Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Streetcars & Cash Money

Owen Courreges at Uptown Messenger seems to think New Orleans is making unsound financial sense and living in the past by building new streetcars.

He uses Houston, TX as an example of how investing in light rail hasn't made a return on investment. Since folks who live in New Orleans seem almost contractually obligated to compare NOLA's decision making processes to those in Houston or Atlanta, I'll go with the devil I know and bring up the ATL. Here's part of my comment:

But when it comes to the capital costs of building and maintaining roads vs. streetcar lines, let us not kid ourselves – the fantasy land cost-benefit analyses come into play with roads.

Y’all may not be used to it in New Orleans, but I come from a place where no one ever saw a road project they didn’t like. In this land of massive concrete projects the pitiance of the gasoline tax doesn’t make a dent in the DOT budget – when a gasoline tax exists at all.

As far as streetcars are concerned, they will really provide the return on investment when gasoline runs up over $5 per gallon, and people are looking for alternatives.

Mass transit ridership increased 14% even in auto centric Atlanta the last time gas was over $4 a gallon. As prices continue to rise due to increased demand, you can expect more folks to ride transit, and buses to cost more.

You can also expect the politicians, fearing voter backlash over high gasoline prices, to gut road and transportation budgets as they fall over themselves lowering gas taxes so they can appear to be doing something about a problem they cannot control.

We can invest now and benefit, or we can invest later when it costs far more to do so.

You know what transportation budgets are often first to see the axe? Mass transit. You know what happens when you cut access to mass transit? Low ridership and less return on investment. The thing I don't understand is cutting back on transit precisely at the time it is needed most by American commuters.


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