Because rail is so expensive for taxpayers, it is also extremely profitable for rail contractors. To gain contracts worth hundreds of millions or billions of dollars, they will gladly spend hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars on political campaigns supporting rail. This means that you will almost always be outspent if you oppose rail. But the fact that you have truth on your side will help you win even if you are outspent by fifty to one. Here are some ways you can use your resources most effectively.
Work with the Media
At times, it will seem like the media are part of the effort promoting rail. But the media just use the information available, and if proponents send out a steady stream of press releases, the media will reprint them. Your goal is to send out your own stream of news-worthy releases and gain enough credibility so that the media call you to respond to the pro-rail releases.
Do not castigate or criticize any member of the media for reporting what rail proponents tell them. Just make sure they know there is another side to the story and that you are willing and able to present that side.
Bring in Expert Speakers
One news-worthy event you can create is to have an outside expert speak in your city or region about the follies of rail transit. Several members of the American Dream Coalition’s speakers’ bureau, including Wendell Cox, Randal O’Toole, and Tom Rubin, are experts on rail transit issues and will often speak for travel expenses and negotiable honoraria.
“Sometimes, a timely speaker can stop a bad project before planning gets very far,” says Peter Holle, of the Frontier Center in Winnipeg. “When the mayor of Winnipeg proposed to build a light-rail line, we brought in one of American Dream Coalition’s speakers to talk about the high costs and minimal benefits of light rail. The mayor never mentioned light rail again.”
Sometimes you can persuade local associations, such as the home builder association, realtor association, or similar groups pay the speaker’s expenses to speak before their group. While they are in town, you can invite the speaker to speak in other forums as well.
Commission Rail Reports
Some of the outside experts on the ADC speakers’ list may be willing to write reports critical of your local rail project. This report will be newsworthy even if the writer doesn’t come to speak in your city. If the writer does come to speak, you will have two news-worthy events that double your media hits.
Here are a few reports written on recent rail projects:
- Review of Greenlight Pinellas, a rail plan for St. Petersburg that voters rejected in November, 2014
- Review of Project Connect, a rail project in Austin that voters also defeated in November, 2014
- Review of a San Antonio streetcar plan that San Antonio’s mayor cancelled in 2014
- Review of the Wake County Transit Plan, a plan for light rail and commuter rail in Raleigh and Durham, North Carolina
- Review of the latest California high-speed rail plan
- Review of a proposed Las Vegas-to-California high-speed rail plan
- Review of the Florida high-speed rail project that was ultimately cancelled by the governor
- Review of a Kansas City light-rail plan that was eventually rejected by voters
Put Briefings and Advertisements on YouTube
YouTube can provide free advertising for your cause that can be very effective, particularly since a lot of people spend more time in front of a computer than in front of a television. Below, Nashville songwriter Darryl MacQuarrie presents the case against rail transit on behalf of the group opposing the St. Petersburg light-rail proposal.
Ask Congress to Reformulate New Starts
Under a program created in 1991 called New Starts, the federal government will fund around half the costs of rail transit projects. The way the fund works, the cities and transit agencies that develop the most expensive projects get the most money. This explains why light-rail costs have inflated from $17 million per mile in 1981 to $137 million per mile today.
To fix this problem, ADC has joined with eighteen other think tanks in asking Congress to reform New Starts so that the funds are equitably distributed to transit agencies based on the fares they collect, rather than the amount they spend. This will give the agencies incentives to serve transit riders rather than rail contractors. You can ask your senators and representatives to support this policy.
Use Initiative Petitions to Put Rail Before the Voters
Although the federal government will generally fund about half the costs of rail transit projects, local funds are required for the other half. Rail opponents can be very effective in trying to prevent state or local governments from funding their share.
If your state or city allows initiative petitions, you should use this to make sure the rail project comes to a vote of the people. This vote can be for your local suburb, the region, or the entire state depending on which levels are funding the project. Voters in Oregon, for example, stopped the state from funding a light-rail project in 1996, and stopped individual cities from funding their share of light-rail projects in more recent elections. The latest tactic is that citizens are passing initiatives forbidding suburban cities from spending any money or effort on rail transit studies or construction.
Support Anti-Tax Candidates for Public Office
If your state or city does not allow initiatives, you should lobby your city council, state legislators, or elected officials in whatever level of government is supporting the plan. These projects take years to plan, so you may even find a candidate willing to challenge an incumbent who strongly supports the rail project. When just one anti-rail candidate won a position on the Arlington County, Virginia, board of supervisors, three other board members changed their votes from for to against a local rail project, effectively killing the project.