Notes on the
"Dollars and Sense" Transit Report

These comments do not represent a comprehensive critique of this report (see below for citation). Three points have been identified in Dollars and Sense that have the potential to mislead:

1. Conversion of Transit Trips to Freeway Lane Equivalents

Dollars & Sense contains an analysis of the new freeway lane miles that would be required if all transit riders used autos.

The findings for the New York metropolitan area are reviewed below (the New York findings are typical of the methodogy used in the report for a number of other urban areas):

  • Dollars & Sense indicates that a 47.2 percent increase in traffic would occur if all New York transit riders shifted to autos, at current vehicle occupancy rates. Dollars & Sense further indicates that this 47.2 percent increase in traffic would necessitate a 160.1 percent increase in freeway lane miles --- 10,396 new freeway lane miles.
Buried deep in appendix methodology notes is a statement to the effect that all of the new travel was allocated to freeways, and that the freeway lane conversion was used "for illustration purposes." The note further recognizes that much of the new travel would be on local roads rather than freeways.

It is our view that this approach has the potential to mislead, since the critical "for illustration purposes" note is not prominently displayed While one might argue with the method of illustration, a clear statement in the text defining the illustrative device would have significantly reduced the chances for misinterpretation.

Indeed, a press release by Environmental Media Services in support of the report appears to have misinterpreted the data in just the manner suggested above:

Without the existing transit in the New York/New Jersey area, the road would carry nearly 2 million additional cars and need 10,396 new miles of freeway to accomodate them. (Press Release Public Transportation A FINANCIAL Winner, Pays a 4-to-1 Return on Investment to Taxpayers)
A recent syndicated column by Neal Peirce of the Washington Post Writers Group repeats similar claims without the qualification buried in the notes (late August & early September).

In fact, the majority of travel in virtually all US metropolitan areas is not on freeways.

Commuter Traffic Represents Less than Half of Total Traffic: The Dollars and Sense calculations did not consider the fact that most of traffic, even at peak hours. is not work trip related. During the morning peak hours, 47.4 percent of traffic is work related and during the evening peak hour the percentage drops to 24.9. The table provides an estimate for the total traffic impacts adjusted for the percentage of work trips in the morning peak period.

(For Comparison to Estimate of New Freeway Lane Miles in Dollars & Sense)
Metropolitan Area Reduction in Transit Market Share to 1995 Estimated Auto Market Share Estimated 1995 Market Share No Transit: Increase in Traffic
Dollars & Sense" New Lane Requirement
New York -11.1% 65.7% 23.9% 11.3% 160.1%
Chicago -24.5% 82.7% 10.3% 4.9% 92.6%
Los Angeles -9.3% 88.2% 4.1% 1.9% 27.3%
St. Louis 1.1% 91.8% 2.9% 1.4% 9.3%
Portland 5.1% 85.8% 5.6% 2.7% 27.1%
San Francisco -6.9% 82.0% 8.5% 4.0% 55.3%
Milwaukee -13.5% 88.8% 4.2% 2.0% 33.1%
Detroit -26.2% 94.4% 1.7% 0.8% 12.2%
Minneapolis-St. Paul -18.2% 88.2% 4.3% 2.0% 22.1%
Philadelphia -10.3% 86.3% 9.1% 4.3% 72.2%
Washington -8.5% 79.9% 12.2% 5.8% 71.2%
Boston -5.6% 81.0% 9.8% 4.7% 78.4%
Dallas -7.6% 92.7% 2.1% 1.0% 7.0%
Phoenix -6.0% 89.5% 1.9% 0.9% 11.9%
* 1990 commuter freeway traffic estimate adjusted for change in market share and commuting share of total morning peak hour traffic (47.4 percent).

Based upon USDOT FHWA & FTA data.

Assumes all transit commuters would switch to automobiles at current average auto occupancy ratio. Diversion of all transit commuting to autos would most likely be at higher vehicle occupancy ratios because most transit commuting is to the dense downtown areas

Assumes commuter market share changed at same rate as transit market share (per capita ridership)

The actual new freeway lane requirement would be less than the traffic increase, since not all freeway segments are at or near capacity. Further the overwhelming proportion of transit commuting is to central business districts, which have very high employment densities. In the absence of transit these densities would make a much higher level of car pooling feasible, and the actual increase in traffic would therefore be considerably less than estimated above.

The purpose of this analysis is not to suggest that there is not a need for transit. Transit performs an important function in providing mobility along corridors to the nation's largest central business districts, as well as important service to riders who are unable to afford automobiles. This analysis simply presents an alternative scenario to that portrayed by Dollars & Sense, which because its presentation method and press releases could be misleading.

2. More than 80 Million People Don't Drive

The report asserts that more than 80 million people either cannot or choose not to drive a car. This figure must necessarily include those not yet old enough to have drivers licenses, since approximately 90 percent of Americans over 15 years old possess drivers licenses --- those without drivers licenses number approximately 20 million. It would have been preferable to include a note indicating that the 80 million figure included those not yet old enough to drive (who, by the way ride school buses in far greater numbers than any form of transit).

3. Transit Ridership has Not Increased 15 Percent From 1970 to 1994

The report claims that transit ridership has increased 15 percent from 1970 to 1994. The source for this statement is the USDOT 1997 National Transportation Statistics. (page 234) The table referenced is inappropriate for comparison of 1970 with subsequent years, since only four of nine transport modes were reported in that year. All nine modes were reported in 1994. Missing modes in 1970 included commuter rail, ferry boat, van pool, demand-responsive and "other."

Comparable data indicates that transit ridership has fallen since 1970, despite a 30 percent increase in national population (see below). Since 1990, ridership per capita has dropped in 35 of the nation's 44 metropolitan areas with more than one million population, and overall ridership has declined 5.5 percent

Change in Transit Ridership: 1970 to 1995
In Billions of Annual Boardings

Year 1970 1994 1995
4-Mode 7.332 Billion 7.093 Billion 6.962 Billion

Modes Included: Motor Bus, Trolley Bus, Light Rail and Heavy Rail
Data not available for other modes

10 July 1997 (Updated 6 September 1997)

"Dollars and Sense: The Economic Case for Public Transportation in America"
by Donald H. Camph
(Sponsored by the Campaign for Efficient Passenger Transportation)
Released 7 July 1997

Also see:
US Urban Rail: Miniscule Impact on Traffic Congestion

(c) 2001 --- Wendell Cox Consultancy --- Permission granted to use with attribution.
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