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Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Starts and the FTA

I'm very impressed with the New Starts program in general, as a piece of effective policy. The Federal Transit Administration (FTA) has been very effective with the new Starts Program. They fund the initial segment, but they insist that each be built with the capacity to expand later on.

  1. Provides quality transit to places that have never had it
  2. Ridership metrics
A new transit system is expensive. The initial length contains a lot of one-time capital costs--stations, storage facilities, the first vehicles, etc. that subsequent expansion doesn't. But for a city that has never experienced quality transit, for whom 'transit' means a slow bus serving those too destitute to afford a car the idea of making that huge investment is preposterous. And the opposition is fierce. No one wants a station nearby, that will only be used by transients. 

Worse still are vanity projects. 'Monorail' has become emblematic of transit projects that over-promise and under-deliver. Something that will revitalize a dying downtown, solve parking problems without competing with the automobile, and attracts tourists!! New Starts helps fight this, demanding both opening day and ten year ridership projections. But New Starts also involves accountability provisions--not just for the local partner, but for the consultant preparing the projections. Inflating the forecast to justify access to 'free' Federal money becomes a much more dangerous game.

Now, if only road projects had to go through similar scrutiny.