Quick Thoughts on Airport Transit Ridership

I’ve been discussing this on Twitter all morning, but I’m very skeptical that tourists want to ride public transport from any airport unless they have to.

Even aside from that qualitative skepticism, I decided to see if I could find some numbers on ridership for existing public transport systems that have lines to the airport, and it turns out yes you kind of can.

JFK AirTrain ridership is right there on Wikipedia, with nearly 18,000 passengers per day and 12% of the 53 million passengers (!!!) that pass through JFK yearly.

The numbers for BART in San Francisco are very similar – 11% of all air travelers to SFO used BART, which is connected to a very good public transportation network in the Bay Area (yes yes it needs improvement).

Perhaps a closer comparison would be Portland, Oregon, where they have had light rail the airport for fifteen years now.  Portland has a more comparable airport with 16 million passengers per year, and the daily ridership at the airport station is…a whopping 3200 people per day.  That source is from 2012, but the numbers in 2013 were similar.  That’s about 6% of the total passengers that pass through PDX Airport.  Portland has a well established light rail system, and the line has been open for fifteen years.

So what can we expect in Austin?  I would argue the numbers are likely to be much lower than Portland because Austin’s transit ridership numbers are much lower systemwide, but let’s be generous and assume that 10% of Austin-Bergstrom passengers take light rail.  11,897,959 passengers come through the ATX airport every year, giving us an annual ridership of 1,189,795 and a whopping 3,260 people per day.

If the line proposed in Austin is going to serve lots of people in between the Airport and Downtown, then great!  Build it.  But if the main justification for a rail line is “the airport”, then it’s going to be massive disappointment.




Nick Barbaro Doesn’t Get to Define What’s Conservative and What’s Not

I was tired of Nick Barbaro’s trolling at the Chronicle so I sent him an email:

Dear Nick Barbaro,

In your most recent Public Notice, it seems you are at least aware of the other side of a debate that you either consciously or accidentally find yourself weighing in on in Austin: how the city should grow.  You seem well intentioned, so this email will be more explanatory of why what you prefer to call “density activists” support the positions that we do.

So let’s start with how you addressed Friends of Austin Neighborhoods supporters:

when it comes down to specific votes on specific issues, you find yourself allied with the most conservative members of the City Council, and 100% opposed to the voting records of the council members who have the longest and strongest histories of working for social justice issues in every field other than land use.

It’s telling that you don’t actually address the substance of FAN’s arguments here.  You resort to defending the character of certain members of the Council, which is really not the point.  If Council members are well intentioned but vote for regressive policies, does that make the policies any less destructive?  Your argument is a textbook ad hominem argument as defined by Wikipedia:

Ad hominem is a logical fallacy in which an argument is rebutted by attacking the character, motive, or other attribute of the person making the argument, or persons associated with the argument, rather than attacking the substance of the argument itself.

It’s also notable that you omit mentioning that FAN endorsed Delia Garza in your previous column, but made sure to mention Don Zimmerman, who was not endorsed by FAN as clearly shown on their website.  I’m sure that was an innocent mistake. The line that FAN is a “developer friendly internet group” whose positions “lean hard to the right” is a cheap smear, but it leads me into my next point.

Voting against more housing is voting against the interests of young people, renters, and low income Austinites, and that is precisely what Leslie Pool, Kathie Tovo, Ann Kitchen and Ora Houston have done consistently.  Let’s take the case of the Burnet/Rockwood project in Leslie Pool’s home district.  The lot is currently an auto repair shop, and a developer wanted to build over 200 apartments, including 15% reserved as affordable housing.  There is good public transit on Burnet, and the project was right next to 183.  One would think this is an ideal place to add significant housing so more Austinites can have a place to live.  Pool, Tovo, Kitchen, and Houston all voted against this project.  Leslie Pool cited traffic as a reason, and Ora Houston cited the “rights of neighbors”.

So I ask you Mr Barbaro: what is progressive about preventing the construction of housing for Austinites?  Is it because for some reason you assume that what is bad for developers is good for everyone?  Have you considered what is good for those of us that don’t own homes, namely young people, renters, and low income Austinites?  Is preventing the construction of housing because it might increase traffic a progressive position?

Adding more housing supply of all types benefits low income and young Austinites.  It doesn’t matter if you call certain people liberals, conservatives, or anything else.  You can distort the meaning of those terms all you want.  It doesn’t change the fact that the policies of your favored City Council members are regressive.