Template logo

Politicians Try To Pull Rail Ripoff

Politicians Try To Pull Rail Ripoff

by Randal O'Toole

Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Reprinted from Madison.com

How would you feel if you bought a fancy new DVD player forChristmas, only to find the next day that a friend bought another DVD player that was just as good, from the same store -- but costing one-fourth as much?The salesman who sold you yours never bothered to tell you about the lower-cost model. If you complain, the salesman might snicker and say, "Caveat emptor -- let the buyer beware!"

We expect shady salesmen to sometimes rip us off. But we don't expect that of public servants who are supposed to careful manage our hard-earned tax dollars. Yet that is exactly what is happening with a recent proposal to start rail transit service in Dane County and Madison.Transport 2020, an intergovernmental group representing the state of Wisconsin, city of Madison, and Dane County, recently completed a detailed report evaluating transportation alternatives for Dane County and the Madison metropolitan area. The group widely distributed a summary report that recommends spending $242 million on a commuter rail line and improved bus services. That's more than five times the entire annual budget of Madison Metro.

The federal government would pay half the cost. But state taxpayers would have to come up with $60 million and county and city taxpayers another $60 million. Plus the rail line would add $3.4 million to annual operating costs,nearly all of which would be paid by state or local taxpayers.

The only alternative to rail service in Transport 2020's summary report is called "minor changes to current bus system." The report says that rail service would attract 52 percent more riders than the "minor changes" bus alternative. Though the cost is high, some people might think it would be worth it to get those people out of their automobiles.

What the summary report doesn't say is that Transport 2020's complete analysis also considered a third alternative, called "enhanced bus services."This alternative would increase ridership by 49 percent, but cost less than one-fourth as much as the rail/bus alternative. Plus its annual operating costs would be $3.1 million lower.

True, 52 percent is more than 49 percent. But the enhanced bus alternative spends less than $1.50 for every new rider, while the rail alternative spends nearly $65 for each additional rider. If the goal is to increase transit ridership by 52 percent, this could be reached at a far lower cost by enhancing bus service just a little more.

Why did Transport 2020 leave the enhanced bus service alternative out ofthe summary report? Possibly because they did not want Dane County and Madison voters and public officials to know that buses can accomplish everything that rails can do, at a far lower cost.

In fact, buses are superior to commuter rail in almost every way. It can take years to start up new rail service; bus services can be improved in a few weeks to a few months. Buses are safer, causing little more than half the fatalities of commuter rail, according to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics.

Express buses connecting various neighborhoods and communities with downtown and the university can provide most people with 30 mph or faster transit service. Rails are limited to narrow corridors and, because of intervening stops, average little more than 20 mph. Commuter rail will increase congestion, since the trains will stop traffic seven to thirteen times an hour at more than a dozen road crossings along the route.

Buses are inferior to rail in only one respect: They don't cost as much. Some people might spend four times as much on a DVD player to enjoy the status of owning the most expensive brand. In the same way, transit agencies across the nation have become enthralled with rail service not because it is better but because it adds to their budgets and prestige.

You might think I was a little foolish if I deliberately spent four times as much as I needed to just for the status. But it's my money, and I can do what I want with it.

The same isn't true for Transport 2020, which wants to needlessly spend hundreds of millions of dollars of my money, your money, and everyone else's money just so they can have a train running through Madison instead of buses-- and every new passenger riding that train will get a $60 or more subsidy every time they climb aboard.

In a few weeks, the Madison City Council will decide whether to spend another $2.5 million to plan the rail line. That same money could be used to immediately begin making improvements to the bus system. It is time to say: "Caveat adsiduus -- let the taxpayer beware!"

Copyright © 2008–2024 by Thegreattrainrobbery.org. All rights reserved.

Powered by Etomite CMS.