Urban rail opponents question current plan
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As the Austin City Council considers the $550 million price tag for the first phase of urban rail
, opponents are increasing their efforts, saying the proposed rail is not the right track for the city’s future.
The proposed line would stretch between the Mueller development in East Austin and Downtown.
Jim Skaggs says that plan concerns him for two reasons: it serves a fragment of Austin’s population and it doesn’t reach areas where he says mass transit is needed most.
"You are subsidizing people who are not low income – who have alternatives – at the expense of those who have no alternatives and depend on public transit in their daily lives," Skaggs said.
Austin City Council is just beginning to discuss the latest proposal. Austin Deputy Chief Financial Officer Greg Canally explained the cost of urban rail after the initial price tag.
"We estimate that cost would be about $16 million per year to operate,” Canally said. “That would grow over time, as most O&M (operation and maintenance) costs do."
If urban rail was packed to capacity each day with an estimated 7,000 riders, the city would have to charge each rider about $6.25 per day to break even.
Skaggs said that’s a lofty goal, comparing it to Capital Metro’s commuter rail returns.
"They promised 20 percent return from the fare box,” Skaggs said. “Today, it's less than five and there is no projection whatsoever to get it to 20 percent."
Another opponent to the rail is Richard Shultz. He says city officials should focus on doing more with the system already in place.
Shultz first pitched his Cellular Mass Transit plan in 2008. Shuttles would connect neighborhoods to transit centers, where riders would catch larger express buses.
"Buses can have just as much capacity as the train can at one-tenth the cost," Shultz said.
Urban rail could ultimately be in the hands of voters this fall, but council members need to first agree whether the proposal is ready for public consideration.
Austin City Council will discuss urban rail more at a work session next Tuesday.
If the proposal is approved, the first cars wouldn't hit the tracks until 2021.