Paul  Weyrich

Personnel from 80 cities across the nation and around the world have come to inspect the Portland Streetcar. But for the inherent bias against streetcars at the Federal Transit Administration (FTA), many cities would be building lines similar to Portland by now. Regardless of who wins the Presidency in November 2008 the next FTA Administration is bound to be more favorable to streetcars.

Mr. O’Toole, among his many criticisms of Portland, believes that light rail and streetcars are too slow. The speed Mr. O’Toole cites for MAX includes station stops. A typical MAX train will carry almost five times the number of passengers as a bus. Were those bus seats filled to capacity it would require time to load and unload the vehicle.

The purpose of the streetcar is to act as a circulator. The speed is irrelevant. Both streetcar and light-rail development have stimulated some $6 billion in adjacent development. As Portland’s reply to Mr. O’Toole suggests, this new development long-term is of great benefit to the City, such as wages, taxes and the contributions of these residents. The Texas Transportation Institute notes that Portland ranks 13th in transit ridership in a city which ranks 25th in population. Another source identifies 100 million hours of time saved annually. That amounts to $1.5 billion annually for the Portland region, assuming a $15 per hour value.

Regardless of one’s views about global warming, an interesting article in the quarterly report of CEOs for Cities, entitled “Portland’s Green Dividend,” suggests Portland saves $2.6 billion in savings annually in transportation costs alone. The calculation is as follows: The median commute in the 33 most populous cities is 24.3 miles per day. In Portland, thanks to its excellent transit system, is 20.3 average commute miles per day. There is 2.9 billion in miles saved compared to the median. The $15 per hour value is the time commuting; hence the $2.6 billion figure. Joseph Cortright, Vice President of Impresa, Inc., who authored the paper states, “Four miles per day may not seem like much but do the math.”

According to Portland Oregonian reporter Dylan Riverta, a clash in Washington, D.C. is occurring between cities such as Portland with their transit programs and the FTA position articulated by Mr. O’Toole. Which will prevail? In the long run, I believe it will be cities such as Portland. The facts are clear and compelling as long as the premises to an evaluation factually are accurate and proportional.

Paul Weyrich

Paul M. Weyrich is the late Chairman and CEO of the Free Congress Research and Education Foundation.
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