Tag Archives: light rail

Voters Leaning Against Nashville Rail Plan

An April 12 and 13 survey of likely Nashville voters found that 62 percent, plus or minus 4 percent, say that — if the election were held the day of the survey — they would vote against the $9 billion Nashville transit plan. Since early voting has already begun for the election that is officially scheduled on May 1, the plan’s proponents may not have a chance to turn that around.

Early polls showed that most people supported the plan. I’d like to think that a January conference I spoke at helped turn things around. But the sex scandal that forced the unexpected resignation of Nashville’s mayor, who was the plan’s biggest proponent, probably had more to do with it.

In addition, the plan’s opponents, No Tax 4 Tracks, have run a well-funded campaign. While supporters raised more than $2.5 million to promote the plan, opponents have spent nearly $800,000 in opposition to the ballot measure. The Antiplanner’s experience has been that rail transit measures only pass when supporters completely swamp opponents’ spending — 50 or 100 to one would do it, but three to one usually won’t. Continue reading

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Does Light Rail Help the Working Class?

Weak transit hurts working class,” claims an article in the Portland Tribune. “Communities of color, lower-income communities and English language learners have moved farther from city centers due to rising rents, and into high-crash corridors,” reports the article. “These community members are injured and killed in pedestrian crashes at a higher rate than white, higher-income urbanites.”

What the article doesn’t say is that the reason why low-income people were pushed out of their rented, single-family homes near the city center is because Portland’s urban-growth boundary prevented the construction of affordable new single-family homes on the urban fringes. This forced middle-class families to buy single-family homes in the city, evicting the renters.

Those renters then moved into high-density transit-oriented developments built along Portland’s light-rail line. Since those developments tend to be built on busy streets, the streets are more dangerous to pedestrians than the local streets where their former single-family homes are located. Thus, Portland’s transit dreams are the cause, not the solution, to this problem. Continue reading

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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. Continue reading

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Charlotte Opens Light-Rail Extension

Last week, the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS) opened a 9.3-mile extension to its light-rail system. The extension cost $1.1 billion, or about twice as much as the city’s first light-rail line, which was about the same length.

Back in 2002, CATS did a major investment study that estimated the light-rail line would cost about $370 million (about $485 million in today’s dollars). The study found that rail would cost 80 percent more to build and slightly more to operate than bus rapid transit, yet buses would attract about 60 percent more riders than rail.

So naturally, they chose to build rail. As near as I can tell, bus rapid transit was not given any further consideration despite its clear advantages. Continue reading

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Tilting at Straw Men

So, your proposal to build light rail in Nashville has been slammed both locally and nationally. What do you do? Why, expand the proposal, increasing the expense from $5.2 to $5.6 billion.

You also defend your plan by setting up straw-men arguments against it and attacking those arguments rather than the valid criticisms of light rail. According to “transit skeptics,” says Nashville Mayor Megan Barry, “transit ridership has been declining for decades nationally, Nashville lacks the density for light rail and the rise autonomous vehicles is the answer for Nashville’s traffic.”

She responds that transit ridership has grown considerably since 1995. But, in fact, no one ever argued that transit ridership has been declining for decades. What they (or, in fact, I) argued was that per capita transit ridership has been declining for decades, which it has; that total transit ridership has been declining since 2014; and that the trends that are causing it to decline are not likely to change. Continue reading

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Why Does Everything Take So Damn Long?

The collective stupidity of politicians and transportation agencies can be breathtaking. As of 2015, Boston’s transit system had a $7.3 billion maintenance backlog. But, instead of fixing it, the MBTA has been busy planning — and planning — and planning — a new rail line it won’t be able to maintain, the Green Line extension to Medford, Massachusetts.

Planning began, in fact, before 2005, which is the date of the project’s major investment study, which projected that it would cost $390 million. There’s been a little cost escalation since then: it is now up to $2.3 billion. That money could have done a lot to reduce the maintenance backlog.

Did I mention that the new line uses the right of way of an existing commuter rail line? Even with free right of way, it will cost $621 million a mile. And that doesn’t count all of the tens of millions spent on planning for more than a dozen years. Continue reading

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Last Stop on the Light-Rail Gravy Train

Transit ridership is declining nationwide, yet the mayors of Nashville and San Antonio want to build multi-billion-dollar light-rail projects, notes a commentary in the Wall Street Journal. It’s behind a paywall and I might have reprinted it here, but I signed a four-page agreement that the Journal would have exclusive rights to it for 30 days.

However, the article’s subheadline, which I didn’t write, sums it up perfectly: “Mayors want new lines that won’t be ready for a decade,” observed the headline writer. “Commuters will be in driverless cars by then.”

Within the 800 words allowed for an ordinary op-ed, there wasn’t room for a lot of other points:

  • the cost overruns;
  • the ridership overestimates;
  • the implicit racism in spending billions to attract a few white people out of their cars while cutting bus service to minority neighborhoods;
  • the way almost any transit that operates in or crosses streets adds more to congestion than it takes cars off the road;
  • the fact that most rail lines have been built mainly to get “free” federal money; and
  • the fact that Nashville’s only rail transit today, the Music City Star, still carries only about 550 daily round trips, and it would have been less expensive to give every one of those daily round-trip riders a new Toyota Prius every other year for as long as they operate the train.

Continue reading

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Dallas Light Rail a “Knife in Our Back”

A new report on transportation equity demonstrates that Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s zeal to build the largest light-rail system in America has harmed the city’s low-income population. While the report (really a PowerPoint show) itself is fairly mild in tone, the interpretation by Dallas Observer columnist Jim Schutze is anything but moderate.

DART light-rail lines, “built at costs in the billions, reach up into Carrollton, Plano and Rowlett — suburban areas that need light rail like they a ski lift,” says Schutze. Meanwhile, “DART does an appalling job of providing mass transit to inner-city, low-wage workers who need it.”

Schutze makes this out to be a debate between cities vs. suburbs, compact development vs. sprawl. But really, it is a question of what is the appropriate mission for transit agencies. Outside of those few urban areas with large downtowns–New York, Chicago, and a few others–most people don’t ride or need transit, so transit agencies have to come up with some rationale for continued subsidies. At one time, that rationale was that poor people needed mobility too. But now, most poor people have cars, so today the rationale is the need to get middle-class people out of their evil automobiles. Continue reading

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This Is Why Cap-and-Trade Is Stupid

Despite the fact that Los Angeles voters agreed to spend $120 billion on light rail and related transportation projects last November, the region’s transit agency, Metro, says it has a $280 million shortfall in extending its Gold light-rail line 12.4 miles to Montclair. Cap-and-trade to the rescue! Members of the state legislature representing the area have proposed to use cap-and-trade funds to fill the gap.

The cap-and-trade or emissions trading system allows people to spend money buying the right to emit greenhouse gases, and the state uses that money to do things that reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The result is a more efficient allocation of resources than if the state were to simply order everyone to reduce emissions by an arbitrary amount.

So spending cap-and-trade revenues on light rail would make sense if light rail reduces greenhouse gas emissions. But does it? According to page 4.9-33 of the supplemental environmental impact report for the project, the line would actually increase emissions. But that’s okay, says the report, because “the project would contribute less than 0.00001% to the GHG burden for the planet.” Continue reading

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No to Las Vegas Light Rail

The Antiplanner is in San Antonio, the nation’s largest city not to have fallen for the rail-transit hoax. In fact, San Antonio is the epitome of a 21st-century city, since it does not pretend to have a huge downtown–only 6 percent of the region’s jobs are located in the downtown area.

Another 21st-century city, Las Vegas, has also escaped any publicly funded rail transit but some would like to change that. The Antiplanner commented on this proposal a couple of months ago, and the Las Vegas Review-Journal published a similar commentary yesterday. I hope that city can avoid the mistakes made by Denver, Phoenix, and Salt Lake.

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