DART – Asset or Millstone?

When Councillor Malcolm, Vice-Chair of LLAL, gave his interview on BBC local news the day after this meeting, he did so against the backdrop of the DART (Direct Air-Rail Transit), the replacement link between Luton Airport Parkway station and the airport terminal.  This is the “game changing” project that will make the passenger experience a key reason people will choose Luton above the other London airports.  

This project is a year late in operation, now March 2022, and currently has construction costs of an over budget £281 million, which with the 8% interest, comes in at around £303 million.  All these extra costs are fine in the eyes of LBC and LLAL, as it will add its value to the airport’s assets, but does it actually add any real economic value?

Surely it will only add value if it

A) Increases passenger throughput at the airport, or

B) Creates income from its operation? 

If A), It won’t increase passenger numbers at all, until of course it gets expensively extended to serve the new Terminal 2, should that ever be built? Can that be defined as adding value? We would say no, but would welcome the counter arguments that it will.

If B), The current operation charges £2.40 for a single trip, £3.80 open return. We would assume that – as another reason for DART is to encourage those who arrive by vehicle to switch and thereby cut their carbon footprint for that part of their journey at least – there will be no increase in those charges? In fact LLAL have confirmed to us that this modal shift was the sole reason for DART.        

So if we use the average fare of £3.10, how many passenger journeys would be required to pay off the building costs, let alone those to operate the system, before it would actually add economic income from the asset?  £303 million/£3.10 would require circa 97,742,000 journeys to break even.  Data in the London Luton Airport Annual Monitoring report for 2020 shows 21% of passengers arrived by rail and the current link from Luton Parkway in 2019.  The report shows 18 million passengers for that year, which gives a figure of 3.78 million rail users.  

This would mean that just to clear the construction costs of DART to date, on the 2019 figures, would take a mind blowing 25 years and 10 months of passenger use!

So is DART “adding value to the asset”, or is it the millstone that has drowned the asset?

Stop spending money on even more Fairy Tale expansion, and putting Luton town into more debt – NOW            

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