Recently I wrote a blog entry regarding the advantages of streetcars (pictures added since I published the first entry on streetcars) over other modes of transit, in many ways in regards to buses. In this entry I'm covering why light rail, the larger than streetcar, more interurban, self powered mode. Light rail, since it has similar or lower costs to construct than streetcars has a ton of advantages and they are truly legitimate. With that, here I go…
Legitimate Reason #1
Light rail carries far more people with a mere two car train than either a streetcar or an extended 70' bus. Even a single car LRV can often carry a dozen or more people than a single 70' bus. This mere fact alone creates an efficient solution between needing buses for a corridor, bumping up the throughput, and the next step which would be the major leap to high capacity commuter rail or a subway type system.
Legitimate Reason #2
Over the long term, light rail is easily cheaper than buses to carry passengers in any major transportation corridor. If the ridership on a bus line is peaking out at 10,000-15,000 per day, the move to light rail to handle greater than 15,000 per day.
Legitimate Reason #3
Yes, light rail, like a streetcar system is consistent and thus provides many of the same development bonuses. Transit oriented development built around the stops create a great living, working, shopping, and learning incentive for people to travel along those points without the need for a car or other less advantageous mode of transport.
Light rail is easier to maintain at a high quality ride level than comparable modes like buses, BRT, or otherwise. This is especially true with buses that share roads with automobiles & trucking. Trucking does so much damage to roads that buses often equate to horrible ride quality within just a few years of operating in conjunction with trucks on major corridors. Light rail, simply does not have this issue since it is a dedicated right of way, and even in rare instance of shared right of way it sits upon tracks, not the always deteriorating roadway. The tracks do deteriorate, but at a much slower rate than roadways. Some of this could be remedied for buses by better road construction, but that isn't going to happen anytime soon, especially in the United States.
Legitimate Reason #5
Light rail simply costs a TON of money less than comparable bus service over the lifespan of the vehicles. Over a period of 20 years, light rail operations often will save enough money over comparable bus service to exceed that of the original capital costs of the system! With the way our inflationary fractional reserve system works it often recoups the original capital cost in savings in an even shorter period of time around 10-15 years. The money saved after this initial time span grows to exceed 50%. In Portland the original Blue Line cars & original Blue Line, already provide this level of savings somewhere around 2x cheaper than what comparable bus service would have cost.
…and yes, to all those in disbelief, I’ll have the numbers up soon. I have a nifty spreadsheet I’ve been crunching numbers on and have been including a ton of data points.
Legitimate Reason #6
Ok, this is the reason I don't like because it is based on "feel" which generally isn't a good way to measure very many things. Light rail, compared to most modes of transport, is just COOL. Whatever other magic word you want to use could be applied; COOL, AWESOME, NIFTY, RAD, etc. When putting in something like this, that needs a ton of political support, it is vastly important to have the cool factor on your side, regardless of how patently absurd it is.
Light rail, just like streetcars, use electrical systems instead of diesel engines (most at least) which create a vehicle with less moving parts, and thus easier to maintain. Over the long term this creates a lower cost of maintenance.
Legitimate Reason #8
Again, as with streetcars, light rail vehicles last a very long time. Often far longer than most types of buses or even streetcars. This in turn, again equates to savings over the long term. More money for operations, additional vehicles, etc.
As always, stay tuned, keep reading and I’ll have the final couple entries in this series of legitimate reasons for mode X up soon. The next in the series is passenger rail, and after that I will get to the oft misaligned work horse, the bus.