Monday, December 16, 2019

SMART train coverup

George Russell

In the Marin Independent Journal:

by Kevin Fixler

As part of its effort to rally voter support for an early sales-tax extension that would stabilize its finances, SMART has regularly touted figures showing overall ridership, which last month surpassed 1.6 million passengers.

The Sonoma-Marin Area Rail Transit agency has routinely submitted monthly figures to a national transportation database since it started service in August 2017.

But how full are its trains each day? SMART has repeatedly declined to release daily and weekly ridership figures that would give the public a better gauge of how successful the North Bay’s commuter line has been, showing, for instance, who is riding the train and when they are hopping aboard during the week.

Over the past four months, SMART officials have refused to provide news outlets, including the Marin Independent Journal, with the more detailed ridership data — information that other public transit agencies including BART and Golden Gate Transit routinely share...

The stance raises questions about SMART’s commitment to transparency at a politically crucial time for the agency in the run-up to the March vote on its ballot measure, which needs a two-thirds majority in the two counties to pass. 

The measure would guarantee SMART tens of millions of dollars each year in public subsidies for another 30 years by extending to 2059 its quarter-cent sales tax, which covers most of its operations.

The start of service to the Larkspur terminal at week’s end — one of the system’s biggest accomplishments — is expected to grow ridership with improved rail-to-ferry access and could burnish its chances at the ballot box...

Rob's comment:
This story originally appeared in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat.

Whenever the Independent Journal publishes a story on the SMART train, the comments to the story are essential reading.

Richard Hall is one of the most important commenters on this issue. One of his comments to this story:

There are a limited number of peak commute two or three carriage trains that happen to be full going in one direction in the mornings. You presume that capacity could be easily increased, but this denies certain realities:

* SMART cannot increase the service interval to less than 30 minutes because it is an 85% single track line with limited passing points (Ignacio and downtown San Rafael)

* To increase capacity by increasing frequency would require double tracking and eminent domain land purchases. The land purchase and construction costs would easily require an additional 1/4c sales tax. SMART's own polls have shown that voters barely had the appetite for 1/4c sales tax (had to try three times) and 1/2 cent would never pass.

To increase capacity by increasing the number of carriages would require redesigning every single station from the current 3 car capacity. This would be difficult to impossible, especially in locations such as downtown San Rafael. Can you imagine a four car train sitting in San Rafael station where it would have to block a road? The width of a San Rafael city block only allows for 3 carriage trains.

Sure the train blows away traffic on 101, but that's serving just 1/8% of Marin and Sonoma residents at a preposterous cost and terrible ROI. For the minimal benefit to this tiny ridership 60,000 daily car users and 9,000 daily transit center trips are disrupted and delayed by the train.

Officially reported ridership is in decline. SMART's own EIR projects that the Larkspur extension will add just 231 additional riders. (emphasis added)

See also Mike Arnold here, here and Sonoma-Marin train line debuts Larkspur Station and easier trips to and from city.

Streetsblog loves the not-so-smart train, because trains aren't cars, which makes them almost as good as bikes: SMART Celebrates Larkspur Extension.

Streetsblog editor Roger Rudick wouldn't have been hired four years ago if he didn't support the even dumber high-speed rail project.

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Democracy grief

Lennart Gabel

After Trump’s election, a number of historians and political scientists rushed out with books explaining, as one title put it, “How Democracies Die.” 

In the years since, it’s breathtaking how much is dead already. Though the president will almost certainly be impeached for extorting Ukraine to aid his re-election, he is equally certain to be acquitted in the Senate, a tacit confirmation that he is, indeed, above the law. His attorney general is a shameless partisan enforcer. Professional civil servants are purged, replaced by apparatchiks. The courts are filling up with young, hard-right ideologues...

See also the Lie of the Year.

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