Forward into the Past

John A. Charles, Jr.QuickPoint!

This week TriMet began construction on its next light-rail project which will shut down the Portland transit mall for two years while tracks are laid from Union Station to Portland State University. This is viewed as a great leap forward by government planners, but it’s a step backwards for the rest of us.

The current transit mall is highly productive, moving a lot of bus passengers in a small amount of space. When rail construction is finished, the mall will actually have lower passenger throughput then it has today, because light-rail is a low-speed, low-capacity system.

The mall will also be much more dangerous. TriMet bus drivers have warned public officials that mixing rail, buses, cars and bicyclists in tight quarters will lead to fatalities, especially since the rail cars will weave back and forth in a serpentine pattern.

TriMet will be spending more than $200 million for this project, despite the fact that rail is rapidly losing market share. According to a recent employer survey, light-rail’s share of downtown commute trips dropped by 29% over the past 5 years, despite the addition of two new rail lines during that period.

In the classic tradition of central planners, TriMet is taking our money in order to give us more of what we don’t want. Only a government monopoly could be this wasteful.

John A. Charles, Jr. is president and CEO at Cascade Policy Institute, a Portland, Oregon-based think tank.

© 2007, Cascade Policy Institute. All rights reserved. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided the author and Cascade Policy Institute are cited. Contact Cascade at (503) 242-0900 to arrange print or broadcast interviews on this topic. For more topics visit the QuickPoint! archive.

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