Sunday, April 01, 2007

Mindless March Into a Pit

The Indy Star had another maddening article on mass transit, and how the region is inching ever closer to taking this outrageously miserable plan and putting it into effect.

Here are a few points to ponder, especially if you are a proponent of light rail.

* Is it just to take money from those who do not ride and give it to those who do?
* Is it just for the people of Mars Hill, Plainfield, Shelbyville, and Zionsville to pay for trains for a small number of people in Fishers?
* Is it just for the people of Fishers to pay for mass transit in San Francisco, Seattle, or Dallas?
* Would you like to see the sales tax go up? Or, the state income tax? Gasoline tax?

I ask these questions, because taxes are how mass transit systems are funded, from construction to operations. None pay for themselves. None.

So, it was interesting to read some of the quotes in the Star article:
Christine Altman, president of the Regional Transportation Authority and a Hamilton County commissioner, said the goal should be to develop a system that pays for itself.

"Money is still the number one problem," Altman said. "We're at a standstill. We can plan the best system, but if we can't implement it, we're not going anywhere."
The plan can be implemented, but only with a whole lot of tax dollars. If Altman doesn't know that mass transit doesn't pay for itself, she hasn't read any balance sheets of any system. IndyGo's balance sheets make plain that around 80% of the operating money comes from myriad tax sources. Observe this image from IndyGo's 2002 Annual Report:

Passenger fares, 16%. Federal 'Assistance' means taxes. 'Municipalities' means taxes. 82% of this pie is tax dollars. The pie charts look like this every year, in every report. Why should a light rail system perform any differently than the bus system? In order for the bus to break even, fares would have to go to about $7-8/ride.

The MPO's Financial Analysis lists a variety of tax sources it will depend on for a light rail system. MPO studies page link. IndyGo 2002 report. 2003. 2004. 2005.

(Indy Mayor Bart) Peterson, a Democrat, said he supports light rail. It's a system in which more stops could be built for less, and it would require less up-front cash, which the city lacks. The regional authority he wants to control the project would consist of a bipartisan group of local leaders.

"I want to see us move forward with a rail-based rapid transit system, but I'm not sure yet if it's feasible," Peterson said. "We now have a structure in place to make it happen: the Regional Transportation Authority."
Again, it depends on what 'feasible' means to the Mayor. If 'feasible' means sucking $1 billion in tax dollars out of the people, then the thing is feasible. If you want to not chase out even more people of means from this region, then the project is not feasible. Perhaps, if the Mayor is getting his dictionary out, he should look up 'boondoggle'.

Undaunted by common sense or an ability to read a balance sheet, this nightmare appears poised to move forward.

A council of regional officials expects to decide on a specific route -- and transit system -- after 30 days of public hearings that could begin in October, said Amy Inman, project manager for a study of local rapid transit that is due in late summer.
I guess I'll have to start preparing my statements now. *sigh*

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Mike - I had not read your post when I put mine up this morning!

Fred McCarthy