Streetcars and Light Rail

That’s the future of American transport, according to the man Barack Obama has tapped — after almost a year and a half — to be transportation secretary:

America’s transportation system will continue to grind to a halt under President Obama’s pick for transportation secretary, Anthony Foxx. Currently mayor of Charlotte, N.C., Foxx strongly supports streetcars and other obsolete forms of transit.

Seriously, streetcars. A number of cities, with the federal government offering lavish subsidies, are trying to revive a 19th century technology as the solution to transportation. Of course, if no one rides it, such a system actually worsens traffic, increases greenhouse gas emissions and guzzles money. And, in fact, the model of this system — Portland’s Streetcar — is an albatross. It only rides 10,000 people a day, requires federal state and local subsidies and moves slower than people walk. That’s the model. That’s how a streetcar line is doing in a city that is very liberal, very green and just about optimized to take advantage of it. You can imagine what such a boondoggle would be like in fucking Charlotte.

What’s more, Foxx is supporting this boondoggle on top of existing boondoggles.

Transit advocates often point to Charlotte as an example of a successful lightrail line (more accurately described as a “low-capacity-rail line”). With success like this, I’d hate to see failure: the line cost more than twice the original projection; generates just $3 million in annual fares against more than $20 million in annual operations and maintenance costs; and collects of an average of just 77 cents per ride compared with nearly a dollar for other light-rail lines. Now Charlotte wants to extend the line even though a traffic analysis report predicts that the extension will dramatically increase traffic congestion in the corridor (see pp. 54-56).

Foxx, of course, says that the point of mass transit isn’t to make money or move people but to “develop” areas. But … that’s ain’t true either:

Rail advocates claim that Charlotte’s low-capacity-rail line helped revitalize neighborhoods along the line. However, a study by transportation expert David Hartgen concluded that most of the billions of dollars of development that was planned along the line was never built. Of the developments that were built, most would have taken place without the line, Hartgen found, though not necessarily in exactly the same locations.

I’m reminded of the economic justifications for publicly funded sports stadiums. Whenever one is built, a surprisingly small number of businesses and apartments cluster around and we’re told that it’s because of the stadium; that without the stadium, people would (I guess) be living in ditches and selling their organs for food. But almost every objective study has shown that stadia just affect where something is built, often in a minor way (i.e, moving something a block) and often because of additional subsidies for building near them. The stadium boom has almost run its course so light rail is the next urban boondoggle to shovel taxpayer money into the hands of politically powerful interests.

I don’t mean to pick on Foxx, specifically. His view is common and is the received wisdom among Democrats and Keynesians. It would be almost impossible for Obama to find a Transportation Secretary who didn’t believe in this manure. And local and state officials keep making the mistakes of taking temporary federal subsidies to start transportation projects only to leave their successors with a money-guzzling sinkhole once the subsidies are finished. But it is rare to see someone who, looking at a market that has already demonstrated its incompatibility with light rail wants to double down.

From such is Obama building his second term cabinet.

Post Scriptum: RTFLC has obtained an exclusive video of Foxx explaining his vision for public transportation.

Comments are closed.

  1. Seattle Outcast

    The libtards have never given up on their dream to turn the entire USA into NYC. Been there, and it’s someplace that isn’t fit for people to actually live.

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  2. ScottE

    Once the operational deficits come rolling in for light rail the 1st thing they do is cut bus routes the poor rely on to make up that defect. A transfer of wealth from poor to yuppies who ride it once every two months to go to a game/concert.

    Anything a street car can do a bus can do better and cheaper.

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  3. Seattle Outcast

    Seattle keeps having this retarded dream of somehow enacting ALL forms of mass transit except subways. Bus service is great if you are commuting directly to downtown Seattle only. If you want to go to the real centers of business on the east side, a five mile trip by bus will easily take 2 or 3 hours.

    We now have the SLUT (South Lake Union Trolley) that goes pretty much nowhere (ditto the monorail), and poorly enacted, massively over-budget, years late, and almost totally unused “light rail” – for which the taxpayer is stuck paying almost $100 per rider.

    What we need is a 2nd airport in the north end, and bus service that actually goes where you want it to go other than downtown Seattle.

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  4. Hal_10000 *

    Once the operational deficits come rolling in for light rail the 1st thing they do is cut bus routes the poor rely on to make up that defect. A transfer of wealth from poor to yuppies who ride it once every two months to go to a game/concert.

    Scott, that is an excellent point.

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  5. Miguelito

    You guys see how they’re pushing ahead (against the wishes of nearly everyone) with the high speed rail(roading of the CA taxpayer) with the first leg from Fresno to Modesto (useless)… and they just happened to award the contract (nearly a full $1B for about 30miles!) to Tutor Perini. A company that just happens to have a major backer in Diane Feinstein’s husband.

    Better yet, they changed the rules last year in order to even allow said company to get past step 1 in the first place.

    Yet is there even a peep in any major media outlets tonight, aside from mention on at least?

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  6. Hal_10000 *

    TxAg, that sounds like a good idea. Not just for light rail but for a lot of alternative energy boondoggles.

    “President Obama announced today that he is seeking $10 billion for unicorn research to meet our national energy needs.”

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  7. AlexInCT

    Central planner types, the nanny staters, be they the hard core red marxist types, the fascists that feel state and industry should scratch each other’s back and use the serfs as they please, or the pseudo fascists that now run this country, love the giant mass transportation schemes and scams. Amongst one of the most important aspects of a government that wants to control people is the need to limit their ability to move freely. Mass transportation allows them to claim they are doing the exact opposite while actually putting in place the perfect vehicle to control movement. That’s why the oligarchs in charge will never give up on their quest for more of this crap, even if it proves to be disastrous and prohibitively costly.

    The fact that they also can make a few of their buddies (and then themselves) stinking rich in the process of wasting billions of tax payer dollars, is an added bonus.

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