Archive for the ‘Transportation’ category

Good News and Bad News

22 March 2014

Restoration is complete for the Sally Callmer mural of the commuting penguins that used to be displayed at the Silver Spring Metro station.  The mural, which was originally scheduled for a one-year display period, won the hearts of commuters and passersby in Silver Spring.  That’s why, when the mural was taken down a few years ago for restoration, those same passersby raised the private monies to restore the mural

The bad news: WMATA doesn’t plan to put the penguins back up until the Paul S. Sarbanes Super-Duper Bus Stop is completed.  See you in ten years, guys.


Where Washington Governs Better than Montgomery — for now

28 September 2012

I’ve maintained that there are (at least) a couple of things that the DC government does better than Montgomery County government:  charter schools and taxi regulation.

It would seem that Washington is upset about this, and has been moving to make taxi service worse than it has been.  (I still think it would take a while to descend to MoCo’s level, though).

The main difference has been Washington’s unwillingness to impose anything but minimal restrictions on entry to the market.  Anyone passing some very simple safety and competence standards can operate a taxi service in the District.  The healthy competition means that it’s easy to get a cab downtown.  It also means that a relatively small investment allows people to work for a living; the more you work, the more you can make.  In MoCo, it can be very difficult to find a cab, since regulators kowtow to the cab firms, and restrict new competition.  (Basic economics: restrict supply and restrict price, and the market never clears.  Consumers are left demanding more taxi service than the government will allow.)

Last year, the City Council was considering shifting to a medallion system like New York’s, which would sharply restrict the availability of taxis.  Fortunately, they heeded a study which demonstrated the likely results: Longer waits for service, higher fares, increased corruption   – and a windfall for those firms already in the business.    Like much economic regulation, taxi regulation is designed to benefit those who are already in the business, and protect them from competition.

One thing regulators can’t stand is someone rising up and succeeding, despite them.  Sedan service Uber has been bringing in a lot of customers, and the taxi owners are complaining.  The DC Taxi commission is proposing a new set of regulations to drown the successful service.  The regulations would limit the participation of small business or individual owners (seriously – only fleets larger than 20 cars would be allowed to engage in the business).  It would also prohibit pickup or dropoff outside of DC (so there goes the idea of picking up the sedan in Takoma Park or Bethesda to ride downtown).


White Elephant / Black Hole on Colesville Road

19 September 2012

The completely pointless Silver Spring Transit Center (formal name: Paul S. Sarbanes SuperDuper Bus Stop) is surely a waste of tax dollars, but we don’t yet know how much.

A monument to a politician (“Hey look what I built with my own two hands! Ain’t I wonderful?), the Center brings no additional usefulness to MoCo.  Originally, the project was planned by the Maryland Transit Administration, as an upgrade to the bus depot and parking lot; the cost was estimated at $35M.  However, that wasn’t good enough for Montgomery County, which likes things more grandiose.  The expanded design was priced at $75 million, scheduled to open in 2009.  Since then, the Center has been repeatedly delayed and increased in price.  Construction costs were underestimated. (Surprise! Who could have guessed?), but we don’t know yet by how much.  In addition, the county Department of General Services has raised questions about the quality of construction, and it is not yet clear what might need to be repaired, or at what cost in time or funds.

This spring, the County Dept of General Services was saying that the only solution may be to tear down already built construction.

Besides the taxpayers, here are some other losers from this project, so far:

– The handicapped:  I once had to explain to a man with a cane that buses were several blocks away, and even a cab was several blocks away.  If you are handicapped and trying  to use the Silver Spring metro station, you are just screwed.]  Everything is just too far away for those who are in wheelchairs or just have difficulty walking.

– Cab drivers:  The ad hoc taxi stand is very far away from the Metro station, so they lose business.  Even so, it is much smaller than the cab space needed, so the Post reports that cabs are sometimes ticketed for being parked illegally.

What we do know is that the Center is at least three years overdue, and at least 25% over budget – the cost has more than tripled from that $35M estimate to over $112M.

Fiscal Year 2013

13 August 2012

Montgomery County has launched the new fiscal year, and the budget is as scary and precarious as ever.

The budget includes a 6% increase over last year’s spending, even though revenues are down.  (Surprised?).

There’s money in the budget for more buildings at Montgomery College, recreation centers, and twenty new schools (twenty?).  Disturbingly, the budget also calls for expenditures to alter the southern entrance to the Bethesda Metro station.  That expenditure isn’t being made because there’s anything wrong with the entrance, but rather to facilitate the Purple Line.  The Purple Line isn’t coming soon (if ever); why spend this money in vain?  At least wait until the funding for the Purple Line is secure.

This all means new borrowing, when the county is already laying out over $300 million annually to cover existing debts.

How to pay for all this?  The despised energy tax increase was cemented permanently into place.  That measure initially jacked up the taxes by 155%, but was sold to the public as being “temporary” (again — surprised?).   An energy tax is a regressive tax, because it takes a larger proportion of income from the poor than from the wealthy.   That’s an inconvenience for some people, but likely a health hazard for the elderly and lower-income populations, who will have to turn down the air conditioning at a time of record heat.  And, of course, the weighted property tax rate goes up almost 5%.


Warning Light for Light Rail

28 November 2008

Those who are clamoring to construct light rail for the Purple Line should take note of this stunner from Baltimore:  Half of their light rail system was shut down earlier this month because of … falling leaves.

The leaves caused trains to brake to a hard stop, damaging the wheels, and creating a safety hazard. The system, as of today, is still not fully functional.

Transit Pork, Again

31 July 2008

The county executive, the county council,  and the county planning board have been feuding lately.   It’s all about power struggles.  The planning board has rejected the county exec’s plans for the Silver Spring music center, because they fear he is taking too much authority away from them.  Now the question is about the Silver Spring Transit Center (Actually, that is technically the Paul S. Sarbanes Silver Spring Transit Center.)   You know we’ve got white elephant pork (the other white meat?) when the politicians are not only building monuments to themselves, but modestly naming it after themselves, too.)

In an earlier post, I questioned how much (not whether) the cost of this monstrosity would increase over the initial $75 million.  Now we are starting to see.  County Executive Leggett has asked for an additional $16.7 million for frills.  The Council doesn’t think that is enough, so they appropriated an additional $18.6 million.  Says Council member Valerie Ervin, “I think that we should be building buildings that are aesthetically beautiful.”

No, Valerie.  You should be conserving the taxpayers’ funds, rather than building monuments to politicians.  The purpose of the center is to bring together Metrorail, buses, and MARC at the same location.  That’s exactly what we have now – without spending an additional $100 million of county taxes.

This is a project that should be killed now, before construction begins.

Symbolic Politics of Global Warming

29 May 2008

Council member Roger Berliner is “committed to ensuring that Montgomery County is at the forefront of the fight against Global Warming.” As if anything Montgomery County did – compared to one or two new power plants in China – had any contribution at all to global warming.

At his behest, the council has passed legislation this month, committing the county to a passel of activities that, at best, will be harmless. Some of the features:

– Commits the county to developing a Climate Protection Plan, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in MoCo by 80%.

Does the council realize what that means? Or is it just pretty talk? An 80% reduction would mean that all roads in the county would become Lexus lanes – because only the wealthy would be able to afford to drive a car. Air conditioning would be a thing of the past, as the cost of electricity would skyrocket.

– Directs Montgomery County government to develop a “renewable energy action plan”. Part of the plan is examining the feasibility of creating a “Sustainable Energy Fund – “a non-profit organization which develops end-user markets for products and services relating to energy efficiency and renewable energy.”

Oh, good. It’s not dumb enough that the county is in the liquor business and the nightclub business and the music entertainment business and the summer camp business. Now the county is going into the electric utility business. I’m sure that will be a real productive exercise.

And for what? As a result of these edicts, the total greenhouse gases in the world – which is the only measurement that counts – would be virtually unaffected by the privations of one stupid county, directed by one thoughtless council member.

Best yet, this meaningless and damaging bill was declared an emergency, giving it expedited consideration and enforcement. “The Council declares that this legislation is necessary for the immediate protection of the public interest” (italics mine).

I don’t know which of those terms – “necessary”, “immediate”, or “protection” is more untrue. All together, though, they add up to one big farce.