Friday, February 20, 2009

Development Expert Touts Transit, Deconstructs McIlheran

Chicago development and transportation expert Scott Bernstein looks into Journal Sentinel columnist Patrick McIlheran's recent attack on the proposed Kenosha-Racine-Milwaukee (KRM) commuter rail and concludes that the region, businesses and residents would suffer increasing costs if they followed McIlheran's advice.

Bernstein's column is here.

McIlheran's is here. He is the paper's in-house conservative columnist, and on transportation issues, is to the right of mainline business groups like the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, that support commuter rail, regional transit authorities and county sales taxes to operate them.

Several weeks ago, Bernstein was invited by southeastern Wisconsin regional civic and business leaders to address a conference on transit's contribution to growth.

With stimulus funding opportunities on the horizon, Bernstein's arguments are timely and compelling.

Key paragraphs:

"Southeastern Wisconsin families pay $8.5 billion out of pocket to own and operate cars, businesses $5.5 billion and government $1.5 billion annually. Over 30 years, you pay a half-trillion dollars. KRM and tandem bus and streetcar services pale by comparison, and they bring back many times their initial cost in growing and recurring benefits.

"The region's tab is high because it lacks alternatives. A household driving 25,000 miles per year pays 66% of its income for housing and transportation. A household driving 15,000 miles pays 56.5 % of its income for that - a 10% increase in disposable income, tax-free, at today's prices. When gas returns to $4 a gallon, transportation will cost more than housing.

"You could miss these savings if officials don't pass new Regional Transit Authority legislation, blend existing Milwaukee County funds with other funds for a true three-county system and use the new American Renewal and Reinvestment Act - $600 million for Wisconsin highways, streets and public transit, plus last-minute appropriations for Amtrak and new high-speed-rail services."

1 comment:

tww said...

From the key points....

What percentage of the alleged $15.5 billion in annual auto expense would be reduced with the introduction of light rail? Cars aren't going away.

How is the 10% savings tax free? That money was used for gasoline and vehicle maintenance, which is not tax free.

Why are housing costs part of this discussion? They are irrelevant.

There is no 10% increase in disposable income. In the example, auto mileage has been reduced by 10,000 miles, but it is not accounted for by the implied use of light rail. At a conservative $2/ride, that $2000 for 1,000 annual 10-mile rides. Or, that's $1000 for 500 annual 20 mile rides. Let's not forget that taxes will increase to fund the operations expense. Oppps.

Personally, I like the following Bernstein comment: "We all relish choice".

Me too, I'd rather choose not to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on something that a very small percentage of the population would utilize. Remember, your touting of the Hiawatha Line in Minneapolis as a success story for light rail? Less than 1% of the population uses it. The cost: $715 million capital and $20 million/year recurring.