Friday, October 29, 2010

The Emperor's New Light Rail

Recently I came across a opinion piece - "The Emperor's New Light Rail" in the "Houston Chronicle" about the huge city's light rail system. It brings to the surface many of the unchallenged assumptions - the mythology - of those who propose light rail.

So often when one hears of a light rail proposal the advocates shunt out the same arguments, like a line of old tramcars - LRT vehicles have higher capacity; LRT lines attract more riders than bus routes they replace; LRT reduces congestion; systems cost less per passenger to operate and allegedly require less staff to operate; having lines engenders a sense of permanence and boosts investment in areas through which a light rail passes. Some of these may true or relevant in certain limited situations, much of this thinking ignores real costs, including spread capital costs which render light rail unacceptably expensive in Christchurch and often an indulgent luxury in even big cities like Houston.. Personally, I iummediately suspect anyone who talks generalities in public transport matters, it is a field so entirely dependent on organising and matching up about 30 different factors to the precise situation. This needed just to achieve anything approaching quality service that is reasonably cost effective (subsidised less than 50%) and journey time effective in terms of the tax and ratepayer base it serves.

Bill King's opinion piece is refreshing in challenging the extreme flakiness of many light rail arguments, as they have unravelled in practice in Houston.

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