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CapMetro's fiscal train wreck set to claim more victims

Cap Metro’s light rail boondoggle has cost taxpayers a bundle. Now, if Cap Metro’s new budget is approved, taxpayers won't be the only ones subsidizing the agency’s empty trains.

Bus riders, seniors and those with disabilities are all targeted to pay more for service in the proposed 2011 CapMetro budget. These fare increases would offset lower rail fares designed to pump ridership on CapMetro’s rail line from Leander to downtown Austin.

Ridership continues to remain stubbornly low on MetroRail. According to the Austin American-Statesman, July boardings averaged 817 per day. Since most people using the train make round trips, that translates to a daily ridership of just over 400 people... barely enough to fill one two car train.

CapMetro needs to increase rail traffic. The line was originally planned to showcase the agency and service as a catalyst for future rail development. It has been a public relations disaster from its inception. Since opening almost a year behind schedule, rail service has been plagued by operating cost overruns and persistently low ridership.

With a few notable exceptions like Portland and Denver, light rail systems have largely failed to meet ridership expectations. In Dallas , the DART system is hemorrhaging riders and plans a combination of fare increases and service cuts to stay solvent.

By massaging fares, CapMetro is engaging in a high stakes poker game designed to give rail traffic a push. The agency risks alienating bus passengers, and may end up with a net ridership loss as a result.

Austin needs a transportation solution, and it is becoming increasingly clear that rail isn’t it. CapMetro’s budget forecasts an insignificant increase in rail revenue for 2011. This suggests that the organization knows ridership isn’t likely to increase much at all for the foreseeable future. The organization would better serve its constituents by focusing less on rail and more on moving people by whatever means is most effective.

For more information:

CapMetro proposed 2011 budget
Austin American Statesman
Dallas Morning News

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