Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cost of Public Transit

Recently, the Columbian chose to publish a letter to the editor entitled "Bus transit preferred."

The author of the letter makes a closing statement that, "buses make a lot more sense and are more cost effective (than light rail)." This statement is based on an uninformed understanding of operating efficiencies of public transit, as suggested in the letter. My purpose for responding to this letter is not to advocate for a transit option...but to simply provide a factual background for decision making.

The letter states that light rail ridership will only produce enough revenue to cover less than 25 percent of (the) operating costs. Because of that low percentage of cost recovery, the author insinuates that politicians are making a bad decision to support light rail and instead should support buses.

The argument presented is without merit and nonfactual.

So, let's get it straight:

#1) The national average fairbox recovery for bus transit systems is around 20%. That means that on average, BUS systems recover 20% of the operating costs from the rider. Locally, C-TRAN does BETTER than the national average, recovering around 23% of the operating costs.

#2) If a light rail transit recovers 25% of it's operating costs from ridership, then it is MORE efficient in cost recovery than bus systems nationwide and in comparison to our own C-TRAN.
In the scenario detailed by the author, light rail transit should be the preferred option for politicians wanting to support more efficient (by cost recovery) public transit.

#3) In the DEIS document for the CRC project, a comparison of estimated operating costs for light rail versus a bus rapid transit system provided. Please refer to Page 3-72 and Page 4-39. As noted on Page 3-72, the cost of operating a bus system is between 30-42% higher than a light rail system. Furthermore, as noted on Page 4-39, the cost of operating a bus system for an alignment to Clark College is $2.2-2.3 million more per year than a light rail system to the same destination. The cost of operating a bus system is MORE than operating a light rail system!

Clearly, the author prefers a bus system over a light rail system. I don't argue the opinion, just the incorrect basis for the opinion. There are other reasons to support a bus system over a light rail system that do have substantive merit...


John Jay said...

Good points. The only and big danger with any mass transit is getting too far out ahead of it. The density needs to be there or it will drain from other necessary public services. BRT is more flexible and that's why I support it, but for the new bridge, LRT seems to be the practical and political answer.

tim leavitt said...

Thanks for your comments John Jay.
Indeed, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) is significantly more flexible than LRT. In fact, LRT has no flexibility! Once the tracks are're set. Unless of course, big $$$ is spent to remove and relocate. BRT doesn't have to be located in a dedicated lane, or, can move in and out of a dedicated lane.
I agree with you. For this given project in this given location and under these given circumstances, LRT appears to be the practical and reasonable alternative. However, there is yet much public testimony to be received. I'm awaiting those public hearings and hoping to receive constructive and factual feedback.