Friday, February 08, 2008

More on Light Rail

After having looked at the study again, there is one burning question I have - how do I get the next contract from the Communities for Commuter Rail? Clearly they are not too fussed about the quality of the work they get.

The report that came out will do more to harm commuter rail than anything else. Making unrealistic pie in the sky assumptions that make Chamberlain at Munich look like a pessimist does nothing to further the cause of rail.

There are major issues with rail that are almost impossible to overcome.

1) Rolling stock is expensive to buy and maintain. Buses are cheaper on a per passenger basis. Buses are also easier to sell used and bring a higher net return. This is because a bus can be driven to the purchaser and a rail car can not and needs to be specially shipped.

2) Effective rail transit needs separation from the other traffic. This alone makes light rail very, very expensive.

3) Rail transit requires a separate right of way - you have to devote more land to transportation than otherwise. The E and N line is wildly underused but still maintains the space that could be used for many other purposes. Rail transit makes sense when the volumes of traffic are high enough. The number of people on Skytrain can simply not be moved on the surface streets. There is no demand within an order of magnitude of SkyTrain in this region.

Ultimately I do not care about the capital expenditure to put in the rail transit, it is the ongoing costs that bother me the most. I assume that someone could be found to fund the capital expenditure of $35 000 000 or more that would be needed for a half assed and badly done Langford to downtown line and that the people of the CRD are not going to have to pay for this folly directly. The core problem I have is who is going to cover the three to four million dollar a year net cost of the service?

The Greater Victoria transit system has a budget of close to $70 000 000 - having the trains would mean a 5% budget deficit. How would you fund that?

Option One - Higher Fares - you would need to raise the fares by about 25 cents to pay for the trains.
Option Two - Drop the purchase of the new buses
Option Three - Higher property taxes - a 35% increase in the transit portion, or about $17. Keep in mind we are already seeing a dramatic rise in transit from property owners.

Let us say you build the whole thing and then find out that no one is using it. What then? I believe that since there is no evidence of a demand for the service, there should be some way to measure the demand. How about a binding sign on? If 2000 current car commuters are willing to sign a binding pledge to buy a transit pass for five years so that they can use the train, that would then show that there is the demand there.

My estimate is that the operation of the service will require a per trip subsidy of about $14. The current buses require a subsidy of $1.95 a trip.

The economics make no sense at all and that is the core of my problem with the whole idea
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