All over the country, transit agencies splurge hundreds of millions of dollars building rail lines that hardly anyone uses, then declare the lines to be a great success. There is good reason for that: if they declare federally supported lines to be a failure and quit running them, they have to give the money back to the feds. Since there isn’t much market for holes in the ground, light-rail stations, and other expensive parts of rail infrastructure, it usually seems cheaper to just keep running the lines.
How do ordinary taxpayers judge whether a transit line is really successful or the transit agency is just claiming it is because it is too embarrassed to admit it wasted so much money? To answer this question, the Antiplanner developed six different tests, including profitability, effects on ridership, and the famous cable-car test, and evaluated more than 70 rail transit systems in about 30 cities using these tests. Cato is publishing the resulting report, “Defining Success: The Case Against Rail Transit” today.