Monday, September 29, 2014

Boondoggles Don't Do Math but Voters Can

Websters dictionary defines boondoggle as:  an expensive and wasteful project usually paid for with public money 
The print version of yesterday's Tribune article Rail foes, fans set to collide over Greenlight Pinellas has a subtitle "Dreams and dollars are riding on the Greenlight Pinellas ballot initiative". Yes, there are lots of fairy dust dreams with billions of taxpayer dollars dancing in the heads of those who seek to benefit from Greenlight which has distorted the truth and common sense.

The map in the print version includes a link implying Greenlight will go over the Howard Frankland bridge with a false statement "Future expansion to Tampa". The Tribune did not even indicate "proposed" as if that link is reality. It is not. There is NO rail planned for Tampa. Greenlight Pinellas does NOT go over the bridge - no matter how many "dreams" PSTA, elected officials and special interests groups tout it will. There are NO plans by FDOT to build a high cost train across the Howard Frankland.  To do that will take another tax or huge pot of taxpayer dollars to come from "somewhere".  

Greenlight supporters are having a hard time selling the value of a bad product. They are relegated to shallow, anecdotal talking points, flowered with emotions, that have no real or scientific data to support the plan. Rail supporters keep throwing out "we need choices".

As we posted recently:
This fixation on mode of transportation is a fallacy. 
Choice of mode is the wrong “choice” question to ask about transportation. 
The right “choice” questions are
       When do you chose to leave?
       Where do you chose to go?
Trains, light rail, and buses limit your choice on when to leave. They (necessarily) constrain the schedule so you have to leave to catch the rail, bus, etc. when they leave... not when you chose to leave. 
Greenlight Pinellas tries to downplay the high cost light rail by calling it a "passenger rail" as if its commuter rail or something else. Using the term "Light Rail" must be toxic in Pinellas. Greenlight also misleads the public by falsely implying the train will reduce congestion.  Study after study debunks that implication.  The fact is rail cannibalizes bus service.  In 2013 Charlotte LOST 467,000 bus riders while the train gained only 27,000. We must assume the rest went back to driving.

The Tribune article reports that 20 of the 30 light rail systems were launched or expanded since 2000. This has occurred because politicians, taxpayer funded entities and special interests figured out how to collude together to get their hands on large amounts of federal dollars. The perversion has been for all these entities to go after the most expensive transportation solution as PSTA is doing - light rail. Then they all collude together using a combination of taxpayer and special interests money and resources on marketing campaigns to ram these costly initiatives through. 

We're now in a very different economic climate than 2000 with almost $18 TRILLION of federal debt. The federal dollars that have been providing the capital seed money for these light rail projects comes from general revenues which are actually debt dollars.  Who thinks the federal debt faucet will stay open to fund many more of these boondoggles?  What happens when interest rates start going up?  Who wants to put more federal debt on our children, grandchildren and future generations? 

PSTA's ridership is currently so low they cannot qualify for federal funds and may never be able to qualify for any federal grant monies.  Who then is going to pay for the almost Billion dollars PSTA is expecting from the feds for the high cost train? 

Voters in Pinellas must read Greenlight's "Preliminary Financial Feasibility Analysis" before voting. When the recession or economic downturn hit, the revenue for the Penney for Pinellas tanked. The risks to taxpayers are huge when PSTA cannot qualify for federal dollars or gets reduced federal dollars, incurs huge cost overruns which average about 40% for such projects, another economic downtown occurs and sales tax revenue dries up and PSTA runs into eminent domain issues with the light rail. Do voters ever hear much from Greenight about eminent domain?  Of course not, but eminent domain issues always adds cost and delays to any infrastructure project.

The Tribune article also states that more cars can be added to the existing trains to increase capacity.  That's only half true. More frequency can increase capacity but Light Rail trains are usually only 2 car or 3 car trains. Why?  Because they mostly run at street level like a streetcar and cannot be longer than the shortest street block where it runs or it will block an intersection. Greenlight Pinellas plan depicts a 3 car train going to a 5 car train to add capacity. That can't happen unless Greenlight plans to tie up traffic in Pinellas county. 

It's not just "dreams and dollars" riding on the Greenlight ballot initiative, reality is:
  • Greenlight does NOT go over the Howard Frankland bridge or to the Tampa airport.
  • PSTA did a bus study last year and they have a Plan B.  PSTA knows they can improve their bus service for a fraction of the cost of a high cost train without the use of federal debt dollars.
  • PSTA wants the huge $100 million plus a year tax increase only because they insist including the high cost light rail boondoggle that will benefit the special interests who have given generously to the Greenlight cause.
  • Greenlight Pinellas does not address the interest costs that must be paid back on the huge debt incurred by taxpayers to build the high cost train. Interest costs are NOT free. How will the interest be paid back?
  • Greenlight Pinellas neglects the future replacement/major rehab costs required of all rail systems every 25-30 years. Where's that money coming from? Will Pinellas need another tax or will they rob other priorities?  
  • Greenlight Pinellas has a 4th grade math problem and the numbers simply don't add up, as we've reported before:
    • $20B to operate Greenlight Pinellas over 45 years.
    • $130M per year of sales tax revenue to support Greenlight Pinellas
    • $2 fares.
    • $20B operating expenses over 45 years is $444M per year in operating expenses.
    • $130M per year of sales taxes leaves $314M gap in annual operating expenses that have to be covered somehow.  Or a $14.1B shortfall of the expected $20B costs.
    • That's about 157,000,000 annual ridership on $2 fares to cover those expenses, or about 13.1M riders per month.
    • PSTA is currently running about 1.2M riders per month.
Boondoggles don't do math but voters certainly can.

Send PSTA back to the drawing board to fix their bus service.

Boondoggles don't do math
Vote NO on the Greenlight rail boondoggle in November.

No comments:

Post a Comment