A Kickstarter, but for the Purple Line
Conservatives, naturally, have a lot of concerns about the Purple Line. The current cost to build the 17-mile line would be $2.3 billion. That’s a cost of roughly $150 million per mile. The cost would be undertaken by the State of Maryland, and basically funded by people who won’t even use the Purple Line. After Martin O’Malley and the Democrats railroaded through the latest gas tax increase, 53% of gas tax revenues in the state of Maryland are earmarked for mass transit. This is despite the fact that only eight percent of Marylanders even use mass transit. While the majority of Marylanders (who drive) are forced to deal with the crumbling infrastructure that Martin O’Malley ignored as he continued to raid the transportation trust fund, their gas tax dollars are destined for mass transit that can’t even consistently achieve its legal farebox recovery rates.
The Purple Line supporters are particularly galling in their support of this project despite all indicators that this project would be a drain on taxpayers and a drain on resources. Ultimately, the Purple Line is a project for upper-middle class residents who want their trains subsidized by the taxes of poor and working class Marylanders. The $2.3 billion spent on the Purple Line won’t do a single thing to fix traffic on the Capital Beltway, it won’t help trucks deliver goods and services on time, and the money could be better spent on fixing the roads and bridges that Maryland Democrats have neglected for so long.
That’s not to say that the Purple Line shouldn’t be built however. But just because something should be built doesn’t mean the taxpayers should pay for it. Longtime readers know that I have long championed the privatization of non-essential government services. Back in 2013, it was announced that part of the Purple Line construction was going to be a Public-Private Partnership. Unfortunately however, the lines would still be operated by the state and the state would decide the fares. That is an untenable solution and there is an even better option to make sure the Purple Line gets built.
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If the Purple Line supporters want to have their Purple Line, let them have it. But if they want their Purple Line, they have to pay for it. The Purple Line supporters should go out and find the resources to pay for the Purple Line. How they find these private dollars can be left totally up to them. Maybe a larger transit company is willing to foot the bill for the project and recoup their costs. Maybe a consortium of private interests in Montgomery and Prince George’s County are willing to pool their resources in order to fund the project. Maybe these Purple Line activist groups should launch a Kickstarter to raise the $2 billion to make it happen. However they want to find the private dollars, they can find the private dollars to build the rail line. The private sector can build the Purple Line far cheaper than the state could, it would eliminate a large tax burden on the people of Maryland, and it would free up an additional $2 billion that can be spent on our state’s crumbling highways and bridges. The state already has the rights to the right-of-way for the Purple Line, and they can merely sell or lease the right of way to a private company to build the line. The private company can build it, operate it, set the fares, and recoup their costs. They can run it like a business and (hopefully) provide better service than either WMATA or the MTA could ever dream of.
However, there is one minor hitch in that idea. If the Purple Line was going to be profitable, companies would already be interested in doing exactly that. An enterprising private company would have already offered to build the line privately. And what that tells me is that the Purple Line will not be nearly as profitable as the Purple Line activists claim it is going to be.
If the Purple Line folks want to find somebody to build them a light rail, a heavy rail, a Monorail, more power to them. If they can figure out how to get the private sector to build them their train it will be a win-win for taxpayers and transit riders alike. However we as a state cannot afford a $2.3 billion money-losing boondoggle that would continue to cripple our budget and will divert resources from necessary infrastructure improvements. If the activists want the Purple Line as much as they claim to, they can try to raise the private capital for it and let the market decide if it’s viable.