San Antonio Ramps Up Plan to Railroad Taxpayers

O’Toole suggested, “It is always possible to design a bus system that moves more people, faster, cheaper, more flexibly and safer than light rail. No exceptions.”

San Antonio Ramps Up Plan to Railroad Taxpayers

Ed. Note: Below, Kenric Ward writes that San Antonio leaders’ quest for light rail in SA is quixotic. We agree.

Merriam-Webster:  QUIXOTIC – foolishly impractical especially in the pursuit of ideals; especially: marked by rash lofty romantic ideas or extravagantly chivalrous action

It seems our leaders are in a rivalry with Houston and Dallas to provide our taxpayers with everything available in the other two major Texas cities. Even when it comes at untenable taxpayer burden.

Read both articles by Kenric Ward provided below. We don’t need what they’re selling!

Let’s keep our rivalry on the basketball court.


Republished from Watchdog.org, by Kenric Ward, June 9, 2016.


San Antonio Ramps Up Plan to Railroad Taxpayers

Undaunted by legal barriers erected by opponents, San Antonio planners persist in their quixotic push for light rail.

Local media enable the government’s supercilious train campaign with softball coverage. One news outlet recently whined that the Alamo City “robbed” itself by not imposing the maximum allowable sales tax to fund more public transit ventures.

In a cliché-ridden burst of boosterism, editor Robert Rivard [2] wrote, “The question is whether officials across different public entities will come together and take the political risk of asking the public to invest in transportation.”

Envious San Antonio bureaucrats and politicians hail Houston’s costly light-rail system without regard to efficiency or taxpayer benefit.

“San Antonio and Houston have the same size bread, but we have a quarter the amount of peanut butter,” said Jeffrey Arndt [3], president of San Antonio’s VIA transit system.

Peanut butter to Arndt & Co. means taxpayer subsidies. And it’s a high-priced spread.

Houston’s Metro system consumed $542 million in tax proceeds during fiscal 2015. San Antonio’s VIA got $167 million.

The return on “investment” is revealing.

Houston’s bus and rail network cost taxpayers $7.53 per rider. San Antonio’s bus-only system cost $4.07 per rider.

While Houston spent billions on a 22-mile rail line, public-transit use has fallen there. Houston buses carried nearly 88 million trips in 2001 before building light rail. In 2014, bus plus rail logged 72 million passenger trips — a 19.5 percent decline.

San Antonio’s bus service covers 98 percent of Bexar County, another fast-growing metropolitan area. But its ridership has slipped, too. VIA logged just under 41 million passenger trips in fiscal 2015.

Randal O’Toole, a national transportation expert with the market-oriented Cato Institute, said chasing after light rail is costly and foolish.

“All light rail is stupid,” he told Watchdog.org. “It is always possible to design a bus system that moves more people, faster, cheaper, more flexibly and safer than light rail.”

But buses aren’t sexy. They serve a predominantly poor population, in no short supply in San Antonio. Trains are touted as attracting “choice” riders.

Unmentioned: Rail’s outsized costs translate into fatter salaries for the bureaucrats who mind the tracks.

A recent series of public forums purportedly found popular support for rail in San Antonio.

“Light rail was requested at nearly every public input event that staff hosted,” said Flor Salas, spokeswoman for the city’s Transportation & Capital Improvement Department.

An April survey of 3,701 residents showed 78 percent agreeing with the statement: “Light rail is an important part of our future transportation network.” The survey was conducted online in English and Spanish.

When the city’s SA Tomorrow [5] asked residents to prioritize transportation spending, light rail came in a close second to roads. Asked how they would allocate $100, respondents split the C-note this way:

  • $32 for roads
  • $30 for light rail
  • $14 for sidewalks
  • $12 for bike lanes
  • $12 for buses

“The numbers should not be translated directly into budgeted program dollars or what is currently budgeted for street maintenance,” Salas cautioned.

The unscientific feedback runs counter to the expressed will of San Antonio voters, who have consistently rejected rail projects. In the latest election, voters approved a charter amendment prohibiting the city from expending funds on rail without prior voter approval.

Undeterred, Councilman Ron Nirenberg [6] has suggested including light-rail funding in a 2017 municipal bond issue, expected to approach $1 billion.

“We need a[nother] rail vote,” Nirenberg said in February. None of his colleagues rebuffed the idea.

Michael Dennis, author of the charter amendment, said light-rail proponents have not been able to explain how they could legally circumvent the funding restrictions. Dennis said the city charter now requires a separate vote of the people before any light-rail money could be folded into a bond package.

Terri Hall, founder of Texans Uniting for Reform and Freedom, calls the city’s transportation gambit a sham.

“They only took pre-written questions before the public meetings, so no questions could be responsive to the actual discussion,” Hall said. “Everything was orchestrated to churn out the predetermined, preferred outcome they wanted — which was cars bad, transit good.”

 


Light rail runs at heavy price in Dallas, Houston

By Kenric Ward,  June 8, 2016

Houston’s Metro rail is catching up to Dallas’ DART trains in ridership, but both systems are more dependent than ever on taxpayer subsidies.

Dallas Area Rapid Transit’s light-rail trains recorded 29.9 million passenger trips in fiscal 2015. The newer Houston Metro rail is on track for 23.6 million fares this year if its bullish numbers from March continue.

The competition for ridership comes at a price. DART’s rail system receives $619,960,000 in annual operating subsidies, with local sales tax and the Federal Transit Administration providing the most funding.

Houston’s Metro says it averages $4.75 in subsidies for every rail ride. Multiplied by projected ridership, that comes to $112,100,000 in taxpayer support this year.

Photo by Kenric Ward IN HOUSTON: Metro trains serve Houston’s baseball and football stadiums in and around downtown.

Photo by Kenric Ward
IN HOUSTON: Metro trains serve Houston’s baseball and football stadiums in and around downtown.

Watchdog.org test-rode the light-rail networks, finding them clean, safe, reliable and seldom full – with some defining differences in operations.

SERVICE AREA: Dallas has 90 miles of track, stretching into the suburbs. Houston has 22 miles of rail, with expansions planned.

DART trains run through Dallas’ tony Uptown and out to Plano. Metro, for now, serves Houston’s gritty urban core. The Red Line, the north-south spine of the transit network, connects NRG Stadium, home of the NFL Texans, with downtown.

SPEED: DART trains run up to 70 mph to and from the suburbs, passing vehicle traffic along parallel freeways (some of which are tolled). Metro trains max out at 40 mph, and only in short stretches. A “skip” bus route with the same limited stops would move as fast.

FREQUENCY: Houston’s Metro has more trains per mile, and passengers rarely wait more than five minutes to catch one. DART wait times can be 10-15 minutes.

FARES: An all-day pass costs $3 in Houston; $5 in Dallas.

FARE ENFORCEMENT: Taking multiple trips on DART, a Watchdog reporter was asked only once to present his ticket. Metro has stronger enforcement, with more fare inspectors patrolling rail platforms and riding trains. Neither rail system has turnstiles or ticket takers to prevent freeloaders from boarding.

BOTTOM LINE: On a passenger-per-mile basis, the more compact Metro system leads. In March, the latest month for which statistics were available, Houston trains carried 89,372 riders per mile. DART’s more sprawling network averaged 27,685 monthly rider trips per mile.

Both systems remain highly dependent on local and federal support. DART’s government subsidies were nearly nine times the amount of its fare revenue of $71,012,000 last year. In Houston, each $1.25 Metro rail ticket is supplemented by $4.75 in subsidies.

With its ongoing addition and extension of lines, Metro’s per-passenger subsidies have risen 28 percent since Houston began running light rail in 2011.

In other words, neither train system is making it on volume. More ridership is requiring evermore subsidies to break even.

Randal O’Toole, a public transportation expert with the market-oriented Cato Institute, said rail hasn’t helped riders. “To compare two light-rail systems implies that one might have more virtue than the other. In fact, neither is any good,” he said.

“Houston has seen a decline in overall [public transit] ridership,” O’Toole told Watchdog. “Buses carried nearly 88 million trips in 2001 before light rail. In 2014, bus plus rail was only 72 million trips.”

“Houston experienced a short-term gain when it first opened its light rail, then lost all of that gain and more. It experienced another short-term gain when it added five more miles of track, but I suspect it will lose that again soon,” O’Toole predicted.

Though Dallas posted ridership gains with the opening of its rail line, “expansions in 2008 and 2011 resulted in no net new ridership,” he said, citing statistics from the National Transit Database and the American Public Transportation Association.

Alternatively, O’Toole suggested, “It is always possible to design a bus system that moves more people, faster, cheaper, more flexibly and safer than light rail. No exceptions.”


Republished from Watchdog.org.  CLICK HERE to read the originals.


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2 Responses to "San Antonio Ramps Up Plan to Railroad Taxpayers"

  1. Dave R  June 15, 2016 at 9:44 am

    Just because our neighbors in Houston and Dallas choose to “jump over the cliff”, I certainly hope San Antonians are stupid enough to do the same. Light rail and any form of public transportation will ALWAYS require a subsidy. Multiply the latest subsidy figures above by 20 – 30 years and see how many zeroes that is ! I hope San Antonian’s are smart enough to avoid this tax-and-spend insanity !

  2. Mitch Rapp  June 15, 2016 at 9:38 am

    I was in Dallas for the State Republican Convention in May. I road the dart lite rail line to and from the convention center. Half the days we were there, the ticket machines were out of order so everybody rode for free. After surveying how much room the lite rail system required, I realized that San Antonio does NOT have enough room downtown for lite rail. Those trains cannot make right or left turns easily. On the Dallas Dart line, the trains just reverse course with the train driver walking to the other end of the train to drive the reverse route. During that walk, both ends of the train are unattended.

    Most of the routes are straight shot, requiring more room to be viable. That being said, it might be viable if the routes started out in Stone Oak and went through downtown. But thinking this idea would help tourism in San Antonio is a joke. Thinking it will pay for itself is a bigger joke. Tell you what. Go ahead with the lite rail idea ONLY IF you eliminate the Via bus system first! We can’t afford two public transport systems that operate in the red year after year.

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