METRO Solutions: $150,000 per new rail transit rider?

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In a post today, blogger and blogHOUSTON commenter Neal Meyer takes apart the three-hour-commute prediction of Ray Chong, until recently one of the City of Houston’s traffic bureaucrats. That’s well worth reading in itself, but it gets even more interesting towards the bottom of the post:

One item that Mr. Chong’s story may be more to the mark on is the assertion that public transportation’s share of commuting trips will drop from 3.8 percent to 3.3 percent. One big story that has not been reported by the media concerning recent controversies surrounding eminent domain issues and cost estimates behind Metro’s North and Southeast corridors is that in its FY 2010 report to Congress, the FTA is stating that spending $897 million on the North Corridor rail alignment is going to result in a mere 7,500 new riders being attracted to using transit (see page 221 of the report). The Southeast Corridor rail alignment is projected to cost $911 million and is expected to attract a mere 4,500 new riders to transit (see page 227 of the FTA report). Yes gentle readers, you read that correctly. The FTA is telling Congress that it is recommending helping Metro spend $1.8 billion to attract 12,000 new riders to rail transit, a figure that works out to spending $150,000 to attract a new rider to transit. Meanwhile, my yet to be completed FY 2008 – FY 2009 ridership numbers are indicating that Metro lost 10-20 percent of its ridership over the past year. If we continue to pursue such policies, then it is quite plausible that Houston’s transit agency will end up bankrupting itself merely to substitute rail transit for bus transit, but not gaining any meaningful market share of transportation trips or doing anything to alleviate traffic congestion. Indeed according to Metro’s federal enviornmental impact statements, the agency intends to cut off road lanes available to vehicle traffic along most of the routes where it wants to run rail.

That’s some interesting insight into METRO and the FTA documents, and the entire post is recommended reading. Wouldn’t it be great if the city had a newspaper that regularly engaged in cost/benefit analysis of such matters? Ah well, at least we got to hear from Christof Spieler and Robin Holzer in today’s transit column!

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Kevin Whited
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Kevin Whited is co-founder and publisher of blogHOUSTON. Follow him on twitter: @PubliusTX