Many believe in choices and in markets. But markets work effectively only when there’s a reasonable relationship between cost and price. The current $1.6 Billion plan for the Durham-Orange Light Rail Train assumes 50% Federal funding, 25% state and 25% local. The 25% local funding is comprised of a 0.5% sales tax, $10 annual vehicle registration fee and 5% tax surcharge on car rentals.
However, the NC General Assembly capped the state’s potential contribution not to exceed 10%. As of DEIS filing in 2015, that means $670 million in local taxes, just to build this (before adding an additional 40% of likely cost overruns typical of major public transportation projects).
Public transportation service that spans two or more counties and that serves more than one municipality. Programmed funds pursuant to this sub-subdivision shall not exceed ten percent (10%) of any distribution region allocation. This sub-subdivision includes commuter rail, intercity rail, and light rail. HB 672. 136-189.10. 3g
And then you add the annual 80% taxpayer subsidy for ongoing operating and maintenance costs (“farebox recovery” is the actual fare paid by the rider and planned to be 20%, leaving the remaining 80% to be paid by the taxpayer).
These lavish tax subsidies distort the market, are socially inequitable, and externalizes costs to others. Light rail projects require inordinately high capital costs, exorbitantly high operating subsidies at taxpayer expense and lack environmental benefits when compared to other alternatives including automobile or bus transit. The challenge is to find alternatives and technologies that could compete effectively with the flexibility of automobiles.
Our current emphasis on monopoly public transit systems wedded to buses and trains, fails to prepare us and our community for the demands of the future. Light rail will entail perpetual federal subsidies, state subsidies, long-term bonded indebtedness against future revenues, plus ongoing operating and maintenance costs.
Reviews of 30 Light Rail projects around the nation have conclusively demonstrated that all of them operate at a loss requiring average tax payer subsidies of 70%. The revenue associated with fares does not offset the annual operating and maintenance costs.
For example, it is well established in various studies that “U.S. rail transit systems do not cover costs. Ridership is too low and/or costs are too high. The weighted average annual operating deficits in our sample were $21 million for the eight commuter rail systems, $329 for the six heavy rail systems and $48 million for the 20 light rail systems [including Charlotte]… On average, commuter rail costs society $42 per round-trip while heavy rail and light rail cost society $17 and $20 per boarding, respectively.”
In fact, this same analysis shows that Charlotte riders only pay a mere 4.1% of the actual cost (with the taxpayer graciously paying for the remaining 95%) source: A NOTE ON RAIL TRANSIT COST-BENEFIT ANALYSIS: DO NON-USER BENEFITS MAKE A DIFFERENCE?
Who can I talk to and have my voice heard?
Some voices carry more than others. Your elected representatives will listen to you. You have the vote! How can I maximize my voice? Phone calls are heard very loud and clear. Hand written letters are the next best thing. Followed by typed letters delivered by US postal. And lastly email. So while most of us use (myself included) email … your elected representatives prefer to hear from you (literally). So if you want to maximize your impact, please call!