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Reason Foundation

Banking on tomorrow

Ted Balaker
March 7, 2004, 9:58am

Cost overruns, funding shortfalls, weak ridership–the solution to urban rail problems is almost always the same: more rail lines. Rail backers promise a tomorrow so bright it will make today's troubles seem silly. Still, today's troubles are often rather formidable. The Seattle monorail still has to find $150 million, perhaps even more since the project's executive director told the city council that he still doesn't really know what the construction costs will be. And LA's long anticipated Gold Line has ridership troubles: January figures, the latest available, show ridership at nearly 15,000 boardings per weekday – the equivalent of roughly 7,500 people taking round-trip journeys. That's far less than the 38,000 boardings that officials who built the line predicted it would have reached by now. Ridership was falling even prior to the recently resolved transit strike. (And even if it did reach 38K boardings, that would still be barely noticeable in LA.) What to do? Spend more money, of course: [MTA Deputy Chief Executive John] Catoe is planning upgrades to attract more riders, including a revamped advertising campaign and better bus connections to feed more people onto the line. Another key, he said, will be continuing the dense development around the tracks. "It's still a work in progress," Catoe said. "Getting the ridership we want is not a simple task." Just close your eyes and imagine how great tomorrow will be.

Ted Balaker is Producer


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