No Difference in Economic Growth between Cities with and without Commuter Rail.

Rail cities had the same average growth of GDP from 2001-2012. Tampa/St. Pete  beat most Metro-Rail areas with faster growth.

Rail cities had the same average growth of GDP from 2001-2012. Tampa/St. Pete beat most Metro-Rail areas with faster growth.

Proponents of Greenlight Pinellas like to point to Economic Development that will allegedly come if voters approve a 14% sales tax rate hike in November to build a passenger train from St. Pete to Clearwater (not Tampa). The Greenlight Pinellas Website FAQ offers this:  “Transportation improvements like the LPA and expanded bus service have the ability to transform our community and help bring our economy back with opportunities for new development.” Unfortunately an objective analysis of data reveals that economic growth mainly occurs only adjacent to the rail line and is usually at the expense of the taxpayers and other areas in the community. The Sun Beam Times will be tackling this matter in detail this week. The first analysis will be a comparison of cities with and without rail to determine the economic growth that has occurred. The analysis shows that there is essentially no difference in the average rate of economic growth between cities with and without commuter rail. Since 2001, the Tampa-St. Petersburg Metropolitan area has had greater economic growth than most cities with rail.

Why would Pinellas voters want to vote for the highest sales tax in the state of Florida for a St. Pete-Clearwater Train that is unlikely to help our overall economic growth?

Why would Pinellas voters want to vote for the highest sales tax in the state of Florida for a St. Pete-Clearwater Train that is unlikely to help our overall economic growth?

To evaluate economic growth, the Gross Domestic Products (GDP’s) of Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA’s) were compared. Data was taken from the Federal Bureau of Economic analysis using their “interactive data” tool. Cities of a size similar to the Tampa St. Petersburg area were selected – those with populations between 450,000 and 1.2 million. The cities chosen were the same as those analyzed for congestion data in a prior post at the Sun Beam Times (showing that traffic speeds were higher in cities without rail). Metropolitan areas were analyzed for the percent change in GDP between 2001 and 2012, the full amount of data available. Excel Spreadsheets and raw data are available upon request.

The results contradicted the purported benefit of building rail in a city. Good experiments have control groups and experimental groups. In this case the “experimental group” would be that with rail and the control group would be those without rail. Now this is merely a survey of cities and not a true experiment to control for all the factors that could influence the evaluation. For instance, not analyzed was the impact of Federal “stimulus” funds on certain cities compared to other, or the type and location of rail and more. However, this survey does provide some insight into cities with and without rail. Greenlight proponents constantly compare our area to “modern” and “progressive” cities who have put rail in place like Charlotte, Austin, Portland and more. But they only seem to cherry pick the examples they like, and don’t evaluate all important factors.

The analysis of GDP changes shows that analyzed cities with and without rail had about the same rate of economic growth.  The rate was 4.0% in all cities on average from 2001-2012. Tampa-St. Petersburg had a higher rate of growth than nine out of 16 cities with rail and had a slightly higher than average rate of growth overall (4.05%). So by this measure of economic growth, the claim that rail will help our area grow is highly suspect. It is more reasonable to conclude that there is no difference in economic growth compared to other cities on average.

Stay tuned for more analysis on the means of economic growth that can occur: economic benefit for the rich and well-connected who develop land along rail corridors at taxpayer and community expense.


One Reply:

  1. curtis a holmes

    …and then there’s this:

    Norm Roche:
    I attended a very informative and productive meeting today with Congressman Jolly. The meeting included myself, representatives from the City of St. Pete, a representative from the MPO, representatives of our County transportation department, and the lobbyist for the issue.

    The issue: the proposed changes to the Federal transportation policy to allow for heavier and larger over-the-road 18-wheeler transport.

    The concern: safety first and foremost, and the costly impacts to our infrastructure (i.e. roads and bridges).

    Now, here’s the gold nugget that confirms what I’ve been warning of for nearly two years now about the Greenlight funding plan…the Federal transportation fund budget (aka: Map-21)is bankrupt. Congress will perhaps seek a 1-year stop-gap bill, and then allow for deeper discussions on how to deal with the fiscal shortfall upon the sitting of the new Congress next year.

    You’ll remember I’ve been sharing with you that 48% of the funding for Greenlight Pinellas is “assumed” to be coming from the State (11%) and the Feds (37%). But as you have now learned, the Federal fund (Map-21) is bankrupt with no long-term funding solution on the table. If Greenlight passes, we will then be allowed to submit for Federal funds (Map-21) to help (37%)…and if our application is approved, we would land at about #15 on the request list already in existence …but as you’ve now learned, the Federal funds are not even there for #1, #2, #3, #4, etc. I’m fairly sure they won’t be there for #15 either.

    This may explain why the current PSTA ad valorem tax is NOT going away, and why some of our local State Legislators are pushing for an amendment to our current Penny for Pinellas funding structure to allow for the PfP funds to be used for “transportation infrastructure, land acquisition, utility relocations, etc…”.

    This may also lend itself to the push to sell Cross Bar and Al Bar Ranch. Keep in mind that the funds used to purchase those properties did not come from and therefore cannot go into the General Fund. Those funds came from Utilities Enterprise Funds, and by law must go back into the Enterprise Fund…which by the way is now consolidated with Public Works to include transportation.

    It’s about connecting the dots folks. It’s what you elected me to do; it’s what you pay me to do; it’s what I’m honored to do…The Job!

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