Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Jurassic Pork - The Ann Arbor to Howell commuter train

I've mentioned many of my thoughts on this mass transit plan here. People mover pt II? My guard was up then and it is more up today as this looks to be a public funded project more than a private fund agenda.

First off, I'm not against mass transit. I'm not even against a commuter train. However, my number one basis of support is that it must pay for itself, else it becomes the Detroit People Mover all over again.

The Argus and Dan Meisler does a good job giving budget figures here.

The state has guaranteed another $1.4 million for a proposed Howell-to-Ann-Arbor commuter train line that supporters say is necessary to combat congestion on U.S. 23.
The new grant from the Michigan Department of Trans-portation was announced Monday at a meeting where supporters were talking about receiving a $150,000 contribution from the Livingston County Board of Commissioners.

Washtenaw County has already committed $150,000, but Living-ston officials raised concerns about the viability of the service and its funding.
Commissioner David Domas asked whether expecting people to shift from cars to trains is realistic.

“Isn’t that a major change in thinking?” he said.

“That’s why we surveyed everybody,” replied Mike Cicchella, supervisor of Washtenaw County’s Northfield Township, one of the plan’s big boosters.

The estimated budget seems way too low to me.

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.

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.

Unless this pays for itself, I'm considering it the lite version of the Bridge to Nowhere - Jurassic Pork. I'm not against Mass Transit, and if convienent for me I'll consider using it. I am however against reckless spending of government's tax money on longshot proposals.


Ricardo755 said...

Hey, who changed the log-in to the comment section without giving any direction as to how to post?

Dan said...

I'm not sure. I haven't changed the comment section in about a year from my controls. I upgraded to the "new" version of blogger a few months back but that shouldn't have changed much outside of the "google account" requirement (by them, not me).

RightMichigan.com said...

Thanks for keeping an eye on this RM. Great analysis.


Jothum Smith said...

"However, my number one basis of support is that it must pay for itself..."

Funny how that argument keeps coming up, while you drive on federally funded highways that will never pay for themselves.

Livingston County is growing while the rest of the state is declining. Maybe it is because they are progressive enough to see opportunity where others do not.

J. Smith
-East Lansing

RightMichigan.com said...

Livingston County and "progressive" don't appear together often in many sentences when discussing politics of any sort.


Dan said...

J. Smith - I don't think people here will use the rails either. That's why I don't think it will pay for itself. I think the politicians want it, but the people don't. We like our cars too much, like convienence, and have a strong "less government" streak with a strong distate for taxes. Livingston County is one of the most conservative counties in the state.

The biggest problem with rail - outside of the amount of people (Meridian Twp, Lansing, and East Lansing combined have more population than our entire county - not just Brighton/Howell area) is that the houses are spread far apart. Outside of a few areas in this county the housing density is much smaller than the residential areas in East Lansing. Most of the new housing is McMansions in culdesac subdivisions. The old housing often has long distances between neighbors. The housing density generally ranges from the Haslett area to the rural portions of your county as comparison.

Most of the people who moved out here wanted to get out of the city. Most of the natives (as I am) don't want the city moving out here. Urbanism - and especially the government that goes along with it - isn't that popular here and oftentimes candidates who talk against development win.

If you want to see where the area the railways will be used, take a drive down D-19 to Coon Lake Rd to Chilson Road South until you get to M-36 and go east to US-23 from there. Those are a main roads near the Ann Arbor Railroad. You'll find a good cross section of both new and old Livingston there, but you won't find a lot of medium or high density housing there. Most of us couldn't walk to a train station.

The train would actually be fairly close to where I currently live. (Green Oak). Still, I'd have to drive there and find parking. It takes me about 5 minutes to get to the station location. It takes me 15 to 20 (in Rush Hour) minutes to get to the portion of Ann Arbor I have to be. Would I take it if I still lived in Howell? Maybe, but I commuted to either East Lansing or Downtown when I lived there.

I could MAYBE see a case for this if the railroad included Hartland and Brighton as more of the customer base of this would live there instead of Howell - but Brighton's on a different RR track.

Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I think the money would be much better widening US-23. People use that.

M3minusGDP said...

I love the mass transit idea. Then build a line from Lansing to Howell. Send trains every hour on the hour during rush hour peak times with added cars. Then during the daytime just run every two to three hours on the hour.
It seems like no one here has every traveled to Western Europe before. The rail system is the most efficient form of transportation. Run all electric infrastructure so the engines doing need to run while sitting and waiting for loading.
Belgium and the Netherlands have a system that you do not need a car, and ride your bike to the train stations. In the Netherlands the bicycle has the right-of-way over all vehicles, except on the expressways. If you were a true conservative you would ditch the automobile idea, and conserve natural resources and energy and build a light-rail system to make public transportation easier for everyone. There are no big parking ramps next to train or bus stations in Western Europe.
I wish our taxes went to social welfare projects that benefit all of society in general. Except here 51% of our Federal Taxes are spent on False-Flag Wars that only benefit special interest groups.

Dan said...

The idea isn't bad, but it has to be done the right way. This line doesn't even go to Brighton and one has to drive in some cases almost as far to the station as to Ann Arbor.

I can't speak for Western Europe or the Netherlands on a firsthand basis, but I can bet that the housing is much closer together than here. Quarter mile driveways are not uncommon in Livingston County. Either are dirt/gravel roads.

The rail is effective, in the right system and right area. New York and Chicago need the system. The NYC metro area has 18 million. Chicago metro area - 8 million. The Netherlands is by area between the size of West Virginia and Maryland. Michigan is 6 times larger. The Netherlands has 16-17 million people to Michigan's 9-10 million, and 1/2 of its population is in Amsterdam, Hague, or Rotterdam areas close by.

Ingham, Washtenaw, and Livingston County combined - 780,000. Throw in DeWitt/Bath and Grand Ledge areas and you have probably 850,000 - all spread out.

I'm all for this if it is private or can pay for itself. I don't see that here. I can get to Ann Arbor in 20 minutes from here in Green Oak. If it takes me 10 minutes to get to the station, then why bother taking the rail. That's not to mention that when I'm driving, I'm in control, not others.