Urban rail vote loses? Try, try again


Graphic: InsuranceJournal.com

Graphic: InsuranceJournal.com

Losing a rail transit ballot measure doesn’t have to mean the end of a community’s hopes and dreams for urban rail, according to a recent study by the Light Rail Now Project. What it takes, though, is the will to hang in there, respond to reasonable public concerns, tweak the rail plan as needed, and submit it for another vote.

This actually doesn’t happen often. In some cases, the urban rail possibility just evaporates because local decisionmakers and planners just throw in the cards and move on to other, less ambitious transit proposals.

However, the Light Rail Now study examined the six cases since 2000 where a rail transit vote initially failed, but the local transit agency or civic leadership kept their eyes on the prize, continued to recognize the benefits of rail transit, and resubmitted a proposal in a ballot measure that succeeded in getting voters’ endorsement. This has happened in Austin (Texas), Kansas City, Cincinnati, Tucson, Seattle, and St. Louis.

The time delay between the initially failed vote and the ultimately successful re-vote was a particular focus of the study. So, how much of a time gap was found between rejections and approvals?

Overall, the average delay in these six cases was 3.8 years. However, the delay seemed significantly shorter (1.5 years) in the two cities (St. Louis and Seattle) that already were operating some form of rail transit. In the other cities, where the attractiveness and benefits of rail transit were not generally experienced, there was a longer time average gap (5 years). Light Rail Now illustrates this with a graph:

Left bar: Average years of delay in cities already operating rail transit. Right bar: Average delay in cities with no current rail transit. Graph: Light Rail Now.

Left bar: Average years of delay in cities already operating rail transit. Right bar: Average delay in cities with no current rail transit. Graph: Light Rail Now.

Light Rail Now speculates that winning ultimate public support for rail transit may hinge on the determination of local leaders:

The process of re-submitting a rail transit measure to a vote may depend not so much on public attitudes but on the determination of sponsoring officials, their responsiveness to public input, and their willingness to re-craft specific project details to more closely conform to public needs and desires.

In other words, if you have local transit officials or civic leaders willing to hang in there and go the course, chances are you can ultimately succeed.

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Cincinnati: “Our city confirmed its will to continue along path to a balanced transportation system”


Cincinnati: Simulation of streetcar running downtown. Graphic: City of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati: Simulation of streetcar running downtown. Graphic: City of Cincinnati.

By John Schneider

This commentary has been adapted from a December 19th statement by the author to supporters of the campaign to continue Cincinnati’s streetcar project, immediately after the favorable vote by the City Council.

With the City Council’s vote on December 19th to resume Cincinnati’s streetcar project, our city confirmed its will to continue along the path to a balanced transportation system. Our path has been up and down with lots of twists and turns and leaps of faith that took us to unknown places. But we soldiered-on, and now the path is wider, flatter, and clearly marked for others to follow, not only in Cincinnati but in other cities that want to gain more citizens and become more competitive.

There are so many people to thank, but first and foremost, I want to thank former Mayor Mark Mallory, Vice Mayor Roxanne Qualls, and City Manager Milton Dohoney. Even though we reached our goal on December 19th, we wouldn’t have even been in the game were it not for their leadership of the Cincinnati Streetcar over many years. Their support cost them dearly, and we should be forever grateful.

And to our long-time champions on City Council — Chris Seelbach, Yvette Simpson and Wendell Young whose eloquence and persistence following the election, working with PG Sittenfeld, brought their colleagues, Vice Mayor David Mann and Councilmember Kevin Flynn, along to enable us to continue along our path.

Immediately after the December 19th vote, Mayor John Cranley was very gracious in offering his congratulations to me and to others. I hope this period of divisiveness now passes and that we can all join with him and Christopher Smitherman, Charlie Winburn, and Amy Murray to foster the city we all want to have.

Were it not for Ryan Messer, who parachuted-in to lead this effort in early November, we would not have succeeded. The kind of leader who emerges every ten years or so here, he brought new energy to our movement. Early-on, he recruited our attorney, Paul DeMarco, who used his contacts at the highest level of our nation’s government to bring about the results we achieved, to assure the Feds we knew where we were going. Early-on, without a hint of hesitation, Karen Blatt volunteered our spiffy campaign office, and Ryan hired Scott Allison to execute the flawless campaign to gather signatures. Others including Jean-Francois Flechet, Sean Lee, Rob Richardson, Jr, Margy Waller and Brad and Karen Hughes did whatever had to be done and were the wisest advisors and best team-players anyone could have.

There are so many others that contributed so much to this effort that I cannot mention them all but they are all strongly appreciated. Suffice it to say that this effort could not have been sustained over all these years without all the people who have been involved.

Eric Avner of the Haile Foundation raised $9,000,000 in a little over 48 hours, enough to make City Council comfortable that the cost of operating the streetcar was assured for the first ten years. This was the keystone of the plan to save the streetcar.

There were many memorable moments in this campaign. One I’ll never forget was the December 10th meeting at First Lutheran Church near 12th and Race, where 450 people showed up to sign-out their petitions. Chris Heckman and Kristen Myers are members of the congregation, and they quickly arranged for the church to open its doors twice to us. I’m certain this set the tone for the whole campaign.

John Schneider photo

John Schneider, Cincinnati’s “Mr. Streetcar”. Photo: Cincinnati.com.

Speaking of the campaign, we now have 11,000 Cincinnatians’ names and addresses for our efforts going forward. The planning and execution of the signature-gathering was orchestrated with great precision by The Strategy Group and its able leader, Ian James, who made a critical judgment that the number and intensity of our volunteers was more than adequate to gather the signatures. We wouldn’t need paid signature-gatherers. Plus, it gave us all an opportunity to tell the streetcar’s story in the way we know it. And by the way, we registered a bunch of streetcar supporters to vote in the process.

Our thanks go well beyond Cincinnati to the many people in many cities who have been watching our project intently, including especially Portland’s mayor, Charlie Hales and his wife Nancy, who have joined us on many of our trips there over the years. When he was in the private sector, Charlie helped plan the Cincinnati Streetcar, and he has been a guiding light for me. We’re not finished with the Portland trips. They have an early spring there.

Most of all, we should all thank our spouses, families, employers and co-workers for tolerating our absences over the past days and nights. They were soldiers in this too.

I hope that in this new year everyone will continue to work harder than ever to bring more diverse transportation choices to our city, Cincinnati, or to whatever city where you live.

Tucson: Streetcar Celebration builds public anticipation of urban rail line opening


Tucson streetcar leaves center-street station during testing. Photo:  Tyler Baker, Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Tucson streetcar leaves center-street station during testing. Photo: Tyler Baker, Arizona Daily Wildcat.

Tucson, Arizona — It’s still many months away, but public anticipation of the opening of Tucson’s brand-new streetcar system has been building. And it’s getting a huge boost from the local Friends of the Streetcar group.

In collaboration with merchants at Main Gate Square outside the main entrance to the University of Arizona, the pro-streetcar group is sponsoring Streetcar Celebration: Destination Main Gate Square, a special celebration on January 15th, one of several shindigs the organization has been initiating to raise awareness and feed anticipation for the new service.

The 3.9-mile, $196 million modern streetcar line is due to open in mid-2014 after rolling stock supplier United Streetcar delivers all eight streetcars on order.

The upcoming festivities, scheduled on a Wednesday afternoon between 4:00 and 7:00 pm, will include performances by musical groups, a street performance group called Cirque Roots (featuring stilt walkers, hoop dancers, and acrobats), “fun with 2-EEE the Clown Face Painting and Balloons, a free photo booth by Bumblebee Photobooth with souvenir photos and more”, according to a report in The Explorer, a local publication. The Arizona State Museum will be open until 7:00 pm allowing free admission, and a number of restaurants, cafes, and various retailers are offering substantial discounts.

With opening of the new urban rail system scheduled for much later in the year, these events in Tucson by local rail supporters may provide an example of how to build public enthusiasm for the service — and hopefully pay off in higher ridership when the trains actually start rolling.

Merry Christmas, Cincinnati! Streetcar project resumes work


Cincinnati streetcar on order from builder CAF. Simulation: City of Cincinnati.

Cincinnati streetcar on order from builder CAF. Simulation: City of Cincinnati.

For supporters of urban rail, it’s been a clenched-teeth political action movie in Cincinnati, as newly elected Mayor John Cranley tried to implement his campaign promise to pull the plug on the city’s streetcar project — even though construction was well under way, tracks had already been laid in the street, and the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) was threatening to demand repayment of of millions of dollars in grants if the project were cancelled.

Besides the new mayor, the election of three new councilmembers meant a council majority against the rail project, and on December 4th, the council voted to “pause” further work pending an independent audit by consulting firm KPMG. In response, the FTA issued an ultimatum: Resume the project by Dec. 19th, or forfeit the federal grant and pay back funds already transferred.

Meanwhile, the prospect of scuttling an ongoing project and wasting funds already invested sparked a local grassroots rebellion involving not just rail project supporters but a wider spectrum of Cincinnatians. A powerful mobilization for a referendum on a city charter change to require completion of the rail project collected roughly twice the number of signatures required — also attracting national media attention. This show of force seems to have helped in starting to move councilmembers’ leanings.

Recently laid Cincinnati streetcar trackage in Elm St. on Nov. 8th. Original granite pavers are being reinstalled to restore historic appearance. Photo: Travis Estell (Flickr).

Recently laid Cincinnati streetcar trackage in Elm St. on Nov. 8th. Original granite pavers are being reinstalled to restore historic appearance. Photo: Travis Estell (Flickr).

In addition, as described by a New York Times article (Dec. 22nd), “KPMG’s audit showed that completing the line would cost the city $68.9 million; canceling would run between $16.3 million and $46.1 million, not including the potential costs of litigation, which could be astronomical.” Thus, noted the Times, streetcar proponents were able to argue that “The city could spend millions of dollars and have a streetcar with the potential for return on investment, or have nothing to show for it while facing a tangle of lawsuits ….”

On the brink of the Dec. 19th deadline, the project was also reprieved by a written commitment, honchoed by the Haile U.S. Bank Foundation and involving roughly 15 private-sector backers, to cover as much as $9 million of the line’s operating costs over its first decade, if necessary.

On Dec. 19th, just hours from the FTA deadline, the Cincinnati city council voted 6-3 to resume the project. “We’re going to have a streetcar” Mayor Cranley announced at an afternoon news conference with new Councilman Kevin Flynn, who had spent days helping forge the private financing agreement.

It represented an amazing victory for the broad swath of Cincinnati streetcar supporters, who had turned out by the hundreds to gather many thousands of signatures on the referendum petition. It’s also recognized as a huge victory for rail advocacy and for urban livability, and a terrific model for communities throughout North America.

According to the Cincinnati Business Journal (Dec. 23rd), Work on the project resumes on Dec. 26th, with delivery of an additional set of rails on Elm St., and “The installation of rails will be underway again on Friday, as crews restart their jobs north of Findlay Market.”

More details on this issue are summarized in a recent online article on the Railway Age magazine website:

Cincinnati streetcar survives political turmoil

Another Railway Age article by Urban Rail Today co-principal Lyndon Henry draws a parallel between citizens’ efforts for urban rail in Austin, Texas and those in Cincinnati:

Cincinnati and Austin: Community urban rail proponents challenge City Hall

Serving a “rainbow” ridership — How urban rail excels in attracting ethnically and socio-economically diverse ridership


Chart from paper shows overwhelming role of rail transit in contributing to growth of public transportation passenger-mileage.

Chart from paper shows overwhelming role of rail transit in contributing to growth of public transportation passenger-mileage.

by Lyndon Henry

A very curious argument is occasionally brought to bear against urban rail plans and projects — the claim that rail transit somehow has a class and ethnic bias favoring relatively affluent ethnically white segments of the population. This is particularly curious because, in a given city, the rail opponents that promulgate this contention — often trying to stoke public discontent or voter rejection of a ballot measure — will raise this fear among less affluent and predominantly minority neighborhoods, with a high percentage of residents more dependent on good transit service (which rail excels in providing). But then the same opponents will go to the opposite side of town and raise totally opposite fears among relatively more affluent ethnically white neighborhoods — urban rail will bring “those people” (supposedly, low-income minorities) into your neighborhood!

It’s ugly, it’s contradictory, but it does seem to work for rail opponents … up to a point.

Taking the “class/ethnic bias” attack on urban rail head on, back in July 2006 I presented a paper on this very issue to the 2006 National Meeting of the Conference of Minority Transportation Officials (COMTO), held that year in Austin, Texas (where I was then a data analyst for Capital Metro, the transit authority). I coined the term “rainbow ridership” to express the concept of ethnic and income diversity in transit ridership:

Serving a “Rainbow” Ridership — Designing and Providing High-Quality Public Transit for a Demographically Diverse Population

At the conference session, I also presented a PPT summarizing the paper.

The specific research question addressed in the paper is fairly simple:

Transit services, and major new transit system investments, such as rail transit, are typically aimed to fulfill several important types of travel needs. Two of the most pre-eminent of these needs are:

(1) Providing a basic, affordable service for transit-dependent travelers, many of whom are lower-income, or mobility-impaired because of handicaps, age, or other factors;

(2) Providing a high-quality service fashioned to attract more affluent urban and suburban travelers out of their motor vehicles, thus helping to alleviate dependency on private motor vehicle transportation and to reduce demand for peak roadway and parking capacity.

These differences reflect the contrasting needs of the demographically diverse population mix typical of North American urban areas today. But how well are these somewhat disparate needs being fulfilled?

Discussing several examples of how the “rail favors affluent whites” argument is wielded to try to stymie urban rail development plans and projects, the paper notes that

The portrayal of some kind of class and ethnic differentiation among transit modes — bus for the poor and nonwhite, rail for the rich and white — is highly dubious and certainly unsupported by evidence. The decision to install a higher-quality mode such as rail transit – or a busway, for that matter — is motivated by factors such as the desire to improve services for the riding public, to ameliorate environmental impacts, to facilitate greater efficiencies in transit operation, and to reduce the unit cost of transit service. Overwhelmingly, these goals are being achieved, and these benefits are being brought to very broad range of existing transit users as well as new riders attracted to the improved service.

In reality, rail systems appear to attract a far more diverse ridership, particularly with respect to ethnic background and income level, than do typical bus services. Inevitably, this implies that, for a given rail service in a specific corridor, a proportionately higher number of white/anglo and more affluent passengers will be attracted – even if the number of nonwhite, lower-income, and transit-dependent riders is equal to, or greater than, what would otherwise by carried by bus operations in the corridor.

For supporting evidence, the paper draws upon fact-based articles from the Light Rail Now website:

Light Rail and Lower-Income Transit Riders

Does Light Rail “Rob” Bus Service, or Make It Prosper? You Decide!

My paper also supports its thesis with summaries and discussions of a number of cases studies of ridership characteristics in operating rail transit systems: Los Angeles, San Diego, Denver, St. Louis, Minneapolis, and San Francisco.

Here are excerpts from some of the PPT slides presenting summaries of statistical data:


"Math exercise" challenges claim rail transit has class/ethnic bias, based on demographic percentage. Since rail attracts more, and more diverse, ridership, average income rises, but so does lower-income and minority ridership!

“Math exercise” challenges claim rail transit has class/ethnic bias, based on demographic percentage. Since rail attracts more, and more diverse, ridership, average income rises, but so does lower-income and minority ridership!


Los Angeles — Rail ridership (upper left) is 84% minority, bus ridership (lower right) is 88% minority.

Los Angeles — Rail ridership (upper left) is 84% minority, bus ridership (lower right) is 88% minority.


St. Louis is one example for which study data was available. Metrolink light rail transit system has attracted a more diverse ridership than bus system.

St. Louis is one example for which study data was available. Metrolink light rail transit system has attracted a more diverse ridership than bus system.


Summary of some study data supporting ethnic diversity on Metrorail system.

Summary of some study data supporting ethnic diversity on Metrorail system.


Minneapolis's Hiawatha light rail system also provided case study with data supporting rail ridership ethnic and income diversity.

Minneapolis’s Hiawatha light rail system also provided case study with data supporting rail ridership ethnic and income diversity.


Summary of some study data supporting income/ethnic diversity on Hiawatha LRT system.

Summary of some study data supporting income/ethnic diversity on Hiawatha LRT system.


From this evidence, the paper concludes:

High-quality transit services, especially rail systems, have demonstrated a marked propensity to attract middle- and higher-income ridership – the very people who would otherwise make up the majority of automobile users, clogging freeways and streets and contributing to an increased need for expansive roadway expansion and construction of parking facilities. In particular, the evidence suggests that higher-quality transit operations — particularly rail transit – tend to effectively serve two somewhat disparate transit passenger markets with two different types of service needs: (1) a basic, affordable service for transit-dependent travelers, including many lower-income, and (2) a high-quality service capable of attracting more affluent urban and suburban travelers out of their motor vehicles, thus helping to alleviate dependency on private motor vehicle transportation and to reduce demand for peak roadway and parking capacity. Overall, evidence suggests that high-quality transit service improvements tend to meet the needs of both categories of travelers with considerable success.

Thus, the research reported in this paper suggests that these types of higher-quality transit service actually produce a far more diverse ridership than is experienced with typical bus services alone. In effect, far from promoting inequity, the evidence suggests that these kinds of transit services foster a “rainbow ridership”, promoting passenger diversity within the nation’s transit systems.

The main takeaway from the paper can probably be boiled down to this: Rail transit tends to attract significantly more riders than buses, and from a much wider diversity of income levels and ethnic backgrounds. Be sure to read the complete paper to become fully informed on this critical issue.

Getting the streetcar route right in Cincinnati


Another simulation view of the CAF streetcar on order for Cincinnati. Graphic: CincyStreetcar blog.

Another simulation view of the CAF streetcar on order for Cincinnati. Graphic: CincyStreetcar blog .

by John Schneider

An early turning point — there have been many of them — in the long-running effort to build the Cincinnati Streetcar occurred in one of the meetings that evaluated five potential routes. The early consensus favored a straight route on one-way parallel streets anchored by Cincinnati’s convention center, which has been expanded twice in the past thirty years.

Then something remarkable happened. The CEO of Cincinnati’s Convention and Visitors’ Bureau stood up and said, “Look, don’t build this for tourists — they are looking for things to do and they will find the streetcar wherever it is. Let’s build this for Cincinnatians.”

So an alternative quickly rose to the top — a diagonal alignment from southeast to northwest across the basin of downtown Cincinnati that puts just about every major destination within a couple of blocks of the line.

What proved to be key is the connection between employment and housing. While Cincinnati is a small city, it is home to a surprising number of large corporations, including Procter & Gamble, Macy’s, and the Kroger Company. There are seven Fortune 500 companies within a couple blocks of the streetcar line.

Most of these companies, their law and accounting firms and other support services are clustered a few blocks north of the Ohio River. Our region’s bus system is concentrated at the center of this agglomeration, and about 20% of downtown workers commute by bus. The streetcar line would end up flowing through the middle of this too.

At the other end of the line is Over-the-Rhine, so-named by German immigrants who compared the river they knew in their homeland to an early Cincinnati canal bordering OTR. Crossing the canal and going downtown was like “going over the Rhine.” And the name stuck.

Once home to perhaps 35,000 residents, OTR’s population dropped to around 5,000 or so in the 1990’s. Mostly vacant but blessed with beautifull (and mostly intact) Italianate townhouses, the neighborhood had been experiencing a slow comeback for several decades but was losing the battle to the elements and parking lots.

It was an obvious match: downtown workers are the best prospects to repopulate a neighborhood near lots of jobs but not really close enough to be walkable by everyone in all weather and at all times of the day. The streetcar solves that problem.

So the route will traverse the one-way couplet of Main and Walnut in the CBD, cross east/west at its midpoint to travel on another couplet, Elm and Race, which bracket Findlay Market, one of the oldest continuously operating public markets in the country. And perhaps the most authentic and diverse place in all of Cincinnati.

What else is along the Cincinnati Streetcar route? Plenty.

Fountain Square is the symbolic heart of our city and a focus of major investment. When the Reds win the World Series again, thousands of Cincinnatians will gather on the Square to celebrate. No one will require an invitation. It will just happen. The streetcar travels along the edge of the Square.

Speaking of the Reds, the Great American Ball Park is located near Stop #1 for the Cincinnati Streetcar. And Paul Brown Stadium, home of the Bengals, is four blocks away. These facilities are co-located in a huge Ohio River redevelopment project now known as The Banks, a billion dollars of new housing, restaurants, hotel and office space.

For 222 years, Cincinnati didn’t have a flood-proof riverfront, the Ohio River having a nasty habit of fluctuating wildly depending on upstream rainfall. As a result, not much could ever happen there. Now it will, because the parking for the teams — eventually to become one of the largest underground parking garages in North America — provides an invisible, floodable pllatform for the development above. The center of The Banks is about four blocks from Fountain Square with an uphill walk, so the streetcar will help bridge the distance and make commercial and hotel development there more promising.

There are other important destinations along the route of the Cincinnati Streetcar:

• Two-thirds of all the major cultural attractions in the Cincinnati region.
• Two new parks, one on the riverfront, the other in Over-the-Rhine.
• Cincinnati’s main library, now the busiest library building in the United States. There is also a historic private library on the line — one of its founders, a U.S. president.
• A new $72-million-dollar K-12 School for the Creative and Performing Arts, the first of its kind in the nation, which was originally established a half-mile away.
• Several new hotels and more in planning plus three large apartment buildings.
• Many bars and restaurants all along the line and more on the way. Cincinnati is getting to be a foodie town.

While the streetcar is mostly associated with Over-the-Rhine, economists estimate that the greatest real estate gains will occur in the north frame of the CBD. Over-the-Rhine is intimate and charming, and that’s why it is cherished by Cincinnatians. But most of the large parcels of land and buildings suitable for re-use as housing are in the “Empty Quarter” of the CBD between Fountain Square and OTR. Except for the Aronoff Center for the Arts, very little happens there nights and weekends. The streetcar will give this area new life.

City officials plan to extend the streetcar up the hill to Uptown area, to the University of Cincinnati with its 42,000 students and to the several hospitals near it. Downtown Cincinnati is the largest employment center in this 2.1-million-person region. Uptown Cincinnati is second.

A long-awaited sight: streetcar construction on Cincinnati's Elm Street. Photo: Travis Estell.

A long-awaited sight: streetcar construction on Cincinnati’s Elm Street. Photo: Travis Estell.

The key takeaway from Cincinnati is diversity of uses — connecting the two largest employment centers in the region with underpopulated historic districts between them, a large and growing public market, plus parks, schools, libraries, hotels and restaurants. When you put it all together, you have the likelihood of the streetcar’s near round-the-clock use almost every day of the week.

The Over-the-Rhine loop of the Cincinnati Streetcar will open for testing in mid-2015, the CBD loop about a year later.

Great things are happening in Cincinnati. Plan to visit soon.

Cincinnati’s “Mr. Streetcar” makes case for Cincy project on radio


John Schneider photo

John Schneider [Photo: Cincinnati.com]

Cincinnati, Ohio — This city’s streetcar starter line project is under way … but so is the continuing fight against it by rail transit adversaries.

On Thursday, July 18th, local airwaves became a debate forum as John Schneider (co-principal of Urban Rail Today) sparred with 55KRC talk radio host Brian Thomas over the pros and cons of the city’s project, now surging forward with a fresh infusion of necessary funding (see Cincinnati signs streetcar construction contract). Here’s a brief description from the CincyStreetcar Blog:

John Schneider, aka Captain Transit aka Mr. Streetcar, was back on the radio this morning. He was invited to join Brian Thomas on his regular morning show on 55 KRC.

The two discussed the first phase of the Cincinnati Streetcar project in detail, and also discussed the merits of rail transportation in general.

The discussion started with Brian Thomas going on an uninterrupted prelude where he discussed the City of Cincinnati’s finances and its lack of ability to proceed with the project.

“The fundamental problem with Cincinnati, and the fundamental opportunity is we’ve lost population and we need to repopulate our city. We have a city that was built for 500,000 people, but we only have 300,000 people today,” Schneider explained to an agreeable Thomas. “But the snow still falls on Martin Luther King Boulevard and it has to be plowed, the grass still grows in Mt. Airy Forest and it has to be cut.”

Schneider went on to explain that investing in the Cincinnati Streetcar will help stabilize the city’s tax base and repopulate the city, in perhaps the greatest challenge and opportunity the Queen City has.

Perhaps not surprisingly, Thomas spent almost the entire interview using anecdotes and anti-city hysteria to support his points, but he did loudly profess how much of a bus fan he is.

CincyStreetcar Blog also provides its own link to a nice, compact recording of the full 55KRC program, lasting about a half-hour.

Yak jock Brian Thomas was not only adversarial, but also somewhat overbearing. After long orations of his own view, he’d ask John Schneider a question, then interrupt him about a couple of sentences into his response. In fact, it didn’t appear that John was ever able to complete a response without interruption. Neverless, John maintained a cool, professional demeanor and seems to have presented a good case for the Cincinnati project.

Much of the de facto on-air debate focused on Thomas’s claims that buses could do the job at less cost (the “Just like rail, but cheaper” argument). But (before being interrupted each time) Schneider managed to emphasize some of the major advantages of rail transit.

It’s almost a sure bet that rail transit opponents actually ride public transit extremely rarely, if ever — and, especially before an audience similarly unfamiliar with the actual differences, this sophistic anti-rail rationale can effectively hoodwink some observers. But the reality is that a streetcar is far more attractive to the public than a bus, even for what will be, in the Cincy CBD, short circulator trips. There’s more personal space, you can board/deboard much faster, the stops are far nicer, the trip is faster.

As a result, significantly higher ridership is attracted. And, in most cases, in turn, rail’s operating and maintenance cost per passenger-mile is lower than for similar bus service.

One of the more curious aspects of the debate was Thomas’s argument on the claimed drawbacks of rail’s route permanence, and his praise for the supposed superiority of being able to “flexibly” change a bus route at will. Despite Thomas’s professed devotion to bus transit, almost any seasoned regular bus rider might seriously wonder whether he really rides the bus as often as he claims. As most regular riders know all too well, “flexible” route diversions are one of the greatest banes of bus passengers, especially when these diversions occur frequently because of special events such as parades, marathons, street fairs, and similar activities.

What this “flexibility” means for many a regular commuter, for example, is that you walk vigorously to your usual bus stop for your after-work trip home, only to find it closed because your bus has been re-routed six to eight blocks away — and you can’t possibly make your bus on time. (But it’s probably delayed by all the street activity and re-routings, anyway.)

In short, while route “flexibility” might be very handy for the transit agency (and muncipal public works roadway department) … it’s hell for the passengers. The people of Cincinnati — and, indeed, any community considering rail vs. bus alternatives — need to ask themselves if this is the outcome they really want.