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Debunking Reasons to Support Light Rail

August 24, 2012

Last night we attended a Clackamas County Board of Commissioners meeting on the subject of light rail financing. We heard a number of reasons to support light rail. They were all without merit:

Light rail is for the future needs – Then lets build it in the future if the need really appears.  A need that may never materialize since transit market share has been declining for almost 100 years.  A new cycle of decline can be expected when  driverless cars allow most handicapped and young people to enjoy the automobile’s many benefits such as speed, convenience, and low cost. Transit is likely to be obsolete in a few decades,  well before the projected need for new light rail lines actually appears.

Light rail is safe – Light rail kills people at twice the rate of cars,  on a per passenger-mile basis.

Seniors will need transit – A Brookings Institute study reported “…driving is often the easiest physical task for older people.  Long before they lose the ability to drive, older people may be unable to board or ride public transit, or to walk to a bus stop or train station.
The diverless car is only a few years away and that will better serve those few seniors that lose the ability to drive. They will also serve the blind, feeble minded, young and, yes, even drunks. The car will be nearby instead of a long walk to a transit stop.

Light rail saves energy, reduces imported oil; we are running out of oil – The new CAFÉ standards will make cars far more energy efficient than light rail.
Fracking has dramatically increased the supply of natural gas and thus reduced the price. It is just now starting to do the same for oil.

Light rail is low cost – Portland’s light rail actually costs about 75¢ per passenger-mile when you include the local portion of the construction cost (over $1.50 per passenger-mile if you include the Federal money too.)
Portland’s lowest cost bus lines (the kind replaced by light rail) cost 34-40 ¢ per passenger-mile in 2007.  (Of course they do not pay for the roads they use.)
Automobiles cost around 25¢ per passenger-mile, including all road costs.
Bottom line is that light rail costs 3 times that of cars and double that of buses.

TriMet builds light rail on time and on budget – The East Side Line was three years late and 55% over budget.  Also see the Pickerell report.
The West side line was one year late and 100-200% over budget.

We need to revitalize the area and light rail will catalyze that – The light rail catalyst is actually an excuse to shower tax money on politically connected developers.  Portland’s first light rail line had no development outside downtown until a parade of planners and developers went to city council to get taxpayer subsidies to build high density that otherwise would not be economically viable. The money would otherwise have gone to schools, social services, fire departments and police protection.

Provides a fast commute, avoids being stuck in traffic – The average transit commuter takes almost twice as long to get to work as the average automobile commuter. Even in high density areas like Los Angles and New York, cars are on average faster (ibid).

Light rail stops sprawl – Light rail is just a modernized streetcar. Streetcars were a vital component of early sprawl: “As the streetcar expanded to other areas, residents of the quickly growing timber town could live out of the center of the town. Real estate developers created the communities of Council Crest, Hawthorne, Irvington and Mount Tabor, as well as others, as the streetcar lines lured people away from the central city to live in the suburbs. ”    From: pdxhistory.com

Today light rail still induces sprawl by transporting people from the suburbs to the central city.

Light rail reduces CO2
The  global warming scam is the greatest scientific fraud in history and is now beginning to unravel.  Update:  top climate scientist solicits oil company then another looks for evidence that skeptic gets oil money.

Let me end by asking:  What is the societal benefit of light rail?

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2012 9:57 am

    As soon as silent, emissions-free, driverless electric cars become ubiquitous, I think I agree with you. But for the time being, public transit serves two purposes which are worth investment:

    [1] To transport uninsured and unlicensed drivers who would otherwise be endangering others on public roadways.

    [2] To provide a safe, affordable means of inner-city transit with no parking requirement.

    I think parking is the biggest issue with private automobile ownership. Services like car2go and Zipcar are alleviating this issue by providing elegant carshare solutions, but driverless taxis would enable private companies to offer private rides at prices comparable to public transit without requiring parking infrastructure since they could be continuously in motion.

    I’m also not so keen on your defense of hydrofracking as a reasonable source of natural gas. While it’s true that it increases supply, it does so at the expense of the health of rural communities.

    Anyway, I appreciate that there’s a right-leaning Portland blog which uses citations rather than empty rhetoric to make its cases. It’s true that we’ve become spend-happy with transit in Portland, not stopping to consider the fiscal ramifications of our decisions.

    Just remember that there’s an emotional component to public infrastructure which needs consideration. If we considered only the fiscal implications of our public infrastructure, our parks and libraries would close for good.

    • November 20, 2012 4:42 am

      T.J. VanSlyke: I think parking is the biggest issue with private automobile ownership.
      JK: Parking is only a problem in the dense city core areas. Other areas have lots of “free” parking. Even Lloyd center has lots of free parking right on the fringe of downtown (by the official definition of Portland’s downtown)

      Since transit only works really well in the dense city core, it is logical that ONLY the businesses in the dense city core support transit, instead of the whole region. OR, perhaps transit fare could be adjusted upward to pay the full cost of transit. In any case it is unfair to expect non-users to pay for transit except for the needy who can be better served with transit vouchers (like food stamps) in a free market that includes competitive taxies, jitneys and other free market providers.

      T.J. VanSlyke: I’m also not so keen on your defense of hydrofracking as a reasonable source of natural gas. While it’s true that it increases supply, it does so at the expense of the health of rural communities.
      JK: Can you provide any real, provable examples of harm? (Please don’t cite that greenie video that showed burning tap water (from a well that burned tap water before fracking) as an example of a problem with fracking. And consider the recent EPA report that couldn’t find harm.

      T.J. VanSlyke: Just remember that there’s an emotional component to public infrastructure which needs consideration. If we considered only the fiscal implications of our public infrastructure, our parks and libraries would close for good.
      JK: Yes, but Trimet is reducing overall transit service to support the toy trains, so at some point, the waste of light rail will be noticed by the average person. (Its really a shame that our media does not look at this kind of thing before it becomes a disaster.)

      Libraries are already being replaced by the internet – when copyright problems are sorted out, I expect to be able to get everything in all the world’s major libraries on my desktop (with automatic language translations as appropriate.).

      Thanks
      JK

      • November 20, 2012 12:50 pm

        I honor your opinions. I’d just prefer to live in a dense urban environment which favors active transportation and nearby amenities rather than a suburban one. I have no problem with transit projects because I use them. I prefer trains because they’re quieter than buses, and I prefer bicycles because they’re quieter, safer and have a lower emissions footprint than cars.

        You do use public transit. Public transit offsets private automobile use which reduces need to expand road capacity. And quite frankly, as a resident of the City of Portland, I don’t support building wider freeways through my city so you can commute from an hour away.

        Transit vouchers are not a free market device. They’re essentially a subsidy to a private organization providing transit, which is essentially what Tri-Met already is. You’re not fixing the problem; you’re merely restructuring it.

        Anyway, I respect your opinions; I just wish free-market purists would take a more centrist, pragmatic approach to their viewpoints. Thanks for your reply.

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