I just returned from a short presentation by Mike Ransom on the Utah commuter Frontrunner rail line. It is a lesson in how to not spend money.
Right now, the rail line has about 100,000 one-way trips a month. Split over about ~22 operating days this is somewhere over 4,000 trips a day. Those are not round trip, so probably more like 2-3,000 people are riding the train each day. The operating expenses are about 1.2 million/month. Thus, based on operating expenses alone, the train’s societal cost is about $12/trip. Or about $24 a round trip. This is not the most efficient use of money.
Of course, the train construction project cost about 600 million dollars. Taking in the cost of capital, then, the train is costing more like $5-6 million a month. In which case we are paying, as taxpayers, about $50 to $60 per trip– over a $100 a round trip. And don’t worry. Alot of that capital money came from the feds, so even if you don’t live in Utah you get to help pay for it.
An alternate way to think about it is if we were to take that $5-6 million and use it to lease cars for each of the regular riders on the Frontrunner. If we think those trip totals are largely composed of about 5-10,000 regular riders, we could spend about $500-$1000 a month leasing each of them a very very very nice car. Or, here’s a thought, we could use the money in a way that would actually benefit more people.
Don’t worry, though. They are going to expand the line down to Provo and beyond so that all can benefit from the wonders of commuter rail in the American West — where you can now get on a train to take you from where you don’t live, to where you don’t work.