Just say ‘NO!’ to Purple Line

Christopher B. Summers Aug 28, 2017

Given that President Donald Trump said he would support only the “best” deals, you would think he would have tweeted something similar to the above about the proposed $2.4 billion rail line linking New Carrollton to Bethesda. Instead, his administration yeterday signed an agreement to fund $900 million of the line, which will use more energy than the cars it takes off the road and be so expensive it would be cheaper to give every new daily rider a new Toyota Prius every three years for the next 30 years, according to the Cato Institute’s Randal O’Toole.

Read O’Toole’s 2015 concise, one-page “Myth vs. Fact” on the Purple Line here. In less than five minutes you’ll learn everything you need to know about the light rail line Marylanders will be forced to subsidize at the expense of more affordable, faster and safer transportation.

As O’Toole writes, “There’s a good reason why hundreds of American cities replaced their streetcar systems with buses between 1910 and 1970: buses are faster, more flexible, more comfortable (a higher percentage of riders get seats), safer, and far less expensive to build and maintain. Because buses can use any city street, they can reach more destinations, so more people can make their journeys without changing from bus to bus or rail to bus.”

It’s a fact that light rail systems around the country cannot survive (much less thrive – Google New York City Subway and Metro to read about the latest fires, breakdowns and accidents) without major subsidies as fares do not cover the cost of maintaining infrastructure. It’s also a fact that actual costs of building a light rail system frequently exceed projected ones by at least 40 percent, with projects completed in the last decade averaging more than 50 percent above estimated price tags. Add in the other inconvenient fact that most projects way overestimate ridership – including the state’s estimate for Baltimore’s light- and heavy-rail lines – and the cons far outweigh any benefits of the Purple Line.

Notably, Gov. Hogan was elected to right Maryland’s magical economic thinking, so it’s hard to understand how saddling taxpayers with yet another unfunded mandate will ultimately help him politically.

Just because the project is rolling doesn’t mean it must be completed. It’s better to waste a few million on planning than billions in the years to come, especially when cheaper, faster and safer alternatives exist.