One Boondoggle Down, Hundreds to Go


New York Governor Kathy Hochul has killed the LaGuardia AirTrain, a ridiculously expensive people mover that had been supported by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo. “I don’t feel obligated to accept what I have inherited,” Hochul said, noting that there were lower-cost alternatives that had been ignored by Cuomo and rejected by the Port Authority.

Of course, those lower-cost alternatives are still going to cost a lot of money, and spending that money is problematic in an age when many people are no longer comfortable in crowded conditions. As noted here earlier this month, New York City offices have some of the highest vacancy rates in decades, and even offices that are still under lease may be nearly empty as the number of people entering those offices is down by more than 70 percent. Downtown groups have released similarly dire reports for Seattle and Washington, DC, among other cities.

Transit agencies and transit advocates continue to pretend this isn’t happening.

  • Portland’s TriMet continues to plan the $2.6 billion Southwest light rail even though the last light-rail line it opened, in 2015, yielded no net new riders.
  • Ridership on Denver’s Regional Transit District commuter buses to the distant suburb of Longmont was so low during the pandemic that the agency stopped running them, but it is nevertheless reviving planning for a rail line to Longmont that had been shelved in 2008 when an analysis found that this line would cost more than $60 per rider.
  • Federal Transit Administration officials let slip on Monday that a six-mile extension of the BART system to downtown San Jose is now expected to cost more than $9.1 billion, nearly double the original projection of less than $4.8 billion. Valley Transportation Authority officials are intent on building it even though the FTA says it will fund no more than $2.3 billion or 25 percent, whichever is less.
  • Illinois, having already spent close to $1.5 billion of Obama high-speed rail funds on the Chicago-St. Louis corridor where it failed to increase passenger trains speeds by even 1 mile per hour, is hoping to get its hands on some of the $66 billion that the infrastructure bill would give to Amtrak so it can spend even more money accomplishing nothing;
  • Los Angeles, San Diego, and Seattle are all planning on spending tens of billions of dollars each on new rail transit lines.

Transit advocates are still talking about how to get people out of their cars and onto transit when they lost that battle a long time ago. They are also talking about “mobility justice,” which to them means spending more money on transit when the real solution is to get the last few transit-dependent people off of slow, expensive transit and into fuel-efficient cars that will give them access to more economic opportunities.

Read the rest of this piece at The Antiplanner.

Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: This bridge has become a symbol of Portland, but it really should be read as a symbol of the Portland light-rail mafia‘s willingness to spend $1.5 billion on a new light-rail line that added no net new riders to the region’s transit system, which carried fewer riders the year after it opened than the year before. Photo by Steve Morgan.