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Capital Metro is trying to mislead you

Had this article been dated today rather than yesterday, it would have made more sense. Alas, they're really serious: they're honestly making the point that it doesn't matter that they don't have any reserves left to pay back the City of Austin.

CM employees all over the place have been ticked at what they claim is unfair press coverage of this issue -- but as both myself and a colleague from UTC days of yore have concluded, they have yet to directly address the claims made in Ben Wear's article that launched all this kerfluffle. Nor should you ignore the fact that Mike Martinez, who even when I disagree with him is always on top of the ball, is still apparently pissed.

Well, here's some charts-and-graphs that might help put this into perspective.

First of all, one 'rebuttal' CM employees and board have been making is that commuter rail was always supposed to spend down some of their reserves. This is even actually true!. The problem is this: The plan was sold to Austin based on federal participation, which was since abandoned (in my opinion because the Feds would likely have passed on a plan with such little bang-for-the-buck). Add in the typical (being fair here) overruns on any rail project, and you end up with this:

Key: Original budget was $90M; Federal spending was supposed to provide half. Estimates provided from Statesman and myself, and then two different estimates from the folks who I believe to be the bus riders' union from this posting of supposed rail expenses.

Is that enough to account for the difficulty meeting commitments to Austin? Well, let's put that into perspective, shall we?

Since at the end of the day, the reserves are, as pointed out by Wear and not challenged by CM, near their effective minimum right now, it is abundantly clear that Capital Metro is willfully misleading the public when they try to claim that commuter rail spending will not prevent them from meeting their agreed commitments to the city of Austin.

Nice try, guys.

This entry was posted in the following categories: Austin , Charts and Graphs , Don't Hurt Us Mr. Krusee, We'll Do Whatever You Want , I Told You So , Transit in Austin , Transportation


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It's hard to read the numbers on the left of the 1st chart. I can't count the zeros. Better to do MM and drop 6 zeros.

A couple of questions. First, what does your estimate of CM's spending include? My recollection is that Ben Wear estimated the total cost to be much higher than $100 MM, once you include car purchase and station construction/improvements and some other softer costs. Were these other costs supposed to be paid out of reserves?

Second, I don't recall the details about CM's reserves now. Is it actually zero?

Finally, if we know what CM reserves were in 2004 and we know what they are today, could we back out other reserve costs and use the difference to estimate the red line's real cost?

You do have to go all the way back to Wear's article for most of those answers - in short, they're close to the minimum operable amount in reserves; and despite what they say about there being no problem, it's hard to believe they can pay for these projects given the upcoming revenues and expenses each year until 2012 (deadling for those monies to be returned).

My estimate is in roughly the middle of one of Wear's earlier ranges depending on what you attribute to express bus service and/or freight rail. In this most recent article, he used a fairly conservative number.

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