22.6.09

LOOKING FOR THE INFRASTRUCTURE FAIRY. There's a bit of humor nailed to Newmark's Door.
Time to smack down light rail again
Coyote Blog surgically dissects the Phoenix system.
So I go to the surgical dissection.

The other day, Phoenix trumpeted that its daily ridership had reached 37,000 boardings per weekday. Since most of those people have two boardings per day (one each direction) we can think of this as 18,500 people making a round trip each day.

Well, if we bought each of these folks a brand new Prius III for $23,000 it would cost us just over $425 million. This is WAY less than the $1.4 billion we pay to move them by rail instead. We could have bought every regular rider a Prius and still have a billion dollars left over! And, having a Prius, they would be able to commute and get good gas mileage anywhere they wanted to go in Phoenix, rather than just a maximum of 20 miles on just one line. Sure, I suppose one could argue that light rail is still relatively new and will grow, but even if ridership triples, I still win the fist half of my bet. And as the system expands, my bet just looks better, as every single expansion proposal has been at a cost of $100 million a mile or more, more expensive than the first 20 miles.

The poster notes that in Phoenix, expansion of the electric railway has used space that would otherwise be used for traffic lanes, but without a more careful disaggregation of the cost of the electric railway (rolling stock, rights of way, track structure) and without consideration of the capacity required for the additional cars, the comparison works better as a polemic than as a cost-benefit analysis. Highway capacity doesn't come for free, and roads are tax sinks, and road commissioners defer maintenance when tax receipts diminish.

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