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Sunday, April 21, 2013

When reality bites. The real cost of Norfolk's light rail revealed.

The local big-wigs have been proclaiming the overwhelming success of the their light rail system and have been pushing Virginia Beach to participate in the wonder of it all.

But the federal subsidy is ending.  The brokest government in the history of the world is ending its subsidy of The Tide, revealing - for the first time that I know of - that the fares collected from paying passengers covers a mere 14% of the cost of running the system.

Light-rail passengers are expected to pay $1.3 million in fares next fiscal year, which starts July 1. That covers only about 14 percent of the cost to run the 7.4-mile route that opened in August 2011
And without examining the numbers we can't be sure whether that 14% number isn't inflated.  Is that the cost of just the operation, or does that include the cost of maintenance and replacement of equipment that wears out?

The Virginian Pilot has been a cheerleader for this project, telling us how great the ridership is, that it's exceeded expectations and that the future looks bright.  But if Uncle Sugar in Washington DC or Uncle Bob in Richmond don't come through, the people of Norfolk are going to bear the full cost.  And why should the residents of Iowa or of Charlottesville be forced to cough up the cost of transporting Norfolk residents on a glorified trolley? 
The city has covered a significant amount of light-rail operating costs with millions of dollars in federal startup money. The city could have spread the federal grant money over three years but instead opted to spend it in two years...

In 2012-13, there is $4.6 million in federal assistance for The Tide; in 2011-12, there was $6.4 million. Only a residual amount of federal money, about $858,000, will be left to go toward the $9.1 million cost to operate light rail in Norfolk in the 2013-14 fiscal year,
The fact that The Tide has been subsidized by big grants from DC and Richmond were mentioned as footnotes in otherwise generous praise of this experiment in "back to the future."  Behind the scenes the backers always knew that it was never financially sound and could only succeed politically if they managed to rope other communities into joining the Tide Follies.   Today the out-of-town gravy train has stopped and the real costs are beginning to emerge.  In my opinion, that 14% number that the paper is using is actually going to shrink to less than 10%.  That means that the people of Norfolk are going to be providing transportation welfare to those who don't have cars or who live close to a Tide stop. 


Anonymous said...

"That means that the people of Norfolk are going to be providing transportation welfare to those who don't have cars or who live close to a Tide stop."

As a general rule, a bus system could transport far more people who need to public transit get to work or just stretch their imcome further, and do it for a fraction of the cost of light rail.

Would it be impolite to add, "Suckers! at the end of that sentence?

Anonymous said...

It would,I guess,be even more impolite to ask which of Mayor Fraim's friends benefited from the construction of this unnecessary monstrosity.Remember the low income housing on Princess Anne road near Booker T High?Rehabbed with federal money paid to Fraim's friends in construction,then torn down a couple of years later.Follow the money,not the Pilot's cheerleading.