Sunday, August 3, 2014

Highway Trust Myth, Vermont Commuter Rail, Champlain Parkway Funds Sufficient for Commuter Rail Start

The Myth of the “Highway Trust Fund,” Vermont not ready for commuter rail, if only we had the $40 million for the limited Champlain Parkway project commuter rail would be only a matter of months away…

My comment on Vermont Digger to “Highway Trust Fund” piece on August 1
The Highway Trust Fund really became a Transportation Fund in 1993 when a portion of the “gas tax” was dedicated to transit. Now rail and transit grow and car travel doesn’t, So we need general funds to support transportation. We did not tax horses when the car came along and it is time to stop expecting a declining source–car taxes–to support transit and rail here and Vermont in the nation. In Vermont we need–for the first time–to start government funded commuter and intercity rail as well as investing in walking and bicycling infrastructure (no more bikepaths!) on our town centers and urban busy streets. That is what Vermonters want today–they cannot bike and walk nor take commuter and intercity rail so too many are stuck with their cars.

Response to my comment by a reader:
How well did light/commuter rail work with the Champlain Flyer? Vermont doesn’t have the population density to make it work! Not to mention wouldn’t intercity rail compete with CCTA for ridership? The last CCTA bus I pulled beside and peeked into had a grand total of 2 people on board.
As for pouring tons of taxpayer’s money into a bicycling infrastructure, the climate doesn’t justify it. Hard to imagine many people who would be willing to bike in subzero temps, snow storms, and continuous rain. I do bike often, but only on bikepaths. I avoid like the plague, biking alongside motor vehicles for safety reasons.
It is pointless to even consider tossing taxpayer money into any proposal where the % of people willing to use it would be very small.

And my response to the Champlain Flyer and commuter rail:  …compared to 2000 and the Champlain Flyer there are now 50 buses each workday plying the three rail corridors from Burlington to Montpelier, St. Albans and Middlebury.  All these buses with over 500 commuters (1,000 trips a day) individually save about $8,000 yearly over taking a car on a 40-mile one way commute versus solo driving, after taxes.  Begun in 2003, the buses, now larger in some cases, still have standing room only once in a while--and still growing double digits each year.  About 3% of Vermonters shifted from cars to something else since 2000, about 9,000 overall.  Going from over 300 commuters to 1,000 on the Montpelier-Burlington corridor--very likely--makes three roundtrips am and pm plus a noontime run economic, similar in performance to all but one of the dozen new commuter rail lines in the U.S. since 1990.   A few less long-distance commuter buses actually would be a good thing as the money saved shifts to commuter rail. 

The Champlain Flyer was to be a start but suffered from too short a run (14 miles) to be effective as commuter rail market is 20-50 miles range, and the Middlebury/Burlington has the least potential of the three. 

If the Champlain Parkway money were shifted to commuter rail--$40 million--then all three commuter lines could start literally within in a year or two, with, yes, the Middlebury run first as it is being upgraded right now to passenger speeds for the Ethan Allen extension to Union Station. 

1 comment:

  1. I can't help but wonder if the Champlain Flyer would have been far more successful had the route been St. Albans to Burlington? My thoughts over the years have been: "How many well healed Addison county folks would have given up their luxury Mercedes, BMW, or Volvos for a working class train ride into Burlington?". Well as history as shown, very few. For that reason alone, St. Albans (The Rail City) would have made much more sense...and still does today. Even a train coming in from Montpelier would have made more sense.