5 reasons to support Prop A

Great piece on Prop A:

Five Reasons to Vote FOR Proposition A by Brock Kyle, Austinite supporting transit

"With early voting starting this week, I wanted to (1) help cut through some of the intentional misinformation surrounding Proposition A and (2) help explain why I think Proposition A is an excellent plan — and an excellent value — based on not only the numbers but also my many years of using some of the best metro systems in the world:

Five Reasons to Vote for Proposition A

(1.) 4% Increase, Not 25% (Misinformation Campaign)

Misinformation about Proposition A is erroneously claiming that the proposition will result in a 25% increase in property taxes and this false information is being parroted by the popular press. This misinformation campaign is attempting to use a percentage of a percentage to be intentionally misleading, more commonly known in Texas as BS. The actual annual increase on a total property tax bill is only 4%.

(2.) Immediate 82% Return on Investment

Misinformation against Proposition A often conveniently fails to mention that if we fund 55% of this initial investment, it is anticipated that the Federal government will provide the remaining 45%. This Federal contribution effectively is an immediate 82% return on investment for our tax dollars. Failing to pass Proposition A would be the personal equivalent of foolishly not taking advantage of a matching contribution on a retirement account.

(3.) Train to the Airport & Critical Retail Nexus

Proposition A represents an excellent plan with functional, affordable routes and finally includes a train to the airport that even those who do not commonly use mass transit will be able to put to good use, saving time and money on airport parking alike.

For those who use the train as a commuter, the retail-lined underground tunnel proposal between Downtown Station and Republic Square is very smart. This plan is quite similar to the Namba Walk Mall in Osaka and the Zhongshan Metro Mall in Taipei and makes for a convenient and comfortable connection between lines as well as a useful shopping location before heading home.

For a small starter system, this downtown retail nexus is critical because it makes it convenient and comfortable to grab groceries or a meal on the way home in air conditioned comfort . Wellington, New Zealand and Glasgow, Scotland — which only have populations about 20% and 60% of the current official population of Austin, respectively — already have enough people to make a grocery store in downtown stations viable; Austin most definitely could with its current population.

As the system gets bigger, and transit-oriented suburbs become more feasible (like Denenchofu in Tokyo), retail at suburban stations becomes possible, as well; even more convenient for commuters. The orderly growth creates a virtuous cycle for commuters, small businesses, and property developers alike.

(4.) Now is the Time (Fund Now, Use After the Plague)

I understand that it may seem like during a struggling economy in the middle of a pandemic is not the time to be making big investments in the future, but paradoxically, it is the best time. Bad times always are the best time to make investments — everything is cheaper — and a transit project of this magnitude is estimated to take ten years to construct.

Even if a viable, long-term Covid-19 vaccine never comes — and it might not, there already has been one confirmed re-infection in Hong Kong within a five-month period — the Black Plague took seven years to burn through the known world. Sanitation has improved since 1353; Austin eventually will make it to the other side of the pandemic.

Hong Kong’s population was around 4.9 million people when it launched its metro in 1979. Austin is projected to have 4.5 million people by 2040. Work patterns will change, but a growing population still will need more options to get around the city. Austin never will be Hong Kong — nor should it be — but traffic becomes unbearable in a city of 4.5 million without a functional rail system.

(5.) Save Time & Money or Make a Million Dollars

It has been estimated that Austinites lose $1452 and 104 hours per year sitting in traffic (presumably assuming that you make $14/hour).

For those who prefer to commute by car — if an effective train system was able to eliminate this wasted time and money sitting in traffic — and said commuter has a home that is worth $1.5 million dollars, they still would come out ahead with the proposed 4% increase in property taxes. Odds are good that if you have a $1.5 million dollar home, you probably make well over $14/hour. For those with more modest homes or who make more money, the gains are even more substantial. Time is money.

Or, if you would prefer to pocket a million dollars , you always could consider using the train. According to AAA, the average annual operational cost of a new car is around $8500/year (this even ignores monthly principal if the car is financed). If you instead use the train and invest your savings in a Wilshire 5000 index fund — and assume a historical average annual return of 9.81% — it will grow to well over a million dollars in 35 years. Here is a calculator using much smaller operational cost numbers from 2011 (the numbers are even more in your favor now).

Vote Yes on Proposition A

Ultimately, Proposition A is not a question of “Is a 4% increase in property taxes too much to pay for an excellent rail system?” Proposition A is a question of whether or not a 4% increase in property taxes is worth gaining (1) an 82% immediate return on investment (Federal Match), (2) a convenient and comfortable commuter system that creates billions of dollars in value along rail lines, and (3) giving you the personal option of either saving time and money when commuting by car or using the train and pocketing a million dollars ; your choice.”



Brock Kyle

PO Box 8388

Austin, TX 78713

Seem’s like in the age of Covid increased density is just going lead to more death and illness?

There’s a bunch of reasons this is a waste of tax payer money, and one of them is the city’s elected officials can’t be trusted. In researching the tax rate, yes City taxes increase by 25%, this is indisputable, I discovered the 2020 tax rates are already set at .5335%! As if the election has already occurred and Prop A has passed?! For reference the 2019 tax rate is .4431.

Even if you are for this boondoggle, you should be concerned by this type of manipulation by our elected officials.

Thanks for sharing the scary but totally untrue “25% increase” propaganda. Below is a factual representation of the impact of Prop A on your home value.

And if anyone would like to check for themselves what the impact would be on their taxes, they can use the tool created by the City of Austin: http://austintexas.gov/2020PropA

I think it is worth clarifying how taxes are measured, because I think there is a lot of confusion which enables propaganda.

  1. Tax revenue is how much the city receives TOTAL from ALL tax payers
  2. Tax rate is how much the city bills YOU as a percentage of YOUR PROPERTIES value.

If for example, the city allows a massive commercial entity to be built, then tax revenue will increase, but tax rate stays the same, so your bill stays the same.
If for example, a massive commercial entity is converted to a school or a church, tax revenue decreases (because those dont pay taxes and a previous taxpayer is gone) and your rate stays the same.

And this leads to where Texas makes this dumb. City council is required to vote on the tax REVENUE number every year, and then calculate a rate from that. This means that if the city adds 10% more homes and do nothing, everyone’s rate would actually go down to keep revenue the same, unless they voted to increase revenue by 10 percent so that YOUR TAXES ON YOUR HOME stay at the same percentage.

Finally, and this is where it gets extra dumb. Spending on public transit is often done as a replacement on other spending. Like it may remove spending on roads or having to build plumbing to new neighborhoods further out because previous parking lots can now be homes. To actually ever get to a specific number of “what will this actually cost” is completely impossible, and anybody who claims to have that number is lying. What you can, and should, do is see the short term impact on your personal TAX Rate. in this case, they are saying $8.75 per 100k of valuation in your home. If your home has a valuation of 1 million dollars, this costs you $87.50 . If you believe that this increase will bankrupt you, you probably should not be in that million dollar house, and this increase is NOT the problem. If you believe that ANY spending on public transit is a waste, then have that discussion, but making it about the cost is silly. An honest discussion would ask how could the same money be used to achieve the same benefits (traffic reduction, environmental, connections to airport) in a more effective way.

I will not vote to add to everyone’s property taxes. This is not the way. Vote NO.

1 Like

Actually, if you vote against Prop A, you’re probably going to end spending more money!


Details here: https://twitter.com/juliogatx/status/1313841141570301952

I have been conflicted on this topic myself. Not because of the incremental money or whether it is the best technology choice for transit or not but is it a top 3 priority for incremental investment in Austin. I try to balance this against incremental funding for mental illness, homelessness, improvements to education and health services or renewable energy infrastructure and ask myself if I’m going to spend more money is this where I would put it first. I can imagine that an improved transportation system might help people commute to work but am I helping the people that need it. Are there any studies or even data-based comparisons to other cities to show how this might impact new job growth or health (pollution)? I think if we focus mainly on convenience and cost folks will say “just take the bus”. How might this form of transportation be different and impact other areas that might push it up in the priority list?

In researching the tax rate, yes City taxes increase by 25%, this is indisputable

Oh, it’s quite disputable. Probably helpful to check your math in the future.

Seem’s like in the age of Covid increased density is just going lead to more death and illness?

While this has become a now-routine fallacy, the assumption that Covid spreads due to “density” is false, and certainly so in terms of density solely producing a spread in & of itself. The large majority of the world’s densest locales, including those with the biggest public transportation grids (e.g. Tokyo or Seoul), have made it through without their transit becoming a hotspot problem.

Also, Austin was already a “destination” for West & East Coast ex-pats, but that process has accelerated significantly due to Covid. We’re still on track to double in population size by 2030 – if anything we’re likely to do so more quickly now – and we’re also still more or less screwed absent significant improvements to our transit grid. Further, it’s not dependent on a Covid recovery: even with hundreds of thousands of Austin-area folks still working from home, our roads are already back to 90% of their pre-Covid traffic levels.

We still have a transportation crisis, one that fuels income inequality, gentrification & displacement, and which has a significantly disparate impact on Austin’s communities of color. We can’t even start with making amends until we fix the most basic stuff first.

Finally, if you still think it’s “too expensive,” check out Seattle’s Sound Transit 3 (passed in 2016) – it’s more than 5x more expensive! (over $50 billion)

This is actually a great question. Obviously, our tax dollars only go so far, which means paying for trains can seem wasteful esp. given issues like homelessness, mental health, public safety, etc.

But lots of studies have shown that transit improvements actually raise standards of living in a community, esp. for lower income families. That’s mostly because (a) cars are expensive and (b) better transit provides better (and more!) job opportunities for the workforce. This report is a good summary: https://kinder.rice.edu/2017/08/07/access-to-jobs-is-about-access-to-transit

And of course, if we can create better job / educational opportunities that should translate into fewer Austinites in need of housing, mental health services, etc. And we have the benefit of lowering carbon emissions, lessening traffic and strengthening our community.

Thank you. That was very informative and seems to address many of concerns I had. In particular, “In essence, workers from low-income neighborhoods who relied on transit spent more time commuting, with fewer jobs readily accessible. Part of the problem: first- and last-mile connections.”

One thing I don’t understand is why the Austin bus system seems (and I say seems because I have no data to back me up here and welcome any to enlighten me) to be underutilized. I would think we would first experience overcrowded busses with a public outcry for more busses or options and then a train system would become part of the solution for longer haul routes so the busses can circulate in smaller loops. In my business travels where I have used subway systems, I also see the surface level teeming with well utilized busses. Do we know how adding a train system would be the catalyst for usage and not end up being underutilized like I perceive the bus system to be (again, please correct that perception if wrong, I admit to NEVER having taken a bus in Austin. ) It won’t solve the last mile issue.
Lastly, are there any other technology options being explored that might be more flexible to adaptation than fixed rail trains? Its the permanency and inflexibility of rail that is also troubling (along with cost and long build out time). Did the city explore a more nimble fleet of electric vehicles with dedicated lanes for all or portions of the route that might be implemented more quickly, address last mile issues, and be adaptable to more routes to address also “surges” in demand? I don’t expect you to answer or to do research for me, I’m somewhat trying to think out loud to rationalize if rail is the best answer given this is 2020 and the first passenger trains were nearly 200 years ago.
World’s First passenger train

Regarding bus and utilization, I can only speak to this from statistics and my personal experience.

Statistics show that usage is rising, but it is very dependent on time of day.
As for my personal experience, I have used the bus about 50 percent of the time to go to work pre-covid. The other 50 percent I rode my bicycle. My experience was that during peak times, the bus was very full and it was not primarily homeless people, it was quite a range from middle school kids to lower level staff, to very well paid tech workers (like myself and some coworkers) who could afford a car; which gets into why I rode the bus. The answer was simply, it’s awesome. I woke up, got dressed, walked to the bus stop, it came every 15 minutes, got on, 18 minutes later (regardless of traffic) got off, walked to office. Sometimes there was an “interesting” person on there, other times there were interesting smells, mostly I got on and off and it was completely inconsequential.

The alternative, driving, never took less than 28 minutes (I timed these things) and often took 1 hour. It involved parking in a structure that was further than the bus stop from my office. Parking was more expensive than bus passes. And I couldnt in good conscious get drunk after work and come home.

Now, my experience is ideal. Bus stop close to home, bus stop close to office, no bus changes, bus lanes to aid my route. If everyone could have my experience, I have a feeling a lot more people would try the bus and like it. Sadly, I totally won the bus situation lottery; which brings us to this proposal.

The proposal in combination with zoning changes accomplish 2 things.

  1. Set up multiple standing routes across the city that are an efficient use of road space, existing and new bus lanes, and the ultimate “bus lane”, and underground tunnel through the most traffic area
  2. Incentivize non SFH zoning along these routes to maximize the number of people who win the lottery as I have.

Now I fully get that not everyone wants to live in a condo on S Lamar ot congress and that not everyone works downtown, and those people may ask “why should I support this?” and like many other city things, there is actually a pretty awesome answer. All those people who aren’t you, living in those apartments, and taking that public transit to that downtown job of theirs, they now will do so without taking up the 80 sq ft of road space their car would consume that yours now can. They will also not use 80 sq ft of parking surface you may have wanted. They wont put exhaust fumes into the air you breath. The corridors will have restaurants and stores you may want to visit. Those will be expensive bits of real estate that create jobs you or your kids may want, and produce revenue for the city that could offset future tax increases. The alternative is for these people to move to Buda, drive in, make 35 and all the roads worse, have that tax money go to Buda and have your place of residence just have worse traffic and air.

Thank you Isaac, your personal experience added much needed perspective for me. I do believe that more investment is needed to address mass transit. While I do wish that the picture was more clear regarding the full end-to end scenario than what Prop A seems to offer it is a solution to a portion of the problem that is needed. Can you elaborate how a rail system might enhance the system from your view. Or is an expanded bus system a safer near term investment that could mimic a rail system, prove it is utilized, then “cemented” into a plan. Its the uncertainty in the hard-coded rail system investment that is the final issue facing me. When faced with uncertainty, I would prefer a lower investment more scalable/flexible option (i.e dedicated bus lanes that could then be turned to bike lanes or rails for example) even if less than ideal to begin with. Why put down rails only to learn a decade later that they are not used. Maybe we “simulate” a rail system with existing mass transit capability which will leave no doubt this is needed and used. To be clear, I am all in for improving transportation options and access. I just have some doubts about the immovable surface level, concrete and iron approach. I would even be willing to consider a larger investment that seemed more scalable and adaptable to changing demands.

I am definitely no transit or public policy expert so take this as an amateur opinion.

I saw 2 and a half questions.

  1. What is so great about trains?
    They don’t run on roads, don’t stop for cars. Therefore they are on predictable schedules and timelines in a way cars or busses could never be. This lets people buy homes and have a guaranteed commute time to specific places. I contend central Austin costs what it does in large part because 1 mile in the wrong direction could add 1 hour of driving to a daily commute. I think people pay 200-300k more for a home north of 290to get their time back every time they drive. It also helps that the value should be retained when you sell.

2a. Is the permanence of trains a liability?
I feel like nobody ever unbuilds cities. Sometimes cities are deserted (Detroit, Chernobyl, Johannesburg) but that is different and impossible to plan for or predict. (Purely my opinion here)
2b. Could we do more/better busses to test/dip toes and invest more later if it works?
Once again, not a policy expert here but I think it is a hard no, and for a really crappy reason, human impatience. In an ideal world I think incremental improvements are ideal and reasonable. The issue here is that the public’s stomach for change is pretty weak. Because of that you get one shot every many years to do something about a problem, and if you don’t go all out when you have that chance you won’t get the option to incrementally amend it next year. The worst part is that if they did a half measure now in 2 years expansion would be DOA because the known and explicitly defined half measure didn’t live up to the hype of the full and ideal solution so the naysayers got new ammo, the in between people lost enthusiasm and the all the people who were bought in sound like out to touch hippies. A real transit fix is a 10s of years to do thing, and if you don’t execute for the big plan I think you end up with nothing.

For an example of an area where city half measures have left us worse and literally stuck in a dumb never ending stalemate, look at our attempts to modernize our zoning.

I believe there was another, which is that rail would be underutilized. I would argue that any fully developed rail system in any city in the world is widely used. Half measures don’t work - they didn’t work initially in Houston or Austin. As Houston expanded their rail offerings, it was widely used.

So, to Isaac’s point, there can’t really be half measures. It’s one of those city moonshot sort of efforts. And in a city where we have a massive transportation and transportation infrastructure problems, it’s time to go to the moon.