Austin’s proposed Light Rail is not high capacity transit as advertised.

COST Commentary: In addition to several recent postings on this site regarding the major failings of rail transit, the new report, by Cascade Policy Institue, discussed below highlights the myth that light rail is “mass” transit and supports COST’s overall summary: Buses can do anything rail transit can do, better, with much greater flexibility and for a fraction of the cost. Therefore, ineffective train transit and its exorbitant costs will degrade the overall transit system, producing transit discrimination and decreased quality of life for citizens.

Austin is using this myth of light rail being “mass transit” as one of its major justifications for implimentation in Central Austin. It is a false justification as are all other reasons which Austin presents for rail transit.

The following paragrph from the Georgia Public Policy Foundation is a :


Lightrail folly exposed – isn’t high capacity even for Big Events, nor at transit oriented developments

TOLLROADSnews 2011-05-10

Think of the ideal circumstances where lightrail might be competitive with a car: (1) a Big Event with large masses of people at one destination (2) expensive or scarce parking at the Big Event (3) blank slate developments planned in detail as transit oriented.

Can light rail get a substantial share of trips in these ideal conditions. Cascade Policv Institute in Portland Oregon decided to test this by conducting a series of trip counts by mode of transport to and from Big Events, and at the most touted of transit oriented developments (TODs). Portland now has a whole multibillion-$ network of lightrail, and its planners and leaders have been focussed on the cause for over 20 years.

A couple of Cascade researchers led by director of transportation John Charles measured car/rail mode split at five promising Big Events and TODs during 2010:

– a Green Building Home Show at the Multnomah County Expo Center in March

– Opening night at the Cirque du Soleil circus in April

– the final playoff game of the season for the Portland Trail Blazers basketball in May

– the day after Thanksgiving (“Black Friday”) at the ‘transit-oriented’ Cascade Station shopping mall near Portland International Airport

– December 22 at the Gresham Civic Center retail/residential complex, focused around the newest TriMet lightrail station, which opened on December 1

“With a strong mix of travel options, each event offered a good opportunity to study the choices people make in real time. This is important because transportation planners at Metro, TriMet, ODOT and other agencies routinely make multi-billion-dollar decisions based on travel surveys, computer models or simply their own personal beliefs about how people should travel. They rarely have any direct knowledge of how people actually travel under specific conditions of time, mode availability, parking pricing and geographic constraints.”

At the Green Building show presumably there was a good concentration of ‘green’ enthusiasts. Onsite car parking was expensive at $6 and $7/car. The show publicized the availability of the Yellow. Even so lightrail got 21% share of the patrons one day, 18% the next.

At the Cirque du Soleil circus right alongside a lightrail stop it brought 8% of travelers even though the 92% of car drivers were paying $7 and $10 parking charges.

“The results show that the streetcar is essentially irrelevant to a major event in the South Waterfront district, even when the cost of parking is high while the streetcar is free. The streetcar is simply too slow and inconvenient and has such little carrying capacity that it would not be able to serve a high-volume event even if consumer demand existed.”

At the Rose Garden basketball match lightrail transported around 21% of fans, 79% driving their cars. The 21% got good service to the event because their trips were spaced out over two hours.

But lightrail proved its failure as ‘mass transit’ in patrons attempts to use it to get home after the game.

The two-car combo trains 2 minutes apart don’t transport much ‘mass’ of people and some of the 21% waited as much as 90 minutes to get on a train.

“Rubber-tired vehicles have a much better chance of dispersing large crowds because they can be used in all locations surrounding the Rose Garden and can travel to an infinite number of potential destinations. Rail is limited to one fixed route going north (which was not heavily used) and one fixed route going east-west.”

Build it and they’ll… ignore it

At the much touted ‘transit oriented’ Cascade Station Shopping Center at the peak Black Friday shopping night the researchers found lightrail provided just 2.2% of trips!

“The observations show that travel patterns at Cascade Station are entirely dominated by the private automobile. Notwithstanding the availability of light rail, the travel patterns at this site are indistinguishable from those at any suburban mall…”

On a residential transit oriented development (TOD) Gresham Center they found 2.3% mode share for lightrail:

“As a TOD, Gresham Civic Center offers all the amenities that TriMet/Metro planners originally hoped for: a mixture of high-density housing products (apartments, condos, townhomes and single family houses), numerous retail shopping choices and office space. The site also offers a mixture of transportation modes. However, in an obvious bow to market forces, parking is reasonably available in all areas…private auto use is the dominant mode choice for most trips to and from the site. The TOD probably has a higher than normal percentage of people walking from their homes to retail sites… but overall more than 96% of passenger-trips are taken via the private automobile.”

The researchers conclude:

“TriMet, Metro, the city of Portland and other institutional advocates of rail transit all have promoted the myth that light rail, the streetcar, the commuter train in Washington County and the aerial tram are part of a successful ‘high- capacity’ transit system that carries large volumes of passengers quickly and efficiently to their destinations.

“This is simply not the case.

“Residences and employers are so dispersed in the Portland region that there are relatively few occasions when HCT is even necessary, and on those occasions, the Portland rail system is inadequate because it is not truly a high-capacity system.”

EDITORIAL: Roaders should say more often and more forcefully. Rail may look slick, neat, cool etc, but that’s all PR baloney, special interest propaganda, and nutty enthusiasts’ chatter. In fact even in the very best of circumstances for ‘mass transit,’ rail is inconvenient, expensive, dysfunctional, and slow, slow, slow!

The future is rubber tired vehicles on ubiquitous networks of pavement – roads. Only roads and the great variety of vehicles they carry can provide door-to-door, efficient, functional, cost-effective mobility. Roads is where we need to put our money.

Roads serve everyone, every need from commuting, shopping trips, services, emergencies, police, fire and ambulance, freight, distribution, utilities… the lot. And they can be paid for by users, for users – editor

Cascade Policy Institute Lightrail report:

TOLLROADSnews 2011-05-10

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