U.S. Taxpayers Are Gouged on Mass Transit Costs
If the first segment of Manhattan's Second Avenue subway opens on schedule in 2016, New Yorkers will be reminded that it was once "the line that time forgot" -- a project more than 75 years in the making, with no end in sight. It should be remembered for another failing as well: It will be one of the most expensive subways in the world.
Tunneling in any dense urban environment is an expensive proposition, but the $5 billion price tag for just the first two miles of the Second Avenue subway cannot be explained by engineering difficulties. The segment runs mainly beneath a single broad avenue, unimpeded by rivers, super-tall skyscraper foundations or other subway lines.
American taxpayers will shell out many times what their counterparts in developed cities in Europe and Asia would pay. In the case of the Second Avenue line and other new rail infrastructure in New York City, they may have to pay five times as much.
According to Vukan Vuchic, a professor of transportation engineering at the University of Pennsylvania, the main impediment to more frequent service is the way that tickets and fares are collected.
The standard regional-rail operating practice of having an onboard conductor punch every ticket on every ride is "extremely obsolete," he says. "The conductors stepping on and off the train, punching tickets, shouting -- it's very 19th century."
Instead, he argues, regional railroads should adopt leaner train crews, allowing them to run more trains an hour. In other words, get rid of conductors. Turnstiles would replace them on busy lines, with proof-of-payment systems for those with less traffic. This honor system enforced by occasional ticket checks with heavy fines for fare dodgers was popularized in Europe, and has already spread to buses and newer North American rail systems.
Compared with the current practice of having as many as four or five employees on long rush-hour trains, having just one -- the driver -- would drastically cut the cost of adding more frequent service. In the Philadelphia area, Vuchic says, "it would allow us to replace four-car trains every hour with two- car trains every half-hour at the same cost. And if they could really give us two trains per hour, I'm sure ridership would go up 20 to 30 percent."
This is of course why certain types consistently babble about so called 'infrastructure' spending. They want to pay off those well connected unions to funnel back money into their political party.
It's really just about looting the treasury, Obama style.