Light Rail for Austin, 2012-13

Bicycle Austin doesn't have the resources to cover the 2012-13 push for getting Light Rail in Austin, but here are some resources that may be of interest:

  • The Rail section of our online forum.

  • Mike Dahmus' blog, with blunt straight talk about the pros and cons of rail proposals

  • The rest of the page below, which covers the 2000 light rail effort, which was narrowly defeated by voters.  It remains below as a historical archive.




2000 Light Rail election

We strongly urge our readers to vote for light rail. There is NO OTHER WAY to move so many people around the city so efficiently for the amount of money we'd spend on it. All the arguments against light rail are incredibly weak, and we'll expose them below.

Basic Info

  • Background Information
  • Light Rail Now is the main group promoting light rail for Austin.

  • Light Rail Progress is a local mailing list that sends out news about light rail via email. Get on the list by .

  • Early Voting is Oct. 18-Nov. 3. The Voter Registration Deadline is Oct. 7th. Check this link to make sure you're registered to vote (or call 473-9553).

  • Light Rail is getting slammed by car-lovers in the Letters section of the Austin American-Statesman. You can counter this by sending pro-rail letters to:
    • Letters to the Editor, PO Box 670 Austin, Tx 78767, or by email

    Letters should be polite and no more than 150 words in length. Be sure to include your address and daytime telephone number (for verification), otherwise the Statesman won't print your letter.

  • Where will it go? The proposed rail system is about 52 miles long, including the 20-mile starter line. The starter line would run from the Howard Lane area in the north to Ben White in S. Austin. The east-west line would run from MLK down to the East 4th and 5th Street area and over to downtown Austin. The system would also include extensions to Austin-Bergstrom Airport, Leander, and William Cannon/Slaughter Lane. It would also complete the East Austin loop including a spur to the proposed new development at the former Robert Mueller Airport.

Links to other sites

Articles

Letters to the Editor, & Discussion

AAS = Austin American Statesman


Why you should vote for light rail

Rail bashers are doing their best to paint light rail as an expensive project that won't help Austin's transportation problems. We could refute their claims point by point (and we will), but the point that makes all other points irrelevant is this: In cities across the U.S. which have been smart enough to adopt rail, light rail WORKS. The projects come in on or under budget, ridership is way above predictions, there are fewer cars on the road, the air gets measurably cleaner, and, here's the kicker: even the skeptics see that rail is an unqualified success. Check out Dallas, where citizens recently voted to SPEED UP construction of the rest of their rail system, with a whopping 77% voting for the proposal. If that's not a stunning endorsement by a community for more rail once it's had a taste of it, we don't know what is.
 
In fact, we'd like to turn the tables on the rail-bashers: If all the negative things you say are true, then give us an example of a U.S. city where light rail failed or the citizens don't like it.
 
The fact that light rail is so successful shouldn't be surprising. It's fast, clean, comfortable, and moves large numbers of people, for less than the cost of new roadway construction. With all this going for it, how could rail NOT work?
 
And if we don't build rail, what's the alternative? A revamped bus system? Not even close:
  • Buses are stuck in the same traffic as cars. So instead of being stuck in traffic jams in your car, you can be stuck in traffic jams on the bus. Some alternative.
  • Buses have a much higher operating cost than rail, because you need one driver for just one small bus, while rail has one operator for multiple large rail cars.
  • Buses move fewer people than rail. A train with multiple rail cars moves LOTS more people than the bus. Sure, you could run the buses more frequently, but then the operating cost would skyrocket. And you'd be putting more vehicles on the road.
  • People who won't take the bus will ride the rail. It's crazy, but it's true. That's been the experience with rail in countless other cities.
  • Buses emit lots of polluting exhaust, but rail doesn't.
  • In any event, we can't choose between more buses vs. rail, because that choice isn't on the ballot. If we don't vote for rail, the money that Capital Metro has been saving for it won't go for more buses, it'll go to more roads. Road-lovers have been chomping at the bit waiting to raid that money.
Some people want us to improve the bus system "before" we build light rail. Sorry, but that's not the choice being offered to us. If light rail is defeated, that doesn't mean that the bus system will be magically improved. It just means we've screwed ourselves out a system that would have been better than the best bus system we could ever hope for.
 
Some are wary of Capital Metro being in charge of the rail system. But for all its problems, Capital Metro has been steadily improving. As the Statesman said on 9-10: "Over the past three years, Cap Metro has cleaned house and received high marks from auditors. It has new management, and its books are in order and in the black. Bus ridership is up, operating costs are down, and the agency is contributing increasing amounts to improving area roads." In any event, it is MUCH easier to get rail to run on time than it is to get buses to run on time. If you really believe that Capital Metro is incompetent, then you'll want to give them something easier to schedule than buses.
 
So how about building more roads instead of building rail? Great, except for this:
  • That's what we've been doing for decades, but it's not working.
  • Austin ALREADY has more road-miles per capita than any other major Texas city.*
  • Road building costs more than rail, takes longer to build than rail, disrupts traffic much more during its construction than rail, and costs much more to maintain than rail. Plus roads can't even move as many people as rail.
  • Rail's greatest promise is moving people through the congested central city. Where exactly are you going to put a new highway through Austin? Down Lamar or Guadalupe?!?
  • Most importantly, more massive roadbuilding is ALREADY planned for this area. We're getting more roads whether we put in rail or not.
Some people say that we shouldn't build rail because it won't solve congestion. The reality is that Austin is growing so fast that NOTHING will "solve" congestion, but there are definitely steps we can take to make it better. The point is, if we DON'T build light rail, congestion is going to be WORSE. It's just common sense: How is moving tens of thousands of people in compact rail cars NOT going to have a positive impact?
 
The charge has been made that rail is useless because it would handle only 3% of Austin traffic. But Mopac itself moves only 5%! And does anyone think congestion wouldn't get worse if we shut down Mopac?!?
 
One of the letters in the Statesman said, "If you wouldn't ride light rail yourself, then don't vote for it." That's just crazy! Most people don't ride the bus -- should we get rid of the bus system too?!? Or the public schools, or the WIC program, or substance abuse programs? In any event, any motorist who won't ride rail but wants fewer cars in front of him on his way to work should vote FOR light rail.
 
Here's a visual depiction of light rail's promise: This summer transportation advocates gathered downtown to take some clever photos which show how much roadway space is wasted by automobiles vs. rail. Check out the photos.
 
Bicyclists have another reason to support rail: We'll likely be able to carry our bikes right onto the train, as is common in other cities. Not only is it quicker than fumbling with the rack on front of the bus, but rail cars can accommodate more cyclists (no more worrying that the rack already has bikes on it), and you won't have to worry about your bike getting stolen from the bus rack.
 
Remember, a vote for rail doesn't raise taxes and doesn't authorize more bonds. The project would be funded by the EXISTING sales tax and federal grants. Rail is so affordable it's ridiculous.
 
In Austin, this will be our last chance to build light rail for quite some time. Capital Metro has been saving money in anticipation of building rail, but if the election fails, that money will likely go to build more roadways instead -- even though more massive road-building is already planned for this area even if light rail wins.
 
The facts are simple: Rail works. It's fast, efficient, comfortable, less polluting, a good investment, and affordable.
 
----------------------------------------
What you can do to support light rail.
 
(1) Check to make sure you're registered to vote.
 
(2) Talk to your friends about rail. If they give you some of the trendy, lame criticisms of light rail listed above, politely point out the facts.
 
(3) Write to the Statesman. Positive letters about rail are needed to counter the barrage of anti-rail letters. Send polite, short letters (150 words or less) to: Letters to the Editor, PO Box 670 Austin, Tx 78767.

---------------------------------

* Footnote from above: Austin has more lane-miles per capita of high-quality roads (state and federally funded) than any other large Texas city -- San Antonio, Houston, Dallas, Ft. Worth, and El Paso.


Myths & Facts about Light Rail

  • by Light Rail Now, Feb. & March 2000 (except for the first item, which is by M. Bluejay)
Much of the information below is available in a professionally-printed two-column handout. For bulk copies, contact: Light Rail Progress, PO Box 150116, Austin, Tx 78715-0116, (512) 441-3014.

MYTH: We should build more roads instead.
 
FACT: A single track of light rail can carry as many passengers in an hour as a four-lane freeway (assuming 1.2 passengers per vehicle which is the average in North Texas) and use much less space. Besides, rail will primarily be used in the central city, which is already developed, and you can't build new highways right through the middle of the city. Even if you could, they'd be incredibly inefficient compared to rail. And they'd bring more noise, pollution, congestion, and other problems.

MYTH: Light rail transit is a waste of public money, because nobody will ride it.
 
FACT: Across the country, light rail services - old and new - are proving to be extremely effective in attracting riders. People like to ride light rail!
 
Sacramento's single light rail line, for example, is attracting approximately 30,000 riders on an average weekday - about 30% of Sacramento's total system ridership, which includes the passengers on 69 different bus routes. Source: Sacramento RT website 00/02/22
 
Buffalo's Metro Rail light rail line has overwhelming public support. In a recent Buffalo poll, 52% rated light rail as "very desirable", and another 27% rated it "somewhat desirable". Source: T&UT Feb. 2000
 
Portland's MAX light rail system now carries 74,000 riders on an average weekday. That sure doesn't sound like light rail trains are running empty. Source: Portland Tri-Met website 00/02/22
 
What about Portland's buses? In the same period, Tri-Met's bus ridership rose 36% ... but that's with an increase in vehicle-hours of 25%.
 
By far, one of the biggest light rail success stories has got to be Dallas's DART light rail system. DART's Fiscal 1999 report indicates that Dallas's light rail system ridership grew 3.6% in the past year, while ridership on the new Trinity Railway Express commuter rail service skyrocketed a whopping 28.7%. That compares to a street bus ridership increase of 3.3%. Source: DART News Release 99/12/07
 
"Ridership on the rail lines is exceeding 37,000 daily" reported the Dallas Morning News last fall in an editorial which pointed to evidence of "The public's strong acceptance of DART's current mass transit program ...." In a poll, 82% of Dallas-area respondents said they favored DART using longterm debt to build the light rail system more quickly. "The primary question for DART officials is how to ride this wave of support to a quicker completion of the rail system" enthuses the News. Source: DMN 99/10/10
 
So much for the "nobody will ride it" argument.
 
There are a lot of reasons why light rail is especially attractive as a transit mode. It's fast, reliable, comfortable. It bypasses traffic on clogged streets. Because of the tracks, you know it's there and have a better idea where it goes.
 

MYTH: All light rail does is move transit riders from buses into trains. All rail riders are taken from buses, not cars.
 
FACT: This is nonsense. While many light rail riders do indeed come from buses, many others are attracted to light rail from cars. In fact, the percentage of riders diverted from automobiles to transit is typically quite high for light rail - more than 30% in Dallas, for example, and about 70% in St. Louis.
 
79% of St. Louis's Metrolink LRT riders are not from buses, but are totally new to transit. 68% have 2 or more cars available to use. Source: Citizens for Modern Transit website 00/04/08
 
In Portland, 92% of riders using the MAX LRT service own autos, but choose light rail for recreational trips and work commutes because of its convenience. Source: Tri-Met Website 00/04/04
 
And, while anti-transit zealots promote the notion that only new riders attracted from cars are worth counting, bus riders who are diverted to the new LRT service are also major beneficiaries. First, if there were no transit, the vast majority - possibly all - of these transit riders would have to be using cars, clogging city streets far worse than they're clogged now. Second, as previous trends have demonstrated, many current bus riders have been relentlessly "defecting" to automobiles - a trend which LRT has well demonstrated it can reverse.
 

MYTH: Light rail will carry such an insignificant portion of urban travel that it won't have any impact on traffic congestion or air pollution.
 
FACT: The investment in LRT does pay off in removing cars from congested streets and freeways. While no single light rail line will miraculously make congestion and pollution utterly vanish, statistics do suggest an impact.
 
Cities like Houston, Phoenix, and Denver (before its LRT system) burned an average of 550 gallons of motor fuel per capita per year. Cities with good multi-rail transit systems burned only 415 gallons -a saving of about one third. Source: Kenworthy & Newman APA Journal Winter 1988
 
As is noted above, LRT has a proven track record of diverting substantial numbers of trips off of crowded streets and freeways, and into transit trains. Portland offers a good case study, with the opening of MAX's Westside line in 1998. Coupled with improved bus service, the new LRT line helped provide a 46 percent increase in transit service in Portland's western corridor. As a result, transit ridership in the corridor rose 137 percent in 1999 to 33,900 average weekday trips. Portland's transit operator, Tri-Met, now has about 20,000 more daily transit trips in the westside corridor than before MAX opened - most of those undoubtedly diverted from congested roadways. Source: Tri-Met Website 00/04/04
 
Rail opponents try to shock the public with the overwhelming traffic numbers for motor vehicles, compared to transit. But it's absurd. Basically, they're trying to bash transit largely for not winning travel market share in areas and for travel patterns where transit isn't even in the market. There are hundreds of small urban and suburban areas where no transit service operates at all - Round Rock, for example -- yet those millions of person-miles by automobile are accumulated in metro area totals.
 
Where transit does compete for travel market share -- in congested corridors into downtowns and other compact central areas, for example, and where it has improved facilities, such as its own right-of-way -- transit has been winning increasingly greater shares of total trips. And in this, rail transit excels.
 
In cities with LRT, the evidence suggests that highway and LRT modes are attracting trips in about the proportion of the regional travel network each represents (in terms of route-mileage), although buses appear to lag behind. A transit system without high-quality trunk lines (such as LRT provides) is at a definite disadvantage in trying to compete for riders with autos.
 
However, neither transit nor roadway capacity improvements seem to have a "magic bullet" effect in making congestion disappear. Planners are increasingly coming to the conclusion that urban areas are going to have to live with traffic congestion. They cannot make it evaporate. There isn't enough money in the world to construct enough freeways (and parking lots) to ever keep up - and if there were, these facilities would just fill up because of the "induced" traffic generated.
 
Rail transit "solves" the congestion problem by providing an alternative means of access between origins and destinations, and into compact, traffic-gridlocked areas. Rail transit is a way to bypass the congestion. Network rail with buses running on the less-congested streets, and you have the basis for a transit grid -pretty much what got ripped out in this country decades ago.
 

MYTH: New light rail projects fail to measure up to their promises.
 
FACT: Almost all new light rail projects have met or exceeded their most accurate ridership projections. In its first year, Dallas's DART light rail ridership was 10% higher than was forecast. "Ridership on the light rail lines to Oak Cliff, South Dallas and North Dallas has exceeded all expectations" raves the Dallas Morning News. Sources: LR&MT Nov. 1997, DMN 99/10/10
 
For another example, take Portland's MAX light rail, which opened its new Westside line just a year and a half ago. "Since Westside MAX opened in September 1998, ridership has soared 22% over projections" says Portland's Tri-Met public transit agency. Source: Portland Tri-Met website 00/02/22
 
And the country's newest light rail opening -- Salt Lake City's brand-new Trax light rail system -- is another soaring success story. Trax was completed "well ahead of schedule and under budget" reports an industry magazine. And ridership is a huge success. After hitting 25,000 on the first day (with free rides), it's levelled off at 20,000 now that fares are being charged and that compares with just 14,000 daily riders originally forecast. "Daily ridership on TRAX has exceeded UTA's original projections by an average of 40-50 percent" reports the Utah Transit Authority, which operates public transit in Salt Lake City. Source: T&UT Feb. 2000, UTA News 99/12/21
 
The bottom line: If properly managed, light rail projects will meet their promised goals.

MYTH: Light rail projects always have terrible cost overruns, so the cost of Austin's light rail project will be much higher than expected.
 
FACT: Anti-transit zealots repeatedly make extravagant claims of "underestimated" costs and predictions of mammoth cost "over-runs" of LRT projects. In reality, most new LRT systems have been completed on time and within budget. In fact, the final completion costs of Salt Lake City's brand-new TRAX light rail line --opened in December -- are millions of dollars under budget. Source: UTA data, April 2000
 
Opponents also exaggerate the "average" per-mile costs of LRT by brandishing the cost figures from such cities as Buffalo, Dallas, and Los Angeles, which had substantial and expensive civil works such as subway and viaduct construction. But light rail lines in Austin would be routed entirely on the surface, with little need for expensive civil works.
 
New light rail construction in Salt Lake City, Denver, and East Saint Louis should be used as the measuring stick. Totalling 41 miles for $820 million, that's $20 million a mile in today's dollars, with no subways, automation, or elevated viaducts (except for grade crossings). In comparison, the current cost of new urban freeways is typically in the range of $50 to $100 million per mile.
 
Curiously, the currently most notorious cost-overrun scandal in the United States - transportation or otherwise - appears to be a freeway project. Boston's Central Artery tunnel project has ballooned by a factor of five times from the projected cost at start -from the original $2.6 billion to a current projected cost of completion of $13.5 billion (and it's still rising).
 
Incidentally, "urban freeway tunnels" are one of the "innovative alternatives" (to the "expense" of LRT) being pushed by the anti-rail, pro-roadway activists!
 

MYTH: Austin doesn't have the size or density for light rail.
 
FACT: Austin has been suitable for light rail for decades. In fact, Austin once had a "light rail" system -- electric trolleys (streetcars) -- until the 1940s. What really counts is not so much population density, as travel density -- and Austin has plenty of that, especially in the North Lamar corridor, where the first light rail line would go. In more lightly populated suburban areas, access to light rail stations by car (e.g., park-and-ride) has eliminated the need for dense population near rail transit lines.
 
Road traffic congestion almost surely will never disappear even with light rail, other public transit, or more highway capacity. Building more roads or highway lanes really just attracts more car travel and more roadside development - worsening congestion. That problem probably won't disappear, but light rail can solve the congestion/gridlock dilemma by providing much higher capacity in an alternative way to travel.
 
And it's a pleasant, comfortable, attractive way to travel - a mode that's environmentally friendly and economically viable ... and the right way for Austin!
 
[Ed. Note: Another point to consider is that Austin's population is EXPLODING. We're certainly big enough for light rail now, but even if we weren't, we definitely would be in just a few years. And it's always much cheaper to lay the groundwork early, rather than trying to do a patchwork repair to a poorly-planned transportation system years down the road when implementation becomes much more problematic.]
 

MYTH: Light rail is noisy and dangerous.
 
FACT: Because they're electrically propelled, light rail trains - often called "trolleys" or "streetcars" - are exceptionally quiet. There's no engine roar - the only sound you may hear is a gliding whisper or a soft woosh or rumble. They can sneak up on you (but so can bicycles)!
 
Like any transportation vehicle - including cars, trucks, buses, even bicycles - light rail cars can be dangerous, especially if people are careless around them. But, more than just about any other motorized transport mode, light rail is nicely compatible with neighborhoods, pedestrians, and populated areas. Throughout Europe, for instance, road-traffic-free city-center malls are widespread, where pedestrians walk, shop, or sit in outdoor restaurants while light rail trains glide past - the only transit vehicles considered compatible enough to be allowed.
 
Tacoma, Washington is putting in a new light rail line, called "Tacoma Link", connecting downtown Tacoma to the Tacoma Dome. Here's what their transit agency has to say about light rail environmental impact: "Current vehicle technology has produced vehicles that are environmentally friendly with power-saving electric design, recyclable materials and low noise levels." Source: Tacoma Link website 00/02/21
 
In the Cincinnati area, the Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments is planning a brand-new light rail system for their region. "LRT is quiet" says the agency. "An LRT train is no more noisy than a car. The noise from LRT is not constant like highway traffic. And unlike a diesel bus, LRT produces no acceleration roar." Source: Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Regional Council of Governments 00/02/15
 

MYTH: Light rail won't have any impact on urban development.
 
FACT: In city after city, LRT has solidly demonstrated its potential for stimulating and shaping adjacent real estate development at its transit stops and stations. This process both builds in ridership (e.g., trips by people living near the stations or traveling to the nearby activity centers) and raises the tax base (by increasing land and property values). Together with effective policies to manage traffic and guide land use, transit-shaped development can be a key tool in helping to contain urban sprawl. In Dallas, more than $800 million in private funds has been invested in development along DART's 20-mile Light Rail Starter System -evidence of an explosion of adjacent real estate development less than 4 years after LRT was installed.
 
Incredibly, opponents or LRT and anti-transit zealots claim urban sprawl is just fine. A recent handout from the local anti-transit ROAD group disparages the notion of seeking a "superior urban form" and proclaims that this is "counter to the values of the populace."
 
At bottom, what these anti-transit, pro-sprawl Road Warriors basically advocate is more of the same old status quo: more asphalt, more traffic meatgrinders, more ozone, more road rage, more sprawl. Their all-bus "alternatives" for transit, like HOV lanes, amount to moribund proposals to euthanize, rather than energize, transit service. Their "innovative approaches" range from rehashed agitation for more roadway capacity - e.g., more and wider freeways, which have compounded, rather than alleviated, congestion - to off-the-wall, astonomically expensive monstrosities like urban motor vehicle tunnels. Instead, what's needed is a new start in a new direction ... and light rail can be a first step in that new direction for Austin!
 
 

MYTH: Buses can provide equivalent transit service at a lot less cost than light rail.
 
FACT: Buses are not a viable alternative to light rail transit (LRT). Buses in today's congested traffic are slow, inefficient, and expensive to operate -- and they've been typically losing riders to the automobile. Rail systems -- with LRT in the lead -- have been gaining riders. And light rail doesn't come with the fumes, air pollution, and obnoxious noise that motor buses put out -- making light rail a lot more compatible with neighborhoods and populated areas, and a lot more attractive to riders. Buses are fine for lightly used routes and connector services. But light rail has proven it's a lot cheaper and more efficient in providing transit service as ridership picks up.
 
The expansion of light rail service has been a key factor in reversing the steep decline in public transit ridership of the past 5 decades. Rail transit ridership has climbed at a rate several times that of bus ridership, which has comparatively remained stagnant. Between 1977 and 1997, while motor bus ridership rose just 5%, "heavy" rail ridership (mainly on subway/elevated transit) increased 13%, and light rail ridership skyrocketed an astounding 155%. Source: American Public Transportation Association data
 
Rail opponents try to counterpose buses on freeways as an alternative to LRT. But in today's semi-gridlocked traffic conditions, that's a joke: Why would motorists stuck in freeway traffic want to abandon their cars for buses stuck in freeway traffic?
 
Light rail's biggest economic advantage over buses is in operating cost. In Portland, for example, the operating cost per boarding bus rider is $1.67; for Portland's MAX light rail line, it's just $1.40. In Dallas, DART's new light rail system has plunged the operating cost per-passenger-mile to just 62% of that of DART's fixed-route buses -- a 38% cost drop. Source: Portland Tri-Met website 00/02/22; FTA data, summer 1999
 
Those operating cost savings are typically translated into an overall expansion of the entire transit system. Since 1993, St. Louis's new light rail system, for example, has helped double the metro area's total transit ridership in contrast with where it was headed before LRT. In Portland, areawide transit ridership has soared since LRT was introduced in 1986 - reversing transit's previous downward trend, and now hitting an historic high. Source: Austin360.com 00/04/08; Tri-Met website April 2000
 
What about capital construction costs? LRT construction costs are close to the cost of freeway and HOV lanes - -in fact, they can even be cheaper! And, while light rail cars cost more than buses, their lifespan is 3 times longer and their passenger capacity 3 times greater. All told, advantages in life cycle, capacity, and speed mean that a light rail car is functionally equivalent to at least 11 buses for equivalent types of service.
 
Busways -- buses on exclusive roadways -- are often touted as a cheaper alternative to light rail. But busways often can cost substantially more than light rail, when built to adquate capacity and safety standards. Excluding vehicle costs, Pittsburgh's West Busway cost $70 million a route mile, compared to an average of about $24 million per route mile for the Denver, Salt Lake City, and East St. Louis light rail projects. Source: EL Tennyson, "Transit Capital Investment per Route Mile", Sept. 1999
 
Even when the capital cost of light rail is higher than that of bus, light rail is often still a better investment because of lower ongoing costs, higher ridership, much lower environmental impact, and much greater economic benefits.
 
In Sacramento, annual ridership has steadily increased, on both the bus and LRT systems, from 14 million trips in 1987, when light rail opened, to almost 27 million trips in Fiscal Year 1999. Source: Sacramento RT website 00/02/22
 

MYTH: Buses would have an advantage over light rail if we ran the buses on High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes.
 
FACT: HOV lanes -- freeway lanes reserved for buses and (usually) 2-person carpools -- are also touted as "low-cost" alternatives to rail transit. But while buses on HOV lanes are certainly an improvement to buses in mixed traffic, they're definitely not an alternative to light rail.
 
Busways and HOV lanes have been somewhat on the decline. New Jersey's pioneering HOV lane program on I-287 and I-80 - once hailed as a great success -has now been abolished as the concept fizzled. The Shirley Busway outside Washington, DC - once the flagship of road-based "rapid transit" - has lost 2/3 of its bus ridership. And Ottawa, Canada's busway system - the most ambitious urban network in North America - has been losing riders. Ottawa is now implementing light rail, which may replace much of the busway system.
 
First, spend money on HOV lanes, and you've come a good part of the way in paying for a decent LRT system - but you're still stuck with buses and all their problems.
 
Second, buses may not experience much traffic congestion in the HOV lane ... but how about getting into and out of the HOV lanes? Once again, as buses sit in traffic congestion getting over to the exit ramp, or waiting in the traffic-clogged exit lane itself -- would motorists really yearn to forsake their cars to sit in a bus stuck in traffic?
 
Third, how do buses on HOV lanes ever stop to pick up passengers? Answer: They don't. Typically, the buses poke around on streets in the suburbs, picking up passengers, then run as express buses to a central location. While their schedule speed often equals or exceeds that of LRT, it's an "apples-to-oranges" comparison -- express buses compete, not with LRT, but with express commuter rail (which has proven it attracts and keeps more passengers).
 
In contrast, LRT provides an acceptable cross between express and local service -- what's called limited-stop service. Light rail trains stop to pick up all those passengers along the route who are bypassed by HOV-lane buses ... and yet LRT still offers a high schedule speed and a ride that's attractive and comfortable enough to compete with the automobile!
 
Much of the information above is available in a professionally-printed two-column handout. For bulk copies, contact: Light Rail Progress, PO Box 150116, Austin, Tx 78715-0116, (512) 441-3014




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