Citizen To Houston: Transit is in deep trouble.

COST Comments: Below is a letter to the Houston Mayor and City Council Members from a Houston citizen. The second item is a ‘letter to the editor’ published in the Houston Chronicle by the same citizen. These are about their unfolding expansion of light rail which was passed by the voters in 2003. Voters were promised it would be a $1.2 billion project and is now approaching an estimated $4 billion but is still in an early stage. The spending of these billions of dollars is very questionable in that Houston transit ridership, after spending hundreds of millions on the initial 7.5 mile light rail trolley-operating for 6 years, is more than 17% less than the bus-only transit ridership was 10 years ago before the rail.

Austin: This story should sound quite familiar. The voter’s rejection of Capital Metro’s proposed light rail in 2000 and the recent “tragedy” of Cap Metro running out of money have saved Austin area citizens from further wasteful spending and committing future generations to huge bond debt levels. The Austin light rail, estimated by Cap Metro to cost $1.9 billion in 2000, would clearly have been more than double this. Cap Metro’s Austin system was 52 miles which was more than double the current planned Houston expansion of about 20 miles. Many of Austin’s major streets would have been torn up for years resulting in the closure of hundreds of small businesses and the reduction of car lanes, dramatically increasing congestion. Meanwhile, Austin’s transit ridership has experienced a declining absolute trend for 10 years with a greater decline in the ridership per capita and costs per trip have outpaced inflation by more than doubling. These trends will lead to Capital Metro bankruptcy and similar trends in Houston seem to be pointing this direction also.


First, I noted that METRO posted a financial plan for Project bonds
which totals $707 Million. The rail scheme has already exceeded the
$640 million bond cap established in the 2003 Referendum.

Second, the best we can guess due to METRO’s lack of transparency, is
that the five rail expansions will cost closer to $4 Billion, which far
exceeds the scope of the initial estimate in the 2003 Referendum.

Third, METRO’s Sales Tax Revenue, as well as recent Fixed-Route Bus fare
box and METRORail revenues have trended DOWN, yet all financial
forecasts project increases in revenue just to pay the bonds. There
likely is no possibility that METRO can pay for future escalating
operating expenses as well as the required maintenance costs for these
fixed-guideway systems.

Last, insofar as the current federal spending is out-of-control,
interest rates MUST rise! These projections fail to recognize the
impacts of the massive deficit spending will have on the bond markets.

Every other Urban Rail system in the country is trying to deal with
these realities. The current boards leave the future costs for the next
generation to figure out.

Please appoint prudent citizens for the next METRO Board of Directors,
ones who will seek a new referendum on the METRO plan as it now exists.


Thomas A. Bazan

The ‘letter to the editior’ below was published in the Houston Chronicle:

The Orwellian Media will NEVER remind us, but allow me:

“First, rail’s supporters say ‘It’s cheaper.’ When you show it costs more, they say, ‘It’s faster.’ When you show it’s slower, they say, ‘It serves more riders.’ When you show there are fewer riders, they say, ‘It brings economic development. When you show no economic development, they say, ‘It helps the image.’ When you say you don’t want to spend that much money on image, they say, ‘It will solve the pollution problem. When you show it won’t help pollution, they say, finally, ‘It will take time. You’ll see.'” [Bob Lanier on rail transit proponents in Houston Metropolitan magazine, November 1990]

Since the unelected and unaccountable bureaucrats at METRO refuse to hold another vote on the now nearly $4 BILLION extension scheme to the Lee. P. Brown legacy boondoggle urban rail system, the Texas Legislature must allow a referendum for voters to slash the METRO 1-cent sales tax DOWN to 0.5-cents.

METRO has been receiving over 1/2-Billion dollars each year in “Windfall” sales tax revenue, and the Urban Rail Robber Barons at METRO now seem addicted to the euphoria of squandering Billions upon Billions of taxpayer-subsidized bonds on an obsolete transit mode.

The pro-rail policy, where METRO reduced bus service instead of INCREASING the bus service throughout the service areas (as was promised in the 2003 “Solutions” referendum to dupe voters into agreeing to their scheme) has been driving citizens away. Ridership has been plummeting over the past 17 months, yet the N.U.T.S. (New Urban Rail Supporters) insist it is still “Damned the torpedoes – Full speed ahead!”

The only way to get their attention is to reduce the the cash that sustains this wasteful addiction. The last thing the Mayor should do now is to send more chickens.

Tom Bazan

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