Tag: maryland

The Purple Line Will Waste Money, Time, and Energy

Maryland’s Governor-Elect Larry Hogan has promised to cancel the Purple Line, another low-capacity rail boondoggle in suburban Washington DC that would cost taxpayers at least $2.4 billion to build and much more to operate and maintain. The initial projections for the line were that it would carry so few passengers that the Federal Transit Administration wouldn’t even fund it under the rules then in place. Obama has since changed those rules, but not to take any chances, Maryland’s current governor, Martin O’Malley, hired Parsons Brinckerhoff with the explicit goal of boosting ridership estimates to make it a fundable project.

I first looked at the Purple Line in April 2013, when the draft EIS (written by a team led by Parsons Brinckerhoff) was out projecting the line would carry more than 36,000 trips each weekday in 2030. This is far more than the 23,000 trips per weekday carried by the average light-rail line in the country in 2012. Despite this optimistic projection, the DEIS revealed that the rail project would both increase congestion and use more energy than all the cars it took off the road (though to find the congestion result you had to read the accompanying traffic analysis technical report, pp. 4-1 and 4-2).

A few months after I made these points in a blog post and various public presentations, Maryland published Parsons Brinckerhoff’s final EIS, which made an even more optimistic ridership projection: 46,000 riders per day in 2030, 28 percent more than in the draft. If measured by trips per station or mile of rail line, only the light-rail systems in Boston and Los Angeles carry more riders than the FEIS projected for the purple line.

Considering the huge demographic differences between Boston, Los Angeles, and Montgomery County, Maryland, it isn’t credible to think that the Purple Line’s performance will approach Boston and L.A. rail lines. First, urban Suffolk County (Boston) has 12,600 people per square mile and urban Los Angeles County has 6,900 people per square mile, both far more than urban Montgomery County’s 3,500 people per square mile.

However, it is not population densities but job densities that really make transit successful. Boston’s downtown, the destination of most of its light-rail (Green Line) trips, has 243,000 jobs. Los Angeles’s downtown, which is at the end of all but one of its light-rail lines, has 137,000 downtown jobs. LA’s Green Line doesn’t go downtown, but it serves LA Airport, which has and is surrounded by 135,000 jobs.

Montgomery County, where the Purple Line will go, really no major job centers. The closest is the University of Maryland which has about 46,000 jobs and students, a small fraction of the LA and Boston job centers. Though the university is on the proposed Purple Line, the campus covers 1,250 acres, which means many students and employees will not work or have classes within easy walking distance of the rail stations. Thus, the ridership projections for the Purple Line are not credible.

Chesapeake Prosperity Sunk by Boat Tax

The reigning politicians in my home state of Maryland are somewhat boxed in by geography. Clearly they are smitten with high-tax policies: the Tax Foundation rates the state’s overall tax structure among the country’s most onerous, 42nd out of 50, and the trend lately has not been favorable, with lawmakers having raised taxes and fees 24 times in just the past couple of years, as the Maryland Public Policy Institute points out.

On the other hand, Maryland’s smallish size and attenuated shape poses a tricky problem: most of the state’s population lives just a short drive from other states, and choosing to shop or do business in one of those other states—maybe even switch one’s residence there—is far less disruptive than it is for most Californians. Virginia has lower gas and sales taxes, for example, while Delaware levies no sales tax at all. Politicos still hotly dispute how many high earners were driven away by a 2007-2010 special “millionaire’s tax,” but no one argues with a straight face that the number was zero. Business taxes in Maryland, as the Tax Foundation explains, are set up so as to fall relatively lightly on mature incumbent businesses and much more heavily on new startups; that probably does dissuade some established businesses from fleeing, but at the alarming cost of stifling the new kind.

Over the weekend the Capital Gazette of Annapolis ran a news story about how marinas and other shoreline businesses have been badly hit by Maryland’s decision to retain a stiff excise tax on boat ownership (five percent of value if kept in the state more than 90 days a year). Other big maritime Atlantic states such as Virginia, Delaware, and Florida all offer better deals. The results? Boat owners keep their vessels elsewhere, registrations have drooped, and docking, repair, supply, and restaurant businesses suffer, the Capital Gazette reports:

It’s hard to fathom Maryland, home to Annapolis, known as the “Sailing Capital of the World,” would be in the bottom half of the country in total sales for boats, engines, trailers and accessories.

Yet Maryland’s sales fell from $183 million in 2010 to $162 million in 2011, placing the state No. 26 in the nation. In 2008, that number was $248.5 million.

Even the revenue from the excise tax itself is way down, “from about $29.9 million to $15 million” since 2006, the newspaper adds.

It’s as if the lawmakers in Annapolis didn’t realize that boats are mobile. I wish someone could have explained that to them.