Letter to the Editor: To See Why Nashville’s Transit Plan is Doomed, Just Look at California and Texas

Dear Tennessee Star,

Nobody asked me, but . . .

So, let’s see. Mayor Megan Barry’s Transit System will cost about 5.2 billion dollars, plus another $5 billion for “operating expenses,” as per government estimates. For you non-math whizzes, that’s over $10 billion dollars, not the $5.2 billion they are advertising. And that’s if everything goes according to plan. Well, as anybody who has ever been involved in planning a new business venture will tell you, original estimates are always “pie-in-the-sky” wishes. There are too many variables that will be encountered that cannot be foreseen on the initial drawing board. These things always cost more.

The California High Speed Rail (HPS) is already over budget and it isn’t even completed yet. Original estimates given to the population in 2008 was $40 billion. Latest estimates in 2015 put the project at $64 billion, a 62.5% increase in less than 10 years, and it isn’t finished yet. Not to mention the bonds that were sold to partially finance the project. Those bonds will come due in the future and are payable by raising taxes in a state where “raise their taxes” is already the rallying cry of politicians. Do you wonder why 200,000 Californians are leaving the state every year? Most go to Texas where fiscal responsibility is the norm. Some come to Tennessee or Florida.

Keep in mind that when those bond interests are paid, they will be paid in an environment where the interest rate is higher than now. They may have to sell more bonds to pay off the interest on the original bonds. Can anybody say “Ponzi Scheme” with a straight face? Automobile registrations are being raised to pay for deferred road maintenance. Is there a connection? Of course! Governor Jerry Brown’s coffers are running out of money, so, back to the people for more money.

So now Nashville will be getting a transit system at a cost of about $5.2 billion (really over $10 billion.). It won’t be completed until 2032 or thereabouts. Anybody want to take a bet that the final cost will be doubled or tripled by then and the time frame will not adhere to original estimates? Now Mayor Barry wants to increase the city’s sales tax in July by one-half percent which will go to a full 1% by 2023 making Nashville residents pay 10.25% sales tax. She also proposed increases to the city’s hotel-motel tax, rental car tax and business and excise tax. She says that this way Nashville residents won’t be paying the full amount, visitors will. However, the very thing that makes Nashville attractive to outside businesses looking to relocate here . . . will be taken away.

So in essence, we will be turning Nashville into California where businesses and people will leave the city rather that pay the ridiculous taxes for something that nobody really wants. Except Mayor Barry and the city council. Nashville is growing because of the lack of a state income tax and low cost of living here, but I’ll bet by 2025 a city income tax will be proposed to pay for this scar on our roads.

Here’s another example of government going crazy. Houston, Texas is the fourth largest city in the United States. Their METRORail went into service in 2005 and averaged 10 crashes per month with automobiles during the first year of operation earning them the nicknames “Wham Bam Tram” or “Danger Train.” The METRORail system is a ground level system, much like Mayor Barry proposes for Nashville. Houston also has only 4% ridership. So, 96% of the population would rather walk, use cars or buses or just stay home than take the rail. Great insight into the population’s preferences. This is what happens when a few people in government decide on what the public wants . . . without asking them. And when they do, they use misleading numbers or half truths.

As of December 2011, the Houston Main Street Line ridership had fallen from 28,000 daily riders to a little more than 25,000, which is only a couple of thousand more than were riding buses in 2003. And of course, this marginal increase has come at an enormous cost. Just the construction cost of the Main Street Line was over $400 million. That is a cost of about $200,000 per new rider, not even counting the ongoing operating costs. The riders would have probably appreciated it more if they had just bought them a Bentley, and it would have been cheaper for the local government. For the most part, light rail systems do not attract new riders but instead merely move existing bus riders to the rail, and at an enormous increase in cost.

Let’s look at the cost for this. Houston claims a ridership of 18,335,000 per year. The cost for riding this system can be as high as $1.50 to under a dollar according to your status . . . student, senior citizen, military veteran, etc. If you average at $1.35 a rider, this brings in $24,752,250 a year. Sounds good initially, right. Now, the cost for just the Initial Line and the Green Line is over $1.251.2 billion . . . and counting since this doesn’t include the other lines. But the $24 million dollars income per year looks good until you divide that into the $1,251,200,000 billion cost, just for these two lines, and realize that it will take 51 years to pay this system off, and that’s if you don’t consider inflation or use the money for anything else . . . like payrolls.

A few years after it started, Houston’s METRORail system hit the milestone 100 million passengers. But METRO had only collected just over $40 million in fares in that time frame. That number should be $125,000,000 considering an average fare cost a $1.25. This represents a short fall of $85,000,000. The reason is a good portion of riders don’t pay since the rail system is an open platform, such as Nashville’s system will be. People figured out that they can just hoop on and off without paying a fare.

For more information about the major failings of light rail systems, even if the info is 3 to 4 old, go here.

Which bring me to the Nashville boondoggle. $5.2 billion (really $10 billion). Wanna bet?

By the time this system is operational self driving cars will be the norm. For those who are uncomfortable with that thought, let me ask you, did you ever fly in a commercial airline? Most of the time the plane is on automatic pilot while the captain does other things in the cockpit. Any emergency and the plane’s system alerts the crew and the captain or co-pilot takes over. A few weeks ago the car manufacturer, Tesla had an accident in Florida with one of its autonomous cars. That’s two accidents for Tesla’s self driving cars in a couple of years and everybody is alarmed. The state of Tennessee has about 1,000 accidents a year. That’s three a day! This is the future. No road-rage. No jockeying for position. No unnecessary lane changes.

The artist renderings for the Nashville Light Rail System that was circulated shows before and after street views with the light rail in place in the after views. One of the streets was Charlotte Avenue in the high 40’s, where the statue of Elvis is on the street corner in front of an antique store. The “before” photo shows two lanes of car traffic heading east and two lanes of car traffic heading west. The “after” photo is an artist’s rendering showing the rail system in place, in the middle of Charlotte Avenue with two lanes of track, one heading east and one heading west and a pedestrian walkway to board the train. Also in the same photo there are still two lanes of car traffic heading east and two lanes of car traffic heading west. So we went from four lanes to six lanes and a pedestrian walk-way without touching the buildings or the sidewalks. How is that possible? Did Metro use a street-stretcher? Keep in mind that Charlotte Avenue becomes a two lane street just down the road. What happens there? A bit of “artist prestidigitation?” Or is the city council just lying to us?

Another thing nobody mentions is the car traffic that this rail system will create. If you work downtown and want to use the system so that you don’t have to park your car downtown, great. But if you live a half mile or more from the rail system you will have to drive to the stop of your choice. Where do you park your car? The local residents have not yet realized that their streets will loaded with parked cars from 7:00 a.m. to about 6:00 p.m. Someone living in the area will come home from work and not be able to park his or her car near their home because there won’t be a parking space. I speak from experience in this area since I grew up in Queens, New York about six blocks from the 1964/1965 World’s Fair. During those two summers there were no parking spaces on my block. People who lived there couldn’t park their cars in front of their house when they came home from work. Those who had garages were the lucky ones, unless someone parked in front of their driveway, and this happened more often then you would think.

Then you have to consider that the people who operate the system have to get paid. There’s also the fact that these people will be civil service employees so they will be paid well. And they will get benefits, like great retirement plans, wonderful health care, sick days, and on and on and on. More government jobs and more unfunded liabilities! Just what Nashville needs, to clone the problems of California or New York City. And these costs will be borne by the citizens of Nashville and the surrounding areas, not the riders, because the revenue from the fares will not cover operating costs. So retired people will be paying for this, one way or another.

The solution? Double-decker buses, as used in London and New York. Carries more people, doesn’t congest the roads. And much cheaper than the light rail system.

Fact: To operate a city bus in Houston, Texas is $115.01 per mile while it’s $211.29 per mile for light rail. Nashville will be no different than any other city that tried to retrofit a light rail system into existing city streets.


John C.
Brentwood, TN

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7 Thoughts to “Letter to the Editor: To See Why Nashville’s Transit Plan is Doomed, Just Look at California and Texas”

  1. LO

    JOhn C,
    thank you for bringing this to the masses. If memory serves and Im not positive didn’t I840 only cost around a billion? Weerent there many hidden costs in building the new Sounds Stadium of 10’s of millions that just recently “came to light? For any mass transit system Isn’t there something called “density” that requires “LOCALS” that if you don’t have in downtown nashville it can never even think about paying for itself?
    I’m not anti-Barry but this is crazy and not being thought out and yes Im taxed enough already

  2. Floyd

    Great letter pointing out important facts that proponents of this unconscionably over priced and unrealistic plan are trying to keep from the public at all costs. The truth must be told before it’s too late. Look what happened when voters didn’t pay attention to the facts and bought the bill of goods packaged as Megan Barry. We are paying a price for that today with huge increases in violent crime and a self admitted liar as mayor. At least we can get rid of Megan Barry even if it has to wait until 2019. The proposed sales taxes, if passed, will never go away whether they build anything or not.

  3. Not My Mayor

    Just another labor union controlled project.

  4. Cat

    You lost me when you put “Texas” and “fiscal responsibility” in the same sentence.

  5. Kevin

    Oh, they have a “plan”! It includes allowing “ring” counties to copy the same idiotic cocept as Metro Davidson; raise taxes, build and connect light rail, grow government control, and subjugate the citizens! Thanks to the Improve Act (aka the Gas Tax) the seeds of this abomination have been planted!

  6. Jane

    All that and you still haven’t mentioned the 10 billion dollar elephant in the room. The powers that be fail to mention that over 60%(and rising) of Nashville traffic comes from outside Davidson county and they have no solution for that.

  7. 83ragtop50

    I lived in the Houston area when those wiser than myself snookered the masses into agreeing to their toy train system. It is just as bad as presented in this article. I may have missed it but another strike against the at grade level rail – especially in high traffic areas like downtown centers – is that vehicular traffic loses at least one lane and he trains create huge traffic jams at every intersection they cross. Nashville patrons will be very sorry for the rest of their lives if they approve this idiotic plan.