Austin — The Texas Public Policy Foundation (TPPF) today released an analysis of the Capital Metropolitan Transit Agency light rail proposal.

Key findings:

  • Capital Metro and CAMPO projections indicate that light rail will carry, at most, 0.5% of travel in the Austin area in 2025. This very small share of travel is in contrast to the more than one-third of transportation tax resources that will be spent on light rail over the period.
  • Capital Metro projects that 43,200 daily riders will be carried in the first year of operation of the initial 20 mile system. This is a significantly higher patronage level than any other new light rail line has achieved in the first year, and seems overly optimistic.
  • The speed of the light rail line will be similar to that of buses and considerably slower than rush-hour traffic speeds on both freeways and non-freeway arterial streets.
  • Capital Metro does not appear to have properly evaluated and considered the benefits and cost-effectiveness of transportation options other than light rail, particularly bus rapid transit (BRT), High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) Lanes, and High Occupancy Toll (HOT) Lanes. These options appear to provide benefits equal to or significantly greater than light rail for a significantly lower cost.
  • Light rail is being promoted in Austin as a mechanism for development. But, the record around the US indicates that most light rail related development has been subsidized by taxpayers (such as tax abatements, direct subsidies, reduced utility charges), as opposed to a natural outgrowth of market forces. Moreover, higher density developments will increase localized traffic congestion and air pollution.
  • The Dallas DART light rail system has been declared a success by Capital Metro. In fact, DART’s original projections that were used to promote their ballot initiative have been missed by a substantial margin. Ridership has fallen nearly 90 percent short and capital costs have escalated 60 percent (inflation adjusted). Virtually no reduction in traffic congestion has been achieved. DART’s total transit usage has actually dropped since 1988, even as the Dallas area population has grown significantly. DART is a public relations, not a transportation success.
  • Capital Metro appears to be shifting its focus from providing mobility to those without automobiles to attracting people who have automobiles as an alternative for travel. This is an expensive and risky strategy and could negatively impact lower income and minority residents, through higher fares and reduced bus service levels.
  • Capital Metro?s projected cost of $1.9 billion for the eventual 52 mile system could be exceedingly optimistic. If cost overruns occur, as in other urban areas, much of the proposed system may not be built or bus service could be reduced to subsidize cost overruns and the fare could be increased which would reduce ridership. As longer term light rail plans have developed in the United States, costs have risen above projections and promised routes have been canceled. This is also a risk in Austin.

“This report raises serious concerns about Capital Metro’s light rail plan” said TPPF president, Jeff Judson. He went on to say, “light rail proponents and builders around the U.S. have a consistent record of broken promises, unmet ridership projections, and cost overruns. Promises being made to the citizens of Austin appear to be no different.”