NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Rethinking Fixed Rail

September 3, 1997

While fixed-rail transit seems to offer the answer to the traffic problems of many large cities, a new study shows there are better, cheaper alternatives. According to the Los Angeles-based Reason Foundation, rail loses money everywhere. Other methods of transportation are more efficient in terms of people moved per dollar spent.

Los Angeles has recently backed off its multi-billion dollar plan to build a fixed-rail system. Analysts believe its experience is instructive.

  • An established L.A. busway, the El Monte Busway, carries nearly ten times as many people each hour as the highly publicized Blue Line Railway.
  • The El Monte cost only one-fifth per mile what the Blue Line did, and its speed is 74 percent higher.
  • Rail costs far more than any other system to build, yet is less flexible and often not as fast as alternatives.
  • Studies show that rubber tire transit is often more convenient for riders, requiring fewer transfers and making more stops.

Other suggestions from transportation experts include building more high occupancy vehicle lanes and deregulating the transit market. They argue that jitney services featuring privately operated vans -- now banned in many cities -- could add flexibility and choice to the transit mix.

Source: Perspective, "The Fixed-Rail Dilemma," Investor's Business Daily, September 3, 1997.


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