Austin doesn’t need train system

COST Commentary: Below is a recent note (slightly modified), by Jim Skaggs of COST, sent to the Austin region’s Transit Working Group (TWG) which is a committee of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization (CAMPO). CAMPO is the Austin metro area transportation planning organization required by federal law.

Dear TWG Members: 7-2-2012

The Austin Business Journal (ABJ) recently published my op-ed addressing Austin mobility and urban rail. If you are an ABJ subscriber, it can be found here: Austin Business Journal

If not an ABJ subscriber, the article is below. The op-ed word limitation makes it difficult to fully communicate complex subjects. There are also important additional comments and references following the op-ed below. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Best regards,
Jim Skaggs

OpEd: Austin doesn’t need train system

Premium content from Austin Business Journal by Jim Skaggs, Coalition on Sustainable Transportation

Date: Friday, June 29, 2012, 5:00 am CDT

Rail transit’s high costs and ineffectiveness have been experienced in many cities.

Compelling evidence is emerging from cities which implemented modern, light rail early. Many face increasingly serious transit financial difficulties due to rapidly rising operating costs, frequent fare increases, reduced service and flat to declining ridership. These cause spiraling cost-effectiveness degradation, imposing mounting tax burdens to highly subsidize inefficient transit benefiting tiny population segments.

Dallas and Portland have each spent about $5 billion implementing light rail but have recently announced desperate actions addressing severe financial problems.

Dallas is completing its 90-mile light rail, the longest in North America. However, Dallas has declining, very low transit ridership per capita among major cities; almost 40 percent less than Austin.

Portland has the most light rail ridership in the nation, excluding three older, more densely populated cities. Portland’s ridership per capita is less than what it was 30 years ago when it only used buses. In 1980, 9.8 percent of the Portland region’s work commuters used transit. Billions of dollars later, only 7.1 percent of commuters used transit in 2010. Both cities are rapidly increasing fares and asking for increased taxes to support growing deficits.

Recent studies conclude most transit, including light rail, is based on outdated models; similar to Austin’s plan which is designed to carry people between surrounding areas and the city’s central core. This does not achieve the highest ridership because long-term trends in city growth reflect employment dispersion outside city cores.

Congestion relief and pollution reduction have proven to be false promises for rail transit, shifting many supporters to emphasize “development” as justification. This, too, lacks foundation as recent studies show little or no impact of rail transit on land values or development patterns.

Austin should expect more, demand 21st century solutions to mobility and stop planning to wastefully spend billions of dollars on increasingly outdated, inflexible, unsafe 19th century rail.

Congestion data confirm Austin’s increased road building in the past 10 years is reducing average congestion and improving quality-of-life for hundreds of thousands.

The city should prioritize allocation of limited transportation dollars to enhance mobility and travel times by improving roads that serve 99 percent of all passenger miles. Capital Metro should prioritize overhauling its bus system to provide more efficient, flexible, cost-effective service.


There were several parts which could were not included due to word limitations.

Articles expanding on Dallas and Portland light rail and financial difficulties can be found at:

Portland TriMet: Transit Mecca’s continued fare increases and service cutbacks reduce ridership

Dallas DART Desperation: Cost is Growing but Ridership is Not

An article regarding regarding the fallacy of the major foundation of transit policy and approach in Austin and many cities can be found at: Transit Studies: Austin transit is on wrong track.


The article at the next site address, below, is a previous posting updated. It contains a chart which is one of the most compelling single displays of rail transit’s massive failures.

Austin’s Light Rail Plan: The Bottom Line

The bottom line is that significant, real experience, in many cities, confirms rail transit “COSTS TOO MUCH and DOES TOO LITTLE” as was recognized by voters’ rejection of light rail in Austin’s 2000 election.

After spending many billions on rail transit, cities have been unable to increase transit market share, or actual ridership in many cases, to achieve cost-effective ridership levels. Rail transit has also failed to deliver on its major promises regarding congestion reduction, air quality improvement or positive development impact. This has resulted in higher taxes and major degradation of mobility and social equity.

Fixed rail transit’s high costs and resulting transit service cuts deprive transit dependent citizens important access to greater opportunities; while imposing reduced mobility and lower quality of life for all citizens by siphoning major disproportionate shares of limited transportation funding from projects which will improve mobility for the 99% of passenger miles traveled on roadways.

Have a great July 4th and thank you for your service.

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