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RTD's public transit fantasy is falling apart

By: Scott Weiser
October 29, 2017 Updated: October 29, 2017 at 4:05 am
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The board of directors for the Denver Metro Regional Transportation District just cut the number of trains on the "underperforming" R and W light rail lines due to a lack of ridership. That's no surprise to anyone who has looked critically at RTD's public transit system, every part of which has been underperforming for decades.

Technological problems are plaguing the new University of Colorado A line from downtown Denver to DIA, resulting in the federal government requiring crossing guards with orange vests and hand-held stop signs to stand in the sun and snow 24/7 to control grade-level crossings where the automatic gates don't work properly.

That sort of low-tech alternative hasn't been needed since the late 1800s. The new wireless technology doesn't work. But instead of junking the new-fangled system and installing time-tested train gate control technology used worldwide for more than 100 years, RTD continues to fiddle around with their new toys and annoy neighbors in what was supposed to be a "quite zone" where train horns were not required.

This is just one of many problems plaguing the rail system we've spent $5.3 billion dollars creating that serves only about 1 percent of the commuting public. It's just part of an ineffective and costly public transit system that has never served more than 6 percent of the commuting public.

Trying to quantify just how lousy RTD's efforts are is difficult because of the way that RTD and the Denver Regional Council of Governments obfuscate the data. They try to make their solutions look glamorous and successful when they are anything but. The system is an abysmal failure at getting people out of their cars.

"The 2011-2015 American Community Survey (ACS) data showed that about 75 percent of workers traveled alone in their automobiles to work," says DRCOG. There's a reason it's been that way since 1969, when RTD was formed. Government officials refuse to acknowledge that their failure is because people like driving their cars. Nationwide drivers have not shown any willingness to abandon them in favor of public transit in nearly a half-century of trying.

RTD's approach is a Pavlovian, B.F. Skinner behavior modification attempt to make single-occupant car trips so unpleasant and expensive by adding toll lanes and reducing free lanes that commuters would rather take a train or a bus than drive their car to work. But as traffic in LA and New York prove, people aren't dogs and will put up with a lot of inconvenience so they can drive their cars. Nor do they like having to pay for expensive feel-good projects that do nothing to fix the commuting congestion problem. But neither RTD nor DRCOG show signs that they will stop wasting our money on their failed attempts at behavior modification.

And as if that isn't bad enough, the 2017 Metrovision Regional Transportation Plan adopted in April calls for spending another $152.5 billion through 2040 with the goal of increasing "non-single occupant vehicle (SOV) mode share to work" trips a paltry 10 percent, from 25.1 percent to 35 percent by 2040, but only in the metro area.

This isn't just a local phenomenon. The CATO Institute just released a report titled "The Coming Transit Apocalypse" that points out the nationwide failure of public transit. The report says, "Total transit ridership, not just per capita, is declining today, having seen a 4.4 percent drop nationwide from 2014 to 2016 and a 3.0 percent drop in the first seven months of 2017 versus the same months of 2016. Many major transit systems have suffered catastrophic declines in the past few years: since 2009, for example, transit ridership has declined by 27 to 37 percent in the Bakersfield, Detroit, Fresno, Memphis, Richmond, Toledo, and Wichita urban areas.

We need projects that deal with actual human behavior not utopian pie-in-the-sky propaganda and attempts at social engineering that annoy the public and enrich consultants and construction companies at taxpayer's expense. We need to fix, maintain and improve the roads we have, acknowledge the fact that individual auto use isn't going to go away, and deal with life as it is, not as some starry-eyed bureaucrats wish it would be.

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Readers can contact Scott Weiser at scott.weiser@altnews.us.

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