Rail to Nowhere
Next month, my girlfriend and I are travelling east. We'll spend a few days with my sister in central Massachusetts, and then head into Boston for the rest of our vacation. We decided against renting a car. Instead, we'll take the commuter rail line into the city. I like commuter rail.
This election, Austin voters will decide whether to give Cap Metro authorization to build a commuter rail line. I plan to vote no. Although commuter rail can be great, this proposal lacks what's required to make it work. I fear we are going to be saddled with an expensive boondoggle, which will preclude real progress on regional transportation issues.
Commuter rail is intended to move people relatively quickly over long distances. Think Cedar Park to the Capitol, not 6th Street to campus. A working commuter rail line would be great, it would relieve some of the pressure on routes such as I-35 and Mopac. Unfortunately, I don't think the Cap Metro plan is going to work.
There are two problems with the Cap Metro plan. First, the train doesn't get you where you want to go. Second, it doesn't provide a good way to get you there. According to the Cap Metro plan, you'll take a train into town, and then transfer to a city bus to get where you want.
This is not a good plan. It makes sense to take the rail into Boston, because once you get there, there is an extensive subway system that will get you where you need to go. Take the rail into Austin and, unless your destination is Highland Mall or Mueller, you are kind of hosed. The Cap Metro vision is that we'll all take busses to our destination. That seems unlikely. I just don't see the Cedar Park suburban commuters giving up their cars if a bus trip is involved.
This proposal is a cart-before-the-horse plan. You need a solid local, urban transportation system at the center, before you can begin building out the commuter lines. A few years ago, Cap Metro tried a proposal to do this. They put forward a light rail plan, and it lost in a squeaker.
I was one of the people who voted against light rail last time. A lot of people were concerned about the disruption on South Congress. Me too, but I withheld support mostly because of a lack of confidence in Cap Metro. It was—literally—a corrupt organization. Moreover, as a user of their service, I was disgusted with the quality of the service they provided. But, times change, and I can envision Cap Metro putting forth a proposal that I'd support.
They should have refined their light rail proposal to account for citizen concern, instead of trying to foist off this boondoggle on us.