Is Houston’s Metro train really paying off?

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I’ve always been a fan of Houston (and any other US city) installing metro trains for public transportation. Perhaps it is because I’ve lived in New York and Europe which is why I have this favorable opinion of mass public transportation. After all, there are so many benefits. It cuts down on gas emissions, it is good for the environment, it makes transportation easily accessible to all, and to be considered a major international city that attracts companies, tourists, and events like the Olympics, it is necessary.

Most recently however, I read an interesting post by my new friend Tory Gattis. (Tory spoke at TedX Houston and has also written about HtownBingo). Below is a quote take from Gattis on the subject of high cost rail transit:

“Much experience has shown that once a cycle of high cost rail transit is implemented, the agency becomes heavily burdened with debt for a very long time. It is highly probable that the very high debt service (principle and interest) will become a permanent and major part of the transit agency’s annual operating costs. When one issue of bonds is paid down, it becomes time for another round of debt to replace aging equipment. This, in turn results in very poor cost effectiveness and degradation of the overall transit system as it serves fewer riders at higher costs. This high debt can never be paid-off without major increases in local taxes. Transit agencies cannot responsibly project and achieve enough ridership to make rail transit cost-effective. This has even less credibility in light of the national declining trend in the use of transit and the fact that the use of transit in Texas’ major metro areas has a declining trend over the past dozen years. As Dallas and other major cities have experienced, this results in a spiraling decline in transit performance and effectiveness, degradation of mobility for low income citizens and, often, cutbacks in other higher priority city services. This results in reducing overall quality-of-life.”

I guess I have not paid much attention to the actual costs of train transit and ridership levels, but now I should. When you learn that Dallas-Ft. Worth Metro’s population is more than 3 times San Antonio’s and Dallas’ annual transit operating expense is 4.4 times San Antonio’s but Dallas has only 1.6 times the transit ridership of San Antonio, it makes you realize that Houston will likely be in the same boat for years to come if Houston decides to build more train lines.

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