Garl Boyd Latham, of the Texas Association of Railroad Passengers, predicts that San Antonians will be “pleased by streetcars once they are running.” His response to the Antiplanner’s op ed critiquing the city’s streetcar plan basically amounts to, “don’t confuse me with the facts; I know what I believe.”
To be precise, Latham says, “An astute man can prove anything he wanted with facts and figures,” then argues that the Antiplanner “manufactured an artificial reality through the manipulation of facts.”
One of those supposed manipulations is my claim that streetcars cost more than buses. Latham admits the capital costs are high but claims that, once built, streetcars have “a minimum life expectancy of a half-century or longer,” which will be surprise to the Federal Transit Administration (or just about anyone in the transit industry), which says streetcar vehicles last about 25 years, and other streetcar infrastructure lasts no more than 30 years. Not even counting maintenance, FTA data clearly show that streetcars cost far more to operate–either per vehicle mile or per passenger mile–than buses.
The Antiplanner’s friend, Wendell Cox, replies to Latham’s claims about the Dallas rail system. Cox doesn’t even mention that Dallas’ system is mostly light rail, meaning it is faster and has higher capacities than the streetcars planned for San Antonio. Instead, Cox shows that, after building the light-rail lines, transit’s share of Dallas commuting and travel plummeted.
For people such as Latham, rail transit is more about religion than facts. Who cares that all forms of rail lines are far more expensive than buses? Who cares that buses can carry more people faster and more flexibly than rails? Who cares that all of the developments that were supposedly stimulated by light rail and streetcars actually received tens or hundreds of millions of dollars of additional subsidies? All that really counts is that taxpayers pay for rail lines for people like Latham to enjoy.
The Antiplanner loves trains as much as anyone and more than most. But unlike Latham I am not interested in forcing other people to subsidize my hobby. Based on his outlandish claims, he fails the streetcar intelligence test.