I want to clarify a bit what I was trying to say, and what I was not trying to say, in my last post.
- It’s a bad thing Rapid Ride won’t materialize. I couldn’t state this any more strongly. We need as much transit as we can get; our buses are currently packed to the gills. Just because I prefer rail over BRT doesn’t mean I’m against BRT, I just prefer rail to BRT. In my last post, I was trying to point out that I think it’s a bit telling that we never seem to get that cheap BRT that we are promised by the anti-rail crowd. That doesn’t mean I would prefer these bus projects cancelled.
- If we could get more bus service in any form, that would be a net good thing.I ride a bus to work every day and it’s great. It comes a few blocks from my house, and drops me off right in front of my office. In order to provide service like that, the bus has to stop a couple dozen times between my house and my office. That’s what buses do really well: providing local service. Rail can’t do that level of local service very well. It’s a good thing we aren’t asking it to.
- Saying buses are cheaper than rail in the long run is a misleading argument.We’ve discussed this ad nauseam at this blog, see here, here, here and here. The two sentence version: Buses are suited for one sort of transit, rail for another. BRT is trying to get buses to do the type of service rail is best suited for, which never seems to really work. The most common anti-rail argument is that investment in rail is regrettable because we can get BRT to do the same thing for less money.
But the very crux of the argument is dishonest, because no one has ever seen this BRT that can do what rail does. We’ve seen BRT that can’t do what rail does, Boston’s Silver Line and LA’s Orange Line. And we have seen BRT that costs almost as much as rail (see the Silver Line). But we’ve never seen BRT that can do what rail does.
- I don’t think light rail is cheap, I think light rail is cheaper than the alternatives.Roads are very expensive. Adding one lane to I-405 from Lynnwood to Renton will have cost about $11 billion. Adding a lane to I-5 just in the city limits of Seattle would be more than $25 billion. The Alaskan Way Viaduct replacement will be about $4 billion or more, and the 520 bridge will be about the same. Each of those cost considerably more money per mile than light rail does, with the viaduct and 520 bridge each more than a billion dollars per mile. None of these will move as many people as light rail would.
Light Rail is cheaper to operate per passenger miles than buses are, which is why you want riders going long distances to do so on rail. HOV-lane BRT around here is not going to work if I-985 passes. Even if I-985 fails, congestion and fuel will continue to eat into bus funding, making buses ever more expensive to operate per passenger mile. This is why buses are better suited for local access than rail, and rail is better suited for longer distances than buses are. Investment in light rail will pay off spectacularly, because we’ll be able to put buses that are used for long-haul service back to where they are effective, into shorter local service. Once riders get on rail, the become much cheaper per over the distance, we save money, and can improve service. Light rail isn’t cheap if you have no buses, and buses aren’t cheap if they are asked to do what rail should be doing.
I am very much pro-bus, which is why I take the bus to work everyday when I could drive, thank you very much. However, I do have a problem with the Doug MacDonald, et al. argument that, every thing being equal, buses can do what light rail can do cheaper. It’s a dishonest argument, and the first bit of proof that BRT is not cheap is provided by the fact that we don’t seem to be able to get any cheap BRT.
The only people I can imagine who would be happy that Rapid Ride might not arrive are the anti-everything set, who claim to be in support of BRT, but, of course, were against the vote that was supposed to fund Rapid Ride to begin with. They might be happy because they can continue to make the the argument that BRT will be cheaper than rail, and instead of having an example to compare light rail to, they can continue to compare Link to BRT systems in far away places like Lima, Peru and Bogotá, Colombia. They know full well that BRT can’t do what light rail can, and they can remain against any form of transit that actually works.