Harry E. Teasley, Jr.
4621 Bayshore Blvd.
Tampa, Florida 33611
Dear Governor Bush:
On May 5, 1999, by a 4 to 3 majority vote, the Hillsborough County Commission voted to request that you veto several line item projects related to further study of the light rail plan being proposed for Hillsborough County. I write, as a private citizen, in support of the four commissioners and their principled opposition to further study of a scheme that doesn’t make economic or common sense.
First, we don’t lack for light-rail studies in Hillsborough County; they are stacked up like cordwood. Millions of federal, state, and local tax dollars have already been spent (wasted) on “studying” a scheme that doesn’t pass the common sense test and is wrong for a county with our demographic characteristics.
In 1998 the promoters, proponents and central planners came together behind a proposal described as the Locally Preferred Strategy (LPS). As a private citizen, I funded a professional analysis of the LPS. The research was conducted by Professor Peter Gordon, an economist and transportation expert at the University of Southern California, under the auspices of The Reason Foundation, an organization with deep experience in transportation research and public policy. Prior to publication the report was peer reviewed at three transport institutes located in California, Texas and Tampa. The findings from the study are insightful and powerful.
I attach, as a quote, the executive summary from the report titled, A Transit Plan for Hillsborough County: A Reality Check - June 1998.
“Transportation planners in the greater Tampa/Hillsborough County metro area propose to spend $2.5 billion over the next 15 years on an expanded mass-transit system. The transit component of the Locally Preferred Strategy (LPS) calls for the addition of buses and the construction and operation of a 71-mile light rail system. This study concludes that the case for such a transit system is very weak. Based on the experience of other cities that have added rail transit over the past 20 years, the proposed system is likely to cost more than expected and to deliver far less than projected. At best, taxpayers will have spend $2.5 billion for a system that has very little impact on traffic or air quality. At worst, taxpayers could be spending even more than that for a system that ends up carrying fewer passengers than today’s transit system.
The experience of other cities is chilling. By 1995, after 30 years of federal, state, and local expenditure of $340 billion in transit subsidies, transit trips per capita reached a new all-time low. Adding rail systems has not reversed this decline; all 10 cities that invested in rail during the 1980s lost transit market share to cars between 1980 and 1990. Most rail systems have cost far more than projected, both to build and to operate. And rail has not gotten people out of their cars, has not increased property values, and has not re-shaped land-use patterns.
There is no reason to believe that rail would fare any better in the Tampa/Hillsborough County metro area. The 1990 census found that just two percent of local commuters use transit -- the same proportion as walked or worked at home. The LPS assumes that the proposed rail and bus system would increase transit use by between 221 percent and 342 percent by 2015 -- an unprecedented increase far beyond what any other city has achieved. If that growth could somehow be achieved, what would each new transit trip cost?
Using LPS figures, this study computed the proposed system’s annualized capital costs and annual operating costs, and divided this total by the number of new riders. The total cost of each new round-trip works out to be $32.24. Assuming a round-trip fare of $3.00, this means taxpayers would be paying 91 percent of the cost of every trip.
Since no U.S. Metro area has achieved more than 50 percent growth in ridership from such a strategy (compared with the assumed 221 to 342 percent growth), our analysis then calculated the costs of the LPS plan based on the percentage ridership increase and cost growth actually experienced over a 15-year period by the highly touted Portland transit system. Using Portland’s ridership percentage increase, the Tampa-area cost per round trip would be $147. If the Tampa-area system also suffered from Portland-equivalent cost overruns, each round trip would cost $223 (of which the rider, remember, would be paying only $3).
Even if the LPS system did achieve its highly optimistic growth in ridership, would this produce benefits (reduced congestion and air pollution) worth the $2.5 billion cost? The LPS projects that if its ridership target is achieved, transit use would account for less than five percent of the expected growth in vehicle miles traveled in the region. That small impact would have little or no measurable effect on either congestion or emissions. And if spending $2.5 billion on transit meant that other, more cost-effective transportation investments could not take place, overall congestion and emissions might actually be worsened by this choice.
Several alternative transportation approaches would be more cost-effective than the LPS rail plan. Among these are (1) expanding and improving the bus system, as Houston has done; (2) improving transportation management in the region; (3) adding transitways on freeways and arterials; (4) expanding the use of competitive contracting for bus service; (5) expanding the role of private transit, such as shuttle vans and jitneys, and (6) adding tolled express lanes (HOT lanes) on congested freeways.
Source: “A Transit Plan for Hillsborough County: A Reality Check” by Peter Gordon, published by Reason Public Policy Institute, the Reason Foundation.
For almost a year, the above-mentioned report has been available to anyone in the community interested in under-standing more about the light rail proposal, yet no one has stepped forward and prepared a written critique of the report. While failing to prepare a written critique of the report, former Commissioner Ed Turanchik has and continues to make ad hominem attacks on the author, the Reason Foundation and me. Without recourse to logic and reasoned response, the only tactic left is a weak one.
The proponents have also never prepared a document setting forth in brief, clear and logical language the reasons why the community should support light rail. I can only assume that they cannot prepare a report that could withstand public analysis and scrutiny.
In the LPS, the promoters of light rail have projected increases in public transit ridership that are entirely unreasonable. They are projecting increases far in excess of increases that have occurred in other cities that invested in light rail, yet they have never made public their assumptions and logic for these increases. One might think that their projections are force fitted to make the economics look better than the truth. Where is the market? Who is going to ride the train? How big is the market? The economics don’t make any sense. I wouldn’t invest my money in this project and I doubt if you would. Why should we invest taxpayers’ money? The answer is: We shouldn’t.
As a former marketer, I seek to understand why consumers wish to buy a specific product or service. It is difficult for me to understand why many citizens would elect to use a train that splits the county in a way that few live near the train and that would require multiple, time consuming transfers in the heat, humidity, rain and sun of Hillsborough County. Maybe I underestimate the market for inconvenience and pain.
Light rail has been an economic and public policy disaster in cities that have invested in it. The literature on such investments is extensive and easily accessible on the web. Furthermore, light rail has even less hope of success in Hillsborough County since our demographic characteristics are less favorable than cities where rail has been tried and not met expectations. While new rail systems have not been financially successful anywhere, the low density structure of Hillsborough County suggests that the efforts to construct such a system will be even more costly, and the results even less satisfactory. In short, this dog won’t hunt.
Finally and importantly, the responsibility to provide the raison d’etre for investing in light rail should come from those promoting the expenditure of money. They have not made their case. Therefore, one would assume that they cannot do so.
I challenge Ed Turanchik and his associates to prepare:
1. a written review and critique of Peter Gordon’s report,
2. a written report setting forth the purported case for light rail in Hillsborough County.
Given the money and time already expended to explore light rail, this should not require a large effort on his part.
I am not, however, holding my breath.
The light rail proposal is a classic example of public choice economics and politics. The benefits will be concentrated with a few special interests while the costs will be borne on the backs of all taxpayers -- at several levels of government. Now is the time to stop this plunder of the taxpayers’ money.
Attached is a full copy of the Peter Gordon report; I hope that you or one of your associates can find time to read it.
Please do not provide the funds requested by the proponents of the light rail system.