Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Saanich Endorses Rail Transit but Ignores Economics

Last night the Saanich council endorsed rail transit for the rapid transit to the Westshore and once again it is being done ignoring some major issues.

1) Ridership - there simply are not enough people in the Westshore to ever provide enough riders to make rail affordable.   The total pool of people wanting to get downtown from Langford is simply too small.  

2) Capital costs - the cost of a line out to Langford will be around $500,000,000.   How do you pay for this?  Who pays for this?   Borrowing this money to build it adds an additional $8,000,000 in annual financing costs to BC Transit locally if the Feds and Province are willing to pay 2/3s of the costs to build.   Who pays for the interest on the loan?   You need to pay down the debt as well at a cost of $8,000,000 or so per year.

3) Who are the people that are currently in their cars that will become transit riders?  At the moment the time to get into town from Langford on the #50 is not much longer than by car and it saves you about $5000 a year.  You can also read a book, work on your computer or do other things.   If these are not enough incentives to get people out of their cars, I have no idea what is.  

4) Rail uses more land to move fewer people and goods.   There will need to be a dedicated grade separated line and this means some more land will have to be converted from whatever it is now into a transportation line that will only move a few thousand people a day.

5) What developments will happen in the future because of an LRT system?  None.  Uptown Centre is being built without rail and it is really the only major spot that is along the route that could be a development.   South of Uptown there will be no development till the car dealerships are gone and from there a bus actually is reasonably quick downtown anyway, a rail system is not going to gain a lot of users when compared buses.

6) How do you cover the operational costs?   Trains cost more than buses to operate and the ridership is not there to cover the increased costs.   We need to consider the most cost effective way to move people. Based on a dramatic increase in ridership from the Westshore we could assume you gain $2.5 to $3 million per year in revenues.   The operational costs of the trains for this will be $4 million to $8 million. Much depends on the type and number of trains that are used.  

Rail will cost an extra $20,000,000 a year but will only bring in less than $3,000,000 a year, there is a $17,000,000 shortfall that has to be made up.   The budget locally is still less than $100,000,000.   There is a huge financial gap that has to be overcome to make LRT economically workable in this region.   Without an additional local tax levy, about a 50% increase is needed, BC Transit will have to reduce bus service hours to allow the rail system to operate.

Keep in mind that 70% of the people in the CRD would see no benefit from an LRT to the Westshore.
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