Monday, November 07, 2005

NoVa Mass Transit Ridership Up 3.3 Percent -- Does that Tell Us Anything?

The Associated Press reports that mass transit ridership in Northern Virginia increased last year by 3.3 percent -- to 128 million trips. The figure includes the Metro, Virginia Railway Express and eight local bus systems. Predictably, the article included calls for more spending on mass transit.

Clearly, there is a demand for mass transit, even in today's hyper-mobile society. What the article doesn't discuss, however, is what it costs to provide and maintain different types of mass transit, or what it costs to provide mass transit compared to alternatives. What will it cost per rider to extend Metro rail to Dulles, vs. Bus Rapid Transit, vs. expanding the capacity of VRE, vs. adding HOT lanes, vs. changing the pattern and density of land use that generates the trips in the first place?

None of that context appears in the AP article, nor does it appear in anywhere else in the great volume of verbiage spilled on the issue. Unfortunately, no methodology exists for ranking the Return On Investment of the myriad transportation alternatives. As a result, we wind up with a lot of useless numbers devoid of context -- such as the fact that mass transit ridership increased 3.3 percent last year -- that politicians will bandy about to make their case. Inveitably, scarce public resources will be invested based on political considerations rather than merit. What a mess!


At 4:40 PM, Anonymous Ken Reid said...

Thanks for raising the issue about the fact that we waste millions (if not billions) on mass transit in this country because we are so fixated on rail. Rail, rail, rail. Gov . Warner even has a rail initiative. Little do these politicians realize but rail is slower and many times more expensive than bus rapid transit. Rail requires huge capital costs and huge operating subsidies. In the recent Dulles Corridor study, rail cost 10 times that of building a superior BRT system (stations and parking and everything)
Metro trains avg. 35 mph. If you have dedicated bus/HOV lanes, buses can go 50 mph. Buses can be rerouted based on demand. If you build a rail line, and nobody uses it, you're stuck. This is what has happened in S.F. Bay, where their new BART link to SF Airport has been a flop. In fact, recent data developed by a PRO RAIL group shows that Dulles Rail will attract HALF the estimated boardings in 2030 than was was projected in 2002. unless there are massive land use densities. What we need in this state is more lanes, not more trains. Trains do not alleviate congestion. THey are exorbitantly expensive to build and operate, and again, they provide no flexibility. Express toll lanes with variable pricing to promote carpooling and BRT usage is the way to go for what is a suburban state. To learn more about our PPTA proposal for HOT lanes on I-66, the Toll Road and Route 28, visit us at

At 6:02 PM, Blogger Ray Hyde said...

Wait a minute that 35 mph has to include station stops. If you include stops for BRT it is unlikely they will get even 25. Even with dedicated lanes BRT will have traffic light and surface traffic to contend with.

Concerning th increase in transit use, how does that compare with the increase in population and the increase in below median income population?

Regarding ROI I would suggest you take the full cost per passenger mile and divide that by the probability that you have a seat*nd the AC/heat works, less 2 percent for every half mile you have to walk and another 2 per cent for every 15 minute wait.

Passenger costs per mile for DC area bus systems are only slightly better than for private vehicles.


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