By Matt O’Brien, Alexandria (File photo)
To the editor:
I was intrigued by an article in the March 12 edition of the Alexandria Times (“Metroway exceeds early expectations”). Our transit and elected officials are pleasantly surprised that Metroway ridership is exceeding projections. From the article we learned that Metroway ridership has increased by 249 people per day from the bus route it replaced, and that each ride is $1.75. At this rate, it would take a little over 51,000 days — 141 years — to pay off the original costs for the project.
Imagine how long it would take to pay that off if we factored in interest. And our officials are happy that ridership is exceeding projections. It is this mindset that leads us to overpay for our publicly funded projects.
In the case of Metroway, I have to wonder if there were ever any thought given to just giving the $22 million to existing riders, in the way of a subsidy. That money could have made the bus ride free for those original riders for the rest of their lives. Just the cost of one of the new bus stops alone likely would have paid for the fares of all of those riders for one year.
It is key that these projects get vetted more thoroughly for their ultimate costs, and that all options are considered, even no-build options. There have been so many instances over the past few years — various school remodels, the new BRAC building, much of the Carlyle development — where city hall has said, “Go, go, go,” only to find out afterward that the real costs are much higher.
It is hard to imagine that the Metroway project would have been given the green light if officials had been clear that the goal was to spend more than $20 million to get another 200 people to ride the bus every day. It is just as hard to imagine that they ever would have offered to make the existing bus route free to existing passengers.
We all need to be watchful for how our money is spent. We need to keep this in mind as our officials explore spending a large amount of money on the planned Potomac Yard Metrorail station, on a new pool — so many of our older pools are closed to the public — or on future development along any of our major roads.