What We Can Learn about Transportation from Outside Hawaii

Robert Poole, Reason
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Robert Poole, Reason

BY CLIFF SLATER – Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole (“For 17 years, Mr. Poole has been the chief theorist for private solutions to gridlock. His ideas are now embraced by officials from Sacramento to Washington.” The New York Times) always has great stuff in his monthly newsletter. Here are a few excerpts from Issue #111.

Rail Transit Under Fire in Los Angeles and San Jose. In the last several weeks hard-hitting critiques of rail transit projects in California’s two largest metro areas have crossed my screen. What I found unusual about them is not so much their content as the identity of their authors. One is Mike Rosemberg, a long-time transportation reporter for the San Jose Mercury News. The other is Robert Garcia, a respected civil rights advocate and head of The City Project in Los Angeles, whose credo is “equal justice, democracy, and livability for all.”


Rosenberg’s article is a background news story on the 25th anniversary of the light rail system in San Jose. Its headline reads “25 Years Later, VTA Light Rail Among the Nation’s Worst.” Rather than the typical newspaper puff piece, Rosenberg’s article sticks to hard facts about what the VTA light rail system has cost, what it has accomplished, and how it stacks up compared to comparable systems elsewhere. I’ve read similar critiques by independent researchers, but was surprised to see Silicon Valley’s main newspaper tell it like it is about one of the most disappointing U.S. experiences with light rail. (www.mercurynews.com/traffic/ci_22264605/25-years-later-vta-light-rail-among-nations)

Garcia’s piece, which was sent out by The City Project, is titled “Just Transportation: Is Los Angeles Making Progress on Transit for All?” It makes a detailed factual comparison of bus and rail in Los Angeles over the past 30 years. Drawing on expertise from transportation consultants, it finds that the L.A. County MTA “spends almost twice as much on rail to carry about one-fourth as many passengers” as its buses do. (www.cityprojectca.org/blog/archives/17561) The piece is a powerful corrective to several recent national stories, such as “How Los Angeles—Yes, Los Angeles—Is Becoming America’s Next Great Mass-Transit City,” by Matthew Yglesias, last Sep. 17 at Slate.com. They make quite a contrast.

Beltway Express Lanes as Virtual Exclusive Busways. Fairfax County, VA’s Fairfax Connector bus service will begin operating the first of four express routes on the new Express Lanes on the Capital Beltway, I-495 in mid-January. The initial route will go from Burke Center to Tysons Corner at a planned average speed of 55 mph, previously impossible on the congested Beltway during peak periods. The other routes will be introduced this spring.

Abertis Now World’s Largest Toll Road Provider. Thanks to two recent acquisitions, Spain-based Abertis has become the world’s leading toll road provider, with 7,312 km. (4,541 miles) of toll roads in its portfolio. In December the company acquired 3,226 km. of Brazilian toll roads from another Spanish operator, OHL, and followed that transaction with the purchase of OHL’s 343 km. of toll roads in Chile. Abertis’s core holdings in Europe are in Spain and France. Its initial U.S. toll operations comprise toll roadss and a major toll bridge in Puerto Rico.