Sunday, October 17, 2010

Transit Forecast- More Of The Same

In 25 years, using transit in Seattle will feel much the same as it does today. It can't really feel much slower, and crowding will be greater, but there'll be no revolution in quantity or quality to disturb your sedate preminiscences of the future.

Some students will find this of interest. With the main routes of our 'metro', or high-capacity main lines, being the current SoundTransit proposals, predicting neighborhood densities can be fun for the amateur and profitable for the investor. This, after all, is the real basis for building the system- that it will 'pencil out' and prove prosperous for all.

Part of the fun here will be that some time before our 25 years are up, we'll see a huge rise in oil prices. People will abandon cars for a transit system largely served by diesel buses, and a metro system largely designed around bus stops and garages for park'n'ride services. The labor costs of the buses will rise in tandem with the rise in fuel prices, essentially bankrupting the system we see today, which is already talking about using capital reserves to pay current operating costs. The best we can hope for with this one is that they will level this baby out somewhere below the 10,000-ft level, where atmospheric oxygen may restore their brain cells.

Sadly, all of the brain power n Seattle will be more of a hindrance than a help. Any full-court press to solve the problem will result in a dozen experts proclaiming that 'there's gotta be a better way'. All will hope that Seattle doesn't endure the ultimate shame and ignominy of simply adopting an existing solution that's been proven to work in some other city. Ironically, the Boeing move from Seattle may be a wonderful gift, freeing us from the burden of supporting Boeing's history of failure in building transit.

In short, an interregnum in this crisis of about five years is to be expected, from which a similar, but chastened and pruned transit system will emerge. The expenses will have been so great that no real expansion of metro service can be afforded, after the capital costs of converting many diesel runs to full electric have been accommodated.

Another interregnum will be the McGinn mayoralty in Seattle. He will anger many, and accomplish little, doing more harm than good to existing efforts to extend tertiary trolley services.

Fortunately, the longer Seattle waits, the cheaper the equipment becomes, as other cities around the world drive prices down by mass buying. The streetcar is a wonderful tool for cities that need to reinvent their civic economies. You may well live to see your dream streetcar line built.

And that's a fine speculation with which to end a fine afternoon.

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