Friday, July 13, 2012
There’s been talk about the Wampanoag casino in Taunton providing a big boost for South Coast Rail. While working to ensure that the casino is served by public transit makes sense from both smart growth and public safety standpoints (fewer greenhouse gases, fewer inebriated gamblers driving down Route 24), farebox revenues aren’t going to change the economics of the operation all that much.
It’s difficult to guess how many riders a casino might bring to the line. A variety of factors, such as the size of the market for casinos in Massachusetts, where they are ultimately located, and how the casinos position themselves to compete for visitors will determine ridership. But to get a feel for magnitude, say a casino attracts the same share of riders on public transit as the Patriots get when they play in Foxboro – just over 2 percent of the crowd. Casino market studies forecast about 10 million annual Massachusetts casino patrons, around 25,000 daily.
Make the somewhat questionable assumption that these visitors use the four licensed casinos evenly and their origination from Boston looks like that of Patriots fans, then apply the Patriot train ratio. You get about 300 daily South Coast rail commuter trips. At the Zone 8 fare of $10/ride, this translates into about a million dollars a year.
According to an estimate released by the South Coast Rail project, annual operating costs for the line will total $26 million compared to approximately $5 million in new revenue from the Stoughton extension, leaving a gap of $21 million. Casino visitors reduce the operating gap to $20 million annually.
The MBTA clearly needs to find more revenue than casino riders will bring to build and operate South Coast rail. On that front, the state seems to have secured a pretty good revenue sharing deal with the Wampanoags. Whether they will offer up some of the winnings with the rail project is still very much an open-end question.
- Meghan Stuessy and Ben Forman