One of the projects likely to die if Congress doesn’t overrule Trump’s plan to stop funding new rail transit projects is the Wave, a 2.8-mile long streetcar line proposed by Broward County for downtown Fort Lauderdale. In order to assess the impacts of Trump’s proposal on Fort Lauderdale, the Antiplanner reviewed the environmental assessment (EA) and other documents for the Wave.
For $200 million, Broward County can buy five streetcars like this one and build 2.8 miles of track for them to run on plus a maintenance facility. The county would also have to pay nearly $4.9 million per year operating the streetcars every 7-1/2 minutes. Wikimedia commons photo by Cacophony.
Broward County wants to build the Wave because it believes it will stimulate economic development in downtown Fort Lauderdale, an area that is in the midst of a development boom without the streetcar. According to the EA, the transportation benefits of the streetcar are only about 20 percent of the costs, but the EA claims that the economic development benefits will make up the difference.
Alternatively, for less than $2 million, Broward County could buy ten propane-powered buses like this one and run them on schedules identical to the streetcar for operating costs of $2.1 million a year. For $3.1 million a year, the same buses could operate every five minutes. Greenhouse gas emissions from the buses would almost certainly be lower than from the power plants generating the electricity that the streetcars would use. Photo by Hometown Trolley, which also provided prices for the streetcars.
To make developers want to invest more than they are already spending in downtown Fort Lauderdale, the streetcar would have to attract hordes of people into the downtown area. The EA predicts that, if the streetcar is not built, an average of 386,488 people a day will visit downtown. If the streetcar is built, that number will average 386,488. If Broward County provided an equivalent service using buses, then 386,488 people would visit downtown each day. In case you weren’t paying attention, all of these numbers are identical.
The consultants who prepared the EA estimated that, at a fare of $1, the streetcar would carry 3,207 people a day. If they used buses instead of a streetcar, that number would be 3,207 a day. The capital costs of buses, by the way, would be about 1 percent of the cost of the streetcar, and operating costs would be less than half the cost of operating the streetcar.
Of those 3,207 daily riders, how many would ride transit downtown if no streetcar or streetcar-like bus service were provided? According to the EA, the answer is 3,123. In other words, the streetcar (or equivalent buses) would attract just 84 new downtown transit riders a day. Since the average streetcar ride is expected to be less than a mile long, it is likely these 84 people would walk if there were no streetcar.
Using the county’s numbers, an average of 3.6 people would be riding the streetcars at any given time. For that, the county wants to spend $5 million apiece on railcars capable of carrying 150 people.
I conclude that, if Trump’s proposal prevails, Broward County taxpayers can still implement bus service and save millions of dollars a year without any loss of transportation quality. Everyone wins except for the rail contractors and railcar manufacturers. That sounds like a good deal to me.