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.