Thursday, August 27, 2009

Train to nowhere authority seek $32.4 million

The latest in the WALLY train saga is this. They are seeking $32.4 million from federal tax money. This is now a seeking of federal Jurassic Pork from the stimulus of government package. The other day, I wrote about the lack of fiscal responsibility among the feds and the $11 trillion deficit. This is not a good way to add to it. There isn't a good way to add to it, but this is one of the worse ideas. I have no problem with WALLY if it pays for itself or uses all private money. Supporting fiscal responsibility in government begins at home.

From the Argus

The proposed Washtenaw and Livingston Line, or WALLY, commuter rail line will soon be in the running for $32.4 million in federal dollars that would put the project on track for completion by 2012.

If granted, the federal stimulus funding would cover all of the project's capital costs, including stations, signals, crossings and track improvements for the line, which would extend train service from Howell to Ann Arbor.

The money would also fund a "layover facility," where the train cars would be maintained and stored when not in use.

Funds to operate the system would still be needed.

This doesn't even account for operations. Now why is WALLY a bad idea? I wrote about this in depth back in 2007 under the titles People mover part II and Jurassic Pork

The 07 proposed budget, which I think was extremely low stated this.

The tentative budget presented to the county board predicted a capital outlay of $2.9 million and an operating budget of $4.9 million in the first year.

The budget also predicts that the rail service will prevent the need for city of Ann Arbor to build 800 parking spaces, at a cost savings of $35,000 for each spot. Commissioner Jack LaBelle asked Cicchella if those figures were correct, and on hearing they were, calculated that the city would save more than $28 million.

Later, they said that 32.4 million was needed in startup. That's what they are seeking there. My reasoning for that was as follows.

What I said on July 10, 2007:

"4.9 million will cover what? You have salaries, security, normal wear and tear, energy costs, and runs. 2.9 for startup? Between the trains, parking lot construction, training, etc? I'm skeptical. Even using that number, will you get a profit on that. 15,000 people (estimated number of commuters from Livingston to Ann Arbor at $225 a month (rumored price) will get you 3.37 Million a month - that's if EVERY commuter in the county uses it and pays that amount. I'm guessing most of the commuters to Ann Arbor are in Brighton, Hartland, and Hamburg. Hamburg has 20,000 people. I'll guess that 4000 of them commute to Ann Arbor, with 1000 in Howell (city has 10000 people) commuting. That'll give 5000 of the areas covered from the train. 5000 * 225 - 1.125 million a month - if all commute on the train. Anyone familiar with Hamburg knows how spread out it is. Part of it is "Brighton", most of it is "Pinckney", part of it is "Lakeland", and part of it is "Whitmore Lake". I'll be shocked if most of the commuters are going to drive a few miles to wait for the train. This area is spread out. Howell is denser, but has much less population - and it too is spread out a bit in its eastern and northern most areas near 59 - and forget about getting much help from Genoa (even with the Chilson stop - that area is flat out country), Marion, Howell Twp, and Oceola.

In order to cover the estimated operation costs from regular commuters - you need 408,334 a month - 1814 commuters a day (including weekends, so weekend warriors are very important). That leaves 2.9 million in debt from startup costs which can be paid for over a few years with good profit.

Can you get 15-20% of county's Ann Arbor commuters to use the train EVERY DAY - despite cutting out Brighton and Hartland from the route? If you can, then I'll cook up some fried crow.""

My opinion from 2007 has not changed one bit. WALLY is banking on a line that does not go to Brighton or Hartland, banking on last I heard a 4 Million operating cost, banking on stops away from downtown Ann Arbor, and banking on people driving their cars to the train. This is feel good impracticability that should not be supported by tax dollars.


Not-A-RINO said...

Dump the Wally idea and if there's that much demand for a commuter service, buy buses. There's less capital outlay, no construction costs or inconveniences, and the routes could have more suitable scheduling than a train. The State can help by providing large Park and Rides. Shuttles (privately owned)could take commuters to specific points in Ann Arbor such as the U of M, shopping or work.

Michigan needs another "People Mover" as much as Custer needed more arrows.

keithr said...

One of the big excuses given for Wally is to reduce traffic on US-23. The Wally study estimated a little over 1000 people per day would ride. Even if none of these carpool, the effect on rush hour traffic would not be noticeable.

As for the Ann Arbor parking issue, all they need to do is build a parking structure and then charge enough for parking to cover the cost. No burden on taxpayers. Duh.

In the study put out a while back, the estimated start up subsidy for Wally was around $25,000 per rider. That's taxpayer dollars, and that doesn't include the annual operating subsidies that will be needed which will likely be several thousand dollars per rider (again, taxpayer money).

Another problem is that similiar projects in other places always see a steady dropoff in ridership after the novelty wears off. This is certain to happen to Wally once commuters realize the total trip length will be much longer than driving because of the difficulties involved in getting to/from train stations.

I've said from the very beginning that for the small ridership level predicted, it would make more sense to encourage carpooling.