It’s not a surprise Austin’s billion-dollar “commuter” train is a boondoggle. What’s surprising is just how quickly it has cratered. Sure, it was two years late in launching, and there are still unresolved safety issues, and it was so far over budget as to be laughable. It’s reassuring that even in liberal Austin no one wants to ride an expensive train to nowhere.

CapMetro — the region’s mass transit agency — breathlessly pushed the news last week that the commuter train was seeing thousands of passengers get onboard each day. Thousands!

Not surprising — first week, and it was free to ride.

This week, the story is a little different.

KLBJ radio is reporting that ridership went from more than 3,500 on Friday, the last “free day” of service (the toy train doesn’t run on the weekend), to barely more than 900 on Monday — the first day passenger had to toss out $6 roundtrip to board.

The train takes nearly an hour to meander from the northwest end of Austin to downtown — a trip most drivers can do in far less time even in heavy traffic. (I do so daily.)

The Austin American Statesman didn’t mention these numbers in this morning’s edition. However, transportation columnist Ben Wear did precisely explain the problem “commuter train” service poses:

“… each passenger will be heavily subsidized by taxpayers.”

Commuter rail and light rail are highly ineffective and inefficient means of transportation. They drain taxpayer dollars from effective and efficient transportation and mobility options. A far better mass transit solution is more aggressive use of buses on an expanded number of lane miles.

Over-budget and under-performing is a recurring theme for light-rail and commuter-rail. Too bad the train has already left the station for central Texas taxpayers.


Michael Quinn Sullivan

A graduate of Texas A&M, former newspaper reporter, one-time Capitol Hill staffer, think tank vice president, and an Eagle Scout, Michael Quinn Sullivan and his wife have three children. He is the publisher of Texas Scorecard. Check out his podcast, “Reflections on Life and Liberty.”

RELATED POSTS