Thursday, April 17, 2008

My Problems with Light Rail

(1) It is the worst of two public transportation technologies; it has the inflexibility of rail, and the speed of buses. It also has low capacity.

(2) The capital cost alone per passenger mile is very high.

(3) In practice, light rail systems cannibalize bus systems, and so lower overall transit use.

My guru on this was John Kain. A short article of his on the topic is: John F. Kain, The Use of Straw Men in the Economic Evaluation of Rail Transport Projects, The American Economic Review, Vol. 82, No. 2, Papers and Proceedings of the Hundred and Fourth Annual Meeting of the American Economic Association (May, 1992), pp. 487-493. You need a subscription to get to it.

5 comments:

Farrar said...

Richard, I'm amazed that you base your opinion on one article more than 15 years old. I suggest you bring yourself up to date. You might start with this article -
http://www.vtpi.org/tdm/tdm121.htm
The Victoria Transit people are not exactly neutral, but their extensive bibliography seems to back them up.

The above reference brings out the following with reference to your points.
1. Obviously light rail routes are inflexible, but they move faster than busses. thanks to priority right of way. The capacity depends on the number of units put in service.
2. True, but operating cost is less, and return on investment is high.
3. False. False. False. Light rail increases overall transit use.

Why is light rail so much more popular than busses? There are several reasons, but the most important to my mind is that they are able to respect their schedules, which is rarely the case with busses.

Of course, express busses could compete IF they were given exclusive use lanes, rigidly enforced,, but I've never seen that happen. Instead, they are eternally blocked by bicycles, delivery trucks and taxis.

And with busses, it's difficult to avoid the air pollution problem.

CMT said...

Transit ridership in St. Louis in 1993 -- pre light rail 37 million rides per year. 2008 with 44 miles of light rail -- 60 million.

Richard K. Green said...

Just looked up the St. Louis MSA data on Journey to work from the 1990 Census and the 2006 American Community Survey. Workers using transit in 1990: 32,000. Workers using transit in 2000: 32,000. But of course the workforce is larger.

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