Another Enormous Subsidy of a Pitiful Few Train Riders

From the AZ Republic

Valley Metro is set to break ground today on the first light-rail expansion, a 3.1-mile stretch into downtown Mesa that city leaders hope will bring a sorely needed economic boost.

The $200 million extension is expected to attract thousands more East Valley riders daily and potentially nurture new development along the line.

If we assume "thousands" means two thousand, then this means the metro area is spending $100,000 per new daily rider for this expansion, not including the additional operating subsidies that will be required to run the trains.  Given that none of these people will likely be able to give up their car, since the route goes so few places, why should they get a $100,000 subsidy?

How about we charge them what it costs?  The payment on a 30-year 5% bond is around $13,000,000 a year.  So if there are 2,000 additional round trip riders boarding or debarking at these new stations each day, that is 1.46 million trips.  So the tickets should be $8.90 per trip plus the cost of actually running the train.  We'll round it to $10, though the cost is probably higher.  If people really think this train is so great, they should be more than willing to pay the $10 a trip it costs for the expansion.

No, they are not?  What this means is that people think this is a really go idea as long as someone else pays.

PS-  If these seem unreasonably high, or simply an artifact of looking at this expansion on a stand-alone basis, think again.  For the original system, the capital cost was $75,000 per round trip rider and the public subsidy in 2010 was $32.73 per trip.  In other words, on the main system, riders would have to pay $32.73 a trip more to be actually covering the cost of the service they are receiving.  So if anything, these incremental numbers for the expansion are probably optimistic.

PPS - I am sure transit authorities would argue that the public did support paying for other people's transit by approving the sales tax increase for this purpose a few years ago.  But the train piece was packaged in with a bunch of highway improvements in the same proposition that people really did want.  It would never have passed on its own.  Transit official may disagree, but the proof is in their actions - they have never allowed the public to vote on the transit piece alone.


  1. MJ:

    There is an error in the link to the story. It is linking to a article about the 2012 London Olympics.

  2. Anonymous Mike:

    Trying to renew downtown Mesa through light rail is the Reeses Peanut Butter Cup of urban planning, two great themes that are just even better when put together. Things to consider:

    1) I have been reading stories about revitalizing downtown Mesa for the past 21 years. I not only buildings that have been built and torn down in t at time, I have none kids who have been born, grew up, married, and divorced in that time. I guarantee we'll be reading about efforts to revitalize downtown Mesa 20 years from now.

    2) Efforts to revitalize downtown Mesa have led to all sorts of governmental abuse - such as the Bailey Brake Shop case which was Arizona's version of Kelo. Note Mesa trampled property rights in the name of urban renewal in order to give the land Bailey stood on to somebody who would put an ACE hardware on the site - because we all know what draws people into a revitalized urban area is ready access to latex paint and carriage bolts

    3) I'll echo Warren's comment about the efforts to prevent a straight-up vote on light rail - the tax paying for it was the 1/2 cent sales tax that paid for the Valley freeway system and Maricopa Association of Governments worked like the Devil was chasing him to make sure that there was an integrated grab bag of transportation projects when the tax came up for renewal from the voters. Rather than just freeways you had bus routes, light rail and even city surface streets and you had to vote for all or none.

    4) I am sure there are reams of studies somewhere between Mesa and MAG headquarters in Phoenix showing how the rail will revitalize downtown Mesa but can I ask how? Who will be taking a glacially slow means of public transit to go to the eastern edge of the Phoenix metroplex for things (arts center performances... sorry I cannot think of anything else worth going to downtown Mesa for) that they can get closer to home? Is it going to be used to have people commute to ASU or downtown Phoenix (neither of which would really spur downtown Mesa as an entity)?

    All this is an unholy alliance of Mesa trying to get some of that sweet county wide tax money (would Mesa pay for the whole $200 million out of their own money?) and light rail folks trying to get some affirmation for their original boondogle, one 3 mile extension at a time.

  3. GoneWithTheWind:

    You need to understand this isn't about logic or fudicial responsibility of politicians regarding taxpayers money. This is about power and paying union back for getting them elected. It doesn't matter if this little light rail line loses tens of millions a years, all that matters is a couple hundred more union jobs and a guaranteed reelection. Politicians are corrupt not stupid.

  4. NormD:

    Good government types should spend some quality time thinking of legal ways to eliminate bundling. I am amazed at how pernicious this is.

    One example I heard recently was that Obamacare included money for research that has already been spent, so there is no way to repeal Obamacare in its entirety as there is no way to unspend the money. This forces the Supreme Court to go through Obamacare line item by line item.

    Local schools want money to upgrade chemistry labs. OK... But it's bundled in a plan to put solar panels in the parking lots.

    Every bond to fix/expand our local highways/roads have always included money for "transit".

    When I was college many years ago I was asked to pay an optional "Student Activity Fee". Mostly it was to fund things like the Black Student Union or Socialists for a Better World, but, of course, they also included sports facilities.

    Congress continually attaches non-defense bills to bills to pay the troops because they know that they cannot be vetoed.

    We need some kind of law that mandates that all laws be single issue or fund single projects. If that cuts down on the number of bonds/laws, so much the better.

  5. skh.pcola:

    It costs ~$12,500 a foot to build some track and acquire the rolling stock? They could just build a Soviet-style apartment complex downtown and force the potential commuters to inhabit those blocs of unstylish concrete. Pfft.

  6. gmkjr:

    Of course, fewer people would be using the socialist-built roads and freeways if the costs, including air pollution, were factored in by tolls or other such measures. Of course, some of the costs of construction were paid by gasoline taxes, and some of the costs of reducing pollution are transferred to drivers by catalytic converters and other vehicle equipment that drivers do pay for, but there's plenty of additional harm that is imposed on society in general. In addition, there's also the question whether light rail is the most cost-effective form of public transportation.