Tag Archives: light rail

Doomed to Repeat It

Hampton Roads Transit, which serves Norfolk, Virginia Beach, and Newport News, is having a difficult time. Ridership for the first seven months of fiscal 2015 (which began in July) is down 9 percent from 2013, and 2013 ridership wasn’t so hot in the first place. Financial records show that the revenue per rider, at 98 cents per trip, is 8 cents more than the agency’s target, but the cost per rider, at $5.41 per trip, is 73 cents less than targeted, so fares are only covering 18 percent of operating costs.


Click on the image to go to the page where you can download the draft environmental impact statement–comments due May 5.

What to do in this situation? For any transit agency, the solution is obvious: build more light rail. The region’s one light-rail line opened 16 months late and cost 60 percent more than projected. It was supposed to carry 10,400 riders per weekday in its opening year; it actually carried less than 4,400. While it was up to 5,500 in 2013, the 23 percent drop in light-rail ridership so far in 2015 suggests that the average this year will be even less than in the opening year.

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Rail Transit Debates

Debate over the Maryland Purple Line continues. The governor is expected to make a decision in a few months.

Debate over a proposed streetcar in Sacramento begins. The measure will be voted on by local residents in May.

Debate begins over funding for two new light-rail lines in Vancouver, BC. Proponents include a council of suburban mayors, all of whom no doubt hope that light-rail lines will eventually be built to their cities. (The Antiplanner will have more to say about this one in a few days.)

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Denver’s RTD Makes the Case for Lying

Denver RTD Makes the Case for Public-Private Funding, says Progressive Railroading. In fact, Denver’s Regional Transit District is making the case for lying to the voters about everything possible in order to get as much of their money as possible.

The first lie was that FasTracks, Denver’s rail transit plan that Progressive Railroading calls “one of the largest transit expansion programs in the country,” would cost $4.7 billion. Soon after the election, RTD admitted the real cost would be $7.9 billion. Thanks to the recession, the cost has supposedly fallen to $6.9 billion, but none of these estimates include interest and other finance charges.

The second lie was that RTD would build six new light-rail or other rail lines. In order to get the support of all of the suburban mayors in the region, RTD had to promise to build all the lines at once, as mayors realized that any that were deferred to later would probably never be built. Today, RTD realizes that the Northwest line to Boulder and Longmont is just far too expensive and will carry too few riders to be worthwhile. But that applies to the rest of them too, it’s just that RTD doesn’t have enough money to build them all.

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Todd Litman Misses the Point

Denver’s light rail hit and critically injured another pedestrian last week, temporarily shutting down most of the city’s light-rail trains. Meanwhile, transit apologist Todd Litman calls the Antiplanner’s assessment of light-rail dangers “a good example of bad analysis.” Light rail is more dangerous than cars and buses, he says, only because “light rail transit only operates in dense city centers where there are frequent interactions between various road users.” He suggests that cars and buses “might” be nearly as dangerous in similar situations.

The argument that “light-rail only operates in dense city centers” is questionable, but even if it were true, cars are still safer in those areas, which Litman could have learned by checking available data from the Department of Transportation. Highway Statistics table FI-220 lists highway fatalities by road type. Table VM-2 lists vehicle miles of travel by road type. We can divide through to compare fatality rates per billion miles of travel. Most of the vehicle miles are cars and light trucks containing an average of 1.67 people per vehicle (table 16).

The data show that motor vehicle accidents kill about 6.8 people per billion passenger miles on local urban streets, the most dangerous streets in urban areas. Urban collectors have only 3.6 fatalities per billion passenger miles; freeways just 2.5 to 2.8; and other arterials 4.6 to 5.9. All of these are well below light rail’s 12.5 fatalities per billion passenger miles. Commuter rail, incidentally, has 8.7 fatalities per billion passenger miles, while heavy rail and buses both work out to 4.5 fatalities per billion.

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Every Kind of Fail

Does Miami need a light-rail line? In 1988, the Florida city built the Metromover, a 4.4-mile automated system that cost twice as much as projected and carried less than half the projected riders. Although Wikipedia claims this is a great success, the National Transit Database reports that it carried less than 31,000 riders per day in 2013 (less than a third of what Wikipedia claims and well under the projections).

In the same year, Miami also opened Metrorail, an elevated rail line that cost far more than projected and carries less than a third of the projected riders.

Then there’s Tri Rail, a commuter train between Miami and West Palm Beach that began service in 1989. Taxpayers have lavished around $600 million in capital improvements on this line, and spent $46 million subsidizing operations in 2013, for a commuter system that carried less than 15,000 riders (i.e., under 7,500 round trips) per day.

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Amtrak Not Worth State Support

The Antiplanner arrived at the Purple Line debate debate last night to find protesters who were apparently upset that anyone would consider not building a train whose projected costs have already risen by more than 40 percent and whose ridership projections are so outlandish that even the Federal Transit Administration uses a lower (though still unrealistically high) number. Some of the protesters recognized me and were nice enough to wish me well in the debate.

My opponent, Richard Parsons, seems to truly believe that a 15.5-mph, low-capacity rail line will spur enough development to increase county tax revenues by more than $10 billion. When I pointed out that this has not happened to any rail project in the last 40 years, and that at most all they have done is influenced where development takes place, he didn’t dispute it, but merely claimed that Montgomery County was unique. Those who wish to see my presentation can download the PowerPoint file here.

Meanwhile, in keeping with the fiscally conservative trend that swept much of the nation in the last election, Illinois Governor Bruce Rauner has proposed (see p. 3-32) to help close the state’s $6.8 billion budget gap by cutting state support for Amtrak from $46.2 million in 2015 to $28.8 million in 2016. Amtrak supporters are unsurprisingly outraged, claiming that a reduction in passenger train service will increase traffic congestion, air pollution, and wear and tear on the highways.

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Back in the Air Again

The Antiplanner is in Washington DC today to participate in a debate over the Purple light-rail line–or, as I like to call it, the Purple Money Eater. In conjunction with this debate, the Maryland Public Policy Institute will release a detailed critique of the proposed low-capacity transit line; Antiplanner readers can download a preview today.

Predictably, rail supporters are claiming that the supposedly evil Koch Brothers “dispatched” me to fight this rail project. In reality, I doubt that light rail is even on the Koch Brothers’ radar screen, since there is no light rail in Kansas (where they are headquartered) and no proposals for any as far as I know. (Could it be that’s not a coincidence?)

We’ll see what the rail supporters say tonight. If you are in the DC area, I hope to see you in Silver Spring at 7 pm.

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Streetcars and Commuter Trains Are Hot

Ridership on Atlanta’s new streetcar is 18 percent below projections–and the projections assumed patrons would be charged a $1 fare, but (as of the date of the ridership numbers) the city was still offering free introductory rides. Meanwhile, operating costs have proven to be a mere 50 percent more than projected.

Washington, DC’s new streetcar hasn’t yet opened for business, but it has already proven to be hot–as in one of the streetcars being tested on H Street caught fire the other day. DC residents aren’t exactly looking forward to the streetcar, which is increasing traffic congestion and slowing bus service in the corridor. This is just one more example, locals note, of “corporate welfare and the edifice complex.”

Just outside of DC, a new report reveals that the Maryland Transit Administration has done a poor job of tracking consultant costs on the proposed Purple and Red lines. This doesn’t bode well for taxpayers if construction ever begins on these two lines, both of which are expected to cost more than $2 billion.

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Light Rail Increasingly Dangerous

A pedestrian was killed by a light-rail train in Denver last Thursday, February 12. The very next day, another pedestrian was killed by a light-rail train in San Jose.

According to the Bureau of Transportation Statistics, 40 people were killed in light-rail accidents in 2012. This is the most since at least 1992 (the earliest year for which I have numbers available). While the numbers vary from year to year, in all the years since 1995, light-rail accidents killed 333 people.

A few days ago, the Antiplanner mentioned that auto accidents kill about 34,000 people a year. That sounds horrible, and it is, but unlike light-rail numbers, auto fatalities have been declining. More important, light rail carried just 26.7 billion passenger miles in all the years between 1995 and 2012. By comparison, highway vehicles traveled nearly 3 trillion vehicle miles in 2012 alone. At an average occupancy of 1.67 people per car (see page 33), that’s 5 trillion passenger miles.

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Say No to the Purple Line

The Washington Business Journal published an op ed casting doubt on the proposed, $2.4-billion Purple light-rail line in Maryland suburbs of DC. Since the article is behind a paywall, the Antiplanner is taking the liberty of reproducing it here.

The Journal edited out a few paragraphs; while I’m not complaining, I reinserted them here for sake of completion. Those paragraphs are in italics.

Guest Comment: The Purple Line? No thanks

Washington Business Journal: Feb 6, 2015, 6:00am EST
Randal O’Toole

In the wake of Larry Hogan’s election as governor, Maryland has been inundated with propaganda claiming the Purple Line light rail from Bethesda to New Carrollton will do everything from relieve congestion to revitalize the economy. This is all hogwash.

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