Urban Rail Transit

Public transit systems in North Carolina have become less about helping citizens move around their communities in the way they desire and more about planners gaining enough political power to impose their transportation preferences and land use fads on those citizens. And this starts at the top. U.S. Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood recently admitted that his Livability Initiative "...is a way to coerce people out of their cars." Charlotte-Mecklenburg planning director Debra Campbell told Governing magazine

We always saw transit [Charlotte's light rail system] as a means, not an end ... . The real impetus for transit was how it could help us grow in a way that was smart. This really isn't even about building a transit system. It's about placemaking. It's about building a community.

The terms "smart," "placemaking," and "building a community" are all euphemisms for anti-car, anti-suburb, pro-public transit, pro-high density living in the city center. In the words of urbanologist Joel Kotkin, planning bureaucrats at all levels are implementing "cramming" policies that will produce a "forced march to the cities." In order to accomplish their goals, transit planners must use government regulation to force the approximately 80 percent of the public that prefers a single family home with a yard into high-density housing and use of mass transit.

Key Facts

  • Surveys and market trends confirm that approximately 80 percent of Americans prefer to live in single-family detached homes with yards, and that most people want to take advantage of the mobility offered by the personal automobile.
  • Despite this, the U.S. departments of Transportation, Housing and Urban Development, and the EPA have jointly used their powers and federal funding to force states and cities to adopt policies that push people into high-density housing and travel by mass transit.
  • The massive effort to build or expand mass transit systems over the last 30 years has been accompanied by a decrease in the number of people using transit in major metro areas, from roughly 8 percent to 5 percent.
  • Of the 33 urban rail transit systems in the country, only six carry more than one percent of the total motorized passenger miles and 22 carry less than one-half of one percent. Thus rail transit is a huge taxpayer expense with little or no impact on urban traffic congestion or air pollution. (See chart below)
  • The Wake County Transit Plan that proposes doubling bus service, a commuter rail on existing tracks from Durham to Garner, and newly constructed light rail from Cary to north Raleigh will not accomplish its goals. The $4.6 billion price tag fails to include many costs such as $2.2 billion to continue current services, cost of required spare vehicles, and cost to use existing private and public rail tracks. Each light rail trip will cost $33 and each commuter rail trip $92. Most commuters will not opt for rail because door-to-door travel times will be 2 to 4 times longer than the same trips by auto. And even if Wake County‚Äôs population doubles by 2040, the population density will be only 2,158 per square mile. Few if any of the areas around proposed rail stations will have the density of 8,000 persons per square mile that would be necessary to make the system viable.
  • "Over 90 percent of all jobs in American metropolitan regions are located outside the central business districts, which tend to be the only places well suited for mass transit." (Joel Kotkin "Forced March to the Cities," Forbes, March 16, 2010.)

Recommendations

  1. End state funding of rail transit projects.
  2. Repeal the half cent local-option sales tax authorization for rail transit projects.

Analyst: Dr. Michael Sanera
Director of Research and Local Government Studies
919-828-3876 • msanera@johnlocke.org

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