Tag Archives: Myth

Greater Capacity?

Many advocates claim that LRT has higher passenger capacity than lower-cost alternatives like BRT. A closer review of available research shows this to be an often repeated misconception that is unsubstantiated by recent real-world experiences. Using transit best-practices (like interlining and passing lanes at BRT stations) can substantially increase BRT infrastructure capacity as measured by people per peak hour per direction (PPHPD). In addition, using new technology like automated vehicles and double-articulated hybrid buses (eg Vossloh Kiepe and Hess) with 250 passenger capacity can further expand BRT capacity and efficiency.


When the TransMilenio system in Bogotá, Colombia, opened in 1998, it changed the paradigm for limited BRT capacities by providing a lane for buses to pass each other at each station and multiple sub-stops at each station; and by introducing express services within the BRT infrastructure. These innovations increased the maximum achieved capacity of a BRT system to 35,000 PPHPD. Light rail, by comparison, has a maximum theoretical capacity of about 20,000 PPHPD, but these levels have rarely if ever been achieved under real-world conditions, and they require very long multicar vehicles on fully grade-separated rights-of-way (either elevated, as in Manila, the Philippines, or underground). On normal city streets, the highest-capacity LRT systems are in Europe, and they typically carry a maximum of about 9,000 PPHPD. There are conditions that favor LRT over BRT, but they are fairly narrow. Meeting these conditions would require a corridor with only one available lane in each direction, more than 16,000 but fewer than 20,000 PPHPD, and a long block length, so the train does not block intersections. These specific conditions are rare, but where they exist, light rail would have an operational advantage. Otherwise, any perceived advantages of LRT over BRT are primarily aesthetic and political rather than technical. ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar


In the US, current transit capacities are significantly lower than those of the BRT and LRT systems mentioned above. This is because domestic capacity is measured as a function of the number of vehicles currently serving the corridor (at peak hour, in peak direction), and the physical capacity of those vehicles. Yet no corridor in the US has sufficient demand to justify vehicular frequencies high enough to saturate the corridor. For example, the current capacity of Los Angeles’ Orange Line BRT is 1,965 PPHPD based on the existing fleet. However, the system’s theoretical capacity is much higher: were demand to grow and more vehicles put into service, capacity would increase. The LRT corridors in Los Angeles—the Gold Line and the Blue Line—have similar capacities based on the existing fleet: 2,090 PPHPD. This capacity, too, could grow with an increase in demand. Note, however, that in order to provide capacities that more or less meet current demand, Los Angeles provides less frequent services on its LRT lines due to the size of the LRT vehicles.

US cities generally search for the sweet spot in the demand-to-capacity ratio and try not to provide service frequencies that are so high that their vehicles run empty. Thus, since LRT vehicles are larger, in order to justify providing LRT capacities that are similar to a BRT, LRT tends to operate at lower frequencies. As mentioned above, due to the perceived capacity constraint of BRT there are currently no cases in the US where LRT should be favored over BRT. ITDP study, More Development For Your Transit Dollar

Socially Equitable?

A closer look at the proposed DOLRT routing demonstrates that the intent does not align with the reality. The DOLRT project will not serve NC Central University (our nation’s first public African-American liberal arts college) or Durham Community College (an institution that provides affordable, technical and career education).  These educational resources strengthen our local business community with the wide reach of their programs, particularly offering accessible, low-cost acquisition of life and job skills to our citizens. The disconnect between DOLRT direct service to these educational and job opportunities does our community and local businesses a grave disservice.

“Transit today is, in almost all US markets, slower than driving. People who depend on transit can reach fewer jobs than those who have automobiles available. Some people use transit by choice, for instance to save money (if they need to pay for parking), and the rest without choice. In my opinion, it is more important to spend scarce public dollars to improve options for those without choices than to improve the choices for those who already have alternatives. Perhaps ideally we could do both, in practice, one comes at the expense of other.” David Levinson, Who benefits from other people’s transit use?, 5/13/2015

Ironically DOLRT advocates claim that the proposed DOLRT alignment helps low-income population, but include UNC and Duke University students thereby artificially inflating the low-income area statistics. These typically affluent students increasingly seek off-campus housing, further compounding the dwindling supply of affordable housing within the community.

Accelerating Gentrification?

Often transit advocates support their claim that light rail is economically progressive by alluding to its correlation to the development and sustainability of affordable housing near light rail stations that serve lower-income, transit dependent communities. However, recent demographic studies suggest otherwise.

In Los Angeles, the NAACP successfully sued the Metro Transit Authority for building light rail, arguing is was so expensive that the city was forced to cut bus service in minority neighborhoods, resulting in an overall decline in transit ridership.

In the mean time, Los Angeles median rent prices for one-bedroom units jumped 46% along Los Angeles’ new metro line.  “Previous studies across the country have noted how new public transit stops drive up nearby rental prices – we’re talkin’ 25-67% … Los Angeles may be especially susceptible to this type of increase, given we have the highest renter and lowest homeownership rate of all metropolitan areas in the country.”

Examining changes relative to areas not near light-rail or subway projects from 2000 to 2013, neighborhoods near those forms of transit are more associated with increases in white, college-educated, higher-income households and greater increases in the cost of rents. Conversely, neighborhoods near rail development are associated with greater losses in disadvantaged populations, including individuals with less than a high school diploma and lower-income households” according to a recent study from the UCLA Institute of the Environment and Sustainability.

Accelerated gentrification has had a dramatic impact in Philadelphia’s lower-income communities:

“Roughly a fifth (21 percent) of all residents who moved to a different area ended up in a neighborhood with a lower median income than where they were previously, and this share was higher for low-income movers from gentrifying neighborhoods in particular.

Moving to a lower-income neighborhood takes an additional toll on residents, with their credit risk scores declining by an average of 15 points after three years. Gentrification also increases housing costs, thereby pricing out low-income residents.”— The Closest Look Yet at Gentrification and Displacement (Philadelphia)

Recent demographic studies of Washington DC show that rail transit projects have accelerated gentrification of communities around  stations resulting in African-American, ethnic and lower-income residents being pushed away from the very facilities that were justified on their behalf. The studies demonstrated that a concentration of higher-income families, typically white between the ages of 25-35, now live in close proximity to the transit stations; while minority and low-income families have been driven away from light rail locations by ever increasing rents and into other low-cost communities. One of the unexpected consequences of light rail, as demonstrated in the recent studies, is its regressive housing outcome, despite the project having been ‘sold’ as progressive.

Below are excerpts from the recent Transit Access and Population Change: The Demographic Profiles of Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods in the Washington, DC Area by BRIAN McKENZIE, U.S CENSUS BUREAU, SOCIAL, ECONOMIC, AND HOUSING STATISTICS DIVISION, SEHSD WORKING PAPER NO. 2015-023 DECEMBER, 2015

Findings reveal that young adults, recent movers, white workers, highly educated workers and workers with high earnings all disproportionately live near rail stops in Washington and the five surrounding counties with at least one Metrorail stop.

… white workers are disproportionately represented in neighborhoods near rail stops. For the 2011-2013 period, 56 percent of workers living near rail stops were white, whereas 38.3 percent of workers who did not live near rail stops were white.

… a growing body of research examines displacement of low-income residents from transit-rich neighborhoods. One study examined the relationship between affordable housing and TOD, finding that barriers such as the high cost of land near rail stops present considerable challenges to developing and maintaining affordable housing within transit-rich neighborhoods. Another Washington, DC- based study found that the transportation-related savings associated with the most transit-rich neighborhoods are unlikely to offset the high cost of housing in these areas for low-income workers.

The Proportion of Black Workers Declined in Rail-Accessible Neighborhoods. The racial and ethnic makeup of the Washington, DC region has changed notably over the last decade, but shifts in the racial and ethnic composition of neighborhoods are disproportionately reflected within rail-accessible areas. Within Washington, DC, between 2006-2008 and 2011- 2013, the proportion of Black workers declined from 32.9 percent to 24.1 percent within rail- accessible blocks, whereas the proportion of all other groups either increased or did not experience a statistically significant change (Figure 5). The proportion of workers in rail- accessible neighborhoods who are Black is about half that of workers with no rail access who are Black in 2011-2013, at 24.1 percent and 47.3 percent.


An influx of relatively young workers to Washington, DC has contributed to a decline in the median age from 34.6 years in 2000 to 33.8 years in 2013.

Within Washington and the surrounding areas, about four out of 10 workers living in a rail-accessible neighborhood were between ages 25 and 34 for the 2011-2013 period. Moreover, between 2006-2008 and 2011-2013, the proportion of workers in this age group increased at similar rates for Washington and the surrounding counties at about 8 percent. Neighborhoods without rail access have a more even distribution of workers across age groups, both in Washington and the surrounding area.


It’s Safe?

While advocates continue to focus on the word ‘Light’, we really should focus on the word ‘RAIL‘. Yes, Light RAIL Transit is not a freight train (with infrequent daily crossings). However, the 100-ton Light RAIL Transit will snake thru communities on steel wheels and steel tracks, unable to swerve or stop quickly like other vehicles on the road – while crossing each and every crossing gate ~150 times on a typical work day !!!!

SOURCE: Dissected: How’re Ya Dying? Charting transportation mayhem in its many gory varieties.

These Light RAIL Trains ride on steel wheels on steel rails. Even if the brakes are the best and can stop the wheel completely (without derailing), the physics of steel sliding on steel do not change the physics of a 100 ton train’s momentum. Light RAIL Trains traveling at 35 MPH with full brake will travel ~ 428 feet in less than 10 seconds. More than the length of a football field.


SOURCE: Safety Criteria for Light Rail Pedestrian Crossings by DON IRWIN, Tri-County Metropolitan Transportation District of Oregon

“All of these accidents point out the key flaw in rail transit: It is simply not safe to put vehicles weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds in the same streets as pedestrians that weigh 100 to 200 pounds and vehicles that typically weigh a few thousand pounds. Heavy rail (subways and elevated) avoid this flaw by being completely separated from autos and pedestrians, but are still vulnerable to suicides. Light rail, which often operates in the same streets as autos, and commuter trains, which often cross streets, simply are not safe.

Aside from being lighter than railcars (and thus less likely to do harm when they hit you), buses have the advantage that they can stop quicker. Rubber on pavement has more friction than steel wheel on steel rail, and the typical bus has many more square inches of wheel on pavement than a railcar. No matter how good the brakes on the railcar, it is physically impossible for it to stop as fast as a bus, for if the brakes are too good the wheels will just slide.

This is why light rail kills, on average, about three times as many people for every billion passenger miles it carries as buses” — Accidents Point Up Dangers of Rail Transit


Consider, that According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) at U.S. DOT: Three out of four crashes occur within 25 miles of a motorist’s home. Fifty percent of all crashes occur within five miles of home.

A calculation of NHTSA statistics on the rate of deaths per collision in vehicle/vehicle crashes versus the FRA statistics of deaths per collision in vehicle/train crashes reveals: A motorist is almost 20 times more likely to die in a crash involving a train than in a collision involving another motor vehicle. source: Operation Lifesaver, Crossing Collisions & Casualties by Year


Or one can merely view recent incidents and fatalities in other Light RAIL Transit projects across the nation. Light RAIL Transit with at-grade crossings are NOT SAFE. Just GOOGLE “Light Rail Accident” or review this list or this list.



Below are additional reports and analysis on Light Rail projects in the United States

Charlotte success?

As Charlotte’s LYNX approaches a decade of service (started in Nov 2007), let’s look more closely at this heralded ‘success’. By reviewing the NTD federal filings(Charlotte LYNX ridership data is on tab UPT (Unlinked Passenger Trips), row 663, column CB).

  • 13,362 average daily ridership (workdays and weekend) during Oct 2016 (serving less than 6680 people daily, or less than 1% of Charlotte’s population of 827,000).
  • 13,332 average daily ridership over last 9 years with a flat trend line (despite 20% population growth between 2007 and 2015).

As they say, “a picture is worth a thousand words” …


During this same period Charlotte’s population grew 20% (691K in 2007 to 827K in 2015 per  US Census), with increasing traffic congestion (Study: Charlotte roads, traffic among worst in North Carolina).

It would appear that the only thing that hasn’t grown over the past decade is Charlotte’s LYNX daily ridership. In fact, relative to Charlotte’s ever growing population, LYNX relative riderships (as a percentage of population served) has declined over the past decade.

How did Charlotte get there?

Charlotte’s light-rail line was originally projected to cost an estimated $225 million in 2000. The final cost of the completed project in 2007 was $467 million. Even after adjusting for inflation (2000-2007), that’s a 75% cost overrun. FEIS / DEIS

Citizens attempted to repeal the sales transit tax, but were ultimately defeated after citizen’s campaign was outspent 50:1 by corporate vested interests (like Duke Energy, Wachovia now Wells Fargo, Bank of America, McDonald Transit Associates, Parsons Brinckerhoff, and Siemens). An additional twenty major businesses contributed, all of whom profit from CATS operations according to former city council member Don Reid.


The Charlotte Lynx daily ridership has stagnated 16,000 workday boardings over the last 7 years while the area’s population grew 17%, having no net effect on reducing traffic congestion. Even accounting for ‘choice riders’ those who would give up their cars in favor of Charlotte LYNX, the changes in gasoline prices has had no effect on daily ridership.


Despite the high costs and low ridership, CATS wants more rail — but doesn’t have any money to pay for it. So it has rolled out a campaign of declaring the light rail a great success, especially in the field of economic development. Of course, in most cases it was the subsidies, not the rail, that stimulated the development, and most likely the development would have taken place somewhere in the region anyway, though perhaps not in that corridor.

“Charlotte … perform(s) particularly bad. These systems do not have enough riders to produce the economies of scale that make transit provision by rail significantly less expensive than bus.”
SOURCE: UC Berkeley Urban Densities and Transit: A Multi-dimensional Perspective

“Future expansion includes plans for light rail, streetcars and bus rapid transit along the corridors in the 2030 Transit Corridor System Plan adopted in 2006 by Metropolitan Transit Commission (MTC). Although build-out of the entire system has been estimated for completion by 2034, by 2013, the Charlotte Area Transit System stated it would likely be unable to fund future transit projects apart from the Blue Line Extension, scheduled to begin construction in early 2014.

Charlotte ranked Worst Traffic In North Carolina according to recent 2015 Urban Mobility Scorecard. Charlotte’s transit also ranked among nation’s worst. New survey puts it at 26th out of 32 big cities for transit quality according to Charlotte Observer (May 14, 2016)

Can some of the Charlotte Area’s Transit System’s ridership woes be blamed on the growing popularity of ride-hailing services like Uber? That’s a question posed in a report from The Charlotte Observer, which notes that in South End — where the nearby light-rail line has been seen as a selling point to attract new residents — many people are choosing the app-based services over public transit.

For much of the past year, ridership on Charlotte Area Transit System buses and the Lynx Blue Line has declined. For the first nine months of the fiscal year, ridership on all CATS services, including buses and the light rail, was down 4.3 percent compared with the same period a year earlier.

Ride-hailing likely isn’t as appealing for areas farther from uptown because of the higher rates. It costs $20 to $25 to take an Uber from uptown to the southern edge of the light-rail line. [emphasis ours: of course, if Uber was 80% subsidized like LYNX, the Uber fare would drop to $4 to $5 fare]

Over the past seven years, ridership at the four Lynx stations in the South End has increased from 1,595 average weekday boardings in March 2009 to 2,057 boardings in March 2016. That’s a 30% increase in seven years. But during the same period, the number of residents has increased at a much faster rate, from 3,400 to 8,000 people (+135%).

Chris Walker, who lives at the Silos South End apartment complex, is one of thousands of people drawn to living within a stone’s throw of the Lynx Blue Line. Walker likes being close to the light-rail line, but he doesn’t actually use it all that much. “I have lived here a year and a half, and I have taken the train twice,” said Walker, whose apartment is less than a quarter-mile from the New Bern light-rail station at the southern-most part of South End. “We Uber instead. For $5, you can get uptown. It’s easy.”

Kaitlin Flanagan, who works in SouthPark, says she sometimes takes the train uptown, but she almost always uses Uber to get home. “I prefer Uber, especially if there is a big event going on,” she said.

Deanna Bencic, who works in south Charlotte, doesn’t take the train to work. And if she’s going out with friends, she doesn’t take the train – even when it’s an option. “If it’s four or five people, then we always use Uber,” she said.

SOURCE: Some Charlotte residents jump on Uber over train in South End

Charlotte facing additional tax revenue shortfalls


The Charlotte plan to address the current $22 million budget shortfall includes: Tax-rate increase & service cuts including:

  • closing 311 information service on weekends & holidays
  • resurface about 16.5 fewer miles of streets a year
  • budget cuts for Police and Fire
  • eliminate more than 100 city jobs

In addition, Carlee and his staff, along with the mayor and City Council, have been grappling with unanticipated shortfalls in tax revenue as well as a proposed change in sales-tax sharing that, according to state and city projections, could cost Charlotte an estimated $3 million to $30 million annually.

“On May 6, 2013, a 30-member transit funding task force released a draft report in which they estimated it would cost $3.3 billion to build the remaining transit corridors, and $1.7 billion to operate and maintain the lines through 2024. To fund the build-out by sales taxes alone would require a 0.78 cent increase in the sales tax, which would need to be approved by the state General Assembly. The committee recommended any sales tax increase be limited to 0.5 cent and other methods used to raise funds; In July 2015, CATS reported it lacked the funds to support any future transit projects apart from the already budgeted 2.5-mile long Phase 2 segment of the CityLYNX Gold Line.”

CityLYNX Gold Line facing City budget cuts!
The $75 million the Charlotte City Council approved in 2014 to fund
half the cost of constructing Phase 2 of the City LYNX Gold Line is being threatened.
Due to City budget shortfalls, some Members of City Council are suggesting the $75 million
they already approved for the Gold Line be cut from the budget.

However meritorious the DOLRT may be, we need to think seriously about where the money is going to come from to build and operate it, and we need to have a backup transit plan in the event the money for DOLRT doesn’t materialize.