Thread: Light Rail Boom
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Old Posted Sep 13, 2020, 11:30 PM
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Doady Doady is offline
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Originally Posted by llamaorama View Post
I don't think total system ridership tells you what kind of physical infrastructure you need to provide a certain type of service.

City A might actually have pretty high ridership but the geography favors a network typology of hundreds of local bus routes each with a few thousand riders per day. City B might have low transit ridership, but a large proportion of it is in one or two corridors and rail is needed for capacity. An extreme example might be a random city in Brazil that doesn't have a metro yet versus somewhere like Lausanne, Switzerland.

I think with Dallas, the city's sprawl would favor a grid of local buses. But that would also be too slow for cross town travel. And if you are going to invest a lot of money into dedicated cross town infrastructure, you might as well funnel all your riders on to it, and if you do that it might as well be rail.

The dilemma for Dallas is that probably needs both DART rail and a local bus grid at the same time, but it couldn't afford both. Houston "cheats" by having some freeway transit lanes that were paid for using highway money. But I wonder how much those HOV lanes really cost per mile and when you consider how few people use them I wonder if a DART rail set up would actually be better.

Ultimately what might work best for Dallas IMO is to keep up with what they have, and then make up for what they lack in terms of local bus routes with better last-mile pedestrian and bike infrastructure. How close do local bus routes actually have to be to one another? If sidewalks and walkability is poor and there are physical barriers like a highway or a drainage ditch then you need more than one route in that general area. But if the last mile stuff was better people would be willing to walk further. For disabled or indigent patrons, the city would subsidize more partially privatized ridesharing type stuff with handicap van taxis. Treat local bus routes almost like BRT lite with stuff like signal priority and queue jumpers too, and then a single bus with one driver could do more trips per day and increase frequency with less overall capital investment.
I didn't mean to make this a debate about Dallas or any city in particular. Of course you need to look at the capacity needed for each individual corridor and I don't know the specifics. I'm just speaking generally: a certain amount of ridership is needed for successful rail, and I think not many cities are that point yet. And of course generally very large cities like Dallas need rail to handle those volume of riders, but they also need a lot more buses as well. San Francisco, NYC, Chicago, they have very large rail systems, but they also have very large bus systems as well.

Originally Posted by electricron View Post
I am not going to disagree with your data nor your opinions. But I would like to point something out, DART built a light rail system because that is what they were told to do by the local taxpayers willing to subsidize it. Democracy in action to the hilt, voters being sold a rail solution for public transit and gullible enough to vote yes because we have to do something to reduce air pollution and clear traffic congestion.

Well, the rail solution has not worked as well as many had hoped with the belief that if you build it riders will ride it. Drivers continue to drive their cars. What has reduced traffic congestion, highway expansion that many pundits say will only increase traffic congestion in the future - but as of now, traffic congestion is way down.

The only times in the last few decades where DART actually saw an increase in ridership was when Dallas has had an economic slump. But pro business policies locally has kept that to a minimum, therefore the continuing low public transit ridership. The results is all based upon the local economy, do not let the so called experts suggest otherwise with multiple red herrings.

But here is the good news, if the local Dallas economy turns sour, a public transit system is in place to move any potential ridership increase, and is not on some planners drawing board waiting to be built.
I'm not arguing against light rail in Dallas. I think it's cool voters are so supportive of rail expansion. I just think the DART rail system would be much more successful with enough buses feeding into it. They have a strong backbone for a transit system but the potential is not being realized. It's only recently they started to recognize their mistake and you can see it in the 14% ridership growth last year. You can see the same mistake in other places in the US like Sacramento.

I think transit should not be so divided and viewed in such black and white way. I think there is too much "bus vs. rail" debate. We need to at the system as one whole, we need to look at the bigger picture, and I think a lot of places in the US have trouble with that.

As for ridership growth during economic slump, I think that is a common misconception. Like most systems, DART saw major ridership decline in 2009 (-8%). If people are not working, then they stay home and they don't use transit.

I think transit can be more successful if it is viewed as a part of prosperity and economic growth. Fares can't be too low for example. To be able to provide a good level of service to attract riders, agencies need to have higher fares.

If you build it they will come? I think that's absolutely true. But building a system is much more than just building rail. Dallas started building more of a bus system and the riders finally came. The level of service (frequency, service span, walking distance) is very important. I am a proponent of the idea of building it and they will come. But maybe there are other things to consider as well like TOD.
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