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Why do regional planners ignore the future of transportation?

The Weekly Standard recently ran a perceptive piece: The End of the Line: Light rail is a very expensive way to move very few commuters.  Lately communities have been hitting the brakes on funding light rail.  Last month Nashville’s tax increase went down 2-1 at the polls, and Virginia Beach voters turned down light rail in 2016.  Tampa and San Antonio are smartly pushing plans that rely on more buses.

“Even in cities where light rail is touted as a success, such as Portland, Ore., light rail accounts for just 0.9 percent of miles traveled.”  The number for the Twin Cities is just 0.2% of miles traveled for light rail, and 1.1% for all transit.

Here’s the San Antonio mayor:

We have the opportunity to be innovators rather than last in line for old technology. … We are beyond light rail. The world is beyond light rail.

At least some of these other communities had the forthrightness to put their transit plans before the voters, and not just raise the sales tax via a board action as Hennepin County did.  The Weekly Standard piece continues:

Then there is the question of ride-sharing services and driverless cars. Uber averages 15 million rides a day. Lyft averages more than 1 million. Together, that’s nearly 6 billion trips a year—more than 10 times the number of U.S. light-rail rides last year. And these services are growing quickly. A study last year by the University of California Davis’s Institute of Transportation Studies found that once people try ride-sharing, they become 3 percent less likely to ride light rail and 6 percent less likely to ride buses. The most common reasons cited were that mass transit is too slow, that there aren’t enough stops or stations, and that no transit services are available when traveling.

You’d think that some of the planners employed by the Met Council and Hennepin County would have a better sense of emerging technology and not be so enslaved to a rigid light rail ideology.  Uber, Lyft, and soon self-driving cars are disruptive technologies that are making transportation cheaper and more convenient, and we’re going saddle ourselves with an old, expensive, inflexible boondoggle?  What good are all these planners if they just burry their heads in the sand?

I’d like to see the leaders of the Met Council watch Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation by Stanford’s Tony Seba, and then explain why it’s smart to spend $2 billion, plus millions more annually for operations and maintenance, on a new SW light rail line.  Another good post that explains the reasons that SWLRT is a $BIG TIME mistake can be found here.

Peter Zeller is Director of Operations at Center of the American Experiment.

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