Publicly funded transit projects are not the only ones that overestimate ridership and underestimate costs. The casinos that own the Las Vegas Monorail, which started operating in 2004 and went bankrupt in 2010, wants to borrow $110 million to extend the line about 0.8 miles. That’s a lot of money for a system that carries less than 13,000 riders per day.
Serving the gaudy hotels on the Las Vegas Strip (which isn’t actually in Las Vegas), the existing monorail has been strategically positioned to give its patrons excellent views of parking lots, dumpsters, and service roads, which is one reason why it went bankrupt. It could increase patronage by going to the airport, but taxi and limo companies have lobbied hard against that (and even limos might be less expensive than unsubsidized rides on the monorail). Continue reading →
Asian-based writer Adam Minter has taken a hard look at China’s high-speed rail program and found it wanting. The country has built some 12,000 miles of high-speed rail lines, more than the rest of the world combined.
After last week’s election, the Antiplanner failed to note that Seattle voted strongly against another monorail boondoggle. More than 80 percent of Seattle voters agreed this would be a waste of money.
At the same time, nearly 60 percent of Seattle voters agreed to increase subsidies to bus service by raising sales taxes and imposing a $60 a year fee on auto owners. According to census data, 21 percent of Seattle commuters take transit to work. It seems surprising that many if not most of the people who drive to work would be willing to tax themselves to support transit, especially since what they are really doing is supporting light rail, to which the Puget Sound Regional Council allocates all the big bucks while bus transit gets cut.
Loyal Antiplanner reader MSetty let me know about a Tennessee proposal to spend $200,000 studying the idea of building a monorail from Nashville to Murfreesboro. The irony is that the proposal comes from a tea party member of the state senate. Senator Bill Ketron is a social conservative, not a libertarian, but he should know better than to think that giving a government agency a bunch of money to do a study recommending whether to give that agency even more more money will lead to a reasonable outcome.
Take, for example, Florida’s Pinellas County transit authority, which has spent $800,000 on “public education” regarding a proposed $1.7 billion (but likely much more) light-rail line that will be on this November’s ballot. Critics question whether it is legal for the transit agency to use “taxpayer money to engage in political advocacy leading up to a referendum vote.” The agency, of course, says it isn’t advocating anything, just educating people.
Mumbai opened a monorail last week, the first 12 miles of what is planned to be an 84-mile system costing a total of US$2 billion. A high-density city like Mumbai may be one of the few places in the world where rail transit makes sense. But the Mumbai monorail has a design flaw that makes it as stupid as the most idiotic rail lines in the United States (of which there are many candidates).
That flaw is that the trains are no more than six short cars long, and can run only every three minutes. Even at crush capacity, the system can move only 7,400 people per hour. That’s a tiny fraction of what a real high-capacity rail system can move. New York’s Eighth Avenue subway line can move 30 ten-car trains per hour, and each car has a crush capacity of 240 people, making it capable of moving 72,000 people per hour. Americans won’t accept crush-capacity conditions, but even at American levels of crowding, New York subways can move at least six times as many people per hour as the Mumbai monorail.
Buyers of bonds for the Las Vegas monorail are suing Citibank for fraud. The buyers claim Citibank misled them by not revealing a report by faithful Antiplanner ally Wendell Cox questioning the ridership and cost projections made for the project. The lawsuit charges that Citibank knew that Cox’s report was “much more reliable” but concealed it from potential bond buyers.
The California High-Speed Rail Authority has made similarly rosy projections of rail ridership that it hopes to use to attract private investors. Those projections have also been criticized in a report co-authored by Cox. In the unlikely event that the authority does manage to attract some private investors in its rail project, it had better make Cox’s report available to them or it is liable to find itself subject to a similar lawsuit.