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Key Points of Streetcar Advantages vs. Buses

Edson Tennyson - December 20, 2013

Some key points suggested for Cincinnati John Cranley and for taxpayers who may not understand why a streetcar is different from a bus. Here are some simple points that come from official records:

  1. From 1982 to 2012, urban bus travel has increased only 3% despite approximately 20% more bus service, causing huge losses. Light rail and streetcars are reported together and have increased 400%. That is very important to the financial health of cities. Downtown property taxes are hugely important to keep cities going.

  2. Portland's streetcar has 12,000 weekday passengers but it is not finished yet. There is a gap across the Willamette River. The streetcar’s efficiency cannot be ascertained until the loop is completed. However, the Transportation Research Board in its Special Report No. 1221 in 1989 found that streetcars were most likely to attract from 35 % to 43 % more riders than buses on the same route.

  3. The National Transit Data Base reported in 2011 that urban buses cost over a dollar per passenger-mile to move riders but light rail and streetcars cost only 70 cents per-mile on the average. The 70 cents includes systems with costly subways like Boston, Buffalo, Newark, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as well as lightly patronized historic vintage operations. Some light rail operations were below 40 cents per passenger-mile but slow speeds downtown will probably prevent costs below 50 cents per passenger-mile. Another way to look at it is that a 66-foot streetcar may cost $200 per car hour when buses cost only $120 per hour in large cities with slow traffic. The 66-foot streetcar is good for a peak period load of 98 passengers but a bus only 57 passengers. This results in an index cost for streetcars of $2.04 per passenger but the bus is $2.11. That difference is small, but the fare revenue difference is large. Assuming the TRB average, the streetcar will attract 39% more riders than the bus if the fare is $1 and there are 4.170 passengers per day. Bus passenger potential was 3,000. The streetcar will attract 4,170. With four buses on the route the cost per day will be $7,680 and the revenue $3,000 for a subsidy of $4,680 and a revenue-to-cost ratio of 39 %. Very few bus lines do that well. The streetcar will cost $12,800, but the fare revenue will be $4,170 for a revenue-to-cost ratio of 33 % but that is not the full picture. A study by Northern Texas University of Dallas and Portland found that rail transit added $75 million per mile to local property values. (The Portland Streetcar was far more than that but I will avoid that special case). With $338 million more property value in downtown Cincinnati that will add $3,418,000 to city cash each year, $11,585 per weekday. It will more than fully cover the streetcar loss of $8,630 and put many more people downtown to do business and boost the economy.

  4. Why will the streetcar attract more riders? It has tracks so people know where it is and where it goes. It produces no unpleasant exhaust. It accelerates and decelerates more smoothly so injures fewer people on-board. It is different.

  5. Energy savings. Streetcars cost about 4 cents per passenger mile for clean power, even if some is made from coal. Buses need 11 cents per passenger-mile for power. Streetcars will save 64 % on energy. Not only is that money in the bank but it also cuts foreign imports of oil at a deficit and cleans the air at no extra cost.

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