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Comments about ‘TRAX system doubles as 2 new lines begin’

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Published: Tuesday, Aug. 2 2011 5:08 p.m. MDT

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Dutchman
Murray, UT

A few years ago UTA redesigned their entire transit system and among other things started running "fast" buses from the suburbs to downtown in order to generate more ridership. There was a lot of fanfare and ads depicting how great and wonderful this was all going to be. The bus stop I have used for 20 years started out under this new design with 12 runs from two different buses going "in" in the morning and 12 going out. Now starting this Sunday UTA is down to 5 runs "in" and 5 runs "out". Even during a recession and high gas prices which should generate more ridership this redesign has obviously been a big failure. Yet, you never hear UTA admit to anything being a flop.

Here's hoping that this latest adventure will not fail but I am not holding my breath.

wandrew
Cottonwood Heights, UT

NO mention here of possible plans to make commuters pay for parking in TRAX lots. I like TRAX, but there is a limit to what I will pay to ride it. Rode light rail in Minneapolis last week for $.50 less per ride.

Fitness Freak
Salt Lake City, UT

"Dutchman" Your assumptions WILL be correct.

UTA, due to the overwhelming success of the first TRAX line modeled everything after on the premise that "if you build it they will ride" concept.

Frontrunner hasn't been anywhere near what was expected in terms of ridership.

The new lines probably won't either.

UTA will probably eliminate more and more bus routes to keep the trains running when they don't pay for themselves.
Consider: how many buses for how many years COULD HAVE been on the road for 900 million $$$ (the costs of the TRAX lines)?

UTA has a good PR department.

WHAT NOW?
Saint George, UT

"...The new lines would have been impossible if not for the taxpayers in Salt Lake County who voted to increase their own taxes by a quarter cent back in 2006. That vote helped raise hundreds of millions of dollars to pay for the TRAX expansion...".

"Voters" voted to raise their own taxes?

None of these "voters" could have possibly been T-Party types.

Right?

"...The total cost of the project is roughly $900 million, a mix of federal and local money...".

What is the exact "mix"?

Utah relying on federal money?

Utah relying on federal taxpayer money?

Utah should follow the guidance and leadership of two of our Congressmen and our two Senators.

Return all federal taxpayer money.

Show the rest of the country that Utah cannot only talk the talk, but can walk the talk as well.

CHS 85
Sandy, UT

@wandrew

I agree. I ride Trax daily and live within walking distance of a station. If the lot at the station where I sometimes park was to charge, I'd simply drive a little further up the line and park there for free.

The goal of charging is to limit the number of cars at the station because it will be shared with a private company. There must be a better way to control this than by charging for parking.

For those that deride having a rail system, I have a task for you. Go on a trip to Seattle, Fort Worth, Sacramento, or Indianapolis, then take a trip to Chicago, Washington, Atlanta, Portland, or Boston. Let me know which city is more manageable.

MormonDem
Provo, UT

If guys like Mike Lee and Jason Chaffetz have their way, this sort of thing will never, ever happen in the future.

Really???
Kearns, UT

I am getting tired of those complaints from people who say "this doesn't benefit me, so it isn't any good." I do not have a Trax line from my home to work, but that doesn't mean I don't benefit. Trax does take cars off the road. Careful studies have placed the bus and train routes in areas to benefit the maximum number of riders. It is unreasonable of me to expect UTA to set up a route for my convenience if ridership isn't going support it.

JACC
Bluffdale, UT

The system is pretty nice, but is it cost effective? I just did a little math...

Let's assume they really do get 14000 riders per day, every single day, for the next 20 years (very unlikely). That $900 million dollars of taxpayer's money translates to just over $8.80 per ride. And that just covers the initial investment costs. It does not include any operation or maintenance costs whatsoever.

Is this really the best use of our tax money?

Makid
Kearns, UT

As others have said, the 114 years is based on no ridership increase nor fare increase.

How about this one. The original line cost approximately 300M to build. It averages approximately 45,000 per day.

This gives us:45,000 Riders * $2.25 fare * 365 days= 36,956,250 per year.

Now, the original line was built in 1999, 12 years ago. I know that ridership has increased but these numbers put the total revenue received at $443,475,000. Even though ridership started lower this amount is high by approximately 1/3. This tells me that we are within 4 years of paying the cost of the original line completely plus salaries.

What will be the subsidy that the original line receives in another 4 years? $0.00. In fact, it will start to provide a subsidy for the other lines. Will people stop complaining about subsidies in 4 years since the cost will go down exponentially each year after across all of the lines?

In 20 to 25 years, with no other lines built, the rail lines will be providing subsidies for all transit within the UTA area.

JACC
Bluffdale, UT

@Makid: Very interesting numbers, and I sincerely hope you are right and that these systems can be self-supporting.

But what about operation and maintenance costs? How much does the UTA spend every year just to keep these systems running? Those numbers do not appear to be in your calculations.

The rail systems can only subsidize other transit if their generated revenue exceeds their continuing operational costs. Does the existing system really do that? (I've never seen evidence that it does.)

Fitness Freak
Salt Lake City, UT

"Makid" You forgot to include daily operating costs. Mechanics, conductors, rail maintenance, etc., is a substantial cost.

Also, NOT ALL rail riders pay the $2.25 per ride. Almost all have some sort of "reduced fare" pass. Some don't pay at all and just run the risk of being asked to show a ticket.

My point is: rail lines make for great "P.R." but aren't anywhere near as efficient of "people movers" as buses.
AND, when UTA begins to run into financial difficulty (inevitable)they will eliminate more and more bus routes in order to keep their "shiny, fantastic, state of the art" rail lines going back and forth. While at the same time attempting to raise fares.

Makid
Kearns, UT

The yearly cost for the rail lines is between 5 and 10 million dollars from the UTA numbers. This cost includes electricity for the lines, support staff, breakdowns, repairs and the like. That is why I stated 20 to 25 years for all lines to be profitable.

With the expected growth rate of the SLC valley, it is likely that we will need to add more lines to handle further growth. This will increase expenses but will also increase revenue.

Since each 4 car train can handle 200 people for only 1 driver, we would see a greater savings by building more rail and further cutting long distance bus service.

The cars are 30 year cars so won't need replacement for a while yet.

Plus with the construction costs being on average 20% less than expected, that means that the true recovery cost timeframe is also 20% less.

Rail is cheaper to support than buses. They last longer and as shown above, they can operate at a profit.

Makid
Kearns, UT

Fitness Freak,

Support is between 5 and 10 million a year for rail. It is over 25 million a year for just the bus support. How is bus a better deal for the money? $300,000,000 every 10 years for replacement buses but the technology upgrades, fuel costs and limited passanger carrying capacity.

Only BRT comes close to the cost effective nature of rail transport. But BRT is limited to 75 passangers for every 1 driver. That is still 3 drivers to move the same number of people that 1 rail driver moves.

At lower capacity levels, rail is even more efficient.

Buses are the PR aspect of a transit agency. Rail is the real working horse of transit since it supports the rest of the system once the initial construction costs have been repayed.

Ray in St.Petersburg
Saint Petersburg, FL

A lot of citizens here in the Tampa Bay region would give their eye teeth for what some of you are bad-mouthing .... are the city planners in San Diego, Portland, Dallas, Phoenix, St. Louis, Charlotte (et al) literally all on the "wrong track"? Check what your neighbors over the hills in Denver are moving forward with in terms of modern 21st-century rail transit. It's all about (or should be all about) efficient and pleasant mobility and livability. "Profit" should not be worshiped as the sole aim of human endeavor (by the way, Norfolk (VA) will debut their new light-rail system this weekend).

JACC
Bluffdale, UT

@Makid:

Thanks for the additional info. But I wonder how much the cars cost. You say we don't need to worry about them yet, but their amortized replacement costs are an integral part of this whole equation, and must be included to accurately assess the system's true performance.

@Ray:

I'm not 'worshipping' profit, and I'm not opposed to public subsidies of worthwhile things. The problem is that there are not unlimited resources, so we simply can't afford everything that might be nice to have. It is prudent to make sure we are using the resources we do have wisely.

Makid
Kearns, UT

JACC,

The cars cost on average 3 million per. In 4 years when the original line is operating at or near a profit, they can start replacing 5 cars a year, cover all operating expenses for Trax and provide construction subsidies for the other lines without needing to increase the fees.

Once the University line and the extention to the Intermoble hub are paid for in another 7 and 9 years respectively, they are also able to provide support for the lines.

The most expensive part of Rail construction is they initial construction and car purchase. Once the initial cost is done, each fare pays down the amount spent until the line is making a profit.

The more riders that take Trax, the faster that the costs are covered and the faster the lines operate at a profit.

No One Of Consequence
West Jordan, UT

It's hard to get excited about more trains. As the trains have been implemented the bus service gets thinner. Had the UTA remained a bus transit provider instead of a railroad wannabe, many people would still have viable bus service.

If all the people are paying for transit shouldn't all the people be served? Trax (the R is silent) is designed to benefit certain destinations rather than the people who pay for it. It goes to prove Robert Heinlein quote: "Taxes are not collected for the benefit of the taxed".

Rail transit is built to generate income for select individuals. It is old technology, even with the modern electronic elements, and has limitations that buses do not have. And the UTA trains tend to kill more people than UTA buses.

Sorry, I won't be coming to this party.

bricha
lehi, ut

The way I see it the money we give to trax isn't that different from money we give to our road projects. The amount of taxes we pay every time we fill up our tank of gas could be represented as the fare you pay every time you get on a train. Both get us from point A to point B, but if we all used trax the yearly inversion we all love so much wouldn't be nearly as bad.

I can't wait untill they finish the trax station by my house!

skitarghee
Cottonwood Heights, UT

Can't we see this for what it really is? Take from the general population (car owners) and give to the ticket buyers(a new special interest group). It's just another form of redistribution by our elected public officials and their appointees who always seem to get rich by feeding from the public trough.

Remember this economic truth: Public enterprise helps those in power and their entourage at the expense of the consumer. Real Capitalism helps the consumer by delivering what they want at the lowest price.

John44
DALLAS, TX

"Can't we see this for what it really is? Take from the general population (car owners) and give to the ticket buyers(a new special interest group)"

Oh please. Roads don't pay for themselves.

Travel around the US where TRAX-like systems exist. You will see private investment and vitality near every station, where no economic activity existed before.

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