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					                      Charlotte Observer (North Carolina)

                    May 9, 2007 Wednesday ONE-THREE EDITION

BYLINE: Observer Staff - Editorial

   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
   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
   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.
   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).
   Go to and find the link to the full report.