Kheel Planners: MTA Austerity a Recipe for Gridlock Hell

gridlock_alert_1.jpgNew Yorkers can expect more misery on the streets as well as underground if the MTA has to follow through on the austerity measures it unveiled yesterday. The transportation analysts behind the Kheel Plan — the congestion pricing variant that balances higher driver fees with free transit — calculate that the likely combination of service cuts and higher fares and tolls will put tens of thousands more cars on the road:

Kheel’s team reported these likely consequences from a combination of a 25% across-the-board subway-and-bus fare hike and proposed service cuts, along with a $1.00 increase in MTA bridge and tunnel tolls:

  • An additional 30,000 cars (a 4 percent increase) driven into the City’s most congested streets
  • A 6 percent drop in subway ridership and a 4 percent drop in bus ridership;
  • A 4 percent decrease in already snail-paced traffic speeds

The figures derive from an updated version of the Balanced Transportation Analyzer, the Kheel planners’ number-crunching algorithm. The new BTA will be unveiled shortly, together with a revised Kheel Plan, "with time-varying tolls and subway fares sufficient to close the MTA deficit and fund vital expansions." That means the new plan will include the option to charge fares during peak times, spokesman Mark Hannah told Streetsblog. (Charles Komanoff outlined the revisions on Streetsblog this June.)

Free transit was not bandied about much at the Ravitch Commission’s public hearings in September, but Kheel’s team sees a window of opportunity in the next election. "Our major goal is to make our
plan an issue in the 2009 campaign," Hannah said, noting that several electeds have reacted positively to the Kheel proposal. "It’s a matter of, at this point,
getting a champion."

Meanwhile, for all you wonks in the audience, follow the jump for more information on the methodology behind the projections.

  • The team’s findings conservatively reflect the expected reduction in car travel from a $1.00 toll increase on MTA bridges and tunnels.
  • The Kheel team assumed that the MTA’s subway service cuts result in an average 6% increase in the duration of an average trip.
  • The BTA assumes conservatively that only half of “disappeared” transit trips re-materialize as car trips; it also takes carpooling into account, so that each new trip in a car adds less than one new car to the roads.
  • The BTA feeds back traffic increases to travel demand (i.e., road gridlock is somewhat self-limiting), thus producing a conservative estimate of the number of additional cars resulting from costlier and less-frequent transit service.
  • The BTA includes conservative (low) assumptions of the effect of higher fares on subway use (“price-elasticities” of -0.09 for subway work trips, -0.234 for other subway trips).

Photo: spectraversa/Flickr

  • ibike

    Do they predict a big boom in bicycling from high subway fares combined with service cuts and lots of very visible bicycling improvements? Seems likely.

  • rlb

    If this were happening in the summer, it would be a great time for a “go buy a bike” campaign. Winter’s another story.
    I continue to bike, but needless to say the numbers of two wheelers dwindle as the temperature hangs below 50. As the temperature drops towards 30, questions of sanity arise.

  • Harlan

    Fortunately, the Kheel model doesn’t account for the crushing loss of jobs in Manhattan, meaning most of the people no longer taking the train in will be watching soaps all day rather than driving.

    Also, I’m not sure that the Kheel model takes into account ownership of cars. Many people who commute to work don’t even have the option of taking a car if fares increase, because they don’t own a car. (Myself, for example.) In contrast, everyone who owns a car and lives near public transportation has the option of taking the subway. It’s not a symmetrical elasticity.

    So I’m not sure that the numbers are valid.

  • Timmy

    Good points Harlan. Thousands of people are being fired

  • Streetsman

    Whenever I start to feel insane for biking in below-freezing temperatures, I take a wander over to Copenhagen Cycle Chic and check out how those fashionable Danish folks do it: http://www.copenhagencyclechic.com/
    It gets a good deal colder there than it does here, but they still ride around in style.

    Dressing to bike in cold weather doesn’t have to be any different from dressing to walk in cold weather. And virtually every New Yorker is used to walking 30 minutes or more in below-freezing temperatures during holiday shopping season. In fact, biking isn’t even as bad because the exercise warms you up. You just have to remember to cover your face.

  • Fendergal

    I see many more people riding in cold weather than I did in years past. I connect this uptick with the transit strike, when it was bitterly cold (19 degrees, IIRC). I think a lot of people realized, hell, I can do this.

  • t

    Gas prices are relatively low and subway fares will be high. That’s a recipe for more cars on the road.

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