Category Archives: Funding of Transportation

It’s time to talk about Rapid Bus again.

So the PR machine is out in force trying to make Rapid Bus sound great so people are distracted from the fact that the densest, most active, most vibrant corridor in the city – not only now but 40 years from now – isn’t going to get rail until the 2040s, if then. In the meantime, we’re planning on building another hugely subsidized line to suburbs that don’t pay any Capital Metro taxes; and an urban rail line to a “new urban” development that is new, but isn’t urban; and even when fully built out will have far less people and far less travel demand to the core than Guadalupe/Lamar do today.

Was that sentence long enough? I pay by the period.

Anyways, so Rapid Bus? Snakes like JMVC are pitching the hell out of it and talking about it in the same breath as light rail and commuter rail as “high capacity transit” – which is a way to make people in Central Austin think they’re getting equal or nearly-equal quality.

This is bullshit.

So apparently I need to do this again – and this time, for the maximum possible fairness, I’m going to start with the BEST POSSIBLE CASE for Rapid Bus – the Burnet/Lamar corridor, where no express service currently exists.

Joker-here-we-go

Red Line weekend debate, in pictures

The city wants to spend this much:

per rider bringing people from OUTSIDE the

to come into town in the hopes that they’ll spend

of which the city gets back 1%, or this much:

Let’s repeat. Spend this much:

to get this much:

Here is how this all made me feel:

Write the City Council on Red Line weekend subsidy

Here’s what I just sent.

Honorable mayor and council members:

Please reject efforts by some to use additional tax revenue from the city of Austin to subsidize service on Capital Metro’s Red Line. As a strong supporter of rail transit in general but also an Austin taxpayer, I don’t want to spend our scarce local transportation dollars on a service which primarily benefits non-Austin residents, and definitely not at such a high cost.

The most recent operating subsidy information available from Capital Metro shows weekday service requiring an operating subsidy per ride of approximately 34 dollars. This is abominably high compared to good rail lines in other cities – and ten times the current bus subsidy across the system. But this subsidy, at least, is paid for by all Capital Metro members (including Leander residents, for instance). Not so the case with this new proposal.

Even if we exceed weekday numbers by perhaps double, my own quick estimates show we would likely be spending around 20 city tax dollars per rider to bring them downtown and take them back – and a reasonable expectation is that they might spend 40 or 50 dollars while here – meaning the city is asking taxpayers to spend 20 bucks to return 40 or 50 cents to the tax coffers (and this is assuming they wouldn’t have driven and paid to park were the Red Line not an option).

This money needs to be saved for the city’s own urban rail plans.

Regards,
Mike Dahmus
UTC 2000-2005
mike@dahmus.org

Since sending this I realized I should also have included a point I made on the phone to KUT an hour or so ago: that during the week, you can make an argument for (some) subsidy by referring to scarce space on highways and roadways and in parking lots and garages. This is not the case on the weekend – plenty of space to get into downtown, and plenty of places to park, some of which even make the city additional revenue.

Oppose City Funding Of Additional Red Line Service

WHEREAS most riders of existing Red Line service are likely not residents of the City of Austin and the majority likely don’t even reside in jurisdictions which pay Capital Metro taxes

and

WHEREAS the City of Austin already excessively subsidizes the existing Red Line operations, as the overwhelming taxpayer to Capital Metro, contributing over 90% of Capital Metro’s revenue to allow the Red Line to be subsidized at a cost of nearly 34 dollars per ride

and

WHEREAS such funds as proposed to further subsidize the Red Line cannot possibly result in a positive economic outcome for the City of Austin given that weekend traffic on the highways is not substantial, and the city can only recover 1% of spending by visitors in the form of sales taxes

THEREFORE BE IT SUGGESTED that everybody reading this contact everyone you know and your city council members and advise AGAINST the City of Austin paying for expanded weekend service on the Red Line and saving the money, instead, for the city’s urban rail proposal – which, unlike the Red Line, will serve primarily Austinites and which desperately needs the money.

Who is riding the Red Line?

Well, we don’t know who, but we do know how many are getting on at each station. Thanks to Erica McKewen at Capital Metro for quickly supplying the following information (excerpted from a longer spreadsheet).

Morning boardings, AM peak:

Leander 154
Lakeline 211
Howard 154
Kramer 47
Crestview 26
Highland 12
MLK 8
Saltillo 3

Data from October 2011.

Analysis:

The stations where almost every passenger likely comes from the city of Austin are Kramer on down. Those stations account for (47+26+12+8+3 =) 97 boardings each morning.

The station where perhaps half the passengers come from the city of Leander (pays Cap Metro taxes, but not COA taxes – this is an important distinction for later in this post) accounts for 154 boardings each morning. So say 77 passengers here do not pay Capital Metro taxes.

The stations where most passengers likely come from places that are not the city of Austin and do not pay Capital Metro taxes are Lakeline and Howard, which account for (211+154 =) 365 boardings each morning. Say 10% of these boardings come from the city of Austin, and another 10% from other jursidictions that pay Cap Metro taxes (Leander, part of unincorporated county). This means 37 people from Austin, and 37 more that also pay Cap Metro taxes. If correct, 291 people that boarded here do not pay Cap Metro taxes.

(More on that last paragraph in another later post – suffice to say that rail stations on the edge of city limits are not going to attract most of their passengers from within that city as those people would be backtracking to board the train).

Combine those and you get a reasonable estimate that of the 615 AM peak boardings in October in this sample, about 368 are from places that do not pay any Capital Metro taxes and about 134 are from the city of Austin.

Put another way, 60% of the riders of MetroRail do not pay any taxes to support MetroRail, and 78% of the riders of MetroRail are from outside the city of Austin. If we assume the weekend ridership will be roughly the same as the in-week ridership (and this is a big assumption), these numbers would hold there too. More on that as details become more clear, but I think that even if the line terminates at Lakeline, the numbers would stay roughly the same, since some of the Leander riders would still ride, and far fewer of the people getting on in-town will (since weekend connecting bus service is far less likely).

In other words, if the city does what it is rumored to be doing and decides to pay for weekend MetroRail service, they’ll be paying 20 bucks a ride (collected from Austin taxpayers) to carry mostly non-Austinites downtown in the hopes of collecting a quarter (25 cents) or so of sales tax from each of them (that sales tax only being ‘extra’ if those people wouldn’t have driven downtown anyways – to say nothing of lost parking revenue if they would have paid to park).

Quick note on the city’s proposal to subsidize Red Line weekend service

Things are going crazy at my day jorb. So this might be all I get to post. This is a comment I just left on the Statesman article:

Almost nobody inside the city limits of Austin has a reason to use this thing on the weekends – because the stations with parking primarly serve those outside city limits, and the stations without parking aren’t pedestrian-friendly (and buses that might connect to them don’t run much on the weekends).

Combine this with the fact that we’d be giving up the $5-$10 the person from the non-Austin jurisdiction would otherwise pay to park their car downtown and this is a truly STUPID move for the city of Austin to even contemplate.

This is something the cities of Leander and Cedar Park and Round Rock and Pfluygerville should be subsidizing, not Austin.

Update from a few months later:

Who is riding the Red Line?

and

How much are we subsidizing passengers on the Red Line?

Whole shakers of salt

So yesterday, I saw a couple of self-congratulatory tweets about the upcoming service changes (on Sunday) which start the process of eliminating service to large parts of central west Austin. This was particularly interesting given that I had just added information to our rental property’s MLS listing about “distance to MetroBus” (the #9, at least until Sunday, has a stop about 100 feet away). So here’s what I tweeted in response:


(some short background on the taxes and Red Line issue here)

Shortly thereafter, it was retweeted by another user. Capital Metro PR guy JMVC responded (to that user, not me) that the service change resulted in increased service, and that “you should take what he says with a grain of salt”. I had planned to just link to this tweet but since yesterday I’ve been blocked (JMVC has been non-public tweeting for a long time; although he certainly shares his opinions with most of the local decision-makers despite not being willing to be similarly available to the public).

Here’s the image:

So let’s examine in detail. My tweet:

Continue reading

Math with M1EK, Lesson 1

It’s come up again, this time on the twitter. The old road-warrior chestnut argument that it doesn’t matter if urbanites pay a much higher percentage of their driving costs than do suburbanites, because suburbanites drive more miles overall. This tactic is a favorite of the folks at various car blogs that M1EK frequents as well, and it’s time it was taken out back and shot.
Let’s use our favorite Houston road as an example, thanks to AC for maintaining the story.

For example, in Houston, the 15 miles of SH 99 from I-10 to US 290 will cost $1 billion to build and maintain over its lifetime, while only generating $162 million in gas taxes. That gives a tax gap ratio of .16, which means that the real gas tax rate people would need to pay on this segment of road to completely pay for it would be $2.22 per gallon.

So this means that for every given dollar in road costs, the driver pays $0.16 in gasoline taxes while driving on that roadway. Got it. This also means that another $0.84 is subsidized. That subsidy can come from gas taxes assessed on other roads, many of those being arterial roadways inside the city of Houston that TXDOT doesn’t actually have to pay to maintain; from ‘local contributions’ that TXDOT often requires for freeway construction – i.e. property and sales taxes; or various other sources – the key is that the remaining money required to build and maintain this roadway isn’t gas taxes generated by this road itself. So far, so good.
So let’s assume that yesterday, Mr. Suburban Road-Warrior dove SH99 long enough to assess $1.00 in road costs to TXDOT and paid $0.16 in gas taxes for the privilege. Got it. Here’s what that looks like:

Continue reading

Yes, right-wing know-nothings, bicyclists do pay for the roads

Just sent to the morning show guys at 590-KLBJ, who were discussing the 3-foot passing rule and then let a caller drag the show down into the typical “cyclists don’t pay for roads” nonsense. They didn’t start there, but also didn’t contradict her…

Gentlemen,
Although you probably don’t remember, y’all have had me on your show a couple of times for a short talk about transportation. This morning on the way into work, I heard you and your listeners talking about the 3-foot-passing law that Gov. Perry vetoed; and the last caller I listened to made some very inaccurate points which you didn’t challenge at all which need to be corrected, regarding paying for roadways.
The fact is that in the state of Texas, the state gas tax is constitutionally dedicated to the state highway system (and schools) – meaning it cannot be spent on any roadway without a route shield (number) on it. For instance, I-35, US 183, RM 2222 – state highways; can get gas tax funding and usually do (with some local contributions thrown into the mix). While the federal gas tax has no such restriction, in practice in our area, the metropolitan planning group that disperses such money spends almost all of it on the state highway system as well.
What does that leave out? Well, essentially 99% of the streets cyclists ride on when they’re actually trying to get somewhere. Not just little roads – major roads like Enfield/15th; Cesar Chavez; all the numbered streets downtown; Windsor; Lamar north of the river; Burnet south of 183; etc. – these roads don’t get one cent of funding from the gas tax.
What about vehicle registration? Goes exclusively to the state and county governments – and the county doesn’t spend any of their money on roads inside city limits.
So cyclists do, in fact, pay for the roads they ride on – in fact, they likely overpay by orders of magnitude considering that their ‘bill’ for using one of those city-funded streets is the same as if they drove that day, yet they cause a lot more damage and take up a lot more space when they drive (you can fit a lot more cyclists on a street like Speedway than you can cars, in other words).
Please don’t let your callers get away with this kind of hurtful know-nothing reactionary attack. While “cyclists don’t pay for roads” is a patently false statement, there’s plenty of valid disagreement on the 3-foot-passing rule that could have been explored instead, and the listeners deserve that higher-quality discourse.
Regards,
Mike Dahmus
City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005

Looking at this in retrospect, I forgot to even mention that the city pays for its roads with general funds – mostly sales taxes, property taxes, and utility transfers. D’oh. Will email them accordingly. (Still sick with plague and no sleep).

CM reserves down to effectively nothing

Cross-posted from the twitter which is about all I have time for right now:
Was there any doubt? CM was being truthy about reserves/quarter-cent money: Statesman article ( also see: helpful chart ).
This happened, in short, because Capital Metro pursued a cheap rail plan that was so cheap the Feds didn’t want any part of it (45M originally promised to voters from Feds now spent out of reserves) – then, a combination of typical overruns and not-so-typical incompetence (and a bit of overruns caused by under-engineering) led to even more spending out of reserves. When they say they have enough money to pay Austin the commitments they made in the past, they are lying. They clearly don’t have the money; didn’t back then; and Ben Wear deserves some apologies from some Capital Metro employees at this point.