Monkey Business on the Rails

Years ago, Dr. William Niskanen taught us the prime directive for bureaucrats: maximize your budget. Maryland now needs a big budget for building two large mass transit projects: the Purple Line, running from New Carrollton to Bethesda, and the Corridor Cities Transitway, which would connect Clarksburg to the outer western reaches of Metro’s Red Line. State funding alone won’t cover the costs of these projects, so it is critical to get the most federal funding possible. Last year, the state began preparing the documentation to apply for federal funding.The feds prefer to fund projects that will have a lot of riders. The state estimated that these projects would bring Metro riders from a 15-mile radius around the Metro station. Now, fifteen miles seems like a long way. That’s the distance from New Carrollton to Fort Meade, or from Shady Grove to Damascus. Maybe it’s reasonable on the face of it to estimate that riders would come that far just to use the Metro.

But to the new administration in Annapolis, those estimations won’t begin to bring in enough federal dollars. So to maximize those dollars, the Maryland Transit Administration announced this week that they will not be applying for federal funds this year, but rather delaying the application a year. Why? One week after the old director of the Maryland Transit Administration stepped down, the new director decided that the ridership estimates were seriously flawed and needed to be redone. Simon Taylor, planning director of the MTA, announced that the previous estimates wouldn’t bring in enough revenues – er, were underestimated. He announced that people might be coming from as far as 50 miles away to use the Metro. That’s right, from as far as Hagerstown. From the east, it’s the equivalent of the distance from New Carrollton to Easton, on the Eastern Shore.

But why stop there, I wonder. Why, people might be coming from Harrisburg and Wilmington just to ride the rails. Maybe the entire populations of Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Delaware should be considered the estimated ridership of these projects. Then we could really rake in the federal dollars.

I wonder what the feds make of this? Are they seriously fooled? These studies – not the transit line mind you, but just the studies — will cost $60 million. Kind of makes you hope that the feds are fooled – just so the cost of the studies won’t be a total waste.

Explore posts in the same categories: Transportation

2 Comments on “Monkey Business on the Rails”

  1. […] Ehrlich” citations.  Here’s another or you.  I had reported a few months ago ( on the administration’s blatant attempt to cook the books on projected ridership for the […]

  2. Mr. X Says:

    The sad part is that there are no institutional incentives for anyone at any point in the funding process to call bullshit on these numbers.

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