ATCYOA: 1997 at the FTA

This page represents events that really happened.1

Titanic implications up to you. Picture courtesy of YouTube “Remember 1997”.

It’s 1997. You run Capital Metro. You raised your local sales tax from 0.75 cents to 1 full cent (the statutory maximum) a couple of years ago and you’re starting to see your savings grow. Now it’s time to discuss a major capital investment; the kind many voters say they thought they were voting for when the agency was formed many years ago.

So here we are, and again remember, this is 1997. You just took your original Red Line plan to the Federal Transit Administration.2. The FTA told you ridership projections were too low because this route wasn’t within walking distance of enough homes or destinations, and the Austin area wouldn’t support large numbers of daily transfer-riders3; so they implied heavily that they would not rate it highly and that it would be unlikely that they would agree to contribute the expected Federal share to fund the project. What do you do? Click on your choice below!4

  • I want to proceed with the 1997 plan anyways.
  • I want to regroup and come back with a better plan in a few years.

Background reading;

  1. other pages will have disclaimers indicating they represent paths not taken, or events the author considers more likely, less likely, or very unlikely 

  2. This plan was to double-track and run electric wire on the entire length of what we future-folk now also call the Red Line, except that in the future, we run diesel trains on mostly pre-existing mostly single-track 

  3. people who would transfer from a bus to the rail line or from the rail line to a shuttle-bus to get to their job downtown or at UT 

  4. I will fill in the links below if/when I write those posts, which will depend on whether there is enough interest in continuing the series 

Do renters pay property taxes?

(I’m writing this to save off for later use; I’m currently entangled in a contentious thread on NextDoor which is likely to circle back to “you don’t pay property taxes on your two rental properties; the renters do!”).

I just wrote (well, my wife did) three big checks to Travis County Tax Appraiser’s office for property taxes for the year. One for the home we live in and two for the past two homes we lived in that we now rent out.

One of our two rental properties was vacant for 1/3 of the year this year (poorly timed lease renewal that didn’t renew).

Did we get a 1/3 discount on our property taxes because there was no renter during those 4 months? No. Well, you say, you had a tenant for 8 months so the renters still paid your property taxes, so there!

OK, leave that one alone for a minute. I’ve got an even better thought experiment.

My father-in-law is a difficult customer for contractors so ended up being his own GC, basically, for renovations of a condo unit they rent out. This unit was empty, without any tenants and obviously without any income, for several years. Yes, you heard me. Yes, we talked about it on numerous occasions.

Was he exempt from having to pay property taxes for those years? Of course not.

This thought experiment is all you should need to immediately discard the glib answer that “renters pay property taxes”. They don’t. And don’t lecture me about tax incidence; that whole discussion can be short-circuited by repeating the examples above. 100% of the tax in the second case was paid by the landlord-without-renters.

The right framing is this: Being a landlord is running a business. Property taxes are an expense that you have to account for with all your other expenses. It does not get ‘passed through to renters’; because, in general, rent is set by what the market will bear. (Past thought experiments that have failed to convince stupid people have pointed out that I raised rent in years my property tax went down and vice-versa). We don’t talk about how hamburger customers pay McDonald’s property taxes. (Some people might, but they’re stupid). We say McDonald’s needs to make enough income to cover their expenses, of which property taxes is a small part. And yes, you can talk about tax incidence in a theoretical sense, but it absolutely does not mean that if the figures tell you that the tax incidence is 80% on renters, that you can predict that a 10% rise in property taxes will mean your rent next year will go up 8%. It simply doesn’t work that way. In the long-run, those taxes will eventually be reflected in rent. But that’s not how people usually are thinking about property taxes; they’re actually believing “if you raise property taxes on my landlord by $1000, my rent will go up by $1000/year”; they vote based on that mistaken understanding; so it’s actively harmful to continue to support that framing.

Cap Metro Fare ‘Increase’ Proposal

There’s rumblings afoot that Cap Metro is considering an across-the-board fare increase, which is stupid and sucks. Here’s a better idea, combined from two tweets I just made, but you might not see, because I’m private at the time I wrote this1.

My proposal for a fare ‘increase’ for Cap Metro is this:

  • Charge for parking at park-and-rides; $5/day to start with. Adjust up if not enough to ensure 10% of spots empty.
  • Monthly passes for discounted parking available only with proof of service area residency.
  • Offer discounted RIDE passes only to people who can prove residency in the service area (hence pay taxes to agency).
  • Charge Dan Keshet and Julio Gonzalez-Altamirano double, because they both suck.2.

If you want more writing like this, you should do something about AURA. It’s not worth the investment for me to write more of this kind of content when they control the air supply and have decided to prevent me from being heard by policy-makers. If you work with them, you are complicit.

  1. if you’re not following me, ask nicely; and if you’re friendly with AURA, the answer is no 

  2. Dan because he stole my “activist flypaper” term-coinery and won’t attribute it; Julio because he carried water for Cap Metro’s gutting of local 1 and 3 service and helped them claim they needed better land use to justify frequency there 

Reminder on AURA and this blog

As we enter another Stupid Season in Austin Transit, remember that thanks to AURA, I have no real audience anymore, so if you want me to write on transit policy, make it worth my while by publically attacking AURA somewhere they see it, tagging them and their board.

Yet Again I Am Forced To Tell You I Told You So

Many months ago I wrote this post:

This morning, M1EK jr rode the 335 2.75 miles west from the closest stop to our house, to GRID TRANSFER!!!1 to the 20, to get to his new high school. The 20 was pretty heavily ridden with fellow students.

The 335 was a personal limo, in which the driver drove just one person, my son, for 2.75 miles.

(Previously, a friend of ye olde crackplog has pointed out similar results on his own ride; and the actual ridership statistics are pretty dismal. Go look them up yourself if you need to).

Here’s the last line of that post from May of 2018:

Remember this (and the hundred previous times I was right about Cap Metro) the next time a smiling gladhander tells you to “take what he says with a grain of salt”.

Why were you dropped, blocked, or unfriended; April 2019 edition

See the pinned tweet thread if I’m public at the time you read this, otherwise I’ve cut/pasted some of the key text below the nice graphic.

Hey gang! To make my time on the internet more productive, I’m no longer engaging with anybody who engages with AURA, especially their board, who did something incredibly shitty to me that drastically limited my ability to affect local policy. This means I’ll be forcing an unfollow.

This especially means their past and present board and board-adjacent folks, including at the top of the list; Goff, Wojtewicz, Somers, Keshet, etc.

Unless we have some kind of real-life connection or I have other reasons for viewing you more fondly, if you are with AURA, you are against me, and I’m not giving free analysis anymore to those who are against me. Toodles.

Again, in case people somehow didn’t understand, if you participate with AURA in any way other than to attack them for the shitty stuff they did to me, we’re done, unless I have some kind of real-life connection or other reason to view you more fondly than the average egg.

This is not because I expect you to change. Almost none of you will. It’s because dealing with my unpaid volunteer activism being continuously co-opted by and/or for the benefit of those who cut off my air supply is not good for my health, and I’ve decided to stop allowing it to happen, even indirectly, and spend my time elsewhere.

It’s also because, had they done what they did to me to any one of dozens of people I considered online allies and friends, I’d have immediately had your back against them, but none of you did the same for me.

Same thing goes with FAN, now that one of the former board members of AURA who actually executed the offense is on their board. If you work with @atxfriends and you aren’t doing anything about Wojtewicz, we aren’t friends, and I don’t want anything to do with you.

Why I Started Biking Again, Part Two

I know this is way overdue but my time is precious, but I’m doing something about making it more effective.

Around 2002, I got a sudden attack of debilitating joint pain. After a few misguided attempts at treating it as if it were gout1, it became clear it was something else; and what it was was “reactive arthritis”. Knocked it down a bit with some very bad meds over time and then had some more flare-ups, and after each flare-up, the ‘new normal’ was worse than the one before. There was no cure and no ability to really manage the progression (I went through two different biologics at astronomical expense, then years later stabbed myself in the gut with an old chemotherapy drug once a week, and nothing brought it back to normal).

I went from being able to bike long distances whenever I wanted to having to consider whether it was worth doing a bike ride and maybe not being able to walk the next day. Given that flare-ups seemed (possibly) to correlate with increased activity, and that each flare-up seemed to result in some permanent loss of function, I gave up most significant physical activity that stressed the joints in question, meaning, biking (and volleyball too).

Graph of first few flareups and progressingly worse baseline function
Click to embiggen

Part of the reason for doing so is that I wanted to not be laid up for a week on crutches, a cane, or a wheelchair with a toddler in the house (although that happened some anyways); but also, I wanted to save some function for later for teaching those same kids to bike.

Fast-forward to 2018; the last kid wants to learn how to bike again and is 9 years old. Time to brush off the old wheels, especially since things at work also snapped into place for me to want to work my way up to occasional biking. So I did some trips home (not to work, thanks to our CIO who didn’t build showers in our new facility) to build up strength for the actual work responsibility2.

Basically, I’ve hit the point now where it’s time to show the kids that I could bike, teach them how; and then go on rides with them; as they’re now old enough where they’ll actually remember it, in the event that further deterioration happens.

It didn’t hurt that my attempts to stay in half-OK shape via diet are getting more difficult and that other exercise is also difficult3. It didn’t hurt that I haven’t had a substantial flare-up in a long time (although the baseline maintains a general level of background pain in the toes). It also didn’t hurt that the recent climate change news is so bad that I want to remind the kids that not every adult they know was completely uninterested in trying to make the world collapse a little less awfully.

So far so good, though; after 40 or 50 trips over the last 6 months or so. Some increase in normal pain but it retreats back to the baseline so far; no new flare-ups as of yet. I’m only doing 10 miles on the way home from work; not going to go out on any 100 mile rides like in the old days. Cross your fingers. And stop wondering where my online slacktivism went.4.

  1. which, ironically enough, I actually got years later 

  2. I run our ‘test fleet’ and was using one of the pre-production bikes for a while until I got an issue we’re working through now 

  3. meaning more deterioration is happening anyways, so as one of my favorite movies puts it, no point in steering now! 

  4. either help me by pushing back on AURA, or help me not waste time on you by deciding not to push back on AURA; either way I spend less time worried about urbanism and more time on my bike