Light Rail, a crowning glory or failed policy?

Light Rail, a crowning glory or failed policy?
Al Ritter

No matter which side of the fence you are on with mass transit, one thing is true, you either really love it or you really hate it. Opened in 1992 as Governor Schaeffer’s last large project, the Light Rail used existing right of way contracts and past properties of the North Central Railway, along with newly purchased parcels.

In the beginning the cost was fairly cheap and didn’t use any federal money for completion, but as demands increased for more closely spaced pickups at designated stops, the system required a second rail to be installed. Extensions of the rail on both ends further increased expenditures. Ridership has increased over time, but so have expenses. To combat crimes in and about the Light Rail stations, additional MTA Police, and vehicles have been hired.

Originally the Light Rail was formed on the idea that 50% of the overall operating budget had to be paid by fares, but as expenses have increased, the fares have not kept up. Like many social programs the Light Rail has become a liability. The idea was and is good, but the route had always been questioned, as to its viability to transport riders not only where they need to go, but pickups from areas where they live. Shortly after the initial completion, Tom Sunseri, chairman of the MTA citizen advisory committee, a group of 12 that monitors the transit system, said, "The bottom line is that the Light Rail and the subway are a money drain on the system.”

Detractors of the system have long claimed detrimental issues that surround the Light Rail system and mass transit in general. There have been claims that property values around Light Rail stops have decreased, but have had a difficult time proving that. Another thing that is difficult to prove is that crime has been BROUGHT to areas of the stops, after all it’s difficult to prove if a criminal that was transported to the area by way of the Light Rail, would have committed his crime elsewhere if he hadn’t ridden the rail. Crime is crime no matter where it’s committed, but who can say if the Light Rail was partly to blame?
Nothing can link the crime directly to the Light Rail, nor can the reports of people being approached in the parking lot of the new Giant across from the Timonium Fairgrounds. What is certain however that crime in these areas is has increased, and it’s left up to us to draw the parallels.

Crime statistic figures can be had for specific zip codes or police districts, but no crime statistic figures are available for certain distances from Light Rail stops. I’m not so sure that even if these figures were available, the government would release them. Government and social programs seem to always go hand in hand, so to cut off their noses despite their face would not be in their best interest. What we do have however are news articles that have chronicled certain crimes in and around these stops.

Questions remain about the system, the biggest question is, has the Light Rail been successful on a monetary sense? If that question is based on the past policy that fares had to pay half the operating expenses, the answer would be no. If the question is based on the benefit citizens receive from travelling the rail the answer might be yes, but the other side would be, at what cost? Should the majority of citizens be made to pay for the benefit of the few who ride? This question has been asked all too many times already, about a wide range of subjects, and depends on ideology rather than a bean counters view.

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