And, indeed, rail critics like King have argued that the county's CenterLine rail will haul just 60,000 people, a small fraction of the 10 million car trips a day county officials project for the year 2020. Weyrich says the flaw in such "anti-transit conservative studies" is that they "ask the wrong question. . . . What percentage of total trips does transit carry?" Weyrich proposes a different standard of measurement ("transit-competitive trips") and a different question: "If we ask what percentage transit carries of the trips for which it can compete, we get a very different picture, one that accords much more closely with the real importance of mass transit in urban areas."
The battle forms around definitions, then. If you believe that transit should account for a huge percentage of all the trips someone takes in a day—including that short trip to pick up hooch and porn at the 7-Eleven—then mass transit performs poorly. If you consider only the trips for which mass transit is designed—commuting to work or to recreation and entertainment—it performs better. Not all trips are created equal, in other words; many trips (for example, shopping) "were never transit competitive, not even in transit's heyday," Weyrich writes. "Measuring transit by counting trips it cannot compete for is like asking how much orange juice you can get from a bushel of apples."
Light-rail opponent King figures it's all a numbers game brought to you by the same people who wrongly predicted high-volume traffic on the toll roads and who now say the county needs a bigger airport—to replace one that is nowhere near capacity. He suggests an alternative to light rail: "I propose that with a half-million dollars—instead of the couple of billion they plan to spend on rail—we could buy a bunch of buses and run those along the proposed light-rail route," King said. "If it doesn't work, we can at least use the buses elsewhere—or sell them. But if they build this rail line, we're stuck with it."