Who says the mainstream media are dead? The Miami Herald just finished a great in-depth investigation into the lies and deceptions behind a 2002 transit tax — and the rail transit disasters that preceded it. (Update: On the other hand, the Herald is cutting 250 jobs off its payroll.)
The Miami Herald wants you to know that it considered Miami’s Metrorail to be a white elephant way back in 1985, right after the line first opened.
When the sales tax was on the ballot, the county transit agency promised to use the money to expand the transit system, build nearly 90 miles of new rail lines, and “bring Miami into the 21st century.” As part 1 reveals, what they didn’t say is that the expensive rail lines they had already built were bleeding the agency dry, and it needed the increased tax just to keep up with basic expenses. Since the tax was passed, the agency has spent more than half the money on “routine transit operations and maintenance” and the city will be “lucky” to get even 2.4 miles of new rail lines (although considering how much rails cost, it would be luckier to get none at all).
A little history: Miami built a 20-mile elevated, heavy-rail line back in the 1980s. It cost far more than anticipated and its ridership fell far short of projections. The experience of this line and similar heavy-rail lines in Baltimore and Los Angeles was bad enough that most cities that have wanted to build rail since then settled on light rail instead. Miami also built a downtown “metromover,” with driverless cars on a 2, later 4, mile route. This was a similar failure.
A Miami Herald sidebar reveals that, when the transit tax was on the ballot, railcars in the Metrorail and Metromover systems were overdue for an overhaul — but the transit agency had no money for the work. After the tax was approved, they planned to use some of the money for the overhaul, but the lowest bid was much higher than they had budgeted. Now the cars are in such bad shape that they plan to simply replace them using sales tax money that was supposed to expand the transit system.
Another sidebar shows how a special commission that was supposed to provide oversight into how the sales tax money would be spent was effectively stripped of all its powers. So much for taxpayer safeguards.
Part 2 of the series shows how the county commission that oversees the transit agency forced the agency to add a bunch of new bus lines that run practically empty. “Most of these routes were absolute dogs,” says a transit planner. “There was no planning, no research, no advance marketing. We just did it because some commissioner wanted it.”
Finally, part 3 looks at the future of what is basically a hopeless mess. They don’t enough enough money to run the system they’ve got, much less build more. Shall they cut bus service? That’s the way to keep your promise to transit riders. Or double the transit tax? Because when a government agency breaks its promises and wastes your money, you should always punish it by giving it more of your money. (After all, that’s what Congress does.)
Miami is just one more example of the points the Antiplanner keeps making about rail transit:
1. Transit agencies might run excellent bus systems. But when they start building rail, they quickly get in over their heads by optimistic forecasts, unforeseen costs, and the sheer humongous expense of building dedicated transit lines.
2. Though all rail systems require periodic expensive maintenance, few transit agencies set aside any money for this because it is easier to spend the money now and let future managers worry about the future.
3. Though the rail systems are usually built to serve downtown white-collar workers, in the end it is the transit-dependent people who rely on buses who pay the cost.
4. There is only one thing rails can do that buses can’t do better, faster, and more flexibly, and that is spend a lot of your money.