Will light rail reduce traffic congestion in San Antonio? No. City-wide, light rail will reduce automobile miles driven by less than 0.4% by the year 2025. To put this in perspective, total traffic removed from roadways as a result of combined light rail ridership over 25 years is less than a single year’s increase in traffic. Light rail will remove essentially no traffic from the Loop, where most traffic growth is expected to occur. The U.S. Census Bureau projects that 98% of employment growth (through 2025) in S.A. will occur outside the central business district. Furthermore, since light rail will run in existing streets and will preempt traffic signals, it will increase congestion around operating trains as will its 20+ years of construction in existing streets. Only 25% of light rail passengers in the U.S. are former automobile drivers. Only former automobile drivers who ride light rail are contributing to reduced traffic congestion and air pollution.
How much will VIA’s light rail project cost? VIA projects its construction costs alone to be $2.88 billion just to build the system, approximately $5,000 per household. The 1/4 cent sales tax increase is equivalent, in dollar terms, to a 29% property tax increase in San Antonio. San Antonio taxpayers will pay $13,200 annually for every new passenger attracted to light rail, enough to lease or buy each new rider three new family sedans forever.
How will light rail affect people who currently rely on transit to get around? When light rail is built, bus lines will be rerouted to feed into light rail lines rather than traveling directly to previous destinations. This causes longer trips, more transfers, and more transfer fees for people who depend on transit. If VIA experiences any cost overruns, and there are no additional sales tax dollars available, then the cost overruns will have to be paid for by raising fares and by reducing bus service. Because the poor, elderly, and handicapped disproportionately depend on transit, these outcomes will greatly harm these groups. Such deteriorating bus service led to successful civil rights lawsuits by bus riders in Los Angeles and Philadelphia. Light rail will impact bus riders in San Antonio more than in other cities since 87% of VIA riders have no access to an automobile – three times the national average.
Has light rail been a success in Dallas? No. Dallas taxpayers were told that light rail offered the best hope for reducing traffic congestion, improving air quality, and revitalizing downtown Dallas. It has failed on all three counts. Dallas underestimated their construction costs by more than 60%, inflation adjusted ($17.8 million per mile estimate; $45 million per mile actual). Subsequently, rather than build a 160 mile system as promised, only 20 miles opened at the end of 13 years and only 53 total miles are now planned to be built when the system is complete. Of course, taxpayers were taxed at the level that was to build the 160 mile system. DART overestimated light rail ridership by at least 355% even though it subsidizes fares by almost 88%. In 1997, it was only carrying 43 million and is projected to carry only 125 million when the system is complete. Traffic congestion has risen 35% since the light rail election, an amount 10% greater than the national average increase and greater than any other Texas city. The EPA has placed Dallas on the list of dirtiest cities in the U.S. Downtown Dallas, the core of the light rail system, rather than being revitalized, has the second highest office vacancy rate (32%) in the entire U.S.
Is light rail popular elsewhere in the U.S? No? All five light rail tax elections in the U.S. in 1999 were defeated soundly. Since 1988, 79% of light rail elections have been defeated by an average margin of 14 percentage points even though proponents outspent opponents by at least 12 to 1. More importantly, every city that has light rail has defeated multiple ballot measures to expand their systems.
Is there a cheaper way to get people out of their cars? A December 1999 VIA analysis indicated that busways (new freeway and arterial lanes dedicated for use by buses) would attract twice as many new transit riders at one-fourth the cost of light rail. Mysteriously, VIA dropped busways from their final plan. Houston attracted new transit ridership at a cost less than one-fourth that of Dallas through busways and express bus service.
Will light rail attract new riders to transit who will not ride buses? A federal study shows that where service levels are equal, people have no preference for rail over buses.
Is light rail faster than a car during rush hour? No. Light rail systems built in the U.S. since 1980 average only 17.2 miles per hour. Even the fastest subway systems do not achieve average speeds of automobiles during rush hour which is more than 30 miles per hour. Light rail in Dallas operates at 14.1 miles per hour – the same speed as DART buses. The most widely touted light rail system in the country, in Portland, travels at 14.5 mph. VIA claims its average speed will be 25 mph, a speed that cannot feasibly be reached with its current system design.
Will light rail improve air quality? Since so few automobile drivers switch to light rail, it has little or no positive effect on air quality. Light rail stations are not within walking distance (1/4 mile) from at least 99% of destinations in the urban area. As a result, people must drive to rail stations. The nation’s most comprehensive and expensive new rail system (Washington, D.C.) is credited with removing barely 1% of emissions in the area.
How long will the increased sales tax be in place? Forever. The proposed quarter cent tax will be permanent and will cost taxpayers an additional $40 million per year, an amount which will grow each year.
Is light rail less expensive than building freeways? No. According to TXDoT, local freeway construction costs are from $4-12 million per (2-way) lane mile compared to the national average cost of $70 million per mile for light rail. Additionally, nowhere in the U.S. does light rail carry more than 1/3 of the actual passenger volume of a single freeway lane.
Can we trust VIA to spend wisely the billions of local sales tax and federal grant dollars? No. A 1997 TPPF performance analysis of VIA pointed out a $23 million bookkeeping discrepancy. VIA staff mislead the VIA Board and the public when it claimed to be losing $18 million per year when it was actually enjoying a $5 million net gain. Before the discrepancy was revealed, VIA raised bus fares 87.5%, driving 11 million annual riders off its system, voted to levy a new tax on phone bills, scheduled numerous future fare and tax increases, and instituted transfer fees. While never admitting fault, VIA canceled the phone tax, the future fare and tax increases, and lowered bus fares. The same analysis pointed out that VIA’s administrative costs were 49% above the industry benchmark and that VIA had excessive cash reserves equivalent to 108% of operating costs. Passage of the May 6 ballot measure will grant VIA rights to condemn private property and to manage a $3 billion construction project. Has it earned this trust?