Light Rail

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In a vacuum, Light rail sounds great: trains are efficient, comfortable, and just fun. But we don't live in a vacuum. In the real world (a) they cost billions that could be better spent on roads/busses, so that hurts fares and the poor (b) they are less convenient than busses with fewer stops/routes means more time to get door-to-door (for most people) (c) more mass to stop and start, fewer riders and cutting through traffic (more traffic/idle time) results in more pollution (d) they pull riders from more efficient busses (not cars) and thus increase pollution even more. So other than it cost more, serves fewer people, hurts the poor, requires state subsidies (loses money), and increases pollution, they're a great idea. Supporting them is anti-environment, anti-economics and anti-science.

Trains are incredibly inefficient.

  1. If you measure efficiency in MPG/passenger mile, then sure... they don't look so bad.
  2. If you measure efficiency as in total trip length, total trip time, total cost per distance, or total energy costs (to lay/maintain the infrastructure required), they aren't what they're cracked up to be.
  3. Busses get about 180 MPG-per-rider, as compared to about 35MPG-per-rider that light-rail gets -- before factoring in that light-rail impedes other traffic, increasing their pollution. That means if you drive a Prius or carpool, you're far more environmentally conscious than light-rail.
  4. This is why Americans that go over to Europe think, "fun, quaint, this is much better than sitting in traffic, etc"... but when Europeans come here, they quickly learn, "you mean I can get from X to Y in a fraction of the time, in the convenience of my own car?"

I wish city planners and voters could do math.

  • For 10 miles of light rail, you could build 100 miles worth of natural gas powered busses, with more frequent operation, lower operating costs, more convenient locations, and higher ridership... And have money left over.
  • Each trip loses the taxpayers money ($24 in Austin's case), but they're going to try to make it up in volume: idiots!
  • Diesel bussed are cleaner and greener than light rail, just having to do with riderships, the physics of starting and stopping all that mass, and interference with other traffic. So half a billion pulled out of the economy on a job killing boondoggle.
  • I'd rather drive by unsavory people than sit by them

But it wasn't just cars, it was government. "It was public policy, and vicious circles. Transit authorities tried to balance budgets by cutting services, and lost more customers. “One hundred years ago, the United States had a public transportation system that was the envy of the world. Today, outside a few major urban centers, it is barely on life support. Even in New York City, subway ridership is well below its 1946 peak. Annual per capita transit trips in the U.S. plummeted from 115.8 in 1950 to 36.1 in 1970, where they have roughly remained since, even as population has grown”

Conclusion

If your country has reasonable roads, and you're rich enough to afford cars, you afford cars. IF you're richer, you get a driver as well. But there's many fewer that would give up cars for trains, unless they live where roads suck because of poor designs or mismanagement.

Articles like this talk about how poorly managed San Jose's light rail is -- so they want to expand it. You look at the numbers, and if they hit their budget on one expansion (of two required) to get 611 new riders, they want to spend over $800K/new rider. Imagine you had common sense -- you could get them a private driver on call for less than that. The point is that they can't do basic math or logic on where they can get the best return on investment.

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📚 References

Unintended Consequences
Unintended.png
Every action causes a reaction. Some reactions are pleasant surprises, many are negatives, some are counter productive (perverse) and make the problem worse. Since consequences matter more than intentions, we have a social obligation to plan for them (and avoid them). The phrase "unintended consequences" is used as either a wry warning against the hubristic belief that humans can control the world around them, or more often against a really bad implementation of not-so-smart ideas or implementations. Those that deny unintended consequences are denying science (reality).

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