Tag Archives: DEIS

Charlotte success?

As Charlotte’s LYNX approaches a decade of service (started in Nov 2007), let’s look more closely at this heralded ‘success’. By reviewing the NTD federal filings(Charlotte LYNX ridership data is on tab UPT (Unlinked Passenger Trips), row 663, column CB).

  • 13,362 average daily ridership (workdays and weekend) during Oct 2016 (serving less than 6680 people daily, or less than 1% of Charlotte’s population of 827,000).
  • 13,332 average daily ridership over last 9 years with a flat trend line (despite 20% population growth between 2007 and 2015).

As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” …

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During this same period Charlotte’s population grew 20% (691K in 2007 to 827K in 2015 per  US Census), with increasing traffic congestion (Study: Charlotte roads, traffic among worst in North Carolina).

It would appear that the only thing that hasn’t grown over the past decade is Charlotte’s LYNX daily ridership. In fact, relative to Charlotte’s ever growing population, LYNX relative riderships (as a percentage of population served) has declined over the past decade.

How did Charlotte get there?

Charlotte’s light-rail line was originally projected to cost an estimated $225 million in 2000. The final cost of the completed project in 2007 was $467 million. Even after adjusting for inflation (2000-2007), that’s a 75% cost overrun. FEIS / DEIS

Citizens attempted to repeal the sales transit tax, but were ultimately defeated after citizen’s campaign was outspent 50:1 by corporate vested interests (like Duke Energy, Wachovia now Wells Fargo, Bank of America, McDonald Transit Associates, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Siemens). An additional twenty major businesses contributed, all of whom profit from CATS operations according to former city council member Don Reid.

CLT_LYNX

The Charlotte Lynx daily ridership has stagnated 16,000 workday boardings over the last 7 years while the area’s population grew 17%, having no net effect on reducing traffic congestion. Even accounting for ‘choice riders’ those who would give up their cars in favor of Charlotte LYNX, the changes in gasoline prices has had no effect on daily ridership.

CLT_gas_prices

Despite the high costs and low ridership, CATS wants more rail — but doesn’t have any money to pay for it. So it has rolled out a campaign of declaring the light rail a great success, especially in the field of economic development. Of course, in most cases it was the subsidies, not the rail, that stimulated the development, and most likely the development would have taken place somewhere in the region anyway, though perhaps not in that corridor.


“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.”
SOURCE: UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective


“Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2034, by 2013, the Charlotte Area Transit System stated it would likely be unable to fund future transit projects apart from the Blue Line Extension, scheduled to begin construction in early 2014.

Charlotte ranked Worst Traffic In North Carolina according to recent 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard. Charlotte’s transit also ranked among nation’s worst. New survey puts it at 26th out of 32 big cities for transit quality according to Charlotte Observer (May 14, 2016)

Can some of the Charlotte Area’s Transit System’s ridership woes be blamed on the growing popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber? That’s a question posed in a report from The Charlotte Observer, which notes that in South End — where the nearby light-rail line has been seen as a selling point to attract new residents — many people are choosing the app-based services over public transit.


For much of the past year, ridership on Charlotte Area Transit System buses and the Lynx Blue Line has declined. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, ridership on all CATS services, including buses and the light rail, was down 4.3 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Ride-hailing likely isn’t as appealing for areas farther from uptown because of the higher rates. It costs $20 to $25 to take an Uber from uptown to the southern edge of the light-rail line. [emphasis ours: of course, if Uber was 80% subsidized like LYNX, the Uber fare would drop to $4 to $5 fare]

Over the past seven years, ridership at the four Lynx stations in the South End has increased from 1,595 average weekday boardings in March 2009 to 2,057 boardings in March 2016. That’s a 30% increase in seven years. But during the same period, the number of residents has increased at a much faster rate, from 3,400 to 8,000 people (+135%).

Chris Walker, who lives at the Silos South End apartment complex, is one of thousands of people drawn to living within a stone’s throw of the Lynx Blue Line. Walker likes being close to the light-rail line, but he doesn’t actually use it all that much. “I have lived here a year and a half, and I have taken the train twice,” said Walker, whose apartment is less than a quarter-mile from the New Bern light-rail station at the southern-most part of South End. “We Uber instead. For $5, you can get uptown. It’s easy.”

Kaitlin Flanagan, who works in SouthPark, says she sometimes takes the train uptown, but she almost always uses Uber to get home. “I prefer Uber, especially if there is a big event going on,” she said.

Deanna Bencic, who works in south Charlotte, doesn’t take the train to work. And if she’s going out with friends, she doesn’t take the train – even when it’s an option. “If it’s four or five people, then we always use Uber,” she said.

SOURCE: Some Charlotte residents jump on Uber over train in South End


Charlotte facing additional tax revenue shortfalls

CHT_LRT

The Charlotte plan to address the current $22 million budget shortfall includes: Tax-rate increase & service cuts including:

  • closing 311 information service on weekends & holidays
  • resurface about 16.5 fewer miles of streets a year
  • budget cuts for Police and Fire
  • eliminate more than 100 city jobs

In addition, Carlee and his staff, along with the mayor and City Council, have been grappling with unanticipated shortfalls in tax revenue as well as a proposed change in sales-tax sharing that, according to state and city projections, could cost Charlotte an estimated $3 million to $30 million annually.

“On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; In July 2015, CATS reported it lacked the funds to support any future transit projects apart from the already budgeted 2.5-mile long Phase 2 segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line.”


CityLYNX Gold Line facing City budget cuts!
The $75 million the Charlotte City Council approved in 2014 to fund
half the cost of constructing Phase 2 of the City LYNX Gold Line is being threatened.
Due to City budget shortfalls, some Members of City Council are suggesting the $75 million
they already approved for the Gold Line be cut from the budget.


However meritorious the DOLRT may be, we need to think seriously about where the money is going to come from to build and operate it, and we need to have a backup transit plan in the event the money for DOLRT doesn’t materialize.

 

Plan

The promise, when Durham (2011) and Orange County (2012) residents approved the 1/2 cent sales tax / public transit referendum, was for DOLRT to cost $1.4 BILLION (in 2011) of which 25% or $350 million would come from local funding and take 34 minutes end-to-end to start service in 2025 with $14.3 million operating cost.

Today’s reality, DOLRT will cost $2.5 BILLION (YOE) or 17.7 miles @ $141 million per mile, with 40% or $1 BILLION to come from local funding and take 46 minutes end-to-end travel with service in 2029 with $28.7 million operating cost. For reference, Charlotte BLE cost $126 million per mile. And GoTriangle has yet to break ground!

So 5 years into the project we get a slower train delivered 4 years later, requires 3X more local funding, costs 80% more to build (so far) that is financed into 2062, is 35% slower, 2X more expensive to operate, with 1/3 less platform capacity.

Meanwhile, Chapel Hill is building NS-BRT for $125 million (YOE) or 8.2 miles @ $15 million per mile, with service in 2022 and $3.4 million operating cost. http://nscstudy.org/

Chapel Hill BRT will deliver mass public transit 7 years sooner at a fraction of the cost. In fact, FREE BRT service would be cheaper for riders (and taxpayers), while providing better service, sooner than DOLRT!

For the cost of a single DOLRT mile, you could build an entire BRT system like Chapel Hill. For $2.5 BILLION, you could build 166 miles of BRT (vs 17 miles of DOLRT). Now THAT would be mass public transit!

The Transit Tax Referendum of 2011 and 2012

In 2011-2012, voters in Durham and Orange County approved a ½ cent sales tax increase to fund regional transportation needed for the growing Triangle Region. The tax was to provide partial funding for a plan developed by Triangle Transit (TTA – and now “GoTriangle”) to increase bus service, and provide light rail transit (LRT) connecting UNC and Duke.durham_ballot_turnout

Wake County’s decision changes everything

Last year, the situation changed when Wake County decided to not pursue GoTriangle’s plan and abandoned plans for LRT. Instead, Wake is exploring Bus Rapid Transit and/or Rail Rapid Transit (diesel cars running on existing rail lines) deliver county-wide transportation in a flexible, cost-effective manner.

During the same period, GoTriangle has spent approximately $40 million on LRT studies and has provided a small increase in bus service in Orange and Durham Counties. The LRT planning process has been fraught with issues ranging from route problems to degrading assumptions about speed, capacity, and value to the community. The Durham-Orange LRT does not provide service to Wake County, the largest and fastest growing segment of the Triangle.

Smart Transit Future is an alliance of community and civic groups throughout the Triangle that are asking Orange and Durham leaders to reconsider the DOLRT plan and pursue alternatives. We believe that the Durham-Orange, LRT should be put on hold, in order to work more closely with Wake County on alternatives that connect the entire Triangle. At the same time, funds in the short term can be redirected to improve bus transportation in Orange and Durham.

Durham-Orange LRT is beset with circuitous route, safety concerns, and funding gaps

In addition to Wake County’s exit from the plan, unexpected challenges are facing the Durham-Orange 17.7 mile LRT project including:

  • Routes and locations of facilities have changed and now negatively impact vulnerable seniors, schools, and residential communities;
  • The expected capacity, speed and convenience has degraded. Route travel time has degraded to 46 minutes (+10 minutes waiting at the station) from an original estimate of 34 minutes, and the existing bus routes used for comparison were grossly distorted (link to page showing comparison).
  • DOLRT will make it difficult for the rapidly growing Triangle Region to respond to changes due to telecommuting, decentralization of UNC and Duke facilities, and emerging automated vehicle (AV) technologies
  • DOLRT costs are escalating, and under new laws, the project will be short $270 million from the state. Federal funding is even more uncertain.

at a glance.jpg

The original plan overlooked other important factors, including:

  • It does not serve the exploding growth centers including Chatham Park, NC Commerce Center, and the redevelopment of RTP.
  • Durham and Orange County need more funds to modernize bus fleets and add routes, and implement BRT which is much more cost effective.
  • The DOLRT relies on at 42 unsafe at-grade crossings along the 17 mile route.

Bus Rapid Transit, Rail Rapid Transit and emerging technologies offer a more flexible and cost-effective platform for Triangle-wide transportation.

LRT is expensive, inflexible technology that will not effectively serve the growing Triangle Region. Federal, state and local dollars would be better spent on bus and bus rapid transit with dedicated guideways through dense corridors, and the reuse of existing rail lines with rail rapid transit.


With the final recommendations unveiled by GoTriangle. many communities are now actively seeking to stop this project. Upon deeper investigation, many of the GoTriangle planning assumptions are either highly questionable or so erroneous that making an informed decision on the options is impossible, We urge local, county, state and Federal decision-makers to require an independent review by external parties that have no role in the development of the PLAN and do not stand to benefit from decisions regarding the PLAN.

We the undersigned urge you to REJECT the current DO-Line plan.

Stop Durham-Orange Light Rail Train Petition