 19, 2005


cta faces doomsday

all trainhuggers should tune in to what's going on in chicago. the L is losing so much money that cta is preparing to cut it back to holiday service levels in a mass transit disaster.

cta is in a deep load of trouble because it's saddled with the L, which loses $400mm a year. against a car, it's nice for downtown commuting -- but it isn't a time advantage. (i live pretty far north in the city -- takes me 45 minutes by L, 40-50 minutes by car.) it's all about parking, which goes for anywhere from $8 to $29 a day.

against a bus, for me, it's about a 10 minute time advantage. ten whole minutes. and my L stop isn't covered from the rain, of course.

if the L wasn't already there from the era before cars, it would never ever ever be built. the rail system requires massive capital funding for maintenance and upkeep of fixed infrastructure that the bus system simply doesn't need. (five-year costs: $211mm for bus, $2.0bn for rail -- ten times as much.) this despite bus ridership being significantly higher (298mm rides) than rail (153mm).

note too that rail doesn't save in fuel costs -- the busses log 68mm miles for $23mm in fuel, while the rail logs 66mm miles for $22mm in power.

it is true that the busses cost $417mm to operate, rail only $162mm (because rail is less labor intensive in operation, and 77% of cta's cost is labor) -- but this is more than offset by the fact that the bus produces twice the fare revenue at one-tenth the capital improvement cost.

so a quick analysis shows (in millions):

revenues: bus $244 rail $125
op expense: bus ($417) rail ($162)
cap expend: bus ($ 42) rail ($400)

net gain(loss): bus ($215) rail ($437)

loss per fare: bus ($0.72) rail($2.86)

four times the loss rate to save ten minutes?

and recall -- we've spoken nothing at all of the expense of construction. talk about the quite small circle line -- much of which would use existing but abandoned track -- is upwards of $1bn. bus routes can be modified to fit development and traffic patterns on a whim at virtually no cost.

the obvious solution, it seems to me, is to triple the fare for the L and drive commuters to the far-less-unprofitable busses. but that hasn't hit 'em yet over at cta.

anyway, the board decided to cut rush hour service severely in order to preserve late-night and off-hour service for the poor who work weird hours. that's very egalitarian and maybe even charitable, but its also a fiscal and planning suicide. the waits that this is going to create in mass transit will be staggering and throw tens of thousands into their cars for good, never again to consider the cta as anything but an enemy.

What would happen if a private company ran the CTA? Hmmmmm.

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