Rail Short Snippet, Bullet Points

September 1st, 2014

COST Commentary: This posting is for those looking for very brief summary points regarding the proposed light rail being presented by the City of Austin as Proposition 1 on the November ballot for voters to consider.

More detailed presentations on each of the sniippet subjects can be found in articles on the OOST site, by clicking on “News Articles,” including, but not limited to:

Austin Citizens Should Reject Urban Rail – 6 Major Reasons

Oakey: Why You Should Vote Against The Rail Bonds On Nov. 4th

Cheaper to Buy New Cars than Build Light Rail

Portland Transit Implodes: Trains, tracks and systems wear out

Denver transit-oriented developments reflect planners’ misguided mania for density

Rail Bond Vote: Greatest Risk in History and Historic Tax Increase

Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions

24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility

Austin’s Mission is Missing!

Austin’s Declining Affordability and Urban Rail

Project Connect’s Proposed Austin Urban Rail is Misguided

If You Think Austin Needs Urban Rail, Read This Report


This first section is, “A Fair Message to Voters from concerned citizens,” for voters to consider based on their position on key issues:

If you support money for roads, you have no guarantee that will happen if this proposition passes. You should vote No.

If you support money for roads, you deserved a chance to vote for them, a chance you do not have on this ballot: You should vote No.

If you support rail for $600 million, you have a dilemma, because, it will cost $1 billion to get this rail project funded ($600 million + meeting the legal condition of $400 million for roads). If you think that is unaffordable: You should vote No.

If you do not believe this light rail will reduce congestion, cost-effectively: You should vote No
If you want a different route or plan for rail, this isn’t likely to happen in the next decade if this proposition passes: You should vote No.

If you think big, expensive decisions like this should be made in an open process and be part of a comprehensive and affordable transportation plan: You should vote No, if for no other reason than to teach the City Council (and others) a lesson.

If you think, regardless of whether it’s for rail or road, increasing debt on local taxpayers by $1 Billion is unaffordable (especially considering taxpayers will have to pay interest on top of the $1 billion):
You should vote No.

If you think you should know the City’s planed rail expansions, costs, and future tax increases, before approving this initial plan: You should vote No.

“If you prefer to have bond propositions separated, as they always were for decades in Austin, then: You should vote No.”

This section is primarily about , the light rail’s: funding risks, very high costs, very low ridership, congestion creation, current and future tax increases

- This rail is projected to cost $1.4 billion or $147 million per mile, excluding significant supporting road costs and probable overruns (average is 40% for early estimates).

- Rail Proposition 1 is for the largest bond/debt commitment in Austin history and will double the City’s general obligation debt, preventing additional debt for many years. It will tie the hands of the new 10-1 council.

- The City states this rail is “just the beginning” and there is “much more to come.” No plan with cost, schedule and tax increases has been revealed to citizens.

- This Light rail is projected to carry a total of 18,000 (0.23%) of the regions more than 8 million daily people trips in 2030, making the rail inconsequential and no help to traffic.

- The City has not revealed it will spend, perhaps, hundreds of millions of dollars of tax dollars before it knows whether the U.S. Government will pay matching funds for rail.

- It is highly unlikely the U.S. government will fund Austin’s rail because of severe budget issues and there is a long line of funding requests ahead of Austin.

- Light rail operations will force Cap Metro into debt resulting in higher costs with reduced bus service and higher fares, hurting those who most need transit.

- Light Rail is projected to attract 3,250 new daily transit riders taking 6,500 trips in 2030 at capital costs of almost $500,000 per new rider. Other riders come from buses.

- Light rail will increase congestion in central Austin by using car lanes and with a 4 mile “rail barrier,” which all vehicles cross to/from central Austin just west of IH-35. Citywide congestion will increase as the rail siphons funds from projects which help mobility.

- Austin transit ridership has not increased for 15 years and population has grown 56%. MetroRail has not changed this trend. U.S. transit has been stagnant for 57 years.

- Total transit ridership in Dallas, Houston, San Antonio and Austin is less today than 15 years ago; after spending many billions on rail and being among the 10 fastest growing major U.S. cities.

- Transit is the fifth most used form of work commuting behind driving alone, carpools, working at home and biking/walking.

- Every official committee in the past 20 years has chosen a different proposed route for rail because a young growing city needs flexible, rubber tire transit.

- Light rail has the highest cost and least flexibility of urban transit modes and a young city, like Austin, needs cost-effective transit with flexibility.

- Light rail will not produce added tax base because people come to Austin for jobs and not for trains: Taxpayers subsidize all rail riders and therefore pay for new rail jobs in construction and operations.

- More than 99% of people’s passenger miles in this region are on roads which offer the greatest mobility for private, public transit, shared, commercial and emergency vehicles.

- Recent road upgrades have been 80-100 times more cost-effective than rail, serving more people with a much broader spectrum of users including much enhanced transit.

- More than 3 years ago, the Mayor established 30 questions to be answered before proceeding with rail and few have been answered but the city is proceeding with the greatest risk of taxpayer funds in history.

A Fair Message To Voters on Austin’s Light Rail Proposal

September 1st, 2014

COST Commentary: Below is a message to voters which evolved as a by-product of a citizens’ discussion session. It does a great job of encapsulating and condensing the array of complex issues regarding the City’s poorly worded Light Rail Proposition 1. All voters should consider these key issues
A Fair Message to Voters from Concerned Citizens:

If you support money for roads, you have no guarantee this will happen if this proposition passes. You should vote No.

If you support money for roads, you deserved a chance to vote for them, a chance you do not have on this ballot: You should vote No.

If you support rail for $600 million, you have a dilemma, because, it will cost $1 billion to get this rail project funded ($600 million + meeting the legal condition of $400 million for roads). If you think this is unaffordable: You should vote No.

If you do not believe this light rail will reduce congestion, cost-effectively: You should vote No

If you want a different route or plan for rail, this isn’t likely to happen in the next decade if this proposition passes: You should vote No.

If you think big, expensive decisions like this should be made in an open process and be part of a comprehensive and affordable transportation plan: You should vote No, if for no other reason than to teach the City Council (and others) a lesson.

If you think, regardless of whether it’s for rail or road, increasing debt on local taxpayers by $1 Billion is unaffordable (especially considering that taxpayers will have to pay interest on top of the $1 billion): You should vote No.

If you think you should know the City’s planed rail expansions, costs, and future tax increases, before approving this initial plan: You should vote No.

If you prefer to have bond propositions separated, as they always were for decades in Austin: You should vote No.

Austin Citizens Should Reject Urban Rail – 6 Major Reasons

September 1st, 2014

Updated: September 1, 2014

COST Commentary: This is a COST article addressing six major reasons Austin citizens should reject Austin’s Light (urban) rail to appear as Proposition 1 on November’s ballot. The frequent reporting of surprises and bad news regarding light rail (increasing costs, huge tax increases and it creation of growing congestion) to serve low ridership, and the fact that many key rail questions proposed by the Mayor and others, as prequisites to approval, are still unanswered after more than three years, make it irresponsible that the City approved light rail Proposition 1 to be placed on the ballot.

These 6 reasons to reject light rail are supplemented by COST’s recent posting of an article by Bill Oakey, “Why You Should Vote Against The Rail Bonds On Nov. 4th which outlines the major tax impacts of this rail to Austin citizens, 99% plus who will never ride it and reap zero benefits from it while continuing to be stuck in growing congestion due to the wasteful spending of more than $2 billion tax dollars (real cost estimate with interest on bonds) and $36 million (real cost estimate with interest on Cap Metro debt) in annual operations for this rail.

These 6 major reasons are supported by the COST posting of “Project Connect’s Proposed Austin Urban Rail is Misguided” and several other articles posted on COST’s site.

Note: This posting is a rewrite of the previous “12 Reasons Austin’s Urban Rail is Off-Track” which has been updated and is still valid with slight updates needed. It covers a few more reasons to reject urban rail.

Austin Citizens Should Reject Urban Rail – 6 Major Reasons

by Jim Skaggs, COST, updated September 1, 2014

1. Transit Ridership has been small and stagnant in Austin and major Texas cities for the past 15 years and in the overall U.S. for 57 years.
Please see: U.S. Public Transit is Small and Stagnant, for 57 Years

The 15 year transit ridership trends for the four largest Texas Regions are shown on the first chart below. The trends can be best described as stagnant. The sum of the four cities indicates a slight ridership loss over the past 15 years. These are four of the top 15 fastest growing regions (greater than I million population) in the nation. Thus, the percentage of people riding transit has continued to drop much more dramatically. The Cities’ population growths are shown in the second and third charts below. Dallas and Houston are in the second chart, separated from San Antonio and Austin in the third chart because of the major population differences and chart readability.

While these four Texas regions have spent billions of dollars (greatest portion on trains) to encourage and grow public transit ridership, people’s choices have primarily rejected transit in favor of private and more flexible transportation which is faster and more convenient; in many cases serving trip origins and destinations and reaching opportunities which cannot be accessed by transit. Meanwhile, taxpayer subsidies for public transit have substantially increased: Transit costs have grown much faster than inflation; as the rail portion of transit has increased. This rail increase has not changed the ridership stagnation.

Total transit (bus and rail) is small and “stagnant” with decreasing percentages and actual ridership due to citizens’ choices for a better quality-of-life. This is demonstrated by the disparity in ridership and population trends for the Austin region shown in the last chart below. The chart compares the Austin region’s population growth trend to its stagnant/declining public transit ridership trend over the past 15 years. This results in a significant decline in the percentage of people using public transit.

Adding ‘transit costs per rider’ would also show an increasing trend and well above inflation; resulting in large and increasing taxpayer subsidies for each transit rider. Cap Metro reports operating costs (excluding capital costs) for each average commuter train rider are $20.00, or 5 times the cost of each average bus rider.

Visualize this chart if population trends continue for the next 15 years as Austin’s regional population is projected to do. Population would increase by more than 1,000,000 to about 2,900,000. There are no experiences or trends in the U.S indicating transit’s ridership trends will change very much.

This population/ridership graph alone should reject the concept of light rail in Austin. This proposed insignificant train route and ridership can do nothing to improve congestion but will increase taxes for all, resulting in major lost opportunities to better serve Austin citizens.

Austin and regional leaders should support citizens’ free choices and not base mobility solutions on the need to change citizens’ behaviors which have been determined with careful consideration of their choices to better meet their needs. Constraining people to the reaches of public transit substantially reduces opportunity and degrades quality-of-life for most.

2. Austin’s planned urban rail will not reduce congestion.

Public transit has small ridership with many riders who do not have private vehicle alternatives, resulting in little impact on congestion. More subsidized rail transit riders would cause increasing total taxpayer subsidies, resulting in increased fares which fewer low income riders could afford. A more important factor is that potential urban rail riders on East Riverside Drive are not the car drivers creating congestion on the highways into central Austin. These few East Riverside drivers would be on surface streets for the short, 4 mile distance to city center. This is also true of train riders from the Highland Mall area, about the same distance. Urban rail provides no measurable improvement for Austin’s major congested roads.

Project Connect’s projected rail ridership is inflated but would be only a small fraction of transit ridership and less than one-quarter of 1% of total passenger miles, even by the optimistic 2030 estimate of 18,000 boardings. This is only 9,000 people on a round trip out of almost 3 million people in the region, making more than 8 million trips per day, in 2030.

Project Connect estimates only 6,500 of these 18,000 trips were new to transit. The other 11,500 were previous bus riders. This makes the train even less responsible and cost-effective as $1.4 billion is being spent to serve an estimated 6,500 new transit trips (3,250 people making round trips) in 2030. This is $ 431,000 for each new, daily, round-trip rider; not counting operating costs or the almost certain major cost overruns.

The proposed “urban rail” will create far more congestion than any minuscule positive impact it might have in a limited situation and area.

By 2030, the region’s population growth will have resulted in an increase to about 8 million road trips per day. The trains and infrastructure to support these new 6,500 transit, rail trips per day will cause major added congestion in its relatively small area of the city and will result in increased congestion throughout the region as it siphons a large portion of finite transportation funds from more effective transportation projects.

It is great the mayor balked, along with many of us, at the idea of removing a lane, each direction, from East Riverside drive to provide two train tracks. This and the proposed closing of Pleasant Valley Rd. through the East Riverside Dr. intersection will result in a major increase in congestion. East Riverside Dr. has 40,000 to 55,000 vehicles per day and one can be sure a minor percentage are headed downtown; so the rail cannot be expected to replace many of these road trips and will replace almost none on I-35. This is just one situation, of many, indicating the proposed urban rail is not ready for an election.

In addition to the added East Riverside Dr. congestion, the rail will remove potential car lanes from roadways along its entire, but short, route of 9.5 miles; increasing roadway congestion and safety hazards.

The urban rail route is also parallel to, and about 4 blocks west of I-35 as it passes through UT and along the East edge of Austin’s city center. This stretch carries a major portion of the vehicles from north and south I-35, and other points east, into the downtown/UT area. Therefore, all these vehicles entering and exiting central Austin and UT must cross the rail tracks and be potentially delayed by “frequent” trains (about every 5 minutes at crossings as trains run on 10 minute intervals, north and south). This will cause a huge increase in Downtown area congestion.

There are many far better ways to serve transportation. In addition, riders are making one-way trips which average less than 4.5 miles, which means the difference between the train trip time and a modern bus time is very short and exorbitantly expensive for taxpayers to pay for this very short, if any, saved time.

3. More than 99% of all regional passenger miles (private, shared, public transit, commercial, school, emergency and government) are on roads and the primary way to improve congestion is improved roadways.

The Mayor is reported to have said Austin’s traffic congestion “calls for a big solution.” He states it needs trains, as well as roads. The City funding plan and bond amount has changed frequently. Austin’s current Proposition 1 rail plan is based on “smoke and mirrors” manipulation and maneuvering. The cities contemplated $1.4 billion train will be paid for with a $600 million, Proposition 1 which is somewhat conditioned on receiving $600 million from the federal government (or other grantors) and on committing $400 million to their so-called road projects. It is not known how the city plans to get the additional $200 million which this plan falls short of the $1.4 billion currently estimated for this 9.5 mile light rail.

The condition based on receiving $600 million from the Federal Government (or others unknown) also has a “gaping hole” in that the City can spend an unlimited amount on planning and engineering prior to recieving any matching funds. This poses a major risk that hundreds of millions of tax dollars could be wasted if a Federal grant is not received and it will take 3 or more years to find out. $1.4 billion currently estimated for the 9.5 mile rail.

Another poorly constructed “political” factor in this maneuvering is that the “Chamber of Commerce and Real Estate Council of Austin exerted pressure for the City to have 40% of the bond election dedicated to roads. Therefore, the city arrived at $600 million for the rail and $400 million for roads. Even this is muddy in that more than a third of the $400 million of the road money is to support current and future rail construction, with zero impact on congestion. Other large portions are for I-35 overpasses, having little congestion impact in supporting future, undefined timing, lane additions to I-35 South by TxDoT. The third portion, smallest but most highlighted, is for studies of several roadways for potential future (unknown time) upgrades. There is not a single mile of major congested roadway upgrade in the $400 million package.

The initial City plan to place $600 million for rail bonds and $400 million for “road” bonds on the same referendum was rejected by the State Attorney General as not legal. This sham was to blackmail those believing roads are needed to vote for the rail bonds in order to get the roads. This has been used in a few cities where rail could not pass on its own merits.

This combining of road financing and rail bonds in one referendum is the most egregious act of all the City’s dishonest manipulations. This is a blatant disregard of the voters’ rights to make independent decisions on these two very different issues. Ninety-nine percent of trips are on the roads and investment of these dollars in roads improves the travel for more than 25 times the number of people which are served by this train. Combining them is clearly a feeble attempt by the City Council to improve the probability for approving the rail. Even here, the City was deceptive in that the $400 million for “roads” was more focused on train needs than on congestion relief.

This City funding plan is very high risk to tax payers as it is highly unlikely due to the projected near term depletion of the ‘federal highway trust fund’ (federal gas tax paid by users) and the burden of huge federal budget deficits. On a much smaller scale, this is similar to Cap Metro promising voters in 2004 that the U.S. government would pay for one-half the planned commuter line. The U.S. paid nothing and Cap Metro knew, or was incompetent in not knowing, the commuter did not qualify for federal funding.

Austin prides itself in being a city of innovation and ‘above the rest.’ Yet, in addressing congestion, it is pursuing outdated 19 century rail technology and mimicking failed approaches of various cities which have pursued this path before. Where is the Austin innovation?

There are numerous ways to improve congestion and there are more creative ways to be discovered.

A) The first step to control congestion is to maintain a road system consistent with the growing population. In Austin, one still cannot take a complete vehicle loop around the city without stopping. A number of road projects are in progress but the City is well behind from years of road neglect based on a leadership philosophy of: if we don’t build it, they will not come. This and significantly reduced road funding are being somewhat compensated for by toll road segments and lanes which are increasing capacity primarily paid for with user fees which provide congestion relief for many major roadway users, both for tolled and tax paid (non-tolled) roads.

For example: For example: The first segment of the 183A toll road opened in 2007 and was completed in 2011. The Manor Expressway toll upgrade of SH-290 was completed and opened in May, 2014. The MoPac Expressway upgrade is planned to open in the fall of 2015. These upgraded roads serve hundreds of thousands of citizens daily; traveling to and from the east and northwest of Austin as well as a north-south road in Austin’s center which serves citizens heading into central Austin or those heading farther south and those going north connecting to the 1 toll road and other northern destinations.

The total of these three corridors is about 350,000 vehicles today and, at 1.5 passengers per vehicle, this is about 525,000 people trips per weekday. (There may be a small amount of double-counting as some people may travel on more than one of these corridors for a single, longer trip.) The total costs are roughly $1.1 billion (today’s dollars) for the three roads which is about the same cost as the proposed urban rail in today’s dollars. This does not consider the significant costs of congestion caused by urban rail including taking away road vehicle lanes and potential delays to all vehicles, crossing the tracks as they enter and exit Austin and UT on the east side of downtown and the campus. The total road length of these three roads is more than 3 times the urban rail length and total new road lane miles of more than 113 or about 6 times the 19 rail miles of two 9.5 mile rails. The total trips on these roads will be more than 100 times the City’s projection of this rail’s trips in 2030.

Mobility is greatly enhanced by these upgraded roads with total traveler trips of more than 550,000 per day by the end of next year: private, shared, public transit, commercial service and product, emergency and other government. This is 85 times the 6,500 new transit trips served by the urban rail estimate for 2030 or 30 times the estimate of total daily rail ridership of 18,000. The current road improvements are structured for future demand and will serve some 40% more vehicle trips per day, for total passenger trips of about 740,000, by 2030. The average rail rider (2/3 previously rode buses) will ride about 4 miles and save very little time, if any, compared with bus alternatives which cost less than one-tenth the rail. With 8 million daily trips in the region in 2030, this rail will serve 0.2% of the trips and .08% of trips will be new to transit. In addition the road vehicle trips will save significant travel time while the urban rail will significantly congest traffic and increase the total region’s travel delay time.

B) Staggering work shifts and providing flexible work hours for major employers can have a significant reduction in peak hour traffic.

C) Austin is high in carpool commuting percentage, almost 5 times the use of public transit without the support of HOV/Managed-toll lanes, rare in a city this size. A number of managed (toll) lane projects are in process or planned which can enhance carpool riders as well as relieve congestion and speed private, public transit, emergency, government and commercial service and product vehicles. This is achieved by users choosing these lanes and paying for them; resulting in greater mobility for all road users, both toll roads and non-tolled roads (those paid for by taxes, gas and local).

D) Austin Metro’s ‘Work-at-home’ is the fastest growing commute mode, is the most cost-effective mode and is enhanced by technology advances. Work-at-Home is almost 3 times transit’s 2.3% work commute mode and takes more than three times as many peak hour drivers off roads than public transit because many more have vehicle alternatives than transit riders.

E. Public transit use for work commuting is the 5th highest mode and less than the modes of: single drivers, car poolers, home workers and the total of all others (bikes, walking, etc.). Trains do not necessarily increase transit work commuting. Dallas has spent billions to implement the longest, 90 mile, light rail system in the nation but their percentage of transit work commuters is only 1.5%, 50% less than Austin or San Antonio at 2.3%; neither with light rail. Yet, public transit serves a vital, primary community function to provide mobility for those who have no alternative. To maximize this primary objective, public transit must be cost-effective or it is not sustainable. If not cost-effective, fewer of people’s desired trip origins and destination can be served and fares will be higher.

Public transit must be better connected to today’s needs. The city center ‘hub and spoke’ orientation and focus are outdated as the average large city Central Business District (CBD) today has fewer than 10% of the metropolitan statistical area (MSA) work force and it is declining. Austin currently has about 8.6% of the regions workforce in the CBD, but rises to about 14% counting employment just outside the CBD which includes UT and State government workforces.

Transit fleets with rubber-tire, flexible, different size vehicles must be implemented and efficiently managed to provide cost-effective transit which is timely and serving expanded origins and destinations. One example concept: ‘Cellular Mass Transit’ with rubber tires deserves objective evaluation.

Some cities are authorizing various forms of small vehicle paid transportation, generally individuals or small companies (jitneys is an example); in addition to public transit and taxis. Double deck buses can provide cost-effective transit in high transit corridors. These buses can match the capacity of light rail systems for a fraction of the costs.

F. The innovative list to improve overall mobility includes numerous car sharing concepts and approaches: Examples are car and bicycle rental/sharing companies; shared vehicle companies such as Uber, Lyft and Carma, controlled by phone apps; and, for profit Jitneys (private vans/buses) serving some transportation segments.

G. Implementing such road system enhancements as ramp metering, smart traffic lights and other modern traffic technologies.

H. Implementing efficient incident management on congested highways.

4. Urban rail will not produce new developments which provide increased property taxes. Rail will result in higher property taxes for all taxpayers, few of which receive any benefit. Rail will not produce new jobs other than for its construction/implementation and operations which are almost all paid for by taxpayers.

There is an economic loss with rail as higher taxes reduce the economy by removing citizens’ discretionary funds from the economy. Perhaps the most important losses are opportunity losses to spend wasted rail funds on more productive mobility and for other purposes which enhance the quality of life of all citizens and lower citizen’s taxes.

Numerous studies and experiences in other cities confirm this item. Portland planned major development increases near light rail stations and, after many years of little development, major tax and other incentives were provided to developers to motivate construction. The general fund suffered from loss of tax revenues, resulting in higher taxes for citizens or reduced funding for such city services as police, fire and emergency. Here in Austin, developments near the commuter rail were projected, but none have developed due to the rail. Recently, Leander significantly reduced the area around its rail station which had been zoned for higher density development because almost nothing has developed. The bottom line is: People do not come to cities because of light rail, but for opportunity. Rail can, possibly, have some impact on the location of development but it is not an increase to the area. Austin is the fastest growing region in the Nation and none of it is due to rail.

Austin is far more successful in most every way compared to cities who have adopted rail in a significant way. We can do much better and have proven it. Let’s not capitulate to mimicking mediocrity. Nationally, cities without a major commitment to rail tend to have greater economic development as mentioned in the reference above in ‘COST Commentary.’

5. This urban rail recommendation has not been established by responsible alternatives analyses: starting with definition of the problems to be solved and objectively evaluating the most cost-effective alternatives to address them.

Every “official” group, citizens committees, Capital Metro, or Austin city organizations, which have evaluated the need for a possible Austin light (urban) rail during the past 25 years has recommended a different route. Even the current route was recently changed before final approval. Consider the significance of this. Fixed, inflexible rail is not the answer for a young, growing city with changing development patterns. Flexible, cost-effective rubber tire systems should be used, at least, until ridership and cost-effectiveness is established. Rail is very expensive to move and if you discontinue it, you must pay back any federal government’s matching dollars.

Thorough “alternatives analysis” and cost-effectiveness has not been used to establish rail recommendations and has not been presented to decision makers as a basis of selecting the current urban rail mode or the selected route.

At this late date, few of the key questions published three year ago, by the mayor and others, have been responsibly addressed and presented by the Project Connect group which has created this urban rail mode and route.

The City’s advertised story that citizens have been key contributors to this rail recommendation is completely without foundation. Light rail has been deftly guided by a handful of Austin’s government, political and business leaders projecting a pretense of openness and transparency. Instead, concealment has prevailed.

6. As demonstrated many times in numerous cities, this approach of implementing ineffective, high cost rail for few riders will significantly reduce citizens’ quality-of-life and degrade social equity by increasing taxes for all while reducing overall transit services and increasing fares, disproportionately impacting low income citizens. The community will be robbed of massive “opportunity” funds for more important uses, including lower taxes.


The biggest “bang for the buck” in mobility is to make maximum utilization of expensive infrastructure. The lack of concentration and the spread configuration of today’s origins and destinations allows only roads to reach the maximum percentage in acceptable times and affordable costs. Needed public transit can use these roads, with flexible, rubber tire vehicles, without the added, massive cost of fixed guidways for bus or rail infrastructure which degrades overall mobility. This would significantly increase the reach of public transit to provide greater opportunities and quality-of-life for those without transportation alternatives. All public transit is highly subsidized. Transit must be cost-effective to be sustainable and to provide transit for the most citizens to reach the broadest range of trip origins and destinations.

The City’s Proposition 1, on the November Ballot (near the end of the ballot), proposes $600 million for rail bonds and $400 million for road debt. This belies the fact: 99 plus % of the region’s daily passenger miles are on roads. Therefore, the 9.5 miles of urban rail, would receive $1.4 billion from the combination of local taxes, tax supported bonds and “hoped for” U.S. Government grants. This is a total of almost $2 billion dollars and almost none of it improves major congestion areas as a major portion of the road funds are for the rail, some overpasses and studies - very little road pavement.

This rail will not improve congestion, but will increase it! It is not economically feasible to build enough trains, carrying enough people, to enough places, to have any measurable, positive impact on congestion. Congestion can only be significantly improved with roads, tuned and supported by modern roadway management approaches.

The City is playing down the fact they call this urban rail the “initial investment” and have vaguely mentioned this initial rail must be expanded to “really make it work.” The expansions have been expressed on charts as numerous wide brush-stroke bands emanating across the region from the current trains route area. And there has never been a discussion of how many billions of dollars and time this will take. Certainly there has been no reference to the required major tax increases which would overlay the initial rail’s tax increase.

This joint referendum (City Proposition 1) is a deceitful, manipulative distortion showing disdain for voters and responsible process. It is designed to attract and “buy” votes of those desiring roads; votes for a rail they would otherwise reject. Roads and rail should be separate referendums so voters can decide tax allocation priorities. Rail is very low on any responsible list of priorities.

Charts below can be enlarged by clicking on them and use ‘back’ arrow to return to article.

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Oakey: Why You Should Vote Against The Rail Bonds On Nov. 4th

August 29th, 2014

COST Commentary: COST agrees 100% with Bill Oakey’s recent posting, below, to his blog: AustinAffordability.com

Austin is one of the fastest rising cost-of-living regions in the nation and it must be stopped now. Its negative impacts are degradig the quality-of-life of many citizens and for reasons which are not providing benefits to the overall community. This proposed light rail bond will tie the hands of the new 10-1 City council elected in November and prevent them from stopping this cost-of-living growth.
Why You Should Vote Against The Rail Bonds On Nov. 4th

By Bill Oakey – August 29, 2014

1. This bond project is so expensive that it would double our general obligation bond debt from $1 billion to $2 billion. Far too many Austinites are being priced out of their homes with our current level of taxes. If we stretch our existing bond capacity for this one project, it will stifle our ability to fund other capital needs. Keep in mind that there will be other bond elections for AISD, Travis County, ACC and other City projects.

2. To put the tax impact into perspective, consider this. For the last few years during the budget cycle, the City Council has only had to modify the tax rate by a fraction of one penny. When property appraisals are escalating, tax rates often go down. But even with increasing property valuations, this bond package would raise the tax rate by 6 cents over 5 years, making it one of the largest tax increases in Austin history.

3. The Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO) claims in their 2040 growth plan that we will need $32.4 billion over the next 25 years for transportation projects. That comes out to a whopping $1.3 billion per year. Their report states that 80% of that money must come from local funding sources. So, every time you hear someone say, “We have to start somewhere” on this rail plan, hang onto your wallet! Does anyone really think we can afford to spend anything close to that amount of money every year for 25 years in a row?

4. The selected route for the rail line is based on highly speculative growth projections and density aspirations for an eastern alignment from East Riverside to Highland Mall. In order for these lofty growth projections to be met, we would have to attract so many cars to future developments along that corridors that they would easily wipe out any potential traffic relief provided by the rail system. Not only is this self-defeating, congestion-generating scenario possible, it is essential to achieving the rail ridership numbers required to obtain Federal matching funds.

5.We have all heard about the marvelous light rail system in Portland. But did you know that even with their 75-mile light rail network, the percentage of mass transit ridership has actually decreased from 9.8% to 7.0% between 1980 and 2012? We simply can’t afford to double our bond debt and impose crippling taxes upon our residents to serve a tiny fraction of the population.

Cheaper to Buy New Cars than Build Light Rail

August 25th, 2014

COST Commentary:This article describes a smaller vesion of of buses and light rail but it is directly applicable to the situation unfolding in Austin regarding the City’s proposed Light Rail which it has been placed on the November ballot.

Cheaper to Buy New Cars than Build Light Rail

Review of Greenlight Pinellas

by Randal O’Toole, August 14, 2014, Working Paper NO. 22, CATO Institute

Under its “Greenlight Pinellas” proposal, the Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA), which serves Pinellas County, FL, wants to switch its major funding source from a property tax to a sales tax at a rate that will more than double its local tax revenues, and use the added money to build a 24-mile light-rail line and expand bus service. This proposal is extremely and unnecessarily expensive given that buses can provide a superior service to light rail, carrying more passengers more comfortably to more destinations at a far lower cost.

PSTA has already shown its inability to predict short-term travel patterns. Between 1991 and 2005, it increased bus service by 46 percent yet gained essentially no new riders and actually saw a 17 percent reduction in passenger miles. The result was that average occupancies of PSTA buses, which were already emptier than the national average, fell by 44 percent.

Because of the 2008–09 recession, PSTA was forced to reduce bus service by 5 percent after 2008, yet bus ridership actually grew by nearly 9 percent. PSTA says it needs a tax increase to accommodate the growth in ridership, but as of 2012, PSTA bus occupancies of an average of 8 riders per bus were still well below the national average of nearly 11 riders per bus, showing that PSTA has a lot of room for growth without any increase in service.

PSTA’s Greenlight Pinellas proposal effectively asks the public to reward the agency for its failures. PSTA’s plan is so expensive and produces so little benefit that, under federal Department of Transportation rules that were in effect until last year, it would not be eligible for federal funding because it is so cost-ineffective.

Compared with bus-rapid transit, the proposed light-rail line would be so costly and attract so few new riders that it would be less expensive to give every new round-trip commuter who was attracted to the light rail a new Toyota Prius every single year for 30 years than to build the light rail. Yet the specific bus-rapid transit alternative that was nominally considered by PSTA is itself phenomenally expensive, costing nearly $50 for every hour of transit riders’ time that it would save.

In addition, PSTA has failed to reveal the effects of the proposed light-rail line on traffic congestion. Light rail often increases congestion when it crosses streets and disrupts traffic signal coordination systems. Although Greenlight Pinellas documents indicate that PSTA calculated the effects of light rail on congestion, it did not publish its results, suggesting that it did not want the public to know that it would make congestion worse.

As an alternative to light rail and a tax increase, this paper proposes that PSTA introduce eight new rapid bus routes that would provide better bus service to residents throughout the region. These new routes would be funded by contracting out all PSTA bus routes to private operators, which would save taxpayers at least 31 percent per route and probably more. This way, instead of spending more money on poorer quality transportation, as Greenlight Pinellas proposes, taxpayers will get better transit at no greater cost.

Portland Transit Implodes: Trains, tracks and systems wear out

August 17th, 2014

Cost Commentary: This story describes a major implication of spending huge amounts of tax dollars on train infrastructue. An initial reaction might be: buses also wear out. However, replacing buses is very inexpensive compared to train systems. Portland is one of many cities approaching the life limit of there early train systems, including Chicago, San Fransico, Wasington D.C., New York and others. There are many billions of dollars needed for these replacements and there are inadequate or no funding sources for these major spikes in capital costs. Transit agencies strongly focus on annual operating costs which is highly funded by taxpayers to significantly subsidize all riders.

With the vague vision for light rail which Austin has described, the currently proposed 9.5 mile line will be approaching the need for major replacemnet/upgrade funds about the same time which follow-on rail phases require massive funds.

Portland Transit Implodes

By Randal O’Toole in The Antiplanner

Here’s a story by the Oregonian‘s intrepid reporter, Joseph Rose that has it all: deferred maintenance, delayed trains, $950 million in unfunded retirement benefits, transit cuts and fare increases, secret pay raises to transit agency executives, an angry transit union, and a plan to move transit riders on buses around rail work that “basically imploded.”

Worn pavement and light-rail switch near Portland’s Lloyd Center. Photo from Max FAQs.

The Antiplanner has repeatedly harped on the fact that rail transit infrastructure basically lasts only 30 years and then must be replaced, often at greater expense (even after adjusting for inflation) than the original construction cost. Part of the cost is dealing with the interruptions in service that are almost inevitable when replacing rails, wires, and other fixed hardware.

Portland’s first light-rail line is only 28 years old, but it is already wearing out. Moreover, the most worn-out part happens to be a segment that all of Portland’s light-rail lines use. Shutting down this segment means shutting down the entire system.

TriMet, Portland’s transit agency, planned to have shuttle buses move passengers around the work, but the plan apparently didn’t work very well. To make matters worse, Portland temperatures rose above 90 degrees, leading TriMet to issue slow orders for all of its trains to avoid damage to wires or derailments due to kinks in the tracks. Funny; buses don’t have to slow down when the mercury rises.

TriMet claims that hardships created by the recent recession forced it to fall behind schedule in its trackwork. But this is just one more reason why transit agencies shouldn’t build rail lines: recessions can’t be predicted, and rails are a lot more sensitive to deferred maintenance than buses.

Speaking of buses, someone asked me for my response to APTA’s Art Guzzetti, who claimed a couple of months ago that my comparison of bus and rail was “fatally flawed” because my “methodology in determining capacity of buses vs. light-rail doesn’t include ‘dwell time,’ which is time riders spend paying fares, going up or down bus steps and so on.” I don’t know why he would think I failed to account for that.

Real-world observations of buses in San Antonio found that a single bus stop can handle 42 buses an hour. Portland uses a “skip stop” system in which there are four bus stops in every two blocks and all bus routes are assigned to one of the four stops. Using this system, Portland was able to schedule 160 buses per hour down a city street, only slightly below the capacity of 168 per hour if each stop can handle 42 per hour. All this is documented in a PowerPoint show on bus capacities by Portland State University professor Robert Bertini.

Moreover, my recent paper on rapid buses proposes that people pay to enter the bus stops (as they are supposed to do to enter light-rail stops), allowing them to quickly board buses without delays caused by fumbling for exact change. While this paper came out after Guzzetti made his comments, as a former transit agency executive, he should know that there is no reason why the subway turnstile system or light-rail’s honor system couldn’t be applied to buses with limited stops. Curitiba, Brazil, for example, uses a turnstile system with elevated bus platforms, allowing rapid entry to and exit from buses that should make it possible for a single bus stop to serve even more than 42 buses per hour.

Denver transit-oriented developments reflect planners’ misguided mania for density

August 16th, 2014

COST Commentary: O’Toole’s article below is about Denver, but it reflects the situation in numerous cities including Portland which was an even earlier city to impose urban planners’ “smart growth” with higher density and “transit oriented development” (TOD).

In Austin, Capital Metro announced TOD’s as a primary goal of it commuter rail line, now in its 5th year of operation, but ambitions have been scaled back as almost none have developed. The last rail stop, Leander, has substantially reduced the land area around its rail station which was zoned for TOD developments and other stations have not experienced the hyped development of TOD.

Austin’s experience is similar to Portland’s in the 1980s-1990s when, after 10 years of little development near rail, the City of Portland began an extensive finanacial incentive program to finally get developers to develop near train stations. These incentives reduced tax funds for basic city needs of police, emergency, education, roadways, etc. With billions of dollars spent on transit and the most light rail ridership in the nation, Portland still has traffic congestion similar to Austin.
Denver transit-oriented developments reflect planners’ misguided mania for density

By Randal O’Toole, The Complete Colorado, Op-ed, August 14, 2014

Over the past decade, three-, four-, and five-story apartment buildings have been built in the Denver area, especially along the routes of current and planned rail transit lines. These apartments, known as transit-oriented developments or TODs, are a part of the original FasTracks plan: first, build rail lines that don’t go where people want to go; and second, provide a customer base for the trains by building high-density, mixed-use housing along the rail lines.

TODs are just the latest version of a decades-old obsession urban planners have had with increasing urban densities regardless of the fact that most people prefer living in low-density areas. Some people blame this obsession on Agenda 21, a document written by a United Nations committee in 1992. But Agenda 21 doesn’t actually recommend increasing densities, while planners began trying to impose higher densities on American cities decades before Agenda 21 was written.

In the late nineteenth century, American cities were dense because most people could only afford to travel by foot and so everything–jobs, shops, and services–had to be within walking distance of residences. Early urban planners fretted that this density was unhealthy, unsanitary, and promoted crime, so they tried to find ways to move people to less dense areas.

Streetcars made it possible for the middle class to escape dense cities, but they were too expensive for many working-class commuters who remained confined to walking distances until Henry Ford developed the affordable Model T. By 1930, plenty of working-class suburbs had joined middle- and upper-class suburbs.

No one complained about suburban sprawl when the wealthy or middle class moved to the suburbs. But when working class families moved to the suburbs, suddenly complaints arose about people who had different tastes in clothing, food, and music and who supposedly had no appreciation for nature. The solution, said urban planners in the 1930s, was to forbid the expansion of the suburbs and instead house people (mainly the working classes) in “great new blocks of flats.”

In 1935, a Swiss architect named Le Corbusier proposed that cities tear down all existing housing and replace it with high rises for everyone to live in. After World War II, many European countries built hundreds of thousands of units of Corbusian high-rise housing, but mainly for the working classes while the middle- and upper-classes still lived in suburbs.

Similarly, the United States replaced “slums” with high rises for low-income families. These proved so unlivable that most have since been torn down.

In 1961, Jane Jacobs, a resident of Greenwich Village, New York, successfully stopped the conversion of her neighborhood into more sterile high rises.Her book, The Death and Life of Great American Cities, argued that Greenwich Village’s four- and five-story apartments with ground floor shops were actually a vibrant, healthy neighborhood.

Jacobs’ book persuaded urban planners that high-rise residences were inappropriate for most people. Instead, they went on a crusade to transform all American cities and suburbs into Greenwich Villages: four- and five-story apartments with ground floor shops. TODs attempt to replicate Greenwich Village in Denver.

So don’t blame TODs on Agenda 21; blame urban planners’ love of Jane Jacobs.

There are several problems with imposing TODs by top-down mandates. First, most people don’t want to live that way. Some do, but the market for those who do was probably met by Denver’s Lower Downtown (LoDo) and other existing dense neighborhoods. So, to persuade developers to build unmarketable TODs, Denver and other cities have to subsidize them.

Second, TODs are expensive. Despite claims that TODs provide greener, more affordable housing, multifamily housing not only costs more per square foot, the Department of Energy reports that it uses more energy per square foot than single-family, probably because landlords have less of an incentive to insulate rental properties than homeowners. The only way TODs are affordable and green is if people live in smaller condos or apartments than the single-family homes they would otherwise prefer.

Third, TODs aren’t really all that transit oriented. University of California, Irvine, economist David Brownstone has found that the reduction in driving from higher densities is “too small to be useful” in saving energy, while careful counts by Portland’s Cascade Policy Institute reveal that people who live in TODs are just as likely to drive, and just as unlikely to take transit, as they would be if they lived elsewhere. TODs actually increase congestion because they concentrate more people on busy arterials.

In short, TODs are a counterproductive hoax urban planners are playing on residents of the Denver area. Taxpayers first pay huge subsidies to build rail transit. Then they subsidize TODs along the rail lines. Then those who get stuck living in TODs must sacrifice living space, privacy, and peace and quiet all to get the supposed advantage of living near the stop of a train that doesn’t go where they want to go, so they end up driving anyway.

Randal O’Toole (rot@i2i.org) is a senior fellow with the Cato Institute, director of the Independence Institute’s transportation policy center, and author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Rail Bond Vote: Greatest Risk in History and Historic Tax Increase

July 31st, 2014

COST Commentary: Bill Oakey’s Blog continues to uncloak the hidden tax burdens buried in the City of Austin’s light rail proposal. The article below and others expose the truth that this rail proposal is unfordable and will result in increasing tax burden for all citizens.

This rail will double the Austin debt per capita and allow little remaining bonding capability for other community needs over many future years. In fact, there will be no capability to finance planned rail expansions beyond this “initial investment.” Yet, the City states: This system will only be effective with “much more to come” and they present a 20 year ‘build-out” concept, costing more than $5 billion. In reality, this first bond will ‘tie the hands’ of the new 10-1 City Council and prevent them from addressing key challenges of mobility and affordability which will make Austin more livable.

In addition to being unaffordable, this light rail is a major transportation detriment to Austin and its citizens, as described in many postings on this site.

Rail Bond Vote Would Bring Historic Tax Increase

By Bill Oakey – July 30, 2014

If anyone thinks the property tax impact of an annual City Council budget battle is something to worry about, please consider this. For the last two years, the budget discussions have centered around changing the City’s tax rate by a tiny fraction of one penny. That’s because our tax appraisals have skyrocketed, meaning that even a zero change in the tax rate would yield a considerable tax increase.

Well, make sure you are sitting down when you read this. If voters approve the $1 billion urban rail and road bond package in November, they can say hello to a 6 cent increase in the property tax rate over the next five years. The sobering details are contained in a City document called “General Obligation Bond Capacity Analysis.” You can read it here.

What Would Happen to Our Bond Debt If the Rail Bonds Pass?

That’s an easy question to answer. It would flat out double! Our current general obligation debt, made up of previous bond votes for roads, parks, libraries, open space, and housing stands at about $1 billion. So, in one fell swoop we would double our debt by voting for the rail and road package. And the worse part is that it would do essentially nothing to relieve traffic congestion for most existing residents.

In fact, Austin won’t even come close to attaining the ridership levels needed for Federal funding for the urban rail line unless we reach extremely optimistic, massive growth projections. The developers pushing for the rail line from Riverside to Highland Mall would need to convince voters of the “miracle” in economic development potential that the project would bring. And yet, as one Austin American-Statesman reader wrote to the editor recently, “Well, thank goodness they are building a line from Riverside to Highland Mall, because I travel between those two points all the time. SAID NO ONE EVER!”

What the City Report Says About Taxes, the Debt and Our Bond Rating

Here is a snapshot of some of the report’s most significant facts and conclusions:

1. Our current general obligation debt is about $1 billion.

2. We still have an additional $425 million in 2006-2013 bonds left to issue.

3. The City estimates that another $425 million will be needed in a separate bond election in 2018, on top of the $1 billion in rail and road bonds to be voted on this November.

4. In order to preserve our AAA bond rating, we would need to raise property taxes by 6 cents between 2015 and 2020 if all of the bonds pass.

5. Not only would the property tax rate increase by 6 cents, but the City estimates that property tax appraisals will jump by over 25%! Their example shows a $200,000 home being assessed at $255,000 by 2020. So, the tax impact would multiply exponentially.

Don’t Forget About All the Other Tax Increases!

None of the above estimates include the back to back tax increases for the main part of the City Budget, plus utility rate increases and add-on fees, and taxes for AISD, Travis County, ACC, and Central Health. And don’t forget that ACC will be asking for a $386 million dollar bond package this November as well.

So, as long as your career is rocking along with huge pay raises every six months or so, or your retirement income is zooming past inflation and leaving you with extra piles of cash, then you can easily afford to vote for the rail bonds. But if you’re like the vast majority whose income is flat or even decreasing, then make sure you pass this information along to your friends and ask them to cast a resounding NO vote in November.

Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions

July 13th, 2014

By Jim Skaggs, COST, May 20, 2013 - Updated July 13, 2014

COST Commentary: More than three years ago, Austin’s Mayor Leffingwell published 30 excellent questions which he suggested needed to be answered prior to proceeding with urban rail. Additional questions were posed by COST following the Mayor’s questions and the Austin Chamber of Commerce developed a list of questions and comments. The Mayor’s questions, COST’s questions and the Chamber’s questions/comments are below. There are some overlapping areas in the three sets.

COST agrees with the Mayor that his questions, as well as the other important questions need to be answered before proceeding with urban rail. Unfortunately, the City’s pursuit of light rail has proceeded with little recognition of the vast majority of questions or the importance of the answers.

COST’s assessment is that most of the questions currently remain unanswered and the millions of dollars spent on planning urban rail do not seem to be focused on first answering the key questions. In fact, a few of the most important questions on the list should have been answered long before spending many millions of taxpayer dollars. With increasing city property taxes, energy rates, water rates, etc., it is vital that taxpayer funds be spent as effectively as possible.

As the plan has unfolded, we also see the troubling decision by Cap Metro and the City for the urban rail operation to be to be assumed by Cap Metro. Cap Metro’s transit effectiveness has already been significantly degraded by their Red Line commuter rail and will face further major degradation assuming the financial obligations to operate the urban rail. This will siphon taxpayer funds from the backbone bus system and Cap Metro reports it will require them to assume bond debt to purchase buses. Texas law does not allow Cap Metro to assume long term bond debt without voter approval. This will, likely, further reduce the agency’s ability to improve its bus effectiveness and can result in higher bus fares just as occurred with the Red Line. This will disproportionately have negative impacts on low income citizens who need transit in their daily lives and have no alternative.

Disappointing, if not unconscionable, were facts revealed in a rail presentation to the Mayor’s Transit Working Group (TWG) in 2013. It essentially indicated the rail planning effort had done little in the previous 2 years to answer the key questions below. Basically, the planning was restarted with the stated goal of a “Comparative Evaluation of Alternatives.” This ‘Alternatives Analysis should have been the first step several years ago before spending millions of tax dollars on much wasted planning effort. Unfortunately this “restart” did not result in an independent and competent ‘Alternatives Analysis.’ As of this date this key step has not been completed. Basically the rail study started with the question: Where should the rail route be placed?

COST has made the point many times that urban rail was a “predetermined solution to an ill-defined problem” and that a responsible ‘Alternative Analysis’ had not been performed (see: Austin Transit Working Group Meetings: Critique and Comment) . There can be no federal funding without a federally approved Alternatives Analysis. The overwhelming level of government funding requests and the poor condition of the federal budget makes it unlikely Austin will receive significant assistance. Cap Metro promised voters but received no funds from the Federal government for their commuter rail.

A competent alternatives analysis and answers to the many important, unanswered questions below can take up to two years. This makes it irresponsible for the city to proceed with an urban rail bond referendum for the November, 2014 election as being promoted by the Mayor. This election schedule suggests a strongly predetermined conclusion that urban rail is the solution and an unbiased, objective analysis will not be conducted. All those responsible for overseeing and planning urban rail have a strong, vested interest.

Once again, Urban Rail is the beginning of spending billions of tax dollars resulting in significant tax increases and no congestion benefit. COST believes there has not been a problem thoroughly defined which justifies this “highest cost project in the history of Austin” and that this wasteful spending of billions of tax dollars will substantially degrade the quality of life of all Austin citizens.

Although these rail questions remain unanswered by the City, there are many real experiences and comprehensive studies which basically answer most of the key questions as discussed in articles on the COST web site.

The article “24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility” directly relates to this article by providing proven, guiding principles which are important to follow in order to avoid further careless spending of taxpayer funds while pretending to answer the questions below when those leading the effort have already determined the rail outcome. Almost none of these key principles are being followed in the Urban Rail evaluation process.

Mayor Leffingwell’s 30 Questions April, 2011

1. What will be the exact route, including the river crossing of phase one of the urban rail system?
2. What about phase two?
3. What is the anticipated route of subsequent expansions?
4. How much will construction of phase one cost?
5. Of Phase Two?
6. How much are subsequent expansions expected to cost on a per mile basis?
7. How will construction costs of phase one be financed?
8. Of phase two?
9. Of subsequent expansions?
10. What entity will operate the system?
11. What will phase one cost to operate on an annual basis?
12. What about phase two?
13. What are subsequent phases expected to cost to operate annually?
14. How will the capital costs be financed?
15. How will the operational costs be financed?
16. What will it cost to ride?
17. What are the ridership projections for phase 1?
18. For phase?
19. For subsequent expansions?
20. Will the system help reduce traffic congestion Downtown?
21. What about outside of Downtown?
22. Will it reduce traffic congestion traveling in and out of Downtown?
23. What are the other benefits of the urban rail system to Austin and the region?
24. If approved in November 2012, when would construction of phase two begin?
25. If approved in November 2012, when would phase one be operational?
26. When would construction of phase two begin?
27. When would phase two be operational?
28. When would subsequent expansions be expected to begin?
29. What are the plans to mitigate the impact on vehicle traffic and local businesses during construction?
30. What are the major unknown factors that could significantly impact the answer to any of these questions?
COST’s 30 Additional urban rail questions:

1. How does Austin expect to achieve more effective train transit and cost-effective service than that experienced by almost all cities which have implemented rail transit?
a. A sub question is: Many cities have hit a “financial wall” when it is time to replace worn-out train systems because they have no source of funds. Question: How would Austin plan to fund the billions to replace aging train systems and federal assistance is not likely?

2. What will be the increase in local taxes to fund transit due to establishment of “duplicate” transit agency overheads at Cap Metro and the city? Other Texas city regions and cities in other states have implemented transit limited to one-penny sales tax. The City’s urban rail will be a major transit cost increase to the one-penny Cap Metro spends. Cap Metro is essentially bankrupt at this point.

3. Have the priority, and any major secondary, purposes and objectives of the Urban Light Rail system been clearly articulated such that performance measures can be established?

4. What are acceptable performance measures for the system?

5. What will provide the confidence that the urban rail will perform better than the transit systems of Dallas, Houston and Austin as the three have spent billions of dollars to increase transit ridership and implemented significant train transit, but, the total ridership is less today than 15 years ago?

6. Has a thorough and objective “alternatives analysis’ been conducted to determine the most effective transportation method to achieve the stated purposes and objectives?

7. Is each phase of the Light Rail system financially sustainable for the capital/implementation and for long term operations?

8. What is the cost effectiveness of each phase of the Light Rail system and what are the taxpayer subsidies for the system’s capital and implementation and for its operation? For each phase, there should be a minimum of the following including capital/ implementation and operating costs:
a. The average cost and taxpayer cost subsidy for an average rider.
b. Cost and taxpayer subsidy per passenger mile & per trip.
c. The marginal cost to add one more transit rider.

9. How many new transit riders are added to the current transit system by the proposed new Light Rail?

10. What is the impact of urban rail on overall social equity? Will it have similar impacts as Cap Metro’s Red Line commuter rail which increased fares and reduced the backbone bus service for mostly low income riders who do not have alternatives in favor of higher income train riders who mostly have alternatives? Will transit dependent citizens disproportionately bear the burden of this expensive rail and basically subsidize those higher income citizens who have a transportation choice?

11. What is the cost of the bus shuttle system which will be required to support the train? Cap Metro has buses stationed at several RED Line commuter stops to shuttle people to or nearer their destinations.

12. Where will the parking lots/structures be located to collect people coming to downtown so they can park, catch a train, and complete their trip into and out of downtown?

13. What is the cost of these parking facilities and what is the planned parking capacity and fee structure.

14. Will the Light Rail system enhance or degrade transit service and costs for citizens depending on daily service and primarily without alternatives?

15. Does the Light Rail’s operation on the street, mingling with people and street vehicles, increase or decrease safety hazards?

16. Will the system reduce congestion and enhance or decrease mobility for most Austin citizens?

17. Will the system carry more people faster, more reliably and more cost effectively than alternatives?

18. Does the system enhance Austin’s visual environment or result in unsightly views of poles, wires, rigs connecting trains to power wires and boarding platforms such as will be viewed up Congress Avenue to the Capital?

19. Will the system enhance or degrade neighborhoods it passes through: view, noise, safety, congestion?

20. Will the system disrupt or eliminate the use of downtown streets, such as Congress Avenue, for traditional civic and charity events?

21. Does the system effectively enhance development goals for the community’s greater good or is it wasteful subsidizing of developers by taxpayers?

22. How will the system integrate with Cap Metro’s transit system regarding service and fares?

23. At realistic ridership numbers, does the system have an air quality benefit or detriment? The Red Line Commuter was promoted as an air quality benefit but is a significant detriment.

24. Does the system enhance or detract from Austin’s desirability from a citizen and visitor viewpoint?

25. This rail will be the largest project in Austin’s history. How do we assure its funding and sustainability in a way which does not degrade overall quality-of-life by reducing fundamental, priority city services.

26. Previously the city has indicated they may gamble by paying and risking the full cost of the initial urban rail segment and expect major Federal Government funding for following segments. The Federal Government has indicated a desire for cities to use Bus Rapid Transit in many cases where it will do an equal or better job because it has many times the request for transit money than will be available. With major national budget issues and proposed bills which preclude the level of federal participation assumed by Austin, is this a reasonable risk for the city to take? The down-side of the Federal Government not participating as assumed is very ugly for Austin. It leaves a very ineffective rail segment and a strained city budget with the possibility of a similar “bankruptcy” to that which Cap Metro ended up with at the end of the track. All citizens will suffer.

27. How do current and future developments and trends impact the ability of outdated train technology to provide effective transit mobility which is cost-effective? Consider:
a. The fastest growing “mode” of work trips is working at home or telecommuting.
b. The 2010 census indicates a trend in reduced density for central urban cores and increased density for outer urban areas.
c. New transportation technology and approaches are being developed and studied such as:
1. Smarter and even driverless cars.
2. Demand response transit such as Cellular Mass Transit which can more cost-effectively
serve a much higher percentage of the communities transit needs.
d. There is a continuing decline in the percentage of a region’s jobs located in the urban core. Less than 10% of a regions jobs are in the average US city core. Austin is a little higher due to the concentration of State and UT employees, but the core percentage is declining.
e. Many people promote train transit as a 50-100 year “investment,” but it seems certain this 19th century technology will become even more outdated with each passing year, denying investment in the real American Dream.

28. Recognizing current trends and those expected to continue, are hub and spoke transit models appropriate for the future? Today’s transit routes are primarily focused on the “spokes” which take people from their living areas to the central city “hub”. Growing needs are from suburban population centers to suburban employment locations and centers.

29. Has Austin fully considered the reasons that a wave of recent cities have rejected urban rail transit systems in favor of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)? Due to major reductions in funding availability, the Federal Transit Administration has also encouraged cities to look carefully at BRT as it cost much less and can perform just as well as trains for most applications.

30. Isn’t the inflexible and very difficult to move nature of rail transit incompatible with an adolescent city like Austin where development patterns are not really known at this stage. For example: The new Waller Creek waterway area will probably become a major activity area and the current train transit routes will not serve it well.

Austin Chamber of Commerce Questions and Comments about urban rail:

1. Have we sufficiently identified the problem we are attempting to solve?

2. What are the city’s criteria for success?

3. How do we measure cost effectiveness or community benefit?

4. Is this the best use of the limited transportation funds? Would we as a community be better off investing in the Lone Star Rail Project?

5. What has the city done and what is the city doing to make sure land uses are compatible with and support the Urban Rail Program?

6. Urban rail should be accessible by current jobs, but not impede future growth.

7. How does this project proactively plan for intermodal connections?

8. In Texas we don’t have the legal framework (authority) to plan. We think land use will adapt to our infrastructure investment. How patient are we willing to be, how long are we willing to wait to see how the market reacts to our investment?

9. Cheap and widely available parking negatively impacts transit use.

10. Is it possible to have dedicated ROW along the entire route?

11. If we had dedicated ROW along the entire route:
a. What is the cost of the system?
b. What is the ridership on the system?
c. What are the headways?
d. How does this impact vehicular travel times? Other impacts?
e. How does this impact development opportunities?

12. If we had shared ROW along the entire route:
a. What is the cost of the system?
b. What is the ridership of the system?
c. What are the headways?
d. How does this impact vehicular travel times? Other impacts?
e. How does this impact development opportunities?

13. How would connecting Urban Rail to the Red Line during the first phase impact ridership of the Red Line and the Urban Rail Project?

14. How would connecting Urban Rail to the Red Line during later phases impact ridership of the Red Line and the Urban Rail Project?

15. What would it cost to extend the Red Line further into downtown and connect to the Urban Rail Project closer into the urban core? How would this impact ridership on both systems?

16. How does the urban rail project connect to the Lone Star Rail project? How does this impact the ridership on both systems? Does this impact ridership on the Red Line?

17. Is there a cheaper alternative (rubber tired better bus on fixed guide way) that can be the Phase 1 for the project?

18. What peripheral support system would be required to make the system successful?

19. If we retrofit an existing bridge to cross Lady Bird Lake, would all or part of the bridge have to be closed to vehicular traffic during construction? How long would all or part of the bridge have to be closed to vehicular traffic? What travel time delays would vehicular traffic experience due to a partial or complete closure of a bridge?

20. Is Map A an additional route or in place of another route?

21. How do the multiple stations near/on the Red Line impact capital costs, operational costs, ridership, and potential development opportunities for both systems?

24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility

July 13th, 2014

by Jim Skaggs, Coalition on Sustainable Transportation, first posted May 29, 2013 - revised July 13, 2014

This article was first written and posted more than a year ago. It is remarkable how few changes were necessary to bring it up to date.

We often hear glib, vague, politically secure comments regarding road congestion and the region’s transportation including: “We need all modes of transportation to address congestion including roads, buses, trains, and bicycles.” Or: “We need to offer alternatives to the car for citizens so they have choices for their trips.” Or: “Our growth rate will require trains someday.” Or: “We cannot solve our problems with roads alone.” Or: “We need trains because people will not ride buses.”

While most of these are unfounded statements, some of them and similar comments may have grains of reality and sound all-inclusive, considerate, caring and ‘politically correct,’ with a “feel good” resonance to them. Actually, they are shallow, superficial, mostly incorrect comments regarding a complex subject. These comments, too often, support biased, ideological or self-serving interest of people and lead to the ineffective prioritizing of transportation funds.

Then, there are frequent situations which Wendell Cox encapsulates neatly with this quote:
“Why is it that people have not abandoned their automobiles to switch to transit? Commentators often talk of America’s ‘love affair with the car,’ without recognizing a similar attachment to refrigerators, the Internet, and other modern conveniences. The attachment is to convenience and (affordable) products that enhance our lives.”
—Wendell Cox, “Transit Policy in an Era of the Shrinking Federal Dollar,” Heritage Backgrounder, Jan. 31, 2013.

According to the, Federally required, ‘Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization’s’ (CAMPO) 25 year transportation plan for the Austin region, almost 50% of the plan’s transportation dollars will be spent on public transit, primarily rail, to serve transit’s less than 1% of the region’s passenger miles traveled. Projections from CAMPO, Austin City, Capital Metro or any other organization do not indicate or support total transit ridership exceeding 1% of the regions passenger miles traveled. Therefore, public transit can have only minimal positive impact on congestion and significant negative impacts if implemented improperly.

It is not rocket science to project: If 50% of the transportation dollars are spent to serve 1% of traveler’s ‘passenger miles’, the remaining 99% of travelers will suffer increasing gridlock and congestion.

The simple truth is: There is not enough money in the region to provide “all modes” or “non-auto alternatives.” for everyone. It is possible to make dramatic improvements in constraining congestion by well-planned road improvements and other cost-effective actions, as already proven in this region.

The greatest positive impact on Austin transportation, public and private, can be achieved by improving road systems which were neglected for many years during strong population growth. Road improvements provide effective auto alternatives as well as substantially improving cost-effective regional transit alternatives which can better and more flexibly meet needs of today’s dispersed population and job markets.

The following guiding principles are intended to be used as guides in more effectively prioritizing the allocation of taxpayer transportation funds to better serve all citizens and the community as a whole. These principles are key but are not intended to be all inclusive. More can be found regarding each of these ‘Principles,’ and others in articles throughout this web site’s ‘News Articles’ section. e.g. - Recent posts include:

Austin Citizens Should Reject Urban Rail – 6 Major Reasons
If You Think Austin Needs Urban Rail, Read This Report
Project Connect’s Proposed Austin Urban Rail is Misguided.
12 Reasons Austin’s Urban Rail is Off-Track
Austin’s Urban Rail has Many Unanswered Questions
Auto Access to Jobs is Vital for Better Quality of Life

24 Key “Guiding Principles” for Austin Area Transportation and Mobility

1. An overarching principle is: Greater Mobility Provides Greater Quality of Life.
Throughout history, better human mobility has been associated with higher quality of life as mobility creates time efficiency and access to desires, opportunities and life’s offerings.

2. Private, motorized, road vehicles offer maximum freedom and mobility for people.
Ultimate mobility freedom and flexibility to go where and when desired is provided by private road vehicles; without competition for the vast majority of travelers and trips.

3. Overwhelming economic evidence links personal mobility with prosperity.
Freedom and prosperity benefits of the automobile have been substantial, enabling modern suburbia and powering a century of economic prosperity.

4. Increased road congestion is the primary cause of degraded human mobility.
Congestion constrains and degrades quality-of-life by limiting one’s ability to go where and when they wish/need to experience desired, quality-of-life outcomes.

5. Increased population density creates increased road congestion.The promotion of “mixed-use” and greater density (smart growth) ignores the fact that: in general, greater population density produces greater roadway congestion and air pollution.

6. Roads should be primarily funded by users of the roads.
More effective funding and transparency is promoted if all roads are fairly funded by all users to the greatest extent practical.

7. Austin’s, and other Texas cities,’ commuting by public transit has been trending down for many years.
The greatest use of transit is work trips, but, the Austin region’s 5th highest percentage (less than 2.5%) work trips, and total transit riders, have been on a declining trend for many years.

8. Public transit must be cost-effective to be sustainable.
Taxpayers highly subsidize all US transit which must be cost-effective; or, it cannot serve the maximum riders, who need it, with the most origins and destinations and it cannot be financially sustainable for the long run.

9. Bus transit is more cost-effective than rail in Austin today or 100 years from now.
Modern buses can meet or exceed every major performance characteristic of an Austin rail system for one-tenth to one-fifth the costs and are far more flexible to meet changing demands.

10. Traditional “hub and spoke” transit routes are inadequate for today’s demographics.
With under 10%, and falling, of regional employment in Austin’s ‘Central Business District’ (CBD); transit’s routing should change to a “grid” structure to better serve today’s needs.

11. Transit’s most important function is work trips for transit dependent citizens.
Work trips are up to about 50% of ridership, but transit serves only small segments of dispersed jobs and population with a small percentage of jobs reachable in an hour.

12. Ineffective, high-cost rail degrades overall public and private transportation.
High cost, low ridership rail raises overall transit costs and taxes; increases riders’ fares while reducing service; and, siphons funds from far more effective transportation projects.

13. Many cities have hit a “Financial Wall” with high cost rail.
Numerous rail cities have hit a ‘financial wall’ as their systems deteriorate; requiring many billions of dollars for replacement/upgrade for which there are no identified funding sources and unfunded liabilities are increasing at alarming rates in many transit agencies.

14. Variable toll lanes provide maximum people movement on road lanes.
Variable toll highway lanes, maintaining fairly constant speeds, effectively maximize the number of people which road lanes can carry including private, transit, commercial and emergency vehicles.

15. Variable toll lanes change driver behavior and reduce congestion.
Free-Choice, variable toll road lanes are effective in changing drivers’ travel-time behavior which reduces peak traffic period trips, reducing congestion on tolled and non-tolled lanes.

16. Low cost traffic improvements can be rapidly deployed and very cost-effective.
A number of lower cost improvements can be implemented quickly to provide faster, safer and more reliable travel: ramp metering, incident management, signal coordination, shared vehicles, etc.

17. Austin rail does not provide economic benefits commensurate with high costs.
Austin has been a top U.S. growth region for many years and not a single development was due to rail transit: Many cities have confirmed that taxpayers loose “big time” with rail.

18. Trains on busy downtown streets increase safety hazards and sight pollution.
Trains mingling with vehicles and pedestrians on busy, central, city streets create greater congestion and air pollution as well as greater safety hazards and ugly, sight pollution.

19. Rail will result in major degradation of Austin’s stated “Social Equity” intentions.Rail’s high cost and ineffective performance has major negative impacts on low income citizens including increases in taxes and transit fares, along with reductions in “backbone” bus transit service.

20. Two-way streets downtown are more congested and less safe than one-way.
Converting many downtown streets from one-way to two-way provides reduced vehicle capacity with increased congestion while reducing safety for vehicles and pedestrians.

21. Suburbanization reduces driving and helps provide housing affordability.
Increasing suburban living and dispersed job locations (“sprawl”) have resulted in a long trend of declining ‘daily vehicle miles traveled per capita’ and greater housing affordability.

22. Projections for rail costs are much too low and for ridership are much too high.
Almost all cities have projected much lower costs and much higher ridership than rail achieves and rail offers little advantage over buses, but, has major disadvantages.

23. High cost rail results in all citizens paying higher taxes with little benefit.
High cost rail systems result in higher taxes, directly or indirectly; e.g., commuter rail “bankrupt” Cap Metro and Austin city plans to spend excessive taxes on urban rail without a long-term financial plan.

24. The fundamentals have not changed since light rail was defeated in 2000.
Arguments against an Austin rail are much stronger today than in 2000 as additional, overwhelming, negative experiences, in many rail cities,’ has accumulated with the result:

The Proposed Urban (Light) Rail Transit still: COSTS TOO MUCH and DOES TOO LITTLE!

In addition, it requires many years of Tax Increases which provide negative benefits for all but a very tiny group of citizens being subsidized by all taxpayers. The City estimates the train will attract 6,500 new transit riders and, at the trains cost, each new rider will cost taxpayers more than $500,000. This does not count annual operating costs which will clearly be more than $30 million per year.

Voters must: Reject This Rail Referendum!

©2007 Coalition On Sustainable Transportation