After nearly 50 percent cost overruns, eighteen months of delays, and a scandal that cost top transit agency officials their jobs, Norfolk, Virginia plans to open its first light-rail line for business in August, 2011. This fabulous 7.4-mil line expected to carry an average of 2,900 riders per day in its first year, increasing to 7,200 riders per day by 2030.
Test train. Wikipedia commons photo by XShadow.
How’s that again? They spent $338 million ($46 million per mile) on a rail line that is expected to carry only about 7,000 people a day? Because a bus couldn’t possibly carry that many people, right?
Vancouver, BC, claims to operate the busiest bus route in North America, which carries more than 50,000 riders per day. New York’s MTA has at least two bus routes that carried more than 50,000 riders per day in 2009, and very few that carry less than 2,900. So why did Norfolk need a light-rail line?
Oh, that’s right: economic development. According to proponents, Norfolk’s light rail stimulated new development before a spade of earth was turned on rail construction. But a close reading of the news article reveals that developers say light rail influenced their choice of sites, not whether to do a development at all. Light rail “was a key part of why we selected that site,” said one developer. Norfolk-Virginia Beach is a growing region and so new developments are going to take place with or without an expensive rail line.
No doubt the line will carry a few more than 2,900 people a day in its first year, leading proponents to claim it a great success. The truth is that any rail route that can’t carry more than 50,000 people a day is nothing more than an egotrain that should be a bus route.