Rail Transit is Ineffective

March 19, 2004

Rail transit does not reduce regional congestion and usually reduces public transit's share of commuting and general travel, according to a new report from the Center for the American Dream.

Of the nation's 50 largest urban areas, 23 had rail transit in 2000. The study reviewed these 23 regions and found:

  • Taken together, rail regions lost 33,5000 transit commuters in the 1990s, while non-rail regions gained 27,600 transit commuters.
  • Sixteen of the 20 urban areas with the fastest growing congestion are rail regions -- and one of the other four is building rail transit.
  • By comparison, only three of the 20 urban areas with the slowest growing congestion are rail regions -- and only because all three have nearly zero population growth.

Rail is not very effective in reducing traffic congestion. On average, $13 spent on rail transit is less effective at reducing congestion than $1 spent on freeway improvements. Additionally, investments in rail transit are only about half as effective as investments in bus transit.

Source: Randolph O'Toole, "Great Rail Disasters: The Impact of Rail Transit on Urban Livability," Center for the American Dream, Issue Paper 1-2004, February 2004.


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