Ten Truths of Austin Public Transit

COST Commentary: Below are “bottom lines” of public transit’s “Truths” for Austin with summary explanations. Expanded discussions are included throughout the postings on this site. These are 10 significant reasons to reject the City’s Light Rail (Urban Rail) at any time. Today, these reasons to say NO to rail are compounded by the fact that this tough economic environment demands us to focus our limited tax/fee dollars on our highest priority needs. Mobility is directly related to quality of life. We must improve our mobility by aggressively addressing increasing congestion. Rail transit has no impact on congestion. If anything, rail transit will increase congestion throughout the central Austin area as we have experienced with the commuter train. A Light Rail (Urban Rail) system does not make the list of priority needs. It would divert huge sums from these priority needs resulting in higher taxes.

As stated in the election which defeated Light Rail in 2000: COSTS TOO MUCH – DOES TOO LITTLE.

This summary is a living document and will be updated from time to time.

Ten Truths of Austin Public Transit

1. Transit must be cost effective to be sustainable.

Focus and the application of community resources must be based on the knowledge that public transit supports less than 1% of the Austin area passenger miles traveled and the percentage of public transit has been declining for many years. Many billions of dollars spent on public transit have not changed the fact that the trends of the actual number of public transit riders in Dallas, Houston, and Austin have been declining for at least a dozen years. Some 99% plus of passenger miles traveled are on the roadways and the only significant way to improve overall mobility is to improve roadway transportation.

2. Transit goals should not be based primarily on providing “alternative transportation.”

Transit’s highest priority should be to effectively meet needs of citizens who do not have alternatives and not the perceived, mistaken need to get people, with options, out of cars.

3. Public transit is subsidized by all taxpayers to serve a very small segment of the population.

Highly subsidizing middle and upper income citizens to abandon cars for transit serves little or no societal purpose. Low income citizens bear the majority of the burden of these subsidies as transit fares are increased and bus service is reduces.

4. Transit must be primarily justified by meeting mobility needs of riders.

Transit does not have measurable positive impacts on congestion, pollution, development, job creation, livability, etc. In many cases, it has negative impacts on these.

5. High cost, highly subsidized transit, such as rail, degrades the total transit system.

This transit reduces the overall ability to serve more citizens cost-effectively and results in reduced ability to address priority needs as higher taxes and fees burden citizens. The majority of primary transit riders use buses where their service is degraded by higher fares and reduced bus service.

6. Transit does not generally increase overall development and tax base.

Transit sometimes influences the location of a small number of developments. Jobs and opportunity bring most people to an area: For most, mobility is a major life style consideration and public transit is not.

7. Public transit systems degrade average mobility by reducing most rider’s options and opportunities, resulting in lesser quality of life.

The inherent nature of transit requires average trips to usually take double or more the travel time and limits travel destinations compared to private vehicles with flexibility and great time savings.

8. Cost-effective transit must be flexible to efficiently adjust to changing demand.

Trains are not flexible to meet changing demands such as new development patterns and the current major trend of a growing ‘working at home’ population which now exceeds public transit for work commuting in Austin and the US if New York City is excluded.

9. Every community has a limited amount of taxes/fees available from citizens and the wasteful spending on ineffective transit deprives the community of higher priority needs and often results in higher taxes/fees which reduce affordability and quality of life.

The estimated implementation cost of a Light Rail (Urban Rail), during the past three years, has doubled about every 18 months from Cap Metro’s estimate of about $300 million, to the City’s first estimate of about $625 million two years ago, to the City’s estimate last year of $1.3 billion. What will the cost be after serious design studies and actual work? The average world-wide overrun on such systems is 45% and every indication is that the cost of the City’s system will be near $2 billion.

Austin has no viable plan to finance this rail boondoggle. The City has stated they need financial partners and have mentioned the County, University of Texas, and the State, but, have not announced serious discussions or agreements. The realty of economic times is that they will not get partners for this rail. The City has also based its plan on receiving 50% of its funding from the federal government for rail implementation. The Federal Government is broke and is planning greatly reduced transportation funding for an extended period. The Federal Government already has requests for many times the amount of money they were projecting to fund trains, even in better economic times.

No doubt the city will argue that ‘tax increment financing’ will provide some of the funds. This is not viable as it only reduces the City’s general fund and requires higher taxes to meet basic needs of police, fire, emergency, library, etc. Light Rail trains do not create new development and tax base.

The City has estimated the train’s annual operating costs to be $25 million. Cap Metro told voters, in 2004, it would cost $2 million per year to operate the commuter and the actual costs are closer to $12 million. There is no viable source for this funding. In a time of shortages in basic infrastructure and services such as police, fire and education, and, increasing energy and water costs, this rail does not address citizen’s needs and is not a responsible City project.

The City seems to be approaching this with the “nose under the tent” game. They plan to put a couple of hundred million on the 2012 bond issue along with other projects including roads, bicycle facilities, etc. This will buy nothing of value but will put some rail track down for a small segment which they will plan to extend for many, many years. In short, it will be the greatest financial disaster in the history of Austin. This and the other developing factors of increasing cost could, in fact, lead to bankrupting the City and/or a very distressed and undesirable place.

10. Train transit mingling with people and automobiles creates major safety hazards and degrades the city’s beauty and desirability.

Trolley trains degrade visual corridors with unsightly electric cables and poles, and, degrade or prevent the use of key public streets for traditional public, civic uses such as parades and charity runs.

Revision 4

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