I am always amazed at the lengths to which some folks will try to put lipstick on the light rail pig. One example I found today. Michael Graham Richard wrote on treehugger in June:
The sprawling city of Phoenix, of all places, is showing us how light rail should be done. They just opened a 20 mile line with 28 stops last December, and ridership statistics are beating all forecasts (evidence that the same might be true in other cities where they are afraid to invest because their forecasts are too low) with 40,000 daily riders instead of the 25,000 expected.
But here are the ridership figures from Valley Metro, who runs Phoenix Light Rail. This is weekday ridership (actually number of daily boardings) -- weekend ridership is much less:
- Jan: 30,617
- Feb: 35,277
- Mar: 34,376
- Apr: 37,386
- May: 33,553
- Jun: 29,469
- Jul: 26,554
It is hard to see where one gets a 40,000 figure, especially since a true daily rider/boarding figure would have to average in the lower Saturday/Sunday numbers.
And who cares if it meets some sandbagged forecast or not? Is 40,000 even a reasonable number? Note that even at the higher 40,000 figure this implies just 20,000 round trip customers. This higher ridership number would still make the capital cost of the $1.4 billion line to be $70,000 per round trip rider, and ABSURD subsidy.
Update: The ridership numbers will likely pick up when Arizona State is back in school. ASU and the baseball stadium are about the only major destinations on the line through dispersed, low-density Phoenix (it goes through our "downtown" but that is not saying much -- it is not a big center of employment). Did we really build light rail as another subsidy for ASU students?
Update #2: Let's say there are 50,000,000 big city commuters in the US in cities outside of Boston/NY/Chicago with large transit systems. Serving these commuters at $70,000 each would create a capital cost of $3.5 trillion for light rail. Who on the planet really thinks this is reasonable? Sure, you would get some network effects as you built out lines that increased ridership, but these would be offset by diminishing returns (presumably the first Phoenix line was built on the most promising corridor, and all future corridors will be less promising).