Dazzled by promise of rail, Austin leaders still need to persuade public

train

Having followed Texas Watchdog’s coverage of Austin’s rail rapture, you can be forgiven for assuming the movement remains earthbound awaiting only taxpayer billions and living, breathing commuters.

Not so. Like President Obama explaining the single failure of his first term, the brain trust behind Austin’s Central Texas and urban rail plans needs only to tell a better story, one that inspires the public to Choo-Choo Ch’ Boogie.

So says a new report from a working group headed by Greg Hull, president of the American Public Transportation Association, and development directors for transit systems in Dallas, Charlotte, Denver, Portland and Salt Lake City.

The working group lauded the overall planning for the high-ridership Central Texas Project Connect and the expansion of the much loved but chronically underused MetroRail commuter line now running from Leander to downtown Austin.

What the partnership of the Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization, Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the City of Austin and Lone Star Rail District hasn’t done so well is tell people why they really, really need all this rail transportation, the report says.

It might also help, the working group suggested, if there were a “well defined, clearly understood, and agreed upon path for moving the projects forward.” The path could be blazed if the groups involved formed a real partnership and figured out individuals and businesses in the area that like the rail idea.

And, while you’re in the storytelling mood, it wouldn’t hurt to come up with a 20-year plan to explain to people how you plan to pay for this fantasia.

As Texas Watchdog has cheerfully pointed out for some time, they will be explaining that for 20 years almost all of the money will be coming from the people. While locomotive fanciers continue to float ideas about private investment in rail systems, no one has ponied up a dime in decades in Texas.

It isn’t any secret to area transit officials how cost effective the MetroRail has been, coming in wildly over budget, its cars half-full on the best days. A year ago, while losing millions of dollars a year on its weekly commuter run, MetroRail added weekend service.

Fares taken in on the weekends cover about 8 percent of the $1.85 million MetroRail spent running trains on the weekends this past year, the Austin American-Statesman reports today.

Not a whole lot better than the 5 cents commuters are contributing to every dollar it costs MetroRail to run the trains during the weekday rush hours.

Now, if there were only a better way to tell that story. Maybe with lots of pictures of big, old locomotives.

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Contact Mark Lisheron at 512-299-2318 or mark@texaswatchdog.org or on Twitter at @marktxwatchdog.

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Photo of a MetroRail commuter train by flickr user xfile001, used via a Creative Commons license.


Source: Texas Energy Watchdog

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