Commuter Rail: 1. Dig Hole. 2. Pour In Money 3. Repeat

The AZ Republic, long-time cheerleader for our current light rail project, writes another ode to commuter rail.  Today's love note is on the Albuquerque commuter rails system.

Sharon Hedrich heads out a little before 7 each morning for the 20-mile
trip to the law office where she works in downtown Albuquerque. She
used to leave home earlier for the dreaded crawl down the city's
congested freeway.

Driving to work could take 40 minutes or
more, depending on the number of emergencies stalling traffic. Now, she
boards a commuter train, settles into a plush red seat and spends the
half-hour ride reading a novel.

She says the train saves her aggravation - and money.

"I put 7 miles a day on my car instead of 50," Hedrich said recently as
the train zipped toward Albuquerque, New Mexico's largest city. "It's
50 bucks a month for me to ride this. I couldn't even get two tanks of
gas for that."

I am just all aglow for Sharon.  But does the project make sense for the taxpayers of the city and the state (and probably nation) that funded it?  Well, we don't know.  Because the AZ Republic writes 56 paragraphs lauding the system without once telling us anything about the system performance.  Does it cover its costs?  Are city roads visibly less congested?  Is there a net energy savings?  Is there measurably less pollution?  We don't know.  All we know is that three people, Geronimo Trujillo, Briana Duran, and Sharon, like it. 

Well, let's see if we can do the analysis that the Republic couldn't manage.  We are told it has 3000 presumably round-trip riders a day, and the fare for these riders is $50 per month.  That's $150,000 of revenue a month or $1.8 million a year.  How much does it take to operate?  Well, we are not told by the Republic and the Albuquerque authority ties itself in pretzels avoiding the question in this FAQ (question 1) comparing apples to oranges and lemons and bananas and any other fruit that might divert our attention.  But I can absolutely guarantee that it costs a hell of a lot more than $1.8 million.  I am not sure that covers the fuel bill, but it certainly does not cover wages, fuel, maintenance and whatever the state is paying the private owner of the rails for trackage rights. 

Let's see if we can find an analog that does disclose its costs to the public.  The commuter rail system in Northern Virginia called the VRE is about twice as long and carries about twice the passengers as the Albuquerque system.  Its costs are $55.4 million per year, so we can conservatively assume that the Albuquerque system is costing perhaps $20 million a year, a figure that exceeds its revenues by a factor of 11x.  That equates to a taxpayer subsidy of $6,000 per rider per year, which is not atypical for these systems.

And this ignores the capital cost.  Unbelievably, the article does actually mention the capital cost in the 36th paragraph, which is $135 million.  That is $45,000 per rider, or enough to buy two Prius's for each rider.

So Sharon Hedrich is happy?  Of course she is freaking happy.  The taxpayers paid $45,000 up front costs and $6,000 per year so she can save 43 miles of driving a day.  Assuming she has a 20 mpg car, pays $3 a gallon for gas, and rides the train to work 250 days a year, taxpayers are paying $6,000 a year to save Sharon $1,612.50 a year in gas.  If we want to consider gas plus wear and tear on her car at 45 cents per mile, taxpayers are paying $6,000 a year to save Sharon $4,837.50 per year.   The taxpayers would have been better off -- by a LOT -- buying her a Prius and paying her expenses to drive than buying and operating a train for her.  This is consistent with my past number crunching on other urban rail systems here and here.

Does the Republic mention these problems?  Sort of:

The system endured the typical raps against a big public-works project:
It fell behind schedule, an anti-tax foundation called it a bad idea
and there were some startup problems.

Dang those tax foundation guys - always getting in the way of progress!  Thank god such a great idea as subsidizing Sharon "endured" these Luddites.

By the way, I am a long-time train watcher and model railroader.  I love trains.  And, all things being equal and if everything was free in the world, I would love to have more commuter rail trains. Unfortunately, all things are not free.  And in most cases, particularly low-density cities outside the northeast, rail tends to be the most expensive possible option.  As a libertarian, I would rather the government just not appropriate this money in the first place.  But given that they are insisting on spending $135 million plus $20 million a year on transportation, nearly any other conceiveable project would have gotten more bang for the buck.

Update:  Below is a picture of Brianna Duran riding in an empty rail car.  It's good Albuquerque is keeping all those empty seats off the highway.

0930rail

Update 2: Here is the predictable response to the empty seat snark:  Well, it's the people's fault for not choosing such an obviously superior mode of transport.  Wrong.  Its the government's fault for not taking people's preferences into account when spending all that taxpayer money.  A government that adjusts itself to the citizens is a Democracy.  A government that demands citizens adjust themselves to the government is fascism.

Update #3:  I am getting email about the government subsidy of highways.  In theory, this is not supposed to be a subsidy.  The large gasoline prices we pay at the pump are supposed to be for highway funds.  This is actually a pretty intelligent way to pay for roads, because it does a decent job at matching use to fees, with a bit of a penalty thrown in for low mpg cars.  To the extent that gas taxes do not match road costs, I am all for eliminating any subsidy and making them match with the right gas tax.  But I know whatever subsidy there is is not as high as for this rail.  Using the numbers for this example, applied to 100 million US commuters, would imply a capital cost of $4.5 trillion and a yearly operating subsidy of $600 billion.  And this would only cover commuting.  Remember, the people in the story can't give up their cars - rail lines only run a few places.  These costs would be to allow commuters to give up their cars part of the time -- about the same number of roads and cars would still be necessary.

  • Treg

    My favorite example of how to do this right comes from Hillsdale College. We have all seen sidewalks on a campus or other such location which just don't match the actual traffic patterns. The results are paths worn in the grass, and largely unused sidewalks. Several years ago at Hillsdale, they opened a large campus expansion. However, they did not put in any sidewalks, except along a public street. After a year of student use, they went out, found the ruts, and put the sidewalks where people actually needed them. No doubt there are some of the usual suspects who are furious that they did not put the sidewalks in first and then force the students to use them. :)

  • http://www.napataxpayer.org napablogger

    And don't forget when she has to stay late at work one night and the only people on her car are her and a guy that is drunk out of his mind trying to grab her. That happened to me one night on the San Francisco BART. Sounds naggy but it sure made me think twice about taking it again. So add on some police costs like they do in NY.

    We did an extensive study here in Napa about rail simply from the closest town over, right now capital costs were about half a billion---and most of the right of way is already there. The annual operating costs were even more expensive. Conclusion: rail is great but it is way too expensive. And it is nearly like buses, anyone that can find another way to get there, will, most of the time.

    If the rail stop is near your door and takes you near where you want to go at the other end it is nice, assuming you feel safe. But for most people they just don't live or work or shop close enough at the end points.

  • Bob Smith

    Most people who complain about "government subsidy of highways" conveniently forget (or never bothered to find out) that large chunks of both the federal gasoline tax, and most state gasoline taxes, are diverted to pay for public transit. Consider MN's recent tax increase, in which no *more* than 50% of the new revenues can pay for roads. This is typical. License fees, registration fees, ad valorem taxes, and sales and income taxes on auto-related goods & services are similarly treated. My bet is that if all government revenues are considered automobiles not only pay for themselves 100% they cover most transit costs, too. Moreover, I'm entirely ignoring the vastly superior speed, freedom and flexibility automobility provides when compared to any mass transit system.

  • Ivan

    Excellent analysis. All the MSM discussions on these kinds of topics seem to ignore basic economics. People drive cars because they are convenient and they are relatively cheap to operate.

    Your analysis does ignore lost productivity, however. If you asssign a value of say $30/hour for the lost productivity of each person riding the train and assume that each train rider recaptures 1 hour's worth of productivity by riding the train vs driving (less stress, catch up on sleeping, use your laptop, etc) then you are talking about $45K/day at 50% train capacity. At 200 workdays, that would be on order $9M/year in recaptured productivity at 50% train capacity and OO $18M at full capacity.

    I think the problem is that people don't properly value the discretionary time that they spend on the freeway as I don't think anybody would pay $30/day to ride the train. If they did, the economics of rail wouldn't be so bad. This would also fix the drunken bum problem as only high wage earners could afford to ride. A tiered fare system whereby certain cars had better amenities (i.e. first class vs. coach) could also potentially solve the drunken bum problem (at least for those who could afford first class). A means tested tax credit might also be useful towards providing public transport for low income earners.

    BTW, my employer just instituted an optional 9/80 work week whereby those who participate get every other Friday off. I think this is a really great way to reduce freeway loading and pollution as it takes cars off the road with little to no offsetting cost (it essentially shaves 10% off the # of miles driven by each commuter who participates).

  • Bob Smith

    The issue I have with your "recapture productivity" analysis is threefold. First, assuming there can be *any* productivity on a train, let alone a full hour's worth, is in my opinion wildly optimistic. Many, many jobs cannot be done on a train, even ones that mostly involve computers in an office. "Less stress" is, in my experience with public transit during commute hours, patently absurd. Second, you forget that the average auto commute in the US is about 1/2 hour. Trading a 1/2 hour auto commute for a 1 hour train commute, while ignoring the substantial time spent on either side of that commute getting to and from the train, is not my idea of a sound tradeoff. Third, public transit is a big-time disease vector. Sick days are a huge loss of productivity for most employers.

  • http://www.hodakvalue.com/blog M. Hodak

    Great analysis. Like you, I'm a great fan of railroads, but not of their economics the way they are today, even given the fact that trains are far more fuel-efficient, far safer, and far less polluting per passenger than cars.

    What is heartbreaking, to me, is the government distortion of the evolution of regional transportation in the U.S. It's true that cars pay their freight today, so to speak, but the roadway infrastructure was a centrally planned development during the very decades that passenger rail was being taxed and regulated into complete submission. That's America developed vibrant, sprawling suburbs and decaying cities and towns. That's why it's so hard to justify a light rail project today--we're already too spread out.

    No-one knows what our transportation system would have looked like today if we lived in a truly free country during the last century, but I would bet it would be economically much more tilted to trains than cars for commuters.

  • Bob Smith

    Trains don't save fuel and don't pollute less. Not in this universe, anyway. Simple physics will show you why. Hint: check out the vehicle mass per passenger. I'm ignoring the outrageous capital costs of rail, which further prove the absurdity of building it. Roads simply move more people for less money with greater freedom. Even if roads were more expensive, so what? I'm willing to pay a huge premium for the freedom a personal vehicle gives me, and so is almost everybody else. "It costs more" is the same unsound argument being used to slam our health care system. Yes, it costs more, but I don't have to wait months for treatment and the US has the best *outcomes* anywhere. My life is worth it. For example, cancer survival rates are not just a little better, but a *lot* better, in the US than they are in Britain.

    People *want* to live in suburbs. Living in suburbs is the free market in action. Urban planners mandating land use rules that privilege urban over suburban areas, require densification, make land unavailable for development, and generally make housing much more expensive, is the antithesis of a free market. "Planning" and "smart growth" is the heavy hand of socialism telling people how they should live, rather than enabling how they want to live, because planners like all technocrats believe themselves smarter and more enlightened than the masses. It is the usual progressive arrogance that if only we could get sufficiently smart and right-thinking people in government all our problems will be solved. The problems they create will be ignored, or used as proof we need to further expand government.

  • Mark

    I think part of the problem is that the East Coast liberals cannot understand that building such infrastucture using the labor laws of modern America makes such projects cost prohibitive.

    Most of the succesful transit systems were built many decades ago. Boston and New York's subway system would never have been built but for low cost immigrant labor.

    We all hear about the "sacrifices" people need ot make for the government. I guess mainly the people who make these statements only refer to the taxpayer.

    However, with the so called infrastructure crisis in the United States, how come no one is calling for organized labor to "sacrifice" and discard the archaic labor laws that surround all public work projects.

    Lets suspend such stupid, racist laws like the Bacon-Davis Act and let the true labor market set the cost of these projects. I personally would support a WPA/CCC type programs that would hire people without jobs, job skills, or people who need training at low wages to work on public work projects

  • Ivan

    Bob Smith, you make good points regarding my productivity loss argument. I don't think the 1/2 average commute argument applies, however. If your commute is 30 minutes or less than it wouldn't make sense for you to ride a train. Here in the greater Los Angeles area, however, long commutes (> 1 hour each way) are common. It would seem to me that riding even a crowded train would be less stressful than 2 to 3 hours in rush hour traffic each day (try getting to Culver City from the North San Fernando Valley on the 405 in the late afternoon sometime - it's hell). If for instance I moved to Simi Valley, my commute would increase from 30 minutes each day to ~3 hours. If I spent those 3 hours riding on a train instead of sitting in traffic, I'm arguing that I would net a productivity gain since I could spend part of that 3 hours doing a leisurely activity like reading a book or napping, so even if I my work isn't compatible with working on the train, I'd be more rested at work, and hence more productive at work and at home in the evening. BTW, I think the overhead of chores at home needs to be included in the equation as it requires part of one's daily productivity capacity. If I am worn out from driving on the 405, I'll be too tired to do things at home that need done. Hence I may have to hire someone to do those things that I could otherwise do myself.

    We can argue about the number of hours and the dollar value of that time, but I still maintain that spending time behind the wheel has a lost productivity cost that is not reflected in the operating cost of the vehicle.

    BTW, van pools (and to a less degree car pools) are probably a better solution than trains. They require no additional infrastructure, they are private, each one can take 5 to 6 cars off the freeway in terms of congestion and probably a net of 3 to 4 in terms of fuel consumption (just a quick guess), and most important they preserve a degree of flexibility which is lacking with commuter trains. Additionally the van pool probably provides more of the stress reduction benefit and productivity buy back than does the train (except for the driver, who could in principle be compensated for doing the driving).

  • http://comuse.blogspot.com Allen

    Excellent point by Bob Smith about the subsidy rhetoric. My advice is next time someone mentions it is to ask them if the roads are getting subsidized than where is the money really coming from? It has to come from someplace.

    Another issue not touched on here is how many light rail projects are being built to "replace" bus service. In Denver 70% of the riders were already riding the bus. When the T-Rex project was completed last fall and they completed the 2 LRT line, there were a ton of complaints from bus riders that used to be bused downtown directly instead of having to spend more time being indirectly carted on buses to the LRT. And guess what, to the best of my knowledge no one has ever tried to figure out how many transit riders are lost because of projects like that. How many people who lived in Centenial or Greenwood Village had a nice bus direct bus ride but are now driving on I25, US85 or one fo the city streets because that extra 15-30 minutes they spend on transit means a 50% increase in their comutting time each day and it just isn't worth it?

    As for costs, the Hiawatha line in Minneapolis Annual budgeted operating cost is $19.85 million in 2006 dollars. It's 12 miles long, has 17 stations and cost $715 million to build (keep in mind an extra $80 million or so is due to a long tunnel under MSP). This cost is offset in part by annual fare revenue estimated at $7.2 million. Which brings up an interesting point. The ridership numbers they give, and I'm assuming other transit agencies do this, are not based off of their revenues of $7.2 million but based on random head counts that the agencies themselves conduct. It's a bit like bond issuers being able to give ratings to those bonds. They're literally just getting onto cars and randomly counting heads & assuming that rate for all other times. They're talking about ridership @20,000 a day yet, unless I scribbled on the back of my napkin wrong when assuming $2 / trip (more for some but there are tons of discounts), they have less than 10,000 paying riders / day. It's rough math but surely its not _that_ far off is it?

    Count yourself lucky you don't live in a metro that's shooting itself in the foot with rail projects like Denver. They've had huge cost overruns, a good chunk of which is not due to unforseen construction materials increases (ie the price of steel, oil) and from towns asking from extras, but there is a sizeable amount that can't be explained. It leaves one suspecting if they weren't low balling things from the start. Now instead of lines being built to handle 100 year storms, it's 5 years storms. That's a big difference when it comes to risks for on-going costs. And the first Fastracks line being built is now going to have a single track section instead of the initially stated double track (ie smaller capacity).

  • http://comuse.blogspot.com Allen

    Ivan, if the issue is productivity than why not just go the telecommuting route? If employers are worried about cost and productivity that would make more sense for them than worried about people getting work done while on a train.

    And I'm not sure who can get work done while on a train. I for one can use a VPN to access my work network but it's much, much slower than if I'm there. More pertinent to this situation is that my employer explicitly forbids using the VPN from a wireless network. Even if the trains had WiFi, I couldn't use it. I would suspect many other people would be in that situation.

  • franco

    Wow, look at that train. There's basically nobody on it. Here in Chicago our commuter trains are packed. I don't know if Metra makes any money but at 80 million passengers per year and probably $5.00 average per ticket at least we've got a shot at breaking even. Plus, with terrible traffic and $22 per day parking downtown, it makes a lot of sense to take the train. We've also got tons of old rail lines to boot so it's really affordable to get the thing up and running thanks to the railroads that put the track down (not the tax payers).

    That's what these small towns miss - driving is a nightmare up here. In Albequeque driving is a comparative cake-walk. Parking is only $8 a day or $47 a month - that in and of itself is a bargain. What kind of person would put a light rail system in Albequerque? That thing is a guaranteed money loser.

  • Tim

    I feel like there is something missing from this argument. I live outside Chicago and about 10 blocks from the commuter rail system. I don't really have the time to research this but I have a friend that works for Metra that claims that rider fares only cover 60% of the Metra Operating costs AND from what he tells me, we have one of the most efficient commuter rail services in the country. Chicago is possibly one of the best tracked citys in the country and is a major rail head, our tracks have been here for 170 years and we roll freight down the same lines to the tune of 1 train every 5 minutes, 24 hours a day (sometimes, it really sucks). If what you say is true, that projects that don't make money should not be undertaken, than you are saying that we should turn out maybe a half a million riders a day from the chicago Metra system and shut it down? That is that what I am hearing? That commuter rail is a boondoggle and the taxpayers are getting screwed?

    Without rail, I would have to drive to the city. I live exactly 27 miles west of Chicago, the trip currently takes about an hour and 20 minutes but without rail, it would take more because of increased traffic. If rail did not exist, it would compress the Chicago metro area in towards down-town, increasing the population density. My little town would be farmland still, and much much poorer. Land prices would be less, property taxes would be less, the suburbs would be limited due to gridlock and driving times into the city.

    It is hard for me to imagine what this place would look like without Metra. I know that for anyone in easy walking distance from a station you can add 20 grand to the price of your house. If you can ride a bike, 10 grand. I know for a fact, those rails have been bringing prosperity to Chicagoland for 150 years.

    Can I still be a good libertarian and belive that rail, even operating at a loss, is worth it?

    P.S. I wonder if they would really lose any riders if they upped the ticket price to break even range...

  • Tim

    Ok, I did my homework.

    http://metrarail.com/Budget/2007BudgetBook.pdf

    Metra sells 82 million rides a year. That is an average of 224 thousand a day. They are currently *borrowing" 71 million this year from the capital budget to support the operations budget. For round numbers, lets say that is a dollar a ride a day of a subsidy from the capital budget. But what they are really looking for is for the state of Illinois to fill the gap between fares and costs and that number is 269 Million in 2007. Divide that by 82 million rides, that's $3.28 per ride, assume 250 rides a year and you have $820 subsidy per rider per year.

    "Metra currently has $2.5 billion in unfunded capital projects, including
    $880 million in local matching funds for four New Start projects that
    are authorized under the most recent Federal Transportation Act"

    So let's figure 3.38 Billion in Capital project divided by 82 million rides a year, that is a subsidy of 41$ per Ride. 250 rider days in a year and you have 10,250$ plus the operations subsidy and you are at 11,070$. I was pretty close about the ratio of fares to government subsidy at 55%.

    Bottom line, if one of the oldest and second largest metro rail systems can't make money on track that is used for freight most of the day then none are going to. But does that really make rail a bad idea? If you asked anyone here in Chicagoland if they think we should shut down Metra because it is consuming 270 million tax dollars a year or that it is going to eat up 3.38 billion in the near future we would all say no. It survives because beyond the economics of the lines themselves, the trains bring people with money in their bank accounts from high paying jobs in the city out to where there is room to breathe, and make the suburbs prosper.

  • Reformed Republican

    If the train is such a benefit to the riders, they shold be willing to pay more for their tickets, instead of making nonriders pay. If it benefits businesses so much to have the train, they can voluntarily pay for the upkeep of the lines. There are plenty of options for having a train that do not require taking money from people who would rather use it for other things.

  • Tim

    Reformed Repubican, I assume your answer is to me? So are you saying you would raise fares to cover costs? And, considering this is an Econ blog, when demand takes a dive because the new higher price would surely decrease ridership, then what? Raise prices again to cover the shortfall, with the corresponding reduction in demand. Rinse and repeat.

    It is nice to live in a theoretical world, but public policy happens in the real world. If you demand that Metra breaks even you may in the same breath be demanding that it shut down. If that is what you are proposing, then what of suburban prosperity? If suburban prosperity is not your problem then consider the choice you would be forcing riders to make. Here is your delema, Metra is shut down due to the fact it has never broken even starting January 1, 2008. What do those people do to get to work? Drive? Move closer? Uproot families? Who cares, not my problem?

    I think of Metra, less as a stand alone company and more like a regional logistics system. Imagine a warehouse with a large fully automated conveyor belt system. Would you expect your warehouse operations people when considering whether to put in a fully automated conveyor belt system to take into account only the P&L of the conveyor belt? Should operations *Charge* every box moved on the conveyor belt a fare? When an organization considers the ROI of a piece of machinery don't they consider the P&L of the organization as a whole and not of the machinery as a piece? Help me out people, I thought cost accounting was largely bull-shit. Come on, am I the only guy that read "The Goal" by Eliyahu M. Goldratt and Jeff Cox? P&L is for the entire organization, in this case it would be the entire Chicago Metro area. It should be the policy to recover as much as possible in fares without a doubt, but it should balance that against the overall needs of the organization, which would be a decrease in congestion, pollution and quality of life. Making Chicagoland a livable area creates prosperity.

  • atr

    "So are you saying you would raise fares to cover costs? And, considering this is an Econ blog, when demand takes a dive because the new higher price would surely decrease ridership, then what? Raise prices again to cover the shortfall, with the corresponding reduction in demand. Rinse and repeat."

    With a private business, we can generally assume that prices are set to maximize profit. But not so with Metra. It's quite possible that net operating profit would increase if prices were raised. But that's the point--because Metra is paid for an operated by the government, we don't know what price would be commanded in the free market. See http://www.lewrockwell.com/orig7/crovelli4.html

    ( This is sort of like the Laffer curve: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laffer_curve
    Do you think lowering Metra rates would increase profit because it would increase ridership? )

  • la petite chou chou

    Wow. I am really surprised no one mentioned the Portland light rail yet.

    We have two. The MAX is the main one. It has 4 branches so far and downtown is all torn to pieces for the fifth one. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MAX_Light_Rail
    I don't know much about its funding but I can say that I heard from a fare inspector that 25% of its ridership does not pay. That means, of course, people are riding it for free outside of fareless square. I have mixed emotions about it because taxpayers are funding it, but non-tax payers (the homeless living in or near downtown) don't have to pay to ride it within fareless square, but commuters trying to get to and from work typically outside of downtown (since much of downtown living is for section 8, or others just walk) have to pay the fare to ride it too. It makes prosperous people feel like they have to pay twice to use it while peddlers can ride for free.
    Here's an interesting PDF on MAX ridership statistics. Looks like about 33 million people rode it in 2006, so if 25% of them didn't pay its an almost $16 million loss (if you average the cost of the ticket between the two regular adult rates).

    The same issues arise with the Portland Streetcar, our other light rail. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portland_Streetcar
    That wiki actually states that the initial build cost was 57 million in "local costs" (taxes, I can only guess) and 5 million from the Fed Govt (more taxes...). The cool thing about the Streetcar is that all its stations are sponsored, so it can help offset some cost. But like the MAX, you are likely to run into drunken bums or extreme overcrowding during "rush hour" times (though nothing like the Tube or the Subway, however you also do not get people who can't pay riding those).

    Someone else mentioned the disease factor. Yes. My coworkers frequently tell me how they had to evacuate because a deranged bum threw up so the driver kicked everyone off, or I have witnessed someone (crazy) spitting on the doors and hand railings. Often the trains smell of urine, too. Portland is a very liberal place though---they LOVE their light rail, regardless of its cost on the city's inhabitants or currently how downtown is partly an unnavigable mess for the new track being laid and that roads in major need of repair go unnoticed while they will fund what many believe is a superfluous new line. (I also cannot imagine what a pain it would cause if they go forward with the East Side expansion...I hope I don't live here then.)

    Also, as an aside...Portland was always known for its streetcars. In fact, the entire city is covered with remnants of track that has been either torn up or paved over. Most historical photos show tracks on all the streets. It's a long history.

  • http://www.hodakvalue.com/blog M. Hodak

    While Warren's post about the non-economic nature of light rail is, I believe, spot on, some of these comments come from la la land.

    "Trains don't save fuel and don't pollute less. Not in this universe, anyway. Simple physics will show you why."

    Having worked with railroads, and knowing their economics in gruesome detail, I can assure you that given the right logistical characteristics, there is absolutely no technology more energy efficient (including less polluting) than steel wheels on steel rails on a gentle grade serving a well-designed network. The problem is that the current network, even in the most densely populated areas like the Northeast and Chicago, is the result of horrendously non-market influences operating through most of the last century.

    "People *want* to live in suburbs. Living in suburbs is the free market in action."

    That's a joke, right? Our suburbs are a product of the bureaucratic, centrally planned system that is our nation's roadways. You can argue that the roads are paid for by taxes, but you can't be serious that this is the product of the free market.

    The "death spiral" theory of Metra's economics is likely misplaced. Metra is up against politicized fares and routing choices, not to mention a transit union that effectively chokes off any possibility of productivity improvements.

    It's probably too late for passenger rail in this country. But no one can call the road system we have the product of the "free market." Notwithstanding all the rhetoric here, no one knows what our nation's transportation system would look like if the market really had been free to operate since the late 1800s.

  • Larry Sheldon

    "It's 50 bucks a month for me to ride this. I couldn't even get two tanks of gas for that."

    Costs _who_ 50 dollars a month. (Hint: If she used honest accounting, I suspect that she would find that _she_ pays considerably more that that. Even if she doesn't buy a ticket.

    And how much does her ride cost the poor sods that can't use her fancy ride?

  • Larry Sheldon

    "It's 50 bucks a month for me to ride this. I couldn't even get two tanks of gas for that."

    Costs _who_ 50 dollars a month. (Hint: If she used honest accounting, I suspect that she would find that _she_ pays considerably more that that. Even if she doesn't buy a ticket.

    And how much does her ride cost the poor sods that can't use her fancy ride?

  • NM1

    Greetings from NM. Your analysis is close in terms of operating costs. The Governor is now proposing a special tax district to pay the estimated $25M in annual operating costs. The current capital outlay, however, is closer to $500M. This system currently serves ~2500 RT riders per day. It operates between two feeder communities to the south, and one to the north. Practically nodoby in Albuquerque proper could use this system. Furthermore, Albuquerque's existing public transportation lacks the infrastructure to make it a viable option for many potential users. Unless you happen to work near the train station, it is not much use. I am a fan of public transportation, and used it frequently when I lived in the bay area, but this seemed more like a political thing than anything else.

  • paving

    Please remember that while the rail line may not yet connect where you live, work, shop and entertain yourself it will in the future. How is this? Simple. Housing, shopping, workplaces and entertainment will all begin to align themselves with transit over the next 3-5 years. In a decade commercial and residential rents will be higher near all of the stops on the train.

    As for drunks, would you rather they crash into you on the highway? Drunk in public is a crime walking down the street, taking the bus or riding the train. It is not a problem particular to light rail. Almost anybody in SF or NY would tell you that the trains are as safe as anywhere outside. Millions of people commute for work and fun daily using these systems as well as those in Portland, Denver, Chicago, Washington DC, Philadelphia, Boston and soon Seattle. Is this a list of cities that are thriving in America or cities that are suffering?

  • Fred

    The population density of Manhattan NYC: 69,873 / sq mile. Population density of Albuquerque MSA: 1883 / sq mile. I am not opposed to the concept of a train in Abq. I am opposed to this project in particular because it offers so little in return for the capital outlay. I the funds would have been better spend improving the bus service. Furthermore, I am an advocate of the City and State acquiring the right-of-way now for a transit system.

  • EG

    to treg -sept 07 /// I enjoyed your comments about the sidewalk installation. I am at least as old as dirt and have seen this method of determing sidewalk placement on a campus used only once. In 1974 while serving in the United States Air Force in Greece, our Group Commander newly arrived on base ordered sidewalks placed where all the foot traffic had left ruts in the grass etc. I was a stroke of genius!!!!!

  • anonymous

    While this doesn't negate your point, your estimate of $1.8 million in annual revenues is highly suspect.

    3,000 daily riders does *not* imply 3,000 riders each paying $50 per month. It's almost certain that the number of people paying for a monthly pass far exceeds the number of daily users. And that many users pay daily rates, which are higher than the monthly rates.

    I'd "conservatively" guesstimate that revenues are 2-3X higher than your estimate.