Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Public transit can prevent DWIs

On New Year's Eve, Clayton McLeskey at the Dallas News Opinion Blog offered this astute observation about the Dallas transit system:

Did you hear the news?! The DART trains are running until 2 a.m. tonight!

I hate to break it to the friendly folks over at DART, but 2 a.m. ain't that late. Take a look at the public transit systems in places with world-famous nightlife, like Berlin, where trains and trams runs through the night. In Munich trains run until about 3 or 4 in the morning. That's standard in European cities. It's the key to a vibrant nightlife. You can go out, eat, drink, make merry and then take the train home.

So, whose brilliant idea was it to have the DART trains shut down at the exact same time the bars close on New Years Eve, the night on which even the boring people go crazy? DART should at least keep trains running until 3, so that partyers can catch the train after last call. That'd keep a whole lots of drunks off the road.

That's exactly right. I've always believed that public policy contributes greatly to drunk driving rates. Zoning regulations prevent neighborhood bars and often isolate drinking establishments in districts where most people must leave their home and drive to get there. More importantly, they must drive to get home. (In "dry" jurisdictions, the problem is even worse.) Add to that a failure by most Texas' cities to invest in adequate public transit, and anyone who wants to drink at a bar is virtually required to either drive home or find a designated driver.

More than 5,000 Texans are currently imprisoned at TDCJ for having three or more DWI convictions. Would many of them take public transit if it were convenient, available and ran at the times when they needed it? Not all, but I think many of them would.

Relatedly, Austin is preparing to open a commuter rail that happens to have a train stop just a couple of blocks from my house, ending downtown near the convention center and the entertainment district. When I first saw the proposed route, I thought, "Great! I can take the train downtown when I want to go to a bar and not have to worry about driving home. But the schedule for the train is even less sensible than DART's, entirely fixated on commuters from Austin's suburbs instead of facilitating in-city transit. So the train won't actually run during them times when Austinites might use it to avoid drinking and driving.

The solution to every social problem cannot be cops, courts, jails and prisons. Where non-punitive strategies can prevent crime and promote public safety, that should be the preferred approach.


RAS said...

How much would it cost them to get you home and how much would you pay for the ride?

Anonymous said...

They don't have taxis or buses in Austin?

Gritsforbreakfast said...

Buses don't run late either, 12:44. The one nearest my house stops running hours before the bars close. Taxi rides are expensive and inconvenient; they don't patrol around for fares here - you've got to call them and wait.

RAS, I don't understand the question. I think the fare for the train will be a dollar each way. If you're talking about the overall operating expense, I don't know what it would cost to keep it running a few extra hours. The big cost was building it and that money's already spent.

But keep in mind that criminal enforcement has high costs, too, from patrol officers, jail costs, court costs, prison. Plus from DWI there are also costs to victims, etc., that would be avoided by taking public transit. Is that greater or less than the cost of running the train a few extra hours on weekends and party holidays? I've not seen hard data, but I'd guess probably a lot more.

JMVC_ATX said...

Hey neighbor. I suspect you are right on about the likelihood of reduced DUIs with increased transit usage. However, Cap Metro does run late night bus service near our 'hood. The late night services are called Night Owl routes, and there is one (#482) that runs about a ten minute walk away. The commuter rail is just that, commuter rail - intended to operate during peak commuting hours. Cap Metro is already planning for increased service in the future on that line, which may eventually lead to more 'light rail' like service, with higher frequencies and longer hours of operation. However, at this point, the service is primarily intended to serve a commuter function. Work related trips should and do have a higher priority than entertainment related trips, and thus given Cap Metro's limited resources, the initial emphasis on the commuter function. As you are probably aware, a proposal for light rail such as you describe was put to the voters in 2000 and was narrowly defeated. Regarding the focus on suburban vs inner-city transit, it is worth noting that 8 of the 9 rail stations are in the City of Austin, with only one of the 9 stations in a suburban city. 5 of the 9 stations are within what most folks would describe as the central city, if the service were 'entirely fixated' on suburban commuters, i suspect there would be no need to stop at all those urban stations.

I do agree more late night service could be of great value for the reasons you discuss (as well as many others) but I am afraid a great many other difficult things would have to occur before that becomes a possibility. Let me know if you ever want to meet up to discuss. Take care & happy new year. - jmvc

M1EK said...

JMVC's spin is nonsense. None of the stations except perhaps the one near your homes is in what ANYBODY would call 'central Austin'. Airport Blvd across from Highland Mall isn't what most people had in mind - there's nothing to walk from or to at that station, nor at Crestview, nor at any of the other stations in "Austin".

Scott, the real reason it can't run at night is freight - the 2000 LRT proposal would have doubletracked the entire corridor and (maybe?) kicked the freight to the curb - can't remember to be honest.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to stay in the bar till it closes, you know.

JMVC_ATX said...

sigh...seriously, MIEK? You do not think there is "ANYBODY" who would consider Airport & Lamar to be Central Austin? I know you are aware of how large this city is, MIEK. There is nothing to walk to from Highland Station? ACC Highland, the intercity bus terminal, lots of retail (despite the dying mall, which is by the way, the best future TOD opportunity in the region), and the Workforce Solutions center which annually serves thousands of jobs seekers from throughout the region may not be the kind of things that YOU want to walk to, but there are many people who would disagree. Highland station may not be what YOU had in mind, but fortunately for us all, transportation planners consider many factors beyond simply what you think is appropriate. As always, I appreciate your opinion & passion.

M1EK said...

Yes, seriously, JMVC, the Highland Mall station isn't within 1/4 mile walk of any major activity centers, or even any minor ones, for that matter. And seriously, it's suburban trash retail - not what most people think of as 'central Austin' - except, perhaps, in the geographic sense if you're feeling extremely generous, and that's not how most people use the description 'central Austin' anyways.

Since most of the 'Austin' stations lack parking and aren't near any major residential density that's remotely walkable (with the exception of yours, and your density's not all that high), the line clearly doesn't serve 'Austin'; it serves Leander and Cedar Park and even Round Rock (Leander, NW Austin, Howard stations on the fringe of 'Austin' have actual parking lots).

The rest of the country would be ashamed to call our line 'light rail' or 'urban rail' or any combination of those. Running trains all day on two tracks doesn't change where it runs, and just like Tri-Rail, where it runs is the problem.

Debbie Russell said...

There are other solutions we could work on in Austin too:

--Exemption vouchers for car windshields so they're not towed or ticketed at 7am if they took a cab (the cabbie would carry them).

--Getting stakeholder entities rich in dollars to donate towards free cab ride programs (MADD, perhaps?)

--Getting City or stakeholder groups to donate to Square Patrol, the groovy start up non-profit that gets both you AND your car home with a fold up scooter to transport the SP driver back downtown.

Anonymous said...

public policy contributes greatly to drunk driving rates

Oh really? I thought it was the drunk driver.

Gritsforbreakfast said...

12:59, in the real world, sometimes problems are more complicated than a simplistic, smart-ass comment can adequately capture.

Drunk drivers are already held accountable, but it hasn't solved the problem, has it?