Fenger Pointing

Becky Fenger | December 17, 2008

Becky FengerTrain wreck

In the interest of leading a happier life, I try not to write about light rail transit (LRT) too often. My rule is to limit myself to one column for every 357 articles or editorials published in the Arizona Republic. It's that time again.

As you enjoy your Sonoran News today, the board of directors of Metro is meeting to decide whether to jettison its policy of banning ads on light rail trains for the first year of operation so that you and I will be more awed by the sleek uniform beauty of the suppository-shaped capsules that will begin to carry freeloading passengers on Dec. 27.

In their editorial today, the Arizona Republic is pushing to wrap several trains in ads for the February 2009 All-Star Game here. Their argument is that the cash raised from the advertising would help to pay operating costs of the system in this faltering economy.

Suddenly the LRT backers are worried about costs? That's a first. In fact, they hid the cost of maintenance and operations from voters. Now it's a front page story.

Metro's CEO Rick Simonetta was told by one of his toady consultants that if Metro sold ads on 10 of its 50 trains and at 20 of its 28 stations, it would bring in upwards of $1.5 million a year in revenue. That's a comforting thought, when one considers that Denver and Dallas average over $200 million a year in deficits. Two hundred million, people! Yet, promoters said that Phoenix must be like other big cities and have what they have. Will we be happy when we have the $200 million per year deficits they have?

Portland is another city often quoted by misguided city planners as a formula for us to emulate. The Cascade Policy Institute has kept tabs on MAX, their light rail system for years. According to their president, John A. Charles, Jr., we taxpayers footed three-quarters of Portland's $963 million Westside line built in 1998. However, the Federal Transit Authority objected to the route which was laid down through vast empty areas. The hope was for developers to build high-density housing (sound familiar?) along the line, thus vindicating the vision of city planners.

According to president Charles and reported by Paul Jacob: "Metro planners then cajoled and forced various city governments to redo their zoning laws to make the high-density developments more train-dependent. They specified an extremely scarce supply of parking." You read that right.

What happened? Well, the land was never developed because of that mandated dearth of parking. This is standard operating procedure across the country. If folks will not get out of their cars and vans, city planners will snatch away their parking in order to force them out. If the good citizens still refuse, the crafty transportation planners begin to shut down bus lines to force bus riders onto the LRT. I think you will find this tactic in the works if you check plans for bus routes in the Valley.

Far worse is the big fat lie that has been used to sell LRT to the voters in all the previous elections. The claim that it will improve air quality and decrease congestion is false, false, false! Since it is built at grade level and will block traffic and not allow many turns, LRT will actually increase air pollution slightly and increase time spent in traffic. That's the truth that the light rail pimps like Marty L. Schultz of Arizona Public Service, aided and abetted by the major newspapers, hid from you before you went to the polls. That's the coal in your Christmas stocking.