The Year That Wasn't

Top 10 Reasons Light Rail Failed

1. It Rained on Election Day.

2. People Still Don't Trust Capital Metro. Sure, the agency has been reformed, performance audits are good, and the buses are running practically on time. But that wasn't enough to convince gun-shy Austinites to trust the agency they love to hate.

3. A Lame, Unfocused Campaign. The politicos that ran the light rail campaign did a poor job getting out the message that rail would make a difference, both for traffic congestion and for economic development. Despite having several times more money than the anti-rail forces, the campaign, which was run by prominent members of the green machine, couldn't convince Austinites that light rail would make any difference. They weren't helped by a series of campaign commercials that were, to say the least, underwhelming.

4. Too Many Cooks in the Pro-Rail Kitchen. Who was running this thing -- the tech potentates, the longtime progressive leaders, or the people knocking on doors? Each constituency had its own advocacy group and donor base, and despite valiant attempts, their efforts never really meshed.

5. "Costs Too Much, Does Too Little." About the only thing ROAD (Reclaim Our Allocated Dollars), the main organized anti-rail group, had going for it was a great slogan -- and one dishonest TV spot referring to an FBI investigation that occurred 10 years ago.

6. The Eastside Bailed. The Mexican-American activist group El Concilio has been bashing Cap Met for years, and no countering voice emerged to carry rail out of this PR hole. And no voice at all emerged to sell rail to African-American neighborhoods, so when Danny Thomas came out against rail, that turned off the Eastside.

7. Sammy and Bob Won. Other than on the Eastside, light rail did worst of all in the KVET belt south of Ben White. Even Northwest and Southwest Republicans -- who, after all, are stuck in all that bad traffic -- cottoned more to rail than did Bubba and Ernestine.

8. The Suburbs Still Don't Care -- and Never Have Cared -- About Central Austin. The vote totals showed once again that Austin's cultural divide isn't necessarily east vs. west, it's urban voters vs. suburban voters.

9. Too Many Unanswered Questions. The timing of the vote -- effectively imposed by the Texas Legislature -- was bad for Cap Met, which has yet to finish the federally mandated study that would define an exact route. At least 2,004 votes -- the very narrow margin of loss -- could be swayed if people know where the train would actually run and stop.

10. Everybody Knows Texans Will Never Give Up Their Cars, Anyway. Well, they have in Dallas, and will in Houston, but that doesn't count.

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