Who Pays and Who Rides?

posted in: Who gets hurt | 0

The poorest are hit the hardest, but they’re not the ones who are expected to ride.

If we let this light rail project be pushed through we will be paying for its development and installation costs, $1.82 Billion dollars, with federal, state and local taxes. But the $16.2 million dollars per year needed to maintain and operate the train will be paid for by a local sales tax increase. This increase in sales tax, specifically approved to help pay for public transit, is a direct and significant increase in the cost of living for each and every person in Durham and Orange counties.

Our two counties now have the honor of having the highest sales tax in the state, 7.5%, with no other county matching us.  Wake, including the city of Raleigh, gets by just fine on 6.75%.  The extra costs are now earmarked for the light rail.  This tax was on the 2011 ballot that a small minority of voters voted on, and it was listed as being for “transit”, though you’d never know that because we’re told by rail supporters and the news media that voters voted for light rail when nobody voted for light rail – it wasn’t even on the ballot!

We’ll all be paying that tax every time we buy toothpaste or a new shirt, but no tax is more regressive than a sales tax. The single parent trying to get by on a cashier’s salary will pay a much higher percentage of his/her take home pay on this tax than, say, a university professor will.

Even though the disadvantaged will have a disproportionate amount of their income going to support the train they are not a group targeted for being served by it. The materials and presentations by Triangle Transit, as well as the route planned for this train, make it clear that the populations they seek most to serve are:

1.The employees of Duke and UNC hospitals and clinics, and of the Duke and UNC universities.
2.The students of these two universities, and the patients of these two major medical establishments.

Yes, we were all “poor” when we were in college. But if I were looking for Durham’s neediest I would not start by looking on the Duke University campus.

Expensive + Inflexible = Hampers Progress

If this rail project goes through we will all be paying more for everything we buy because we’ll have to pay for the operation and maintenance of this rail system with sales tax, and the least advantaged of us will suffer more for it. But neither the poor nor the rest of us will be getting better transit service for our dollar.

Significant changes will be taking place in our area, and rapid, revolutionary changes will be taking place in ground transportation. We’ll need more bus service that’s able to cover wider territory, perhaps using van-sized vehicles for some areas.

What we’ll need the most is a transit system with great adaptability and flexibility.

But the current transit plan will lock us into the ultimate in inflexible transit: an ugly and expensive rail system. It will require our transit funds go into maintenance of the old instead of taking advantage of newer technologies or serving wider areas. Make no mistake: the inflexibility and ongoing costs of rail will hamper the ability of our public transit system to adapt to the future of ground transportation.


Join us, and together we can Stop The Train!