Posted by: Rosebud | January 25, 2010


The Washington Metropolitan Area Mass Transit Authority and the IPCC

Crowded Train

Or What does the DC subway teach us about Global Warming?

Another web site I’m going to start keeping track of is the “Antiplanner” over at the Thoreau Institute:  In the 25 January 2010 blog the “Antiplanner” (aka Randal O’Toole) reviews a book on the history of the Washington Area Mass Transit Authority rail system.  Lots of detailed number repudiation as he compares projections against actual.  A few snippets:

Back in 1962, planners projected that a 103-mile rail system would cost less than $800 million — or about $4.6 billion in 2009 dollars. Moreover, they expected that fares would cover all of the operating costs and nearly 80 percent of the capital costs (pp. 53-54).

As it turned out, the actual 103-mile system that was completed in 2001 covers all of the basic routes of that original plan, yet cost $17.6 billion in 2009 dollars, close to four times the initial projection. Fares cover only about 60 percent of operating costs and, of course, none of the capital costs.

Until 1974, when construction was well underway, planners continued to claim that the system would pay all its operating costs and at least some of its capital costs. Only when the first lines were about to open did they start talking about rail as a “quality of life” issue rather than an economic issue (p. 179).

Okay, well, lots of things could change over the 12 years from early planning stages until opening of the first line, I’m sure the planners could offer up some good defense on the cost increases. But, instead they say in their defense:

“We didn’t lie,” one planner explained of the cost overruns. “We just used the most optimistic of forecasts” (p. 172).

So, how optimistic were their forecasts?

WMATA Rail Interior plenty of room!

They projected that the Metrorail system would lure more than one-third of the region’s commuters and three-fifths of peak-hour trips downtown to use transit (pp. 184, 277). In fact, it achieved less than half these numbers.

Well, I wish I had been around, because it is obviously NUTS.  I don’t have left brain data, just right brain memories of the faces of riders on the Orange line during rush hour.  The door opens and the wall of humanity at the edge of the sardine can gives you that don’t-you-think-you’re-going-to-cram-onto-this-train look.  So that is less than half of a third of the commuters?

Then he has this paragraph:

“I have no apologies to make for overestimating ridership and revenue,” said one planner later. “It was in the public interest” (p. 281). Hmmm. Schrag doesn’t see any irony in the fact that the planners who claim to be able use our resources wisely have no problem with lying in order to persuade people to spend more than planners predict on projects that will achieve less than planners claim.

Thank you very much Mr Schrag, your denial of the facts to trick the local government into wasting local tax dollars for a generation to come sounds like a perverted view of the public interest.

This whole sorry episode sure sounds familiar, our United Nations scientists at the IPCC have admitted to letting public interest (right brain) trump the facts (left brain) resulting in gross scientific error (the vanishing Himalaya glacier claim). Fortunately, in the case of the WMATA, we can see the long-term result of such foolishness: A major subsidized system that is more of a drain on the local governments and economies than a benefit. 

Left brain is heavily in the facts, when working on a fact-centered effort the left brain should be left alone to analyze.  The right brain needs to be held in check to be engaged at the appropriate time.  For example, the right brain would do a great job promoting the left brain’s work.


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