June 27, 2018

Washington's subway disaster

Sam Smith - Hit and Run reported recently: :
On Tuesday the D.C. City Council boosted the city's tax on trips performed by services like Uber, Lyft, and Via from the current 1 percent tax to a full 6 percent, adding 50 cents to a $10 ride....The money raised from the tax will go towards fixing up the city's ailing Metro system, which has seen ridership crater in the wake of deteriorating service levels and a series of safety scandals....
Weekday ridership on the Metro rail system averaged 598,000 for Fiscal Year 2018. That's below the 612,000 weekday trips it was averaging in May 2017, which is lower still than the 639,000 trips it averaged in May 2016, just before Metro began a series of repairs that saw stations shut downs for months at a time. Currently the system services the same number of people it did in 2000, back when the D.C. metro-area had about 1.5 million fewer residents.
This journal, then the DC Gazette, was the only media that seriously questioned building the Metro subway system. We pointed out that light rail and bus transit would cover a much larger area at a much cheaper cost. Further, the Gazette noted back in 1995:
Perhaps the single worst economic mistake was DC's participation in the construction of a subway system without, at very least, a non-resident income tax. In effect, DC greatly subsidized a convenient means by which workers could live in the suburbs while employed in DC and not have to pay any city taxes other than those for their lunch-time yogurt and salad. As a result, two out of three dollars earned in the city are now exported tax-free each evening to the suburbs. Meanwhile, employment of DC residents has declined markedly, street traffic has increased, badly needed intra-city bus service deteriorated and service costs steadily mounted.

The subway was based on remarkably false premises. Heavy federal funding was sought on the spurious claim that ridership would be twice that which actually occurred. Those responsible -- unlike the current black city government -- never got even a brisk slap for their phony projections nor for the billions in federally-subsidized cost overruns that resulted.

And what was the final payoff for the city after all its "economic development' schemes? Sales tax revenue grew at less than the rate of inflation in the 1980s, and actually declined in the 1990s. It was a terrible price to pay to keep the suburban dominated Board of Trade and the suburban circulated Washington Post happy.
Over time we became far less enthusiastic about light rail, because it was clear its costs were being jacked tremendously as urban interest grew. Right now, improving bus systems is the wisest approach for cities to take.

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