Posts tagged ‘Beware Phoenicians’

The Rail Transit Debacle

The Anti-Planner links an absolutely scathing article in the Miami Herald on the absolute disaster they have made of their mass transit system.  This is a great summary:

Miami is just one more example of the points the Antiplanner keeps making about rail transit:

1. Transit agencies might run excellent bus systems. But when they
start building rail, they quickly get in over their heads by optimistic
forecasts, unforeseen costs, and the sheer humongous expense of
building dedicated transit lines.

2. Though all rail systems require periodic expensive maintenance,
few transit agencies set aside any money for this because it is easier
to spend the money now and let future managers worry about the future.

3. Though the rail systems are usually built to serve downtown
white-collar workers, in the end it is the transit-dependent people who
rely on buses who pay the cost.

4. There is only one thing rails can do that buses can't do better,
faster, and more flexibly, and that is spend a lot of your money.

I would like to observe one other thing at work in the Miami example that looks to be exactly what we are facing here in Phoenix in the next election.  Miami offered up a transit tax referendum for something like $800 million.  They promised a mix of highway improvements and rail.  In several cases, including the upcoming referendum in Phoenix, I have tried to warn people that the people who put these referendums together are rail-ophiles.  They have learned, however, that rail alone won't sell a bond issue or tax, so they throw in a bunch of highway improvement promises, which people really will pay for, as window dressing.  Often, however, these improvements never get done, as they are empty promises to sell the tax.  We see exactly this in Miami:

But five years and more than $800 million later, the county has spent more
than half the new money on routine Transit operations and maintenance while adding 1,000
jobs to the payroll.

   There were initial achievements. The county added 11 million miles of bus service, gave
free rides to seniors, and briefly experimented with 24-hour rail. It spent $40 million on
hundreds of tiny public-works projects....

   For example, here is the cost estimate that was attached to the 44 road projects that
county commissioners asked for: $0. The projects have since been estimated to cost
$428.2 million.

   Nor was any money earmarked for an unspecified number of flyover intersections on the
list of promised improvements. Such projects, which involve raising an existing road to
pass over another, cost as much as $18 million apiece today. None have been built.

So this tax was sold in part as a highway improvement tax, but $0 was actually budgeted.  The highway piece was a lie to sell the tax.  Beware Phoenicians.