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Round Rock screws Austin again

Quick hit:

Most coverage of Round Rock's attempt to set up their own bus which drops off at a Capital Metro stop is positive. But here's the kicker that nobody's talking about: Every Round Rock resident (or Round Rock worker) who rides this thing is getting a huge subsidy from Austin residents, because Round Rock doesn't pay Capital Metro sales taxes. Each one of those riders from Round Rock is paying 50 cents or a buck to ride the bus, and then Austin taxpayers are kicking in another buck or two. Round Rock taxpayers are kicking in only for the Tech Ridge to Round Rock portion.

The only fair thing to do here would be to charge Round Rock residents more to ride the Capital Metro bus but don't expect CM to ever do this - they'd get spanked so quickly by the Austin-bashing state legislator that their heads would spin.

Look for more of this type of problem, for instance if/when Cedar Park starts a bus shuttle to the Lakeline commuter rail stop. In more progressive states, the free-rider (parasite) problem would be solved by not giving Cedar Park, Round Rock, Pflugerville, etc. the choice about whether to participate in a regional transit agency. Not so in Texas; once again, cities just have to grin and bear it as the suburbs suck out even more money.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Funding of Transportation , Texas Republicans Hate Cities , Transit in Austin , Transportation

Comments

It does suck. Especially because we also have to provide them with travel coaches with free WiFi rather than the normal buses the hoypoloi in Austin have to use.

But Northerners are also the main reason our roads suck. We already pay an enormous price for them to live in cheap suburban areas and use our roads and infrastructure. Any effort to get them on a bus can only be a good thing.

That's a good point, Tim. I'm not sure if subsidizing their use of the CM bus is more or less expensive than subsidizing the lane space on I-35 (and especially on the city streets, for which they pay nothing - they pay some, but not all, of their I-35 costs).

Yeah, this doesn't bug me too much. I'm no fan of subsidizing suburbia, but I like anything that increases the use of public transit or helps the people that use it. Plus, these people are presumably paying Austin/CapMetro sales tax on anything they purchase while in Austin.

Unikely, shilli. The Round Rock residents are likely doing their shopping at their own strip malls - and the Austin residents working up there who might be taking this bus are likely not the high-spenders.

I've got to disagree with you. If I lived in RR, I'd be ticked that the city is going to spend half a million dollars to give people a ride to a Cap Metro bus stop. At most there will be 50 people a day using this service. Probably far less. But if even 50 people use it, that's a $10,000 per person subsidy.

Why should RR join Cap Metro? Do you really think RR would get any financial benefit from sending its sales tax dollars to CM?

And how exactly is Cap Metro or Austin getting screwed in this deal? There's an empty spot on the bus for every person the RR system will be dropping off. It's not like CM will be spending more to accommodate new ridership (no variable cost). CM will happily pocket every extra dollar they can get so they can keep those empty buses rolling.

You really want CM bus drivers to i.d. to determine whether or not a potential rider lives in a locale that pays sales tax to CM? Sounds crazy to me, but okay, I'll go along with it if it means we can get rid of the homeless riff-raff that ride on CM for free.

Better yet, perhaps CM should set its fare so that every rider pays their fair share of the cost of each ride? In that case, bus fares would be about $20 or so, perhaps much higher.

If and only if CM doesn't have to run just one extra bus as part of this deal, it's mostly free. I doubt that's the case; these express buses, despite your uninformed ranting to the contrary, are usually pretty full.

As for "full cost of ride" - as soon as you're willing to pay a couple bucks each way in tolls on I-35 (and a buck or so extra gas taxes for the remainder of the roads you use). On the subsidy equation, the typical driver in Round Rock is the most preferred customer in the world - nobody else; not even the supposed free-riding homeless bum; comes close.

You accuse me of ranting and not knowing facts but you don't have any idea about whether there will be any extra cost to CM as a result of that. Your whole post is based on this, yet you have no idea.

I really enjoy a lot of what you post about highways but I think you're way off base here, or at least lacking any proof or basis for your own rant.

I live in NW Austin but am envious of RR because they don't pay into the CM behemoth, which is a huge waste of money. Talk about useless, one-way subsidies...

No, you misread. IF Capital Metro has to run even one additional bus, which seems very very likely, then the subsidy effect comes into play. I was pointing out how vanishingly unlikely your particular scenario was - although you did raise the point that it's quite difficult to correctly determine the amount of the per-rider subsidy (since some will be filling empty seats on buses already running).

As for CM in NW Austin, you have no idea - I reverse-commuted to NW Austin on the #3 and the #983 hundreds of times, and the buses (even in the reverse direction) were fairly full (check out my "Empty Buses" category for reasons you might perceive otherwise). Lots of people getting off to work at the Arboretum and elsewhere -- and the buses going the peak direction are far more full, with UT/Capitol workers (who don't have access to cheap/free parking). Eliminate that bus subsidy and they'll be driving their cars on 183 and Mopac.

So it may end up costing CM more money. But it may not. That hardly justifies the fire-spitting, reactionary headline. I'm just asking for the use of a bit more reasoning and analysis before you go and stoke the flames.

Among possible outcomes, all CM riders could also benefit if CM adds additional buses to the route in question. Or there could an almost zero effect.

Then again, to pretend that the city of Austin is consistently being screwed by outlying cities is probably very misleading. I've been here long enough to remember Austin's land grab into the Lakeline area to swipe property tax at Cedar Park's expense. The city snaked up I-35 just as far as it possibly could, as well, at the expense of Pflugerville.

CM: No, as I've said before, the possibility that they can accomodate a non-trivial number of people without more buses on this express service is vanishingly remote. I state it because it's hard to tell how much each passenger will cost, but the expected cost is much greater than zero.

Cities: The only worse thing than having low-density sprawl within your city limits where the residents use your services at a much higher cost than they pay in property taxes is to have that same low-density sprawl just outside your city limits, where they still use your police/fire/roads most of the day but you don't get any tax dollars. That's why Austin annexes - it's the least bad of a bunch of bad alternatives. Until/unless Pflugerville and Lakeway get major employment centers, the equation would never shift the other way. (Round Rock, at least, has Dell, to which at least a handful of Austin residents commute - but most of Round Rock's major roads, unlike Austin's, are paid for by state and federal gasoline taxes).

The subsidy equation is vastly misunderstood by most suburbanites - you are not alone - but it is unquestionably one that, in Texas at least, drastically favors suburban development. I recommend you read the blog archives for the category "Funding of Transportation" for some interesting background, although of course I only focus on roads.

Dell: You really think only a "handful" of Dell employees live in Austin? Laughable. It's indicative of how your inherent bias skews your judgment.

State highway dollars: Obviously most austin roads aren't state highways or ancillaries. So they don't get state highway dollars. So the city needs to find alternatives. IMO, creating lots of downtown condos that cost $400k and up aren't much of a solution. Nor is allowing each and every neighborhood group to block other potential, and especially more modest, in-fill projects. Austin residents don't want in-fill. They've made it abundantly clear. The city residents only want their cake and to eat it too.

Do you remember Smart Growth? Do you know which city pushed SH 130 AWAY FROM the Smart Growth area and into an area that will further encourage the sprawl the city of Austin will continue to whine about. That's one of spineless Kirk Watson's legacies.

Yes, a handful. The majority of Dell's employees live outside Austin - last time I heard; and I doubt that's changed - the trend probably accelerated given the development in RR and GT.

As for highway dollars - read the posts. The point is that Austin has to maintain a huge amount of major arterial roadways - Round Rock (and other suburbs) don't - most of their major arterials are parts of the state highway system (not talking about freeways here). This is largely historical - but still presents a funding problem (cities don't get any gas tax money to spend on roadways) and contributed to the subsidization of suburban residents by urban ones in two ways - through the general fund and through the gax tax (still collected on urban drivers, of course).

You missed my point. Even if there was more state money for the city of Austin, they'd squander it on projects that are on the outskirts of the city. SH 130 is the latest example. Southwest Pkwy is another. The city of Austin has no interest in improving their arterials. Their own policies encourage sprawl. So why blame neighboring cities and the state? If the city wanted to get something done in the city limits, a big push could get it done. But there is no political will to do so. And quit telling me to read your posts I could give you a lesson in this stuff.

Hey, I even agree with you about SW Parkway, but keep in mind that it was the Bruce Todd (and earlier) council doing that stuff - a council dominated by the real estate interests which basically match the voting record of your part of town. When Slusher et al came in, that stuff came to an end.

I disagree completely on SH130. TXDOT was selling it as a bypass - Austin called their bluff. If it was indeed supposed to be a bypass (and thus worth our 'donations'), then having it far enough east to be out of the way of development was the right call. Of course, we all know TXDOT didn't intend for it to be a bypass in reality - it was supposed to be a real estate simulator - but as far as sprawl goes, neither route would have made much difference once TXDOT decided to go with the standard frontage road design - the sprawl was coming either place and everywhere in between.

I doubt very much whether you could give me a lesson on road funding - given your past comments. Here's a starter for you:

http://mdahmus.monkeysystems.com/blog/archives/cat_funding_of_transportation.html

Go to the very bottom and try the first few posts. If you won't factor that information into your opinions, you're not worth discussing anything further with.

Oh, and the idea that "if there was more state money, they'd squander it on projects outside the city limits" - once again, TXDOT does not allow state gas tax money to be spent on anything but state highways - meaning, for instance, that it can't be used on the long overdue full reconstruction of Guadalupe, even though employees and customers of two large state institutions are the primary reason the road is in such bad shape. I-35 IS getting money someday in the distant future; so is Mopac; but there's nothing else which can legally get the dollars. CAMPO, through TXDOT, effectively blocks most non-state-highway projects from getting federal gas tax money too. City of Austin has zero say in any of this.

I promise you, you need a lesson. Your bias overcomes whatever decent but limited knowledge you have.

And 130 - there's nothing to disagree with. The fact is Kirk Watson and the city of Austin pushed it to the east of Decker. They didn't want the road in their own supposed smart growth zone. You're hallucinating if you think TxDOT and the road financiers didn't want it closer to the population center. They also, in the past, worked to stop it from becoming part of a beltway by tying it into 71 as a new tollway. We'll see if that changes. But the damage was done on 130 and it was done by the city of Austin.

So name one major ancillary road project that has STRONG political backing in the city of Austin but funding for which was blocked by CAMPO? A project has to have strong backing or the MPO won't support it. So name one. But a soundwall on MoPac doesn't count.

and fyi, a road can be brought temporarily onto the state highway system to do a project. But it's got to have support from the city. So we can all agree Guadalupe needs help. But AFAIK there's never been a design or even concept that has engendered strong support at the city.

Mangler, I think M1EK is saying that TxDOT DID want SH130 farther west.

I must admit I am baffled by where "So name one major ancillary road project that has STRONG political backing in the city of Austin but funding for which was blocked by CAMPO?" comes from. Has anyone been claiming that CAMPO has been blocking Austin road projects? And what does any of this have to do with CapMetro's bus system?
As for the claim that "The city of Austin has no interest in improving their arterials", have you missed all the road reconstruction they've done on intown arterials recently? (on their own dime)

Yes, TXDOT wanted SH130 further west, but for real estate development purposes, not for true relief of I-35 (otherwise they'd not have planned frontage roads). City of Austin actually made the right call here, in my opinion - if you're not going to build a true bypass, might as well build it farther east where it will create less disruption to existing property.

City has held off for so long on reconstructing Guadalupe because of light rail. Obviously you don't want to reconstruct it twice in a short span (this is part of how light rail in 2000 would have easily made it in on budget and on time - Guadalupe needed to be torn up anyways and still does).

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