Extending Metro a couple of miles into Loudoun will solve all our problems, according to the cheerleaders at the Washington Post, Democrats and developers. It will move us into the bright shining uplands of the future, out of the slough of redneck isolation. Really?
In 1888, just down the road in Richmond, VA, the first electric transit system was initiated. In 1890, the first electric subway was built in London. So how exactly is Metro, a 19th century technology, moving us forward into the future? More Americans rode transit in 1912 than today!
Here’s an idea – if we must be 21st century to be “cool”, why not do something a little more “au courant?” Apparently, we have hundreds of millions to spend on “something” even if it won’t improve traffic. Instead of throwing that money into the MWAA and WMATA rat holes, how about something that might actually reduce traffic while benefiting Loudoun citizens rather than developers? Let me suggest, somewhat tongue in cheek, extending broadband coverage throughout the County to encourage telecommuting.
Today, 2.9 million American workers telecommute – saving 390 million gallons of gas a year and reducing traffic. Telecommuting is also growing rapidly. Telecommuting grew an astounding 61% between 2005 and 2009. When you consider the number of jobs in the U.S. economy declined during those years, that pace of growth is doubly impressive. In 2016, 4.9 million workers are expected to telecommute, with many more (316,000) operating businesses from home.
How does that compare to transit? In a quarter of the Nation’s largest Metro areas, more people already telecommute than use all modes of transit. Between 2005 and 2009, total national transit ridership increased only about 1/12th as much as telecommuting (5%), not much considering the billions in tax dollars invested. More people already telecommute than use subways.
Transit in the entire Washington area handles about 4.5% of all trips. Despite tens of billions spent on Metro, transit’s share of total regional trips increased by only 0.6% since 1983. Remember, this trivial increase was achieved during a period of rapid expansion of the subway – in 1983, the Orange line ended in Ballston. As the region grew, and despite billions spent on transit, only 6 out of every 1000 new trips were made on Metro. Rather astonishing, isn’t it?
On the other hand, extending broadband throughout the County would encourage even more rapid growth in working at home. If you must spend money on expensive projects, broadband would be a better idea – since telecommuting is growing anyway, you could claim responsibility for further gains – and it can’t help but to reduce traffic more than extending Metro – which will increase traffic in Loudoun because of higher tolls!
A 21st Century solution – broadband for all!