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Purple Line “Fish Stories” – Study Claims More “Jobs” Will be “Created” than Actual Riders

Posted: February 22, 2015 at 10:19 pm   /   by   /   comments (0)

markUncaphernewLast week the Gazette reported that “the Purple Line is expected to generate 27,000 jobs a year” in a story Prince George’s, Montgomery counties rally in support of Purple Line – Economic benefits to region touted.” [1]   These claims came at an “information session” that included the President of University of Maryland College Park, Wallace Loh , the PG Chamber of Commerce and the Prince George’s county government.

To put their claims in perspective, an annual 27,000 job increase is more new employment than was created in the entire state of Maryland in 2014. [2]  Naturally I was intrigued, and also frankly quite skeptical.

With the help of the Gazette reporter, Jamie Anfenson-Comeau, I tracked down the underlying report.  The jobs number comes from an analysis performed by TEMS Consulting, paid for by the Maryland Transit Administration as part of their Purple Line review.  Sure enough, the report includes the claim that the Purple Line will:  “Create over 27,000 new permanent jobs per year.” [3]

Consider that the projected 2040 ridership for the line is just 69,000 daily trips, only 29,000 of which represent new additional mass transit riders.  So if this analysis is to be believed, and taking into account round trip commutes, this MTA study claims that the Purple Line will annually produce more new jobs than actual new transit riders.

Taking the study one step further, an apparent conclusion to draw from this Purple Line study is that the majority of all the new jobs created in the entire state of Maryland for the next generation will only come into existence only because of the Purple Line’s construction.

If this seems far-fetched, it is.

However, considering that the study was paid for as part of the Maryland Transit Administration’s Purple Line planning process, it casts doubt over the entire evaluation process.  As Governor Hogan’s new Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn conducts a review of the Purple Line, he would be well advised to carefully question the underlying assumptions being used by his agency and their consultants.

For example, I cited above the planners’ rather rosy estimates of 69,000 daily trips.  These numbers are suspect as well. Transit ridership is a function of population and job densities.  New Jersey’s Hudson-Bergen light rail, for example, serves an area that has four times the population density of the Purple Line and a job center with 123,000 jobs, far more than any point on the Purple Line. Yet the Hudson-Bergen line carries only 44,000 trips a day.

The overwhelming majority of projected Purple Line riders already use other mass transit. In fact, given light rail’s slow speed and uncertain fare box requirements, existing transit connections may remain the preferable alternative for these riders. Should the ridership projections fall short, billions could be spent without any increase in mass transit ridership.

But what of University of Maryland College Park President Wallace Loh, who lent his name and that of his institution to these preposterous Purple Line job creation claims?   For the sake of their own job prospects, hopefully the graduates of the state’s flagship public university are not in such obvious need of a remedial statistical analysis refresher course as their President is.