Austin Trolley Facts and Commuter Rail Broken Promises

These two pages on Austin Trolley facts and Capital Metro Broken Promises on the Austin-Leander Commuter Rail were first prepared more than a year ago by COST members. They have been slightly modified to update information.

A Better Alternative to Antiquated Rail
Trolleys on Austin’s Downtown Streets

Austin Downtown “Circulator”

1. Capital Metro (CM) is proposing a 7 mile, double track, electric trolley in downtown Austin.
2. Over-whelming experience in other cities indicates this is the wrong alternative.
3. There are much more efficient alternatives which cost a fraction of rail, will reduce congestion, are safer, and provide better, more flexible mobility.

Capital Metro (CM) and Transit Facts

1. Capital Metro is one of the least efficient transit agencies in the US as reported in US Government records. Their operating costs are rapidly increasing and ridership is declining.
2. Cap Metro has collected more than $1.6 Billion in area sales tax since 1985 and, for 15 years, has experienced a down trend in the percentage of people using public transit.
3. Cap Metro projects receiving and spending more than $6 billion of our sales tax on transit in the next 25 years and transit passenger miles are projected to reduce to 1%.
4. CM will cost taxpayers $500 million with commuter broken promises (reverse side).

General Passenger Rail Facts

1. All but one of the 23 cities with rail transit in 2003 either lost transit riders or had a reduced percentage of transit riders in the previous 20 years per FTA and APTA (note 1).
2. Rail transit has no measurable impact on congestion in cities like Austin. Congestion and safety hazards often increase because trains run on streets and cross streets.
3. Rail’s high costs drains funds from bus systems which reduces bus service and increases fares for transit riders resulting in a setback to social equity.
4. Rail transit does not stimulate economic development, but requires tax subsidies.

Streetcar Transit Facts

1. Portland, Oregon has the only modern electric streetcar in the US similar to Cap Metro’s proposal. It is one-half the track length, cost more than $25 million per mile and has low ridership in this Disney-like streetcar.
2. Most streetcars were removed from city streets more than a half century ago because they “Costs Too Much and Do Too Little.” This antiquated transit mode is not competitive.
3. Streetcars (trolleys) run on tracks on busy streets and mingle with cars and pedestrians increasing congestion and safety hazards.
4. Trolleys will have unsightly overhead electric wires throughout downtown, blocking historic views of the Capital on Congress Avenue and denying many civic uses of Congress Avenue.

A Better Alternative

1. The solution to transit problems in a twenty-first century city is not bigger, more expensive systems but smaller, less expensive transit. People live in thousands of places and travel to thousands of places requiring flexible, economic transit, not inflexible, expensive transit.
2. Shuttle buses have proven to be much more effective as downtown “circulators” and will cost taxpayers one-tenth the costs of electric rail streetcars while being faster, safer and more flexible, causing less congestion.

Note 1: FTA = Federal Transit Administration; APTA = American Transportation Administration

Austin Commuter Rail: Promises Made – Promises Broken

Capital Metro Commitment 1

Cap Metro committed that $30 million of the commuter costs would be paid by the Federal Government.

Facts and Actual Performance – Promise Broken

1. Capital Metro knew the commuter project would not qualify for Federal Funds and did not apply.
2. The local taxpayer capital costs will be at least $75 million more than promised and likely much more based on growing costs and projected future capital needs which have not been budgeted.

Capital Metro Commitment 2

Cap Metro committed the rail cars would cost $30 million.

Facts and Actual Performance – Promise Broken

The rail car contract is for $36 million plus interest over 10 years for a total of some $44.1 million or 47% more than promised.

Capital Metro Commitment 3

Cap Metro committed that the annual operating costs of the commuter would be $2 million excluding lease-purchase of vehicles.

Facts and Actual Performance – Promise Broken

Capital Metro now projects the annual operating costs to be an average of 7 times the $2 million promised, costing taxpayers an additional $250 million over 25 years.

Capital Metro Commitment 4

Cap Metro committed to the community that the commuter project would be carefully scrutinized by the federal government using strict criteria to assure effective performance.

Facts and Actual Performance – Promise Broken

1. Cap Metro did not apply for federal funding and the federal government is not evaluating the commuter.
2. Cap Metro has no performance criteria.

Capital Metro Commitment 5

Cap Metro committed the use of “new diesel-hybrid technology vehicles” which are “environmentally friendly alternative to cars.”

Facts and Actual Performance – Promise Broken

1. Capital Metro knew there were no diesel-hybrid cars being sold.
2. The vehicles purchased are not “environmentally friendly” and are more polluting than if passengers were in new cars.

Capital Metro Commitment 6

Capital Metro committed cost effective “high frequency circulating shuttle buses in the Downtown, Capital/UT and Mueller airport redevelopment site.”

Facts and Actual Performance – Promise Broken

Capital Metro has rolled out an expensive trolley plan which will cost taxpayers many millions to subsidize while increasing downtown congestion, producing major safety hazards, destroying historic Capital views from Congress Avenue and denying many traditional civic uses of Congress Avenue.

There are many more Capital Metro broken promises and deceptions including hike and bike trails, the $6 million bridge over Union Pacific, the $4-5 maintenance facility and arrogant but incorrect bragging of “on time and budget” performance.

Comments are closed.

©2007 Coalition On Sustainable Transportation