For a Better Brisbane

One Cent Light Rail

We are often told the Light Rail costs too much and would be too big a cost burden.

It’s strange then to walk around Brisbane and see multi-billion dollar road projects in construction or newly in operation. But for today, we look at Hillsborough county*, Tampa Bay, Florida where they face a proposition in November for a one cent in the dollar sales tax (capped at $50) to fund light rail and complimentary transit improvements. Tampa Bay is a bit like the Gold Coast. And for them, it comes down to:

  • Jobs
  • Urban renewal
  • Attracting business
  • A good way for the community to get around

Businesses need to get their employees to work on time, and need to find a workforce. And that workforce will probably want to live in a city with a good quality of life, amenities and services.This is where good transit comes into the picture.

Nobody wants to live in a city where living and commuting is an ordeal, affordable houses are at far-flung places on the city fringe, everything is far and hard to get to, rising petrol prices and ever longer commutes eat your wages, family and leisure time, and public transport options are poor.

Many US Light Rail systems were funded with the help of voter-approved taxes where the community voted to tax itself so the project got built and operating. It’s a pity this ballot approach isn’t done in Australia because a direct ballot would unambiguously and firmly reveal what the people want and were willing to pay for.

Light Rail may cost more, but one must also remember that while you are paying more buck, you are also getting more bang. Light Rail stimulates development, strengthens communities and can increase property values. It’s also cheaper, faster to install and more flexible than a metro.

Let’s look at some ways to help pay for Light rail:

  • Developers can pitch in to help pay for the system
  • Higher property values means increased revenue because rates are calculated from property values
  • There are more people to collect rates from because more people will move into the area to live next to the light rail line

Newer track technologies such as “cut and paste” track could also significantly lower the start-up costs and installation time for Light Rail. The whole life-cycle cost, not just start-up costs, should be taken into account.  To use an analogy, we all are familiar with buying the cheap printer that turns out be hugely expensive to run because the ink to keep it running is sold at high prices. The Gold Coast Light Rail project found that when comparing LRT with BRT the costs were roughly similar over the life-cycle.

Interestingly, Hillsborough county does not seem to have suffered from the “Bus vs Light Rail” debate, and actually their plan includes many complimentary Bus Rapid Transit lines as well. This is a very sound approach. One sometimes gets the feeling in Brisbane that there is a “the answer is more bus, now what was the question again?” approach; When we really should be looking at how Brisbane’s transit is going to move forward to the next stage, especially on the heavily loaded routes.

At one cent in the dollar for good transit, it sounds like a good deal.

The Ballot measure that will allow residents to tax themselves to help fund Light Rail, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), bikeways and some road improvements. Image used with kind permission of Moving Hillsborough Forward. Click for URL.

* A county can be thought of as like a local government or council area.

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