Charlotte Observer (North Carolina) May 9, 2007 Wednesday ONE-THREE EDITION FACTS BRING FRESH AIR; IN EMOTIONAL TRANSIT DEBATE, UNCC STUDY ADDS WELCOME DATA BYLINE: Observer Staff - Editorial SECTION: MAIN; Pg. 12A Are Charlotte's bus system costs out of line among similar cities? Are construction costs for the South Corridor light rail line among the country's most lavish? Are those costs so bloated they rise above other public projects like the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse on the Outer Banks' beaches? If you get your information only from ardent transit foes, listen only to AM talk radio or believe anything you hear in line at the grocery store you'll answer the above yes, yes and yes. You'll be wrong. So says a new research report from Edd Hauser and colleagues at UNC Charlotte's Center for Transportation Policy Studies. Professor Hauser happened to see a March 26 City Council meeting at which Charlotte Area Transit System chief Ron Tober and City Manager Pam Syfert explained the effect on city property taxes and bus service if a proposal to eliminate the half-cent transit tax succeeds. "Emotions are running amok in this," Professor Hauser said. "I wanted to start looking at the data." Unlike studies put out by transit foes and transit advocates, his interest wasn't in proving one side or the other right. "I had no idea what it would look like when I started," he said. Using three accepted measures of cost efficiency, the study found CATS' bus operations comparable to those in comparable cities, including four in North Carolina. Comparing the cost of CATS bus operations with much smaller systems in Raleigh, Greensboro, Durham and Winston-Salem, CATS ranked third in one measure, fourth in another and fifth in another. Those results don't support recent information being trumpeted by some CATS critics. He found CATS per-mile costs for light rail construction are in the middle of other cities with recent light rail projects. Finally, he compared several regional transportation construction projects with their original estimates. The South Corridor line is 109 percent above the estimate. But the U.S. 29-601 Connector is running 305 percent above its original estimate, and the northwest segment of Interstate 485 is 584 percent above its original estimate. None of that is likely to change the mind of someone who believes light rail transit is a bad idea for Charlotte. But with a transit-tax repeal referendum looking likely for the November ballot, voters will need access to accurate information about the costs of transit and how CATS compares. In other words, before drawing conclusions, make sure you have more than a biased sliver of information.Tell Us What You Think To comment on this editorial online, go to www.charlotte. com/opinion, then click on this editorial. About the Report WHO DID THE REPORT The report is from Edd Hauser, Nicholas Swartz and Sherry Meyers Elmes of UNC Charlotte's Center for Transportation Policy Studies. Dr. Hauser is the center's founding director. Ms. Elmes is associate director. Mr. Swartz is a graduate student. Dr. Hauser has master's and Ph.D. degrees in transportation engineering from N.C. State and a master's in regional planning from UNC Chapel Hill. He has also been assistant state highway administrator at the N.C. Department of Transportation and helped found the Institute of Transportation Research and Education at UNC. HIGHLIGHTS OF REPORT Commuting: Approximately 128,000 residents from other counties commute into Mecklenburg for work. The 20-year forecast indicates 235,000 commuters coming into Mecklenburg from other counties. Transit Sales Tax Funds Buses, Too: In FY 2006 the half-cent sales tax for transit brought in more than $65 million. Most of the tax revenue (65 percent in 2006) went to support bus operations. CATS Efficiency: The study looked at several measures of operating efficiency (operational expenses per passenger mile and per vehicle revenue mile, and cost per passenger trip) for bus systems in 20 cities nationwide. CATS compared favorably with cities of similar size and those of more than 1 million population. Compared to 11 cities of more than 1 million, CATS has the lowest operational expense per VRM and the fourth lowest expense per passenger mile. Light Rail Construction Costs: Using 2007 dollars, Charlotte's cost for its South Corridor line ($48 million per mile) is about in the middle when compared with light rail construction costs in other cities. It's lower than in Dallas ($60 million per mile), Phoenix ($65 million per mile) and Seattle ($179 million per mile). It's higher than in Denver ($32 million) and several cities that extended their light rail lines: Cleveland ($43 million), Salt Lake City ($23 million) and Portland ($26 million). READ THE REPORT ONLINE Go to www.charlotte.com/opinion and find the link to the full report.