Category Archives: Economics

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.

Who is riding the Red Line, Part Two

Here’s a summary chart showing the data from Capital Metro from October, 2011; showing how many people board from each station in the AM peak, discussed yesterday in more detail.

Why break it up like this? Because as I mentioned yesterday, it should be pretty obvious that the 3 park-and-rides aren’t attracting a bunch of people from Austin itself. Nonsense, you say? Lakeline is in the city limits, you say? Let’s look at the map.

Here’s Lakeline Station.

Here’s Lakeline Station after I roughly draw the line representing the Austin city limits (by hand, so please excuse my poor skills). Map updated on 2/9/2012 to include a small section I inadvertently left out in my first poor attempt at freehand.

And here is the same image with an arrow helpfully representing the approximate direction all those transit passengers are going to work (note: Paint won’t let me go off straight vertical or horizontal; imagine it about 15 degrees to the southeast).


Now, here’s the thing: There are a few people inside that little part of Austin sticking up there who might be taking the Red Line. But it ought to be incredibly obvious based on nothing more than this picture (if it wasn’t just from words before) that most of the passengers getting on the train at Lakeline probably came from outside the city limits of Austin – because most people living inside the city limits of Austin would have to backtrack quite a ways to get to the train station.

Howard is the same – except it’s people from Pflugerville and Round Rock freeloading instead of Cedar Park. Any questions?

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?

Statesman At It Again

In today’s Letters, allowed to be published uncritically and without challenge:

Bicycle lanes are dangerous on Austin roads for both drivers and bikers. Burleson Road is a classic example of where the car lanes were narrowed to accommodate bikers. Bikers should have to purchase an annual permit that has toll tag technology.

Since they pay no gas tax, this fee should pay for their road use. These tags should be able to be read by police to identify if their tag is current, and they could also identify the bikers, should they be involved in an accident.

Anne Clark

Lockhart

My response on the way to them via various intertubes:

Anne Clark, in her letter on 10/27/2011, is woefully misinformed. Most roads in our area, even most major arterials, receive no funding from the gasoline tax, as the state prohibits its portion of the gas tax from being used outside the state highway system, and most federal gas taxes are similarly directed only to roads with a route shield on them. In fact, since some local (general) funds are also used for state and federal highways, it is likely cyclists who are subsidizing motorists in Austin, not the other way around.

Regards,

Mike Dahmus

City of Austin Urban Transportation Commission 2000-2005

Quote of the century of the week

From this article, I shall piss into the wind since it seems like half my extended family works in the parasitical finance industry anyways. Posted here since even the quote was a bit too long for the meth-fueled megaphone-wielding-10-year-old-girl twitter machine.

GM’s failure after 101 years is an indictment of American management in general. It highlights the damage to our economy that results when finance becomes the tail that wags the economic dog.

Guess what Toyota and Honda do? No, not finance; they actually make cars! Cars that the whole world wants to buy, instead of creating demand out of whole cloth for suburbanites to use 10 mpg trucks to hit the grocery store; demand that evaporates outside of the US and even inside the US as soon as gas gets expensive. Yeah, for a while you didn’t have to worry about competing against those two; but they found their way into the SUV market eventually, and in the meantime you got out of the market segments the rest of the world actually buys.
Not just GM; but our entire economy fell prey to the stupid idea that if you could sucker somebody into paying you to do something for a while, it had to be valuable work. Rebuttal: Ponzi schemes work for a while too.
At my current jorb in the military-industrial complex, I’m already more removed from making useful things than I like to be; but compared to most jobs in our ‘economy’, I’m practically still a farmer.

Rail Should Reduce Operating Costs

One of the major selling points of rail service over bus service is that it reduces operating costs (at the expense of higher capital spending, although not as much of a difference as most people assume given how frequently buses must be replaced). Is this going to work out for the Red Line?
Here’s a little table for you to consider:

Mode Passenger load Drivers per 100 passenger trips
Express bus 40 2.5
Red Line (train) 150 0.67

Sounds pretty good, huh? Saved on quite a bit of labor there – as well as other costs that track with ‘trips’, like fuel! But wait a minute – how are the passengers getting from the train station to their office again?

Continue reading

More teabagging

An IM conversation with my gracious host, just a moment ago:
[12:33] (gracious host): After a lifetime of working, paying taxes and raising three children on her own, Wilder is struggling. She said she retired on disability from M&T Bank three years ago after undergoing knee replacement and back surgeries. She lives on her Social Security and disability benefits. Last year, she petitioned the bankruptcy court for protection from creditors. She said she did not have to pay federal income taxes last year because her income was too low. “I don’t want to see this country turn into a welfare, nanny state, where we stand in line for groceries, and we’re in welfare lines, and in socialized medicine lines,” Wilder said.
[12:33] (gracious host): http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/antitax_tea_party_could_draw_c.html
[12:33] mdahmus: fuh guh buh
[12:35] (gracious host): with appologies to the Princess Bride…. socialism… You keep using that word, I do not think it means what you think it means.
[12:35] mdahmus: my favorite comment so far: http://www.syracuse.com/news/index.ssf/2009/04/antitax_tea_party_could_draw_c.html#3333987

Label help needed from the teabaggers

Please help me fill in the ?????. Thanks in advance.