Candidates who want to spark an animated conversation with citizens, just say “light rail.” Voters demand to know each candidate’s position…even before any study of economic and socials impacts is done.
The economics are pretty easy to figure out using the Valley Metro model. The first 20 mile stretch of that system cost about $1.4 billion to build. Assuming the assets depreciate over 30 years, the investment recovery (think of it as the equipment rental charge) has to be $47 million a year. Costs of operations (salaries, electricity, and the like) are another $33 million. Combined, it’s about $80 million a year.
Valley Metro ridership is now pretty stable at 13 million a year (including many who used to ride the bus), so the annual cost per rider works out to be about $6.25. Riders pay a little over $1.00…yielding a recovery ratio of only about 16%. Naturally, what isn’t recovered from fares is covered by taxes.
Even if the economic and social impacts could be worked out and voters approved, light rail is a vision more than fifteen years in the future. In the meantime, we need to have serious discussions about our traffic congestion and develop near-term transportation options. What can we do now to not aggravate the traffic congestion problems further? And what can we do to lessen the congestion we already have?
To the first question…ignoring other consequences of normal growth and evolution, we need to recognize how some Council strategies of recent years have aggravated an already challenging traffic situation.
Approving more and more apartment complexes in the City has increased density of population; more people now move around in the same geographic area. In the same way, Council strategies to promote more jobs filled by non-Scottsdale residents has had the predictable effect of increasing the commuter influx. Scottsdale has been and continues to be a significant net importer of employees.
We cannot turn back the clock, but we can address these problems in the future by demanding the justification of new initiatives approved by Council include consideration of traffic impacts.
To the second question…what can we do in the near-term?
We have to give citizens real alternative transportation options. Our bus (and trolley) services and connectors are not real options. Buses that run every 30 minutes, stopping several blocks from your home or work, are not options. (If you could only drive your car every half hour and had to park it four blocks from home or work, would you consider it a real option?) Citizens are savvy consumers; they will select options to save time and money…they value shorter transit times and increased number of routes.
We also need to modify street systems and improve circulation in Scottsdale to move vehicular traffic as smoothly and quickly as possible. Traffic signal coordination must be updated from the days since Loop 101 was built, more than twenty years ago!
As your City Councilman, I intend to make transportation a high priority. If a discussion of light rail comes up, I can be trusted to ask the hard questions and give citizens the unvarnished truth to inform their vote. I know, first-hand, the economic and social benefits and costs of passenger rail service. For four years I was Chief Financial Officer of AMTRAK, the country’s largest passenger rail service provider. I ask for your support in the upcoming Council election.