Comment and analysis on all things Charlotte

The Truth About Light Rail

No one will want to hear it, but the South Blvd. light rail line is not quite the home run local boosters claim. New research from David Hartgen finds that the line is not attracting more riders than bus service while costing substantially more to do so.

The full report is chock full of interesting insights, but here a few key points:

“Only about a quarter of LYNX weekday ridership is diverted directly from cars, and nearly 20 percent of the auto driver traffic using LYNX consists of vehicles with South Carolina tags,” he said. “About half of the LYNX ridership is prior bus riders. In short, the big winners are about 4,000 prior bus riders, 4,000 commuters living close to the line, and 400 South Carolina drivers.”

LYNX has diverted only a small portion of the corridor auto traffic, Hartgen said.

“The overall impact on regional travel is just 0.08 percent, while LYNX traffic diverted from cars represents 0.4 percent of peak-hour travel and 4.2 percent of peak-hour travel in the South Boulevard corridor,” he said. “Even within the corridor, the effects are small and not measurable in traffic flow. Other corridor drivers have saved about one-half of a minute in average commute time. But impacts on air quality are too small to be observable.”

The land-use impact is also much smaller than city officials have implied, he said.

“A city report asserts that the South Corridor has had or will have $1.86 billion in commercial and residential development, and implies that the growth is largely attributable to the LYNX line,” Hartgen said. “But our estimates, based on actual construction between 2005 and 2007, are much lower, in the neighborhood of $250 million over 20 years.”

Now that CATS has come out and admitted that the Northeast line to UNCC — really an extension of the South line — will cost almost $1 billion instead of $750m. the cost-benefit calculation should sober up giddy train fanatics. But it won’t.

Bonus Observation: CATS hikes fares 20 cents to $1.50 one-way today to try to cope with higher than expected operating costs. Shouldn’t the increased ridership have paid for this? So far, everything we said would happen with Charlotte’s bloated transit system has happened.

Update: Some links to coverage of Hartgen’s study, starting with the Uptown paper of record and News14. And more.

14 Responses to “The Truth About Light Rail”

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    You should see the pro-LRT folks over on Charlotte.com gushing about how light rail will save us all and how we need to get it built to the University and to Huntersville right now before the costs go any higher. There are still a few folks over there applying common sense: One guy even asked all of the pro-LRT folks to answer the question of how high the price would have to go before they’d admit that it was too expensive, or if it were possible that no price is too high for these people.

    Good question, that.

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    Higher than expected operating costs, a phrase we have heard all to often .

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    To bad a large segment of society that we live in thinks just because they want something bad enough everyone else should pay. When these people run into opposition there is no argument that can change their mind.

    My drug addict niece who is now in jail at the age of 18 said it best a year ago…….I want what I want and I want it now. Liberals and drug addicts they both want and need your money, and they do not care how they get it.

    All hail light rail !!

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    Yes, that is a good question, one I asked last year — At what price point would you demand a new transit plan โ€” $10 billion? $12 billion? $15 billion? Or โ€” as some in the community have suggested โ€” are you willing to pay any price for five or six corridors of rail in Charlotte-Mecklenburg? — and never got a satisfactory answer from any local official.

    Last August, for example, Michael Smith of Center City Partners simply said that “it is our responsibility” to build a LTR system, without regard to any particular price point.

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    EMAIL FLASHBACK TO JEFF:

    ******************
    In a message dated 8/23/08 12:38:50 PM, writes:

    If goverment decided it wants as many people as possible to live in and own homes, built a number of $50,000 units, and then sold them to anyone for several thousand, and all of them were bought, of course that program, too, would be successful in the same way light rail is. The problem with rail is the high capital cost and operating cost make it a very expensive form of transit, and to pay for it GOVCO takes money by force from many to benefit choice riders who could relatively easily bear their own costs of transportation and parking.

    On a side note, sometime back I drove around the parking deck near Pineville, and noted that about 20% of the cars had South Carolina tags, and maybe another 20% had other out of state tags. Should federal and state taxpayers be supplementing choice riders of this nature and their travel to work and parking requirements?
    *********************************

    I take some satisfaction that Hartgen’s and my data support each other…….dj

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    More mass transit need because roads just won’t be the solution! dj

    Tired of traffic? Let’s try mass transit
    County leaders need to plan alternatives for commuters.
    Cliff Harrington
    Posted: Monday, Sep. 08, 2008
    COLUMNISTS ยป
    Cliff Harrington
    http://www.charlotteobserver.com/500/story/175095.html

    Cliff Harrington writes in the Neighbors of Union County section about life in Union County.

    E-mail Cliff

    (704) 358-6048

    It’s time for leaders in Union County to start planning mass transit.
    We’ve become a county with thousands of daily commuters.
    Most of the commuter roads, other than Independence Boulevard, are two lanes. Those roads include N.C. 218, Lawyers Road, Idlewild-Secrest Shortcut, Monroe Road/Old Charlotte Highway and Providence Road, which is being widened near Weddington.
    There’s a clear traffic pattern. Travel into Mecklenburg County on any of those roads during morning rush. They’re jammed. Travel into Union on any of those roads in the evening rush. They also are jammed. The crowd slowly disperses as you get deeper into the county.
    The roads are lined with subdivisions and more being built.
    Road improvements are under way, but mostly it’s to make wider, more scenic two-lane roads and add turn lanes. The turn lanes can give some help to traffic flow. However, one lane in each direction, no matter how wide, isn’t adequate to move the volume of traffic Union County has.
    Drivers face long lines of slow-moving traffic. They also pay a small fortune for gas and, in the course of a week, spend hours in their cars.
    Wouldn’t we all enjoy spending that time in other places? Wouldn’t it be wise to start thinking now about ways to protect our environment? Doesn’t that make mass transit a logical alternative?
    The greatest demand for mass transit might be in the western part of the county. That doesn’t mean people in the east can’t also benefit. Eastern Union is more rural and in many parts less affluent. Transportation to better paying jobs might be appreciated.
    Union County has a transportation service that targets senior citizens, people with illnesses or disabilities. That service was fine until this county grew into one of the country’s fastest growing suburbs.
    Now there needs to be a way to efficiently move thousands of people without poisoning our air and burning fuel that will never again be cheap.
    Our neighbors, Matthews and Mint Hill, have access to buses run by Charlotte Area Transit System. Pineville has access to the Lynx train and the buses.
    CATS has an express bus route into Union. Transit officials say 3,961 people rode that route in July 2007. This year, the number of riders soared to 5,813.
    That doesn’t include Union County commuters who drive to park-and-ride lots in Mecklenburg and use buses or Lynx.
    All of them pay to ride. That’s Union County money spent in Mecklenburg, always a sensitive issue.
    However, Union County and its growth will forever be linked to Mecklenburg. Think about the members of the Mecklenburg-Union Metropolitan Planning Organization. That’s the group that helps set transportation policy for this region.
    Most of our towns, plus the county government, have a voting member. That may not be a majority, but it’s enough to get a good discussion going. This has been a thriving car culture for decades. Any talk of change will surely meet with reflexive resistance.
    Let’s get beyond that and talk analytically about it. Once we get to that point, a plan won’t be far away.

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    This might have been around for a long time and it fell through the cracks on me – but does anyone else know anything about CATS car service? Yesterday morning about 9:30 AM, I saw what I initially thought to be a white police car stopped to pick up a passenger at a bus stop in about the 6500 block of Monroe Rd., full bus style blinkers. It then stopped at another bus stop to pick up another passenger about 6 blocks towards town.

    My gut says it was running the bus route. Possibly now being used during low volume times of day??? If so, it could sound like a worthy cost savings until common sense kicks in to say that cars never have any business in a mass transit program and maybe they just need to cut back on services if there are no takers.

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    Is it just me or has the Observer stopped allowing comments on such articles

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    Same for me.

  • Oct
    06
    2008

    Another trick of the trade–on the Observer story about CAP getting his contact renewed, pay raise, and bonus, posts went from 27 to 13 at one point, and one of mine was one of the missing. I inquired what happened, and it was explained to me that if three different folks mark you as abuse, your post is blocked/removed, whether it really is abuse or not. Little doubt in my mind our wonderful libs were quieting those of us less than thrilled with CMS and Gorman.

    Don’t know anything about a CATS CAR SERVICE. dj

  • Oct
    07
    2008

    Who needs facts when you can lie? I’ve pulled the entire research paper from David Hartgen for use here at ASU to study public transportation in planning…

    I love public transit. In Boone, we have the AppalCart which services both the university and the town/community as a whole. It works up here. Not in Charlotte!

  • Oct
    07
    2008

    http://www.appalcart.appstate.edu

  • Oct
    07
    2008

    As far as overcrowded traffic goes…if you require Charlotte’s banking businesses to make loans to people who can not pay for them….then the bank and many of the jobs go away!

    Is that the liberals’ way for restricting traffic, pollution, and free choice?

  • Jan
    14
    2009

    [...] now remember the math. We started with an estimate of $750m. for the Northeast line. That climbed to $900m. as the reality of the South line — [...]

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