Your elected political heroes are at it again. On June 24th, the Austin City Council voted to spend $100,000 of your tax dollars on a study to find how the city could afford to pay for a $1.3 Billion (that’s right, I said “Billion”) light rail service that would supplement the already-failing MetroRail that cost taxpayers $105 million. This new light rail service would run through East Austin, The University of Texas Campus, Downtown, down Riverside Drive, and over to Austin-Bergstrom International Airport.

Options available to pay for the new rail include a general obligation debt that would need to be approved in the 2012 elections and paid back with property tax increases, federal funding, fares to ride the trains, and even more property tax increases along areas where this rail would be implemented.

Downtown Austin circa 1910

Let’s take a closer look at how your tax dollars are being put to work on the current MetroRail system. In May 2010, average ridership for the MetroRail was 779 boardings per day, which is even less than the 901 boardings per day in April 2010. That is less than half of the estimated 2,000 boardings Cap Metro thought they would get from the rail service. The key phrase here is “boardings”. Generally, each passenger should board the train twice a day (once to go to their destination and again to return home). At an $8 Million operating cost for 400 passengers per day, it would cost almost $55 per passenger to maintain. And best of all, we don’t know if these are passengers who were otherwise already riding the bus!

The new light rail system that is being proposed right now would cost approximately $25 Million per year to operate. Cap Metro barely had enough money to keep MetroRail afloat after the 2009 fiscal year (they had $11 million of the recommended $27 million to have on hand). In the real world, you don’t improve your financial situation by committing to spending more. Should we expect it to be any different for them?

Throughout this, the Austin City Council fails to remember the early 1900’s when Austin had a similar system of trolley cars running through downtown. The reason why they failed is the same reason why the Cap Metro ‘Dillo system designed to imitate it failed: inefficiency and inconvenience. (The ‘Dillos were so bad that riders wouldn’t even utilize them for free!) As Winston Churchill famously said, “Those that fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.” As taxpayers, let’s not give them that option.

(image courtesy of https://www.txgenweb.org/towns/austin/austincongressave3.jpg)

Dustin Matocha

Dustin Matocha is the CFO and COO of Texas Scorecard. Dustin graduated from the University of Texas at Austin with a BBA in Management, a BA in Government, and a minor in Marketing. He’s a self-described Corvette enthusiast, baseball purist, tech geek and growing connoisseur of local craft beer.

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