In November 2011, Wake County NC (the Raleigh, NC urbanized area) in conjunction with the Triangle Transit Authority (TTA) and other agencies, released the Wake County Transit Plan1. This Plan called for significant expansion of the transit system in Wake County, including doubled bus transit service, new commuter rail service (CR) between Raleigh and Durham, and a new light rail service (LRT) between Carey NC and northeast Raleigh. The cost of this expansion was estimated at $4.6 Billion, to be paid for largely by a 1⁄2-cent sales tax and other federal, state and local funds over 28 years. The Plan’s details assert a more than doubling of transit ridership as a result.
Given the Plan’s large costs and uncertain benefits, the John Locke Foundation, a Raleigh-based independent nonpartisan think tank, commissioned an independent review2 of the Plan by the above authors, which was released in early February 2012. That Review found that the Plan contained numerous optimistic assumptions, errors of fact or omission and calculations at variance with standard industry practice. Therefore, the review found that the Plan was not technically nor financially feasible and was unreliable as the basis for decisions regarding transit investment in Wake County.
Since February 2012 the Plan and the John Locke Foundation Review have been described to elected officials and the public on numerous occasions. However, some presentations of the Plan contained ridership and cost statistics that are different from those implied in the Plan. Aware of these apparent discrepancies, the John Locke Foundation requested that the Triangle Transit Authority clarify the Plan’s statistics3. The TTA Response to this request was received on April 19, 20124, and the John Locke Foundation then requested its consultants Hartgen and Rubin to review the Response. This document constitutes their review of the TTA Response to the questions raised by the John Locke Foundation.
Summary of our findings
Based on our review of the TTA Response, we continue to have major reservations concerning the feasibility of the Wake County Transit Plan. The TTA Response does not adequately respond to our questions concerning ridership or costs; instead it refers frequently to earlier documents for justification. It does not deal with the inconsistencies in ridership estimated implied in the Plan versus those in the earlier documents and, in fact, introduces new ones. The ridership estimates provided in the TTA Response are several times higher than those implied in the Plan, and the costs per rider are much lower than those implied in the Plan. Further, although we did not ask specifically about them in our most recent request, the Response does not respond to our concerns expressed in the John Locke Foundation’s earlier Review regarding other serious issues, including:
• forecasts of employment for downtown Raleigh, NCSU and RTP;
• whether the current transit service is funded in the Plan;
• the need for ‘spare’ vehicles;
• the need for additional service for ADA requirements;
• the implied large fare increase;
• the stability and likelihood of revenue sources;
• the balance between suburban contribution and service received.
Therefore the TTA Response is deemed inadequate, and our fundamental concerns regarding the costs and benefits of this Plan remain unaddressed.
It has also recently come to our attention that the Wake County Transit Plan is being substantially revised to address concerns raised by our earlier Review and by others. The anticipated release date of the revision is May 20125. We also understand that the employment forecasts for downtown Raleigh, RTP and NCSU, which we vehemently questioned in our prior review, are now being revised. These changes would have a significant effect on the transit use forecasts used by TTA, since these three destinations probably constitute one-half to two-thirds of the likely transit destinations of the proposed Light Rail and Commuter Rail services. We do not know why this revision now underway was not mentioned in the TTA Response.
As we described in our earlier Review of the Plan, there were several items that we not only believed were incorrect, but which suggest misunderstandings regarding how transit systems work and are funded, particularly in regard to Federal transit funding programs, and/or significant errors. Our review of the most recent TTA Response, outlined below, gives us further concerns of this type.
Again, these errors are of such magnitude that we urge the Wake County decision-makers, and those of the other counties that will be part of the inter-county components of the Plan, to require an independent review by external parties that have had no role in the development of the Plan and do not stand to benefit from decisions regarding the Plan It is our view that the entire discussion of the appropriateness of the Plan should now be deferred until the revised version is released and has been thoroughly vetted using the new Triangle Regional Model now under development by the region’s MPO.