Dutch Gets a D | WisCommunity

Dutch Gets a D

Dutch Gets a D

Professor Stephen Dutch appeared on the scene in a flash with an essay explaining why "we" Americans do not ride transit. While he reports transit that he has experienced, and he is not shy about his personal preferences - don't crowd me, please - he tends to generalize about the rest of us.

A geologist - a fascinating field as a platform for public transportation. I'd prefer a facilities management specialist; but we transit advocates take whatever we get. Everyone is an authority on transit. Everyone knows how to run a transit system.

The real experts of course are bus riders, but specialists? Naw, we have interesting lives, jobs, families, and hobbies. But the bus? Heck, if a professor cares about bus schedules and seat width, we are glad that worry is being taken care of by, well, someone.

Truth to tell, there is fantastic research on transit. And the Professor's labors will be added to the pile. But, seriously, Professor, you need to do some reading before you submit another essay. We like the anecdotes (you are grade A) but a grade D for lack of sources. Find the bus-rider, or the drivers, or managers, and small business owners who depend on workers and customers without cars. There's a world our there that will supplement your personal experience.

Having given you my best advice, I say welcome to the fray. You are in a crowd of millions, many of whom actually choose to ride the bus. No, we don't want you to use the bus if crowds make you so sad. Stick with your car and let the rest of us have our personal space.

The Bible says (somewhere) there is wisdom in loving what you don't know, or getting to know something you don't love. Whatever. Drivers like buses because they take other cars off the road; riders like cars because more likely there is a seat waiting for them. It's so American. The Choice is what makes it all work.

With that Ph.D. after your name, Professor, you raise generalizations to the level of theory. And so let's use the supreme test to examine your theory. Does it fit the evidence?

Professor Dutch: One day in 1974 or so, I was sitting in my car (actually my thesis adviser's university car) inching across the George Washington Bridge on my way to Manhattan to meet a class where I was the teaching assistant. Suddenly I asked myself "Why am I doing this?" After all, I had alternatives. A bus ran right by the Lamont Observatory where I spent most of my time and went reasonably directly to the uptown bus terminal in Manhattan. From there I could take a subway straight to Columbia University. So as mass transit goes, it was a pretty straight shot. So why was I driving? Well, for openers, the mass transit really didn't save much time, especially counting waiting time at both ends and the transfer from bus to subway. And it was impossible to do anything productive riding mass transit.

Bill Sell: Reading is a common past-time on a bus or train. If the professor needs an office to read he should read in his office; no one is asking him to read on a bus.

Plus there was no privacy or peace and quiet, which I finally decided was the major factor for me.

We city people are a bit more accustomed to being crowded - an exchange we make for the vibrancy of the city.

And people in those days worried a lot about subway muggings (realistically, on the 7th Avenue IRT in the daytime, a minor risk), but carjacking was unheard of, so there was a safety issue.

That has changed, obviously. Not the current problem for the millions who use transit.

Since I have never, in the 30 years since, seen any article by advocates of mass transit - not one - that bothered to ask why people don't take mass transit despite all its supposed advantages, I thought it might be useful to explain why people prefer to drive instead of take the bus.

Never. Not one? This is an amazing statement for a professor. I am an amateur researcher and I have found tomes of reliable data sources, statistics from cities, from juried research, mass transit databases. I offer to share my resources.

Most advocates of mass transit dismiss drivers as selfish, short-sighted and unconcerned about the environment instead of asking whether mass transit itself is to blame for its own problems.

"Most"? Generalizations reveal lack of study, lack of intellectual discipline. Fact: Most transit advocates have cars and depend on them - the ones I know do not have an axe to grind with drivers. I have observed that bus riders are a more tranquil lot, waiting patiently at bus stops while anxious drivers whiz by. Bicyclists, however, they have plenty of issues about drivers - but that's a whole 'nother issue.

Transit advocacy has the facts on its side about the environment, pollution from cars, water runoff from concrete highways. Issues that are real. No need to be cranky at drivers - we're all stuck in this mess called transportation.

After this page was linked by another site, I got a number of responses that suggested a bit of clarification is in order. This page is not calling for abandonment of mass transit or extolling the virtues of the automobile. It is an attempt to lay out what mass transit is up against if it is to succeed. Pretending that the economic issues I describe can be made to go away is a guaranteed recipe for failure. They won't. Lots of people seem determined to illustrate the is/ought fallacy in action.

I welcome your basic question. If you read transit advocacy literature you would find that your questions have raised by many, often, and all over America.

Also I've gotten a number of responses from people who say the factors I outline here don't apply because they spend their time on the bus or subway reading or relaxing. This amounts to an attitude all too common in environmentalism: everything will be just fine once people get enlightened and see things the way I do. But don't take my word for it - see the exchange at the end of this page. If you have access to a user-friendly mass transit system and can use the commute time productively, bully for you. I'm trying to explain why so many other people don't see it that way.

Millions of riders apparently don't agree with you. And that's fine; this is America. I can't speak for all transit advocates but by and large we are not "selling" reading on the bus. There are plenty of reasons to encourage transit and people see them from their own lives: fuel costs, environment, good transportation lowers the cost of the household because a car is second in cost only to the mortgage.

The Value of Time

Apart from the cost of wages, economic planners rarely acknowledge the value of individual time, but that has absolutely no impact on the reality that people themselves do put value on their time. As John Naisbitt pointed out in Megatrends, one of the first thing people do when they acquire some affluence is begin to buy back their time. They hire out boring or unpleasant tasks like food preparation, housekeeping, child care and repairs. (Home delivery services are even enjoying a bit of a resurgence as two-earner families find themselves increasingly pressed for time.) Failure to recognize the value of time to individuals leads to unproductive results.

Yes, of course, buying back time, professor. You got it!. That is exactly the point here. William Lind finds that when rail is installed, Republicans ride rail. It's a class thing. The upper class, his research found, will ride rail but not buses. (Moving Minds - I strongly recommend this book, co-authored with Paul Weyrich, a conservative who applied conservative principles to transit.)

Nowhere is this issue clearer than in attempts to deal with the problems caused by the automobile. Critics of the automobile point out that in addition to the direct costs of the automobile like fuel, maintenance, and depreciation, there is the cost of highway construction, environmental damage, tax subsidies, defense of oil supplies, and so on - a host of "hidden costs." For example, The International Center for Technology Assessment, in The Real Price of Gasoline, and Stephen H. Burrington in Road Kill: How Solo Driving Runs Down the Economy, both estimated the real cost of driving a car at about a dollar a mile. They estimated the cost of a bicycle at twelve cents a mile.

I live eight miles from campus. At a dollar a mile by car, it costs $16 to commute. It takes about 20 minutes each way, so figuring my salary at $25 an hour, the cost comes to about $33.

Stop the car, I want to get off. No one that I know of is "paid" for commuting. Of course if you're correcting papers on the bus, you have a point. If you're correcting papers while driving, naughty naughty.

Occasionally I bicycle. It takes 45 minutes each way. The cost of bicycling alone is only $2 a day, but the time cost is $37. It costs $39 a day to commute by bicycle.

Stop the bike. I bicycle 6 miles per day. Having given up owning a car, I see a net annual savings of about $5000 for the cost of the car, gasoline, insurance, parking. I pay for cars, though: In Wisconsin the property tax and other non-road-sourced revenues spend $1.9 billion for roads.

Homeowners carry more than 50% of the cost of roads on their property taxes. Homeowners do indeed "use" roads, which deliver the necessities of life to their stores, but those road costs appear for the homeowner in the price of the product. The trucking companies pass road costs to their deliveries.

By mass transit, I have to walk to the bus stop, go downtown, transfer, and travel a winding route to campus. Total fare is $2.50, and counting time walking to and waiting at the bus stop at either end, it takes at least 45 minutes to make the trip by bus, bringing the total cost to around $40.

I understand. And you can bet the bus riders of Green Bay understand. The stories about that system are filled with bad planning and sparse service. I fail to see how you can generalize from Green Bay to the rest of America. I invite you to get involved with the good people of Green Bay who are trying to correct the problems with their bus system. Milwaukee's system has won awards for efficiency and timely service.

There are plenty of good reasons to encourage mass transit, but arguments about the hidden costs of the automobile fall on deaf ears because people, unconsciously or not, factor time and convenience into their decision making. The average driver knows perfectly well why she drives.

I agree. We need to get the facts in front of the public. We need to get convenient bus service into our streets.

The cost of a transportation system is first of all, any flat fare. Call that F. Then there's a cost per mile (call it C) and the mileage (M). The value of your time we can call S (salary per hour), and the time it takes to travel is T. So we have Cost = F + CM + ST. Time will be mileage divided by your speed (V), so we have Cost = F + CM + SM/V = F + M(C + S/V). We can see that cost increases with mileage (obviously), high time value (every minute traveling costs more) and low speeds.

You insist on costing out commute time as if it is salary. Even the IRS does not consider commute time anything but a personal nondeductible choice. Folks know these rules and we are not fooled.

Conclusion 1: Transportation Costs Less at High Speeds. High-speed commuter rail is a great solution if there's easy access at both ends. If you have to drive five miles to a transit station only to find the commuter lot full, you may as well drive. HOV (high occupancy vehicles) and mass transit lanes on freeways are another good approach to this issue. The best features of HOV lanes for private vehicles is they offer a positive incentive to carpool (you get to pass all the solo drivers), rather than the negative penalties that are the only solution many advocates of mass transit seem capable of imagining.

What you are describing is a multi-modal transportation system. Now we are talking to each other. Multimodal will make transportation work for everyone, from walking to flying, both the runners and the wheelchairs.

It is indeed true that intercity rail needs bus service from the station. In fact, transit advocates generally understand this - focused on regional transit and the local bus. We generally understand that the local bus is the most needed of all the services. Where public transportation is available and convenient it is used by a large majority of the people. See Kelton for the research.

HOV is a fine temporary solution, when people use it. But it has a downside that transit beats: You do not get to choose the time to leave for work, nor the time you are done.

HOV does not serve parents of small children who may need to be called out of work for a sick child. It saves gas but not insurance and parking facilities. Sharing driving requires an investment in a car. And HOV will continue to eat up precious land to build more HOV lanes. Trains reduce land use: one track carries as many passengers as ten lanes of freeway. (Center for Neighborhood Technology)

Corollary: Low Speed Limits Raise the Cost of Travel. They may cut fuel consumption and costs of accidents, but the time cost rises steeply. Where I live, a nearby suburb has a four lane street with a speed limit of 25 miles an hour. It could easily be raised to 40 with no significant safety risk.

I live near a state highway and we are putting pressure on the state and city to enforce the speed limit; this is the business strip that serves our neighborhood. Crossing this road when drivers speed in hazardous. There are many shopping and school crossings along its two mile length. Again, that one road near your house does not generalize to the nation. Since I don't know your road, I give you the point, but to my knowledge you have not been in my neighborhood, but beware the generalization - it makes a good point sound weak.

Corollary: Interruptions Raise the Cost of Travel. How much gasoline is burned daily by cars stopping and accelerating at stop signs where there is clearly no oncoming traffic, or waiting at empty intersections for traffic lights? Probably half of all stop signs could be changed to yield signs. And it should be legal to proceed through a red light if there is no oncoming traffic. Accidents would be wholly the responsibility of the driver going through the light. School buses should be required to wait for traffic to clear before turning on their signals and discharging students.

Here is where research is helpful.

This website reports on a study of wasted fuel in California. The costs are skyhigh - each driver paying for congestion and wasted fuel, and wasted time. In LA alone, wasting 367 million gallons of fuel.

I am sure there is research on stop signs and wasted gas, but I will leave that for you to find. Guessing numbers is not useful. I do know neighbors, tho, and they demand stop signs for neighborhood streets - probably too many. Remove the signs? Actually, I think the neighbors would choose modern transit over stop sign removal. You would need a mighty dictator to take their stop signs away.

Let's assume, as critics of the automobile say, that a car costs $1 a mile and also assume a car averages 20 miles an hour in city traffic. The cost of operating a car becomes M(1 + S/20).

You are of course making commuting equivalent to time in the classroom. I trust the university is not really paying you while you commute.

If we assume a bicycle costs 1/8 as much per mile and goes 10 miles an hour, then the cost of riding a bicycle is M(1/8 + S/10). The extra cost of driving a car per mile is:

Cost (car M=1) - Cost (bicycle M=1) = (1 + S/20) - (1/8 + S/10) = 7/8 - S/20.

The cost of the bicycle is a small fraction of the cost of a car. Some years ago I bought a new bike for $300 which will last well over ten years. Each year I probably invest $80 in maintaining the bike at a competent bike shop; a few bucks for batteries or lamps. I'm way down here at $110 per year, compared to the $5000 I calculated when I had a car. That is 110/5000 = or 2.2 cents for the bike to $1 for the car. 2.2% is 1/50 not your 1/8. The cost of roads? I pay 50% of the roads through my property taxes; and the other through anything I purchase that is brought by truck. The difference between a bike and a motor vehicle is wear and tear on the roads. When I rent a car, I pay for the roads in the gasoline tax.

Travel time comparisons: Mine: The trip to work by bike is about as fast as the bus and only slightly less fast than a car. I also use the bike for health reasons, time I do not have to spend on a treadmill - a net savings. You may want to clarify your assumptions when you start making estimates. Out here there are a lot of variables called people; and we have calculators.

If the cost difference is positive, bicycle is cheaper. If it's negative, a car is cheaper. When the cost difference is zero, both forms of transportation are equal. Call that the break-even point. That happens when S/20 = 7/8, or S = 17.5. If S is less than 17.5 ($17.50 an hour or $35,000 a year) then the cost is positive, otherwise it's negative; it costs more to go by bike than by car.

Conclusion 2: Slow Transportation Penalizes Affluent Customers. And these are the people most likely to have their own cars and to move further from work.

Which is why a multi-modal system works; it draws from all classes. See William Lind "Moving Minds" (note on him above) And rail will give middle income people a lower cost travel choice than air.

Corollary: Affluent Customers Will Not Use Mass Transit. It's not that they're selfish, or that they don't care about the environment. It's not cost-effective. The higher your salary, the more wasteful mass transit is. The only significant exception is commuter rail provided the fares offer a savings over driving and parking and the comfort and privacy allow relaxation or work en route.

You seem to feel you have figured out about class, but the research does not support your claims. See William Lind "Moving Minds" (note on him above). And the young people coming out of college are not buying a car first, but finding a city that has public transportation which will allow them to save to make a life, raise a family. See (Kiplinger)

Corollary: Infrequent Transit Schedules Discourage Use of Mass Transit. Duh. Or maybe not. My city is considering cutting frequency as a "cost-saving" measure.

Yes, and it has been transit advocates who have been pointing this out. It is not enough to run one bus - the service needs to be efficient and accessible. Thank you. We can state from research (and observation) that ridership falls when headways exceed ten minutes. Nice fact to remember for your next dinner party.

If we assume the fare on a bus is $2, and there's no extra cost per mile, and buses average 15 miles an hour (because of stops and less direct routes), then the cost becomes 2 + S/15. The extra cost of driving is Cost (car) - Cost (bus) = M(1 + S/20) - (2 + SM/15) = M - 2 - MS/60. This is a bit harder to analyze because it's mileage-dependent. We can find the break-even point by making the cost zero and solving for S: S = 60(1 - 2/M). If M = 2, S =0; it always pays to drive because the cost of driving beats the flat fare. Regardless of how big M is, S is never greater than 60; if you earn over $120,000 a year, it always pays to drive. If M = 4, S = 30, and the break-even point is $60,000 a year. If you earn less, it pays to use mass transit.

See my comments above on being paid for commuting - not the way the rest of us live.

But if the fare is $5, as it can be for long commutes, then S = 60(1 - 5/M). It never pays to take the bus for commutes less than 5 miles. For S = 30 ($60,000) a year, the break-even point is 10 miles - any longer than that and it pays to drive.

It never "pays" to take a bus less than 5 miles? Whatever do you mean "pays"? Of course it "pays" if the rider believes the trip is worth the fare. A three-mile walk to work takes about one hour; a local bus about 20 minutes.

Conclusion 3: Flat Fares Discourage Use of Mass Transit for Short Commutes A fair number of cities seem to have figured this out and have free-travel zones downtown, unlimited travel passes, and similar offsets.


If traveling by car really does have high indirect costs not shared by public transportation, the case for making all mass transit free is so compelling you really have to wonder why advocates of mass transit don't propose it.

Actually that idea bounces around among advocates; and it is use effectively in sections of some cities. But generally? Well, not everyone can use transit for one thing. I know workers who absolutely need cars for their jobs. Transit is not a one-shoe fit; transit is designed for the demographics that support it. And what is wrong with having both roads and rails? People who want all transportation to be the same for all people are in for a long hard struggle. No Procrustian beds, please.

Also, since a major cause of urban sprawl and congestion is the middle class moving to the suburbs, the obvious cure is to eliminate the problems that drive the middle class out.

Agreed. But "eliminate" - well that's a tall order. Maybe we could work at it. "Abate" is a more likely goal. Step by step - the original transportation mode - is how we conquer tall mountains.

Unless there's some master plan to have buses, ambulances and fire trucks all get around on light rail, most of the indirect costs of the automobile will still plague mass transit.

This is the one shoe fits all argument. Transit advocates are the ones asking for diversity in the delivery of transportation. And now you are characterizing transit advocates as wanting to put "everything" on a train. That is just silly. Ambulances? Professor, in fifth grade that might be considered a thought, but in college? Not worth a C. Not worth the red ink to mark your paper.

The roads will be there, yes. But do we have to surrender the best farmland in the world to roads? There is a market-centered approach to making cities attractive, livable and efficient. So why subsidize sprawl?

We can hope to lessen the dependence on petroleum, and hence ease prices and maybe reduce the defense threat. We might also hope to reduce the costs of road repair, reduce air pollution, and lessen the impact of the automobile.

Hope? How can we hope to reduce the costs of road repair if we have more cars? And cheaper miles per gallon will increase road costs - people will drive more. Public policy requires hope, but based on potential. Transit advocates are the ones who are minding the budget. We are the people shocked at the huge subsidies to the auto, the imbalance of payments due to the purchase of oil from abroad. If each mode paid its own way, transit would arrive overnight. Paying attention to the budget has brought many allies to transit.

There's a good reason why people who play the "hidden costs" game never factor in the value of personal time saved - it tips the balance so sharply in favor of existing technology that alternatives simply cannot compete. (Actually, when people say they "cannot" compete, they usually mean they will not compete because they don't think the rewards are great enough. Mass transit can compete against the private auto but it would require subsidies to the hated middle class and suburbs.)

Subsidies. All transportation is subsidized, and the car even with all its problems gets the lion's share of subsidies.

Hated middle class? What kind of argument is that? Who is doing the hating? I mean I'm middle class and feel I have a happier life than folks at the extremes of wealth and poverty. Do folks hate me? I don't hate me. Do you hate me?

At this point the essay by Professor Dutch drifts into exchanges he selected from comments he received. A blog would allow us to read what other readers are writing. Open up your web page, Professor.

Essay from: Why People Don't Use Mass Transit, by Professor Steven Dutch, Geologist, on the Faculty in Natural and Applied Sciences, University of Wisconsin - Green Bay



A Note to Website Visitors from Professor Dutch, and my response.

Professor Dutch: "I will respond to questions and comments as time permits, but if you want to take issue with any position expressed here, you first have to answer this question:

Professor Dutch: What evidence would it take to prove your beliefs wrong?

Bill Sell:Researched evidence, facts.



November 20, 2010 - 7:27pm