Myth?: transit takes longer

“But, what is more important is that only a small portion of jobs, and other destinations can be accessed through transit in any reasonable time and the travel time for transit is far higher than for driving.”

Well, this one is much more true that the myths I addressed (Myth: housing more expensive in dense areas, Myth: driving is supported by user fees). But it is worthwhile analyzing why this is so.

There are four employment centers in our region: downtown Sacramento, Rancho Cordova, Folsom, and Roseville. However, downtown is by far the most important. Check yesterday’s post (SacRT and employment) to see what a remarkable concentration of jobs there is, and how much of the county is essentially empty of jobs. Downtown is easily accessible by transit, the other three have much more limited options. So, how about time? Yes, there is a big time difference.

Three examples of morning commutes:

  • Greenback/Sunrise to downtown: 78 minutes by transit (bus route 21 and Gold Line) while Google reports driving is typically 35 minutes but can be 70 minutes. So on a bad traffic day, the two modes are comparable, but on a good traffic day driving is more than twice as fast.
  • Zinfandel/Sunrise to downtown: 61 minutes by transit (Gold Line and some walking) while Google reports driving as typically 22 minutes but can be 45 minutes. Again, driving is more than twice as fast.
  • Florin/Greenhaven to downtown: 30 minutes by transit (route 6), while Google reports driving as typically 10-16 minutes. Again, driving is more than twice as fast.

So, back to why. The nature of buses is that they have frequent stops, and spend a significant portion of their time in dwell, not moving. Light rail has fewer stops, so spends less time in dwell. There are express buses, of which SacRT has a few that run very limited schedules. It is also possible to create Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes with few stops, and travel times close to light rail. The commuter buses operated into downtown by Placer County, El Dorado County, Elk Grove, Roseville and others have only a few stops at each end, with long runs in between, and so have travel times as good as or better than light rail and BRT. However, these commuter buses serve a much smaller number of riders than any of the other options, and are also quite a bit more expensive than SacRT fares.

A second big difference it that you don’t have to wait for the next bus or light rail. You jump in your car and go. Of course there is time parking at the destination (an urban area typically sees about one-third of traffic is circling for parking, and my observation says Sacramento is similar. I live very near the CDPH buildings, and when I’m home during the day, I see a lot of employees walking to their cars to pay more or move them. More time time lost to the driving habit.

Perhaps the biggest difference is the amount of money we spend on driving, both individually and as a society. A transit pass costs $120 per month. Commuting can cost many times that much (before you say but… realize that almost all drivers underestimate what their vehicle really costs them). As a society, we spend incredible amounts of money on highways, far, far more than we spend on transit. One data point is the $133 million “80 Across the Top” project which is adding just a single travel lane in each direction for about 10 miles. $133 million for a lane. Wow! I have previously estimated the cost of the freeway system in Sacramento county as about $1 trillion. I don’t have a cost estimate for the light rail system, but it is a tiny fraction of this. What if we had spent the money on transit instead of privately owned vehicles? How would travel times compare then? We have created a transportation system whose primary purpose is to move a lot of cars at high speed. We have not created a transit system move a lot of people at a reasonable speed.

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