BestHomePro Blog
Sep 2011

Time to Build Mass Transit in The Triangle?

Posted by Jeff Johnston, President & CEO

A friend of mine, Robert "Bo" Glenn is a retired local attorney and very well informed community activist.  Today, he wrote a letter to the editor in The Durham Herald-Sun newspaper suggesting that it is time for all of us to take seriously the need to move forward with mass transit.  Yes, we have a pretty good bus system in Durham and The Triangle, but we don't have any light rail to move the masses between our cities and The Research Triangle Park.

Bo suggests traffic will only get worse, the expense to individuals of long commutes will only get higher and more and more citizens will not be able to be productive members of our community because they will not be able to afford personal transportation.  In order to compete for jobs, he suggests, we need efficient public transportation.  On top of the personal expense side of the equation, exclusive reliance on personal transportation eats away with our beautiful natural resources: forests and green-spaces.

Do we need mass transit in this area?  Can we afford to pay for an efficient mass transit system in these tough economic times?  I personally agree with the need, but wonder where the money will come from.

Your thoughts?

5 responses so far
1 rod gerwe on Nov 1, 2011 at 4:03 PM said...
I disagree with Mr. Bo Glenn. Some people mistakenly support public transportation projects regardless whether or not they are cost effective or even reasonably efficient. Mr. Bo Glenn seems like one of these people. He has his facts wrong. He states Durham is doubling every 20 years. Annual population growth would have to compound at nearly 4%/yr. for that to happen. Actual population growth is much less, maybe 2.2%. He claims that people save $819/month (nearly $10,000/yr.) by switching to public transportation. According to (, the average fully allocated cost/mile for driving a medium sized sedan 15,000 miles per year is 56.2 cents/mile. To save $819/month you would have to reduce your driving by 1575 miles/month (18,900 miles/yr.) by taking public transportation instead. But you still have to pay for the public transportation and the park and drive parking fee, so you really would have to reduce driving substantially more than 1575 miles per month. The only way to approach this savings is to eliminate one of a family’s cars. Most families will not be able or willing to do with one less car, especially if their children are driving, and there is school, soccer and other functions to go to. The scenario to save $819 is far-fetched.
Mr. Bo Glenn talks about other cities’, such as Charlotte having light rail. I haven’t noticed that cities more Durham’s size like Raleigh, Winston Salem, Fayetteville, Greensboro, have light rail. Orange County backed away from a transit vote. There are no data that conclusively show that less public transportation inhibits job growth. Los Angeles, Houston, Austin, for example, certainly are not suffering lack of jobs, because they lack extensive public transportation. He says public transit creates jobs. But every dollar spent on public transit tax takes dollars away from other spending which also creates jobs.
The cost of the transit plan to Durham is estimated to be $570 million (about $2200 for each Durham citizen). A citizen spending $30,000/yr. in Durham, subject to the 1.2 cent sales tax increase will pay $150 more/yr. sales tax or $3,000 over 20 years. The rest of the total $2 billion in cost is supposedly coming from federal and state grants. Does Mr. Bo Glenn think these grants are free to the tax payer? Current federal deficits are $1.3 trillion/yr. Where is the grant money coming from? Eventually it has to come from increased federal and state income tax. Does Mr. Bo Glenn really think that the current sales tax increase will be sufficient? What about potential project cost overruns and future System “enhancements?”
2 Commercial Real Estate Email Marketing on Nov 15, 2011 at 11:01 AM said...
Hi Jeff

Do you need it? Yes. Where will the money come from? I think it is time for the private sector to get involved. The private sector is already taking over projects here in Florida, it would only make sense that a well needed business like a light rail system could indeed come from the private sector. What do you think?

Joe Ginsberg, CCIM
3 Joe Ginsberg, CCIM on Nov 15, 2011 at 11:02 AM said...
Hi Jeff

Do you need it? Yes. Where will the money come from? I think it is time for the private sector to get involved. The private sector is already taking over projects here in Florida, it would only make sense that a well needed business like a light rail system could indeed come from the private sector. What do you think?
4 Jeff Johnston, President & CEO on Nov 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM said...
Thanks to Rod Gerwe and Joe Ginsburg for their comments on my blog. I am generally a fiscal conservative and believe much of our current economic problems come from government wanting to do "good things" for "the people." But our current economic woes have largely come from unfunded obligations. "let's give everyone healthcare..." and maybe we will figure out how to pay for it later. "Let's go to war in Iraq and Afghanistan...." and figure out how to pay for it later. "Let's keep social security and medicare benefits the same..." and figure out how to pay for it later.... The United States must stop this.

But infrastructure spending might be a little different ... maybe. Eisenhower built our Interstate Highway system and economies boomed with great productivity. I would rather the government borrow for something that will benefit society and the world for a very long time. Is light rail in The Triangle one of those things were return on investment will be high? Or will it be one of those things where leadership feels proud, but ridership never exceeds 20%? I for one will not ride the rail to the airport, unless it gets me to the airport more easily than with my car, and actually costs me less than paying for parking.... Let the debates continue and let the discussion foster greater efficiency and wiser decisions. Jeff Johnston
5 Nick Nickerson on Apr 3, 2012 at 2:42 PM said...
Generally I am in favor of public transportation. The only way it can be economically justified is by paying ridership. The only way rail pays for itself is significant density of population going where the train lines run. In the RTP area we simply do not have the density of population to gain the ridership needed to support the ongoing cost of rail. This was the results of the federal government finding several years ago when rail was being considered.

If this line is built, it will be a continuous drain on costs since I can tell you ridership will simply not be there. Our local area is too spread out.

I say, test it out.

Have buses, painted like train cars, run approximately where the train line would go and see if it can generate the kind of ridership the trains are expecting. Advertising and providing this bus service for 6 months would help determine if there is any potential for significant train ridership. You may think this would be a waste of money, but it will be a monstrously larger waste of money (we are talking Billions) to build the train line proposed that few will ever ride more than once, just a curiosity.

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