NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

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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