Why the Danger Train will always have to be heavily subsidized
KTRH-740 is running an AP story on its website that perfectly explains why light rail transit in Houston will never come close to supporting itself:
AAA spokesman Geoff Sundstrom said commuters are willing to drive more fuel-efficient autos but are loath to give up the keys entirely, regardless of gas prices. He said many people equate carpooling and mass transit with "a decline in their personal standard of living."
"The freedom of mobility that comes with the use of a personal automobile is something we are very, very reluctant to give up as individuals," Sundstrom said.
That's it in a nutshell. The vast majority of people are unwilling to give up their personal freedom just because some utopians think they should.
Light rail is terribly inflexible, and subject to power failures and weather-caused shutdowns. Light rail cannot go to most of the citizenry; most of the citizenry must go to light rail. Light rail counts on customers who are willing to be part-time pedestrians, not always an inviting prospect in Houston. And if someone has children in daycare, or has to stop off at the grocery store on the way home, good luck getting there with light rail.
Oh, and for all that inflexibility, taxpayers get to foot a hefty bill: more than $20 per MetroRail rider. The per-rider bus subsidy is around five dollars.
The point is most people work hard to attain a good quality of life, and they don't want to give it up. Folks want to have the freedom to go where they want, when they want. And the dirty little secret is that most of the loudest rail supporters will never use public transportation themselves (i.e., Metro officials, Chronicle editors, COH officials). They just hope others will.