Think Freely Media presents Common Sense with Paul Jacob

Light Rail, Too Heavy for Developers

American city planners tend to obsess over trains. Though not nearly as economical as buses, light rail trains are regarded as the gold standard in public transportation.

But ten years after Portland established its westside line, just how bad an investment light rail can be is becoming clear. So argues John A. Charles, Jr., president of the Cascade Policy Institute.

The area’s light rail system is called MAX. The westside line put up in 1998 maxed out at $963 million. Taxpayers nationwide footed nearly three-quarters of the bill, which went through over the protests of the Federal Transit Authority.

The FTA didn’t like the route, because it was run through a lot of empty area. Why? Because planners hoped that developers would build high-density housing along the line, thus justifying the route as time went on. It was a grand experiment in metropolitan planning.

Metro planners then cajoled and forced various city governments to redo their zoning laws to make the high-density developments more train-dependent. They specified an extremely scarce supply of parking.

And the developers? They stayed away in droves. As a landowner put it, “it’s never been developed” because of that very “mandated lack of parking.”

Government geniuses might think they can force people into the types of communities that people don’t want, like people were lab rats. Peculiar thing is, folks just naively thinking they are free, tend not to jump aboard that train . . . so to speak.

This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.

By: Redactor


  1. This is the result of Socialism instead of a free market run by free people. They should have opted for a private system and they would have had better judgment than that provided by politicians and bureaucrats, none of whom have a financial interst in a good outcome. Capitalism works!

  2. mike says:

    I have a feeling that as socialism gets it’s roots deeper into our culture, that little fact you mentioned about people ‘not’ responding to stupid metro plans will be passe’. In our “Brave new world” we’ll live where we are told, or our federal ‘housing subsidy’ will be taken away. If we should rebel -with the new ‘public parasite’ laws- it’s the work camps for us! And they won’t resemble the WPA.

  3. Joe says:

    Is this a joke? Look at Dallas. Talk about successful Transit Oriented Development! There about twice return on the investment.

    And what are the alt natives? More pavement more traffic jams.

  4. Ken Howes says:

    You nailed the problem with mass transit planning as a whole. Bus or rail, urban mass transit has been seen not in terms of actual service to the people but in terms of social engineering.

    Almost every city’s mass transit routes are on the pie plate model–a whole bunch of lines running from the edge to the center. There is little or no effort to establish lines around the circumference. I live in Oak Lawn, Illinois. If I want to take mass transit to LaGrange, Illinois, there is no route connecting the two. I would have to take a bus or train into Chicago, then transfer onto a bus or train heading out to LaGrange–an hour and a half trip for something I can drive in twenty minutes, and presumably a bus, with its stops, would do in thirty.

    Why? Because politicians want people to go into the city and to try to push them to move back into the city. People moved to the suburbs to escape liberal social planning, so now the politicians are going to force them back, one way or another.

    Indeed, one wonders whether liberal politicians WANTED a mortgage crisis that would force people to go back to being renters in the city, back under the thumb of the urban machines and the public school teachers’ unions.

  5. Kenneth H. Fleischer says:

    A very apt commentary. Here in Los Angeles there is a color-coded “light rail” system in and going in, whether those taxed to pay for it wish it or not. I’ve read that the average cost, fully amortized, of a ride on the Red Line is $53, although the fare is between $1 and $2. Guess who pays for the boondoggle! It would have been cheaper, had the county just hired taxicabs for all of the riders.

  6. Rocky says:

    I have traveled extensively on the German and Netherlands public rail systems. They are packed with commuters. I suspect the problem is cultural We are accustomed to being able to jump into a ton of automobile carrying a single passenger or two directly from home to wherever. As personal travel expenses increase sufficiently, we will also walk to the nearest rail stop….
    Perhaps the rail promoters are simply well ahead of their time.

  7. Having grown up in Europe there are two rail systems Frieght and Passenger. The passenger lines are so smooth from not having to support the weight of cargo and that adds to the appeal.

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