Austin’s Foolish Plan

Another transit agency whose ridership is plummeting has published a multi-billion-dollar plan to build light rail. Austin’s Capital Metro, whose light-rail proposals have twice been rejected by voters, has issued a draft system plan that calls for construction of three light-rail lines.

Naturally, the proposal is full of lies. First, they call it a “high-capacity transit” plan when light rail actually is low-capacity transit. Second, Capital Metro told its board that the plan would cost $6 billion to $8 billion when in fact their own projections indicated it would cost $10.5 billion. “It’s extremely early in the process, so these numbers are very preliminary,” a Capital Metro official said when asked why the agency used the lower numbers. But the reality is that costs go up, not down, as plans become more detailed.

On a percentage basis, Austin is one of the two or three fastest-growing major urban areas in the United States, growing faster than 7 percent per year since 2010. Of the top 50, only Raleigh is growing faster, though Charlotte is close. Yet this growth hasn’t resulted in growing transit ridership. Since 2010, ridership has dropped 12.5 percent, and since its 2013 peak, it has dropped 19.2 percent.

Light rail won’t help. Charlotte, which is also growing at 7 percent per year, has a light-rail line yet lost 21.5 percent of its riders since 2013. Charlotte opened a new light-rail extension last month. While it’s too soon to tell, early indications are that its ridership will be below expectations.

There are still people in Austin who believe spending more money on transit will help relieve congestion. If Capital Metro were serious about relieving congestion, it wouldn’t propose light rail, which typically carries about a quarter as many people per day as an urban freeway lane yet costs five to ten times as much per mile to build. Other people call light rail “real mass transit,” because apparently the more than 400 buses that Capital Metro claims to own are really just a figment of someone’s imagination.

Other than the use of obsolete technology, the main problem with Capital Metro’s plan is that it is based on an obsolete vision of monocentric cities. All lines converging on downtown, which has only about 10 percent of the region’s jobs, and the “creative workers” mostly avoid downtown. While the jury is still out, some people believe that Houston has managed to avoid the huge ridership declines suffered in Austin, Charlotte, and other cities because it restructured its bus routes to a grid system rather than a hub-and-spoke system centered on downtown.

Capital Metro hasn’t learned that lesson. In fact, it doesn’t appear to have learned any lessons, including the ones taught by its own failed rail line. Instead, it seems to be simply hoping that the federal government will turn on the spigot regardless of the high costs and limited benefits and that local opponents will be too tired of fighting to stop the program.


3 thoughts on “Austin’s Foolish Plan

  1. LazyReader

    Cities don’t look towards vast sums of federal funding and taxpayer expenditure for the sake of providing transit. Because Liberals fuck up cities with their policies and their ideology, they’re only solution is inevitably to flee to places where they can still find work or meaning or try try again. Parks filled with heroin needles, streets bathed in the cries of crime and homicide, sidewalks, now covered in the excrement, not of the canine variety.

    They do it because they’re reaching the point of desperation. In the past whether it was government or private donation the cream of society impressed upon the masses with great works…….Schools, hospitals, libraries, monuments, plazas, fountains, statues, parks. Today transit has become that………quest for political immortality…… that keep their mind off………The dark beyond. Since as individuals they lack the time, skill or resources for such achievements they simply convince the chattering masses that these monuments to the chieftains of perpetuity endure as long as their political affiliations flourish………for however long they have. For when the projects are finally permitted rust or crumble their sour disintegration instills public outrage and fodder to hoist upon the elective competition. There’s your enemy, there’s your focus of outrage, the one who allowed your train to fall apart by not allowing BILLIONS to be spent fixing it……………….

    “Down in the street little eddies of wind were whirling dust and torn paper into spirals, and though the sun was shining and the sky a harsh blue, there seemed to be no color in anything, except the posters that were plastered everywhere. The black mustachioed face gazed down from every commanding corner.” – 1984
    A totalitarian or even an incompetent power once sought to exert influence over its constituents by conveying the message that it is omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. That methodology is obsolete, far too violent, far too inefficient, far too time consuming.

    The new wave of totalitarianism or political huxterdom doesn’t exert influence by being harsh, they’ve now mastered the art of conveying the message of omni-benevolence.

  2. Maddog

    What time is it Austin Politicians? It’s time to waste money!!!

    Progressives lie, always, and about everything.

    “Another transit agency whose ridership is plummeting has published a multi-billion-dollar plan to build light rail. Austin’s Capital Metro, whose light-rail proposals have twice been rejected by voters, has issued a draft system plan that calls for construction of three light-rail lines.

    Naturally, the proposal is full of lies.”

    Don’t go down the Portland transit rabbit hole. There is nothing down there but misery, traffic congestion, and taxpayer pain. Frankly, if you want to screw up your traffic, congest your cities, increase the cost of living, and make people miserable, there are cheaper ways.

    You might want to consider “Road Diets” where two or more lane roads are necked down at random intervals to make one lane into a bike lane. You can also open your roads to bikes and place bike sergeants (chevrons) on all of you residential streets and most of your non-arterials, bike lane all of the arterials even if requires taking a full traffic lane. These allow the bikers to take up a full lane while meandering along. This is one of the best Portland street congestion creation ideas ever! You might also do as Portland Police do and never ticket a bicyclist no matter how dangerous, obnoxious, or violent.

    In reality, light rail is expensive, transports few, mostly middle and upper-middle-class people who should not be subsidized. For politicians, however, the reality does not matter, what does is the political mileage they get by bringing the federal dollars to the local community. Unfortunately, the federal dollars to help build light rail leave the local community with a share of the costs it cannot afford. The federal funds also do not continue to help pay to operate or maintain light rail, and there is never anywhere near enough money from the fare box to pay for operation and maintenance. After a few years, Austin’s transit operation will be unable to pay the bills, the public will be unamused about higher taxes so they will cut bus times, and routes. This causes ridership decline. After that, they will need to cut more bus times and routes triggering more ridership decline. Lather, rinse, repeat.

    I used to fight against light rail, but I now believe that it is the only way to eliminate transit from our cities. Public transit is a deadly poison and attractive nuisance which the vermin of the city, politicians, are obsessively driven to consume. It seems sad that taxpayers must pay such a high price to eliminate the antiquated idea of public transit, but …

    It seems the only way out of the municipal pension, transit, and insolvency crises is through the collapse. Perhaps Austin by following in Portland’s footsteps buying baubles of insignificant value for ne plus ultra exorbitant prices is leading the way down the road to collapse. We need a parade!

    Mark Sherman

  3. JOHN1000

    The actual job statistics for central cities are even worse than the Antiplanner says. I will start with the admittedly-biased assumption that increased private sector employment is better than increased governmental employment.

    If downtown has 10% of the region’s jobs, I would bet that it has a much smaller percentage of the region’s non-governmental jobs. And that a much higher percentage of governmental jobs are located downtown.

    A high percentage of jobs in downtowns are government people, the same ones who push for mass transit into downtown. Which makes the mass transit boondoggles even more useless and wasteful than projected.

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