Except broke — light rail will do that to you.
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But the public has little recourse. Public transport authorities exist outside of democratic accountability; they’re not elected, and thus come under little oversight. Should TriMet wish to build an astonishingly expensive and needless light rail line, there’s little the taxpayer can do to stop them. If it wishes to sacrifice utilitarian bus service at the altar of light rail, the people have no veto. TriMet serves the interests of its workers and environmentalist sycophants. Its customers are increasingly left in the rain.
THIS BLEAK PICTURE presents a stark contrast to the reputation that Portland’s public transport network enjoys in the national media and among public transit enthusiasts. The New York Times calls Portland the “city that loves mass transit,” and runs gushing tributes to the supposed triumphs of TriMet. The L.A. Times muses, “What can Portland teach Los Angeles about transportation?” (One wonders whether TriMet’s dozen person-plus PR and advertising staff deserves credit for this state of affairs.) Jennifer Dill, a professor at Portland State University and high priestess of the TriMet clan, is a celebrated speaker worldwide, giving talks with names like “Toward Sustainable Urban Mobility: Insights into Portland’s Journey.” Nor is this a new phenomenon: almost 20 years ago, the Atlantic purported to answer the question of “How Portland does it.”
Thanks at least in part to Portland’s PR successes, cities and states across the country are now replicating Portland’s failures. Los Angeles is currently building an 8.6-mile light rail line that will cost almost $900 million. Seattle just opened the first 15.6 miles of its nascent rail network at a cost of $2.4 billion. The first phase of a rail project that will connect Dulles airport with Washington, D.C., will cost $2.65 billion. This is occurring as highways are deteriorating — yet there is no precedent to indicate that residents of automobile-oriented Los Angeles, Seattle, and Northern Virginia will suddenly abandon their cars for light rail.
Portland’s experience with public transport holds lessons for the rest of the country. But they’re not the lessons that the Rail-Volutionaries think they are.
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