NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Cheaper to Buy New Cars than Build Light Rail

August 22, 2014

The Pinellas Suncoast Transit Authority (PSTA) serves Pinellas County, Florida. Currently funded by property taxes, the PSTA has proposed to switch its funding source to a sales tax. The switch would make tax revenues double, giving PSTA the funds to build a light-rail line and make its bus system larger. The proposal, writes Randal O'Toole of the Cato Institute, is unnecessarily expensive: light rail is inferior to bus service, which can transport passengers more comfortably for much less money.

PSTA does not have an impressive track record when it comes to predicting travel needs:

  • Between 1991 and 2005, it increased its bus service by 46 percent yet gained no new riders.
  • Moreover, there was a 17 percent decline in passenger miles.
  • Average bus occupancy dropped by 44 percent.

The transit authority says it needs the tax revenue to deal with a growth in bus ridership that took place between 2008 and 2009. However, as of 2012, bus occupancy in Pinellas County was an average of 8 riders per bus, below the national average of 11 riders per bus. According to O'Toole, these numbers suggest that PSTA does not need the tax increase.

Significantly, the PSTA proposal is so off-balance in its costs and benefits that it would not have qualified for federal funding under last year's Department of Transportation rules.

O'Toole provides a shocking statistic: Building PSTA's light-rail line would be so expensive that it would be cheaper to give every new round-trip commuter that would otherwise use the light-rail system a new Toyota Prius, every single year for three decades.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "Review of Greenlight Pinellas," Cato Institute, August 14, 2014


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