February 28, 2013

Light Rail Does Not Replace Cars

A new study about the effect of light rail on traffic was just conducted in England. According to an article in The Atlantic Cities, planners Shin Lee and Martyn Senior, of Cardiff University, “discovered that car ownership and car commute share often continue to rise in these corridors, and that ridership growth is often the result of travelers shifting over from buses ? — not cars.”

This is what has happened in Saint Louis and what would happen in Kansas City. Ridership from valuable and successful bus transit is depleted in favor of a much more expensive and much less flexible rail transit. In 1999, Tom Irwin, who was executive director of Saint Louis’ transit authority, the Bi-State Development Agency (now Metro), indicated that increases in rail ridership — in the face of a fare increase — seemed to come directly from bus ridership. From a 1999 St. Louis Post-Dispatch article:

The increase in light-rail riders is canceled out by the drop in bus ridership, meaning the agency’s revenue remains relatively flat, Irwin said. That’s because there are more bus passengers than rail riders, so each percentage point signifies a greater number of riders.

Years later, in 2008, Metro threatened to cut about half of its bus routes in Saint Louis if a sales tax, partially to expand light rail, was not approved. In other words, they would sacrifice efficient bus transit to pay for inefficient rail transit.

Kansas City voters have rejected light rail multiple times, so city officials contrived a special tax district in which only 300 affirmative votes were necessary to embark on a multi-million dollar city outlay. The line they propose will be along existing roads, and likely will not attract the traffic (or the convention business) to fill them. What is certain is that it will never be self-funding, but instead will require taxpayer subsidies in perpetuity.

Supporters of light rail will never be dissuaded from their vision. Economics will not do it, studies such as these will not do it, and in Kansas City, even repeated rejection from voters will not do it.

A project of the


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