The Wisdom of Devoting 27% of Transportation Funds to Streetcars
We have commented before on the possible deal between MoDOT and Kansas City officials to spend an incredible 27% of all regional funds ($210 out of $776 million) from a transportation sales tax on the streetcar expansion. Despite the fact that Mayor James introduced a resolution (140500) calling for just that, not a single traditional media outlet has bothered to ask if a deal exists and what impact that would have on the original, less streetcar-centric plan for the money.
Excluding the unlikely scenario in which MoDOT devotes more sales tax funds to the Kansas City region than originally planned, diverting $210 million dollars to the streetcar will have to come at the expense of other projects proposed for the region. As we commented before, if money for the streetcar comes from the portion of funds allocated to transit projects, little money would be left for anything else.
However, the Mayor’s resolution calls for the implementation of all non-road projects in the original plan ($316 million) along with the $210 million for the streetcar. The only place left to cut from would be road projects, reducing their share from $427 million to $250 million. The resulting policy would dedicate 53% of funding to public transit in a city where less than 2% of the population use it to get to work.
The Kansas City streetcar has very little transportation merit. The proposed streetcar lines can hope to lure 23,200 passengers per weekday at best. That estimate is likely overly optimistic, but let’s assume this is correct. Furthermore, assume that every passenger represents a commuter (although some won’t be) traveling either to or from work. 23,200 passengers would represent 11,600 commuters. Add in the starter line and streetcar commuters, which could total 12,950 per day. That would be impressive and more people than currently use to the entire KCATA bus system in Missouri. Still, even in that most optimistic case, the streetcar would serve only 2% of commuters. 2% of commuters, 27% of all regional transportation funds.
Streetcar supporters might counter that the streetcar’s primary goal is to move money to downtown Kansas City rather than move people around the city. This is all the more reason the state should be wary of giving transportation money to a development scheme. All the more reason people should consider whether the state needs, or can be trusted with, transportation sales tax revenue.