In the review of the week’s work, I made some derogatory comments about rail as a transportation alternative. One reader challenged my source for the readership numbers. US New Light Rail Peak Volumes: Well Below Single Freeway Lane: The Portland & St. Louis Examples Even during peak travel hours light rail carries comparatively few riders compared to freeway lanes, though data is not generally available. In Portland, for example, inbound (toward downtown) light rail volume averages approximately 1,100 per hour during the 6:00 a..m. to 9:00 a.m. peak period. By comparison, each lane of the adjacent Banfield Freeway (Interstate 84) carries approximately 2,600 people per hour — nearly 2.5 times the volume of the light rail line. In the outbound direction, each freeway lane carries 1,500 persons hourly, 28 times the light rail averages of 55 passengers during the same period (graph omitted). Overall, during the morning peak period, the freeway carries more than 10 times the volume of the light rail line. Theoretical and Practical Capacity: These findings appear to contradict the often cited claim that a light rail line has the same person carrying capacity as up to six freeway lanes. Yet US transit agencies do not even provide the service that could carry such a large number of passengers. For example, St. Louis, with one of the nation’s most intensively used new light rail lines, provides seating capacity for fewer than 900 passengers each peak hour — one-third the capacity of a freeway lane. With a “crush” load.of standing passengers, the St. Louis line could achieve a passenger volume of nearly 2,000, still 25 percent below a freeway lane’s capacity. Moreover, it is apparent that the St. Louis line has not reduced traffic congestion. Traffic on the adjacent Mississippi River Bridge (I-55/64/70) has increased by more than 20 percent since before the light rail line opened. Despite being able to save between $4.00 and $11.00 daily in parking charges by taking light rail, the vast majority of commuters continue to drive. It is theoretically possible for light rail to carry the volume of six freeway lanes, but it would require service levels and passenger demand far above present levels. Like Interstate 10 between Fort Stockton and Van Horn, new light rail systems have the capacity to carry much more volume. Interstate 10 does not because there is insufficient travel demand in that area. Light rail does not because there is little demand for a mode of transport much slower than the automobile on which one may stand for a major portion of the trip. * * * * I would add that it is common sense that a freeway lane carries more traffic than a rail line. Freeway lanes are continuously occupied during peak times. Trains are separated by around six minutes (Washington Metro, for example). That’s ten trains an hour. For fifty minutes of each hour, nothing is moving on a given segment of track. The other problem is that Texas cities are not set up for mass transit. If you were to take high speed rail from Austin to Houston, what do you do when you arrive at the destination stop? The sole rail line serves downtown, the museum district, Texas Medical Center, and Rice University, and that’s about all. If you want to go anywhere else, you have to take a cab or rent a car. I haven’t ridden DART, but I have seen the route map, and it is a commuter system, not a destination system. No mass transit system come close to paying for itself out of the fare box. The fare box accounts for around 1/3 of the cost. The rest has to be subsidized. Austin is about to open its new rail line. It has only two trains. The trip from the outlying suburbs will take TWO HOURS. It doesn’t serve the main employment centers: UT, the Capitol, downtown. It is a giant waste of 1/8 of the state tax base. We should abolish the mass transit tax and put the money into general revenue.
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