Monday, October 22, 2007

Price of Commuter Rail between Howell and Ann Arbor - $2.3 Million subsidy

At least that's the estimate from the Washtenaw Area Transportation Study.

From the Ann Arbor News, they estimate:

884,000 riders a year. (I think that's way high)
Annual Operating Costs - $4.8 million
Annual revenue - $2.5 million

For comparison's sake, they average $27 a day from a car commute from Howell to Ann Arbor. That's about 60 miles a day, round trip. 60 miles is between 1/5 and 1/6 of a tank in my evil assault SUV. I drive a V6 and have about a 20 gallon tank. For me, that's about $7-10 a day if I was still commuting to Howell - about 1/3 of what they mentioned. I haven't figured depreciation costs, but even with that, I'd like to know how they determined $27 unless I'm reading the media report wrong.

Almost 50% of the funds would be subsidized. That's not sometime I'm going to support.

Last March, I wrote my reasons and concerns about this becoming our own version of the Detroit People Mover..

.....I'm not completely against this, but I'm not sold on it for several reasons. Pro's and cons, assuming it expands to Howell. (It's worthless if it doesn't)

1. Less traffic on US 23 South of Whitmore Lake.
2. More environmental friendly than cars.

1. Costs. How much to build? How much to operate? How much charged to the consumer.
2. This isn't New York, Chicago, or Toronto. It's not even Detroit. Is there enough people in the area to use this? Washtenaw and Livingston Counties combined number under 500,000 people, and the population is spread out.
3. The Detroit People Mover is far from a success.
4. Parking. People would have to drive to the stations. Brighton is left out unless they drive (on US 23) to Whitmore Lake - 8 miles from Ann Arbor. For that much trouble, it's easier to drive. For me, and the stop is about 2 miles away from me, it's easier to drive.
5. Customers - While many, including myself, commute to Ann Arbor from the county, how many commute to Detroit, Oakland County, Flint, and Lansing? Livingston commuters travel in all directions. Secondly, I'm assuming more Ann Arbor commuters live in Pinckney, Hamburg, Brighton, Hartland, and South Lyon than elsewhere in the county. The proposed route covers only Hamburg. Brighton is left out, and that is a likely customer base.
6. US 23 traffic - If the main stop is in Whitmore Lake, the traffic problem from M-36 Northward is not even slowed.
7. Police presence required. Added costs.

1. Parking. Will there be enough?
2. Service - how quickly do the trains run
3. Expansion - Does the rail expand to Brighton? Hartland? Fenton? South Lyon? I can not see this succeeding at all if Brighton is not covered. That gets some people off US 23. Does this go to Oakland County? I've heard of proposals of a Detroit-Lansing link.
4. Private funding. How much?
5. How much public support is there for this?

In July, I went further and called it Jurassic Pork based on the numbers given at the time.
.....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....

Right now, I'm about ready to call it the train to nowhere, in dishonor of Alaska's Bridge to Nowhere supported by 83 senators where it was cheaper to buy everyone a plane rather than build a bridge. Like the Alaska bridge, there isn't enough people densely packed in Livingston or Washtenaw Counties to make this profitable and an adequate solution.

3 comments: said...

What have you got against the People Mover? C'mon! You must just hate Detroit.


Dan said...

Well, I was insulting the people mover by comparing it to this boondoggle.....

paustin said...

"Less traffic on US 23 South of Whitmore Lake."

I think this is patently untrue, and any transportation planner worth his weight in road salt would agree.

There will be an initial decline in the number of cars on US-23. This will lower commute times along the US-23 corridor. That will put more land within an X minute commute of Ann Arbor. That will allow people to move farther out and still retain the same commute times.

Light rail out to the suburbs is NOT the way to offset automotive emissions. US-23 is a pipe with a more or less fixed rate of flow, and it's going to flow at that rate. It's not like I-95/93 on the east coast is clear during rush hour, even though there's plenty of commuter rail there.

Perversely, creating _longer_ commutes is how you get people to move closer and drive fewer miles. At that point you can go ahead and provide alternative modes of transportation.

I am a liberal transit geek with a masters in urban planning and even I think this commuter line is a ridiculously stupid waste of money that will not meet any of the project goals.

But hey, rail is sexy as hell and is the only transit that upper middle class folks are willing to be seen using.