This post originally appeared on Orphan Road.
I will ignore all of the other wonderful benefits of traffic-separated transit for this post, and just talk about dollars (using very rough, estimated numbers).
Let’s take my morning commute: the #2, #2X, or #13, depending on which one comes first. There seems to be a total of around 12 busses serving these lines*. The end result is having a bus come 16x an hour during peak times. It takes each of these ~20 minutes to get the 2 miles downtown thanks to traffic. The full route is around 45 minutes.
How many busses (or, more realistically, trains) would it take to run this route at an average of 15 mile per hour, which would only be possible with traffic-separated transit? Well, that’s more than double the speed, so that would be half the number of trains. So 6.
You’d still get the same frequency of service, but you’d now have 6 less busses and drivers, less maintenance, fewer busses to clean, etc.
Assuming a driver costs on the order of $100k a year**, this is $600,000 saved each year on this one route without even looking at maintenance of the vehicles.
What will it cost us to convert our system for such savings? The deluxe (grade-seperated, think: monorail, or elevated/tunneled light rail) route may be quite expensive, but at a savings of more than $600k per route may pay back quickly. The cheap route (paint on the road reserving a lane for busses, along with signal priority) may create traffic for drivers, but will surely pay back the day you paint the road.
An added cost benefit is that as soon as travel times are cut in half, ridership will immediately go up. Assuming we go for streetcars or light rail instead of busses (and can therefore fit in more riders per vehicle), then we get added farebox income without any additional cost.
*Correct me if I’m wrong – it’s my best guess based on time tables.
**I’m sure the average driver makes much less than this, but factoring in benefits, managing this employee, etc. this may even be low.
[Frank]’s comment made me realize I hadn’t stated the point of this post strongly enough: One bus moving at 15mph can carry twice the number of (much happier) people the same bus can carry at 6mph. It simply drives the loop twice. Basically, we’re paying a whole lot of bus drivers a whole lot of money to sit in traffic with a lot of unnecessary busses.