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(Back to Light Rail page)
Here's another letter to the 'Statesman' (below) attacking Capital Metro and light rail. A short rebutal follows.
 

Is light rail "profitable"?
Discussion on Austin360.com
 
 
Light Rail Comparisons by alana72, 06/18/00
 
Could the city simply post a Financial and Rider comparison of the light rail systems in the nation in cities the size of Austin and larger? Eliminate the rhetoric and let the voters decide based on facts.....
 

Benefit/cost value vs. profit
by nawdryaolcom, 6/19/00
 
Let's just briefly dissect Alana's questions.
How many street and freeway systems are profitable? How long did it take these street and freeway to become profitable? How many street and freeway systems are not profitable?
 
What do you mean by "profitable" in connection with a public service, particularly transportation? Is a sidewalk "profitable"? Is the Congress Ave. bridge "profitable"?
 
In assessing public services and public works projects, benefit/cost analysis -- the public-sector equivalent of private-sector profit-loss analysis - is used. By this yardstick, streets and freeways are, for the most part, great benefits. So are sidewalks and bridges. So are public transit systems. So are light rail systems.
How do communities fund/subsidize "non-profitable" streets, freeways, sidewalks, and bridges? Through the tax-supported public budget, of course. If you're using "non-profitable" to mean PRIVATE non-profitable, where are these PRIVATE streets, freeways, sidewalks, bridges, etc.? If you insist they should make a private profit, even if publicly owned, where are the TOLL BOOTHS for these streets, freeways, sidewalks, bridges, etc.? Why suddenly decide to lump this burden on public transit, whether light rail, bus service, or whatever?
Are you suggesting that any light rail system built in this country was done so on the promise of private-profit operation? Or are you using "profit" more broadly (in the sense of a benefit/cost ratio greater than 1) -- that is, returning more benefits than the costs of the project and its operation? If the latter, then that has been promised, and it has been delivered in every case.
The reduction usually is about the same as with the addition of 1-2 freeway lanes and it has been measured in a few cases. As with new freeway lanes, the reduction in congestion is small and transitory due to the growth of traffic (a product of population growth, urban sprawl, the lack of adequate transit and other mobility alternatives, etc.).
If you mean fixed line capacity, newer systems are probably utilizing about 20% of their potential capacity. There is tremendous opportunity for growth - you just add more cars and lengthen trains or run shorter headways or both.
Has road traffic improved after the addition of more and wider freeways? The results are mixed, and there is evidence to suggest that adding freeway capacity actually compounds traffic problems by "inducing" more adjacent development and new trips which roadways have a hard time handling. In quite a number of cities, there is evidence that congestion has worsened despite tremendous investment in freeway expansion.
 
The result for light rail is somewhat similar. The difference is that in a number of cases, street and parking investment has been reduced since hundreds and even thousands of car trips have been eliminated. And light rail may induce trips on transit, but not on crowded freeways and downtown streets.
 
The bottom line: Chasing traffic growth with either road construction or transit investment can do little more than stabilize the current level of congestion. For many situations where it's applicable, light rail can offer advantages - such as reducing the need for feeder street capacity (as well as peakhour freeway capacity) and parking facilities. Light rail is an important tool in an arsenal of techniques to deploy on behalf of better mobility.
By and large, no, since separate operating authorities, with separate funding bases, typically construct and operate light rail (and bus services). In fact, with some transit authorities -- including Capital Metro -- it's the other way round: CapMetro funnels street and sidewalk money to the budgets of the City of Austin and other jurisdictions within the authority. And CapMetro will be funnelling money into freeway construction by financing HOV lanes (which automobiles and vans can use).
 
However, Light Rail Progress does take the position that city and county transportation budgets should assist with transit development, including light rail. This should be judged on a case-by-case basis, in situations where light rail or other transit mobility improvements can be shown to be more cost-effective in producing person-moving capacity than ordinary roadway improvements. Currently this is not happening in Texas.
 

Light Rail Progress 00/06/19

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