There’s a lot of dissatisfaction out there with the expected overall quality of RapidRide. While there are certainly valid criticisms of the system, as with any other, it’s important to remember that RapidRide is a step forward in our region’s transportation infrastructure.
The first and most obvious observation is that RapidRide is not Link, nor does it approach Link’s service level. The grand total of $87m is being spent on various permanent capital improvements to roadways and stations for all six lines, in addition to $128m for buses that should last a bit over 12 years. Some of this was covered by the Feds, and RapidRide leverages city-funded road improvements. To bring headways up to RapidRide standards, Metro has added or will add 100,000 service hours, or about $12.5m in annual costs. That’s a fraction of the $67m Metro takes in thanks to the Transit Now tax increase, most of which went to conventional bus service. The $87m would have paid for less than a half-mile of Central Link, which is not a value judgment on either system. It is not a substitute for Link, nor is it intended to be one. More after the jump.
I’m a rail advocate, which at its core means I favor having high-quality service in a few places over skeletal service everywhere. Applying that principle here, the service quality improvements are a superior investment to buying slightly more trips spread throughout the County. They will build ridership, make car-independence more attractive, and (hopefully) spur better land use.
There are certainly legitimate gripes. I certainly wouldn’t have started out with the A line, which will largely duplicate South Link, and would think twice about putting RapidRide routes where there won’t be Business Access and Transit (BAT) lanes (like the B line). I would have appreciated a stronger effort to universalize off-board payment, even if it meant fewer stops.
Those problems shouldn’t obscure the fact that this project creates a foothold for enhanced bus service. As long as we remember that this is the project’s scope and purpose, rather than rail-lite, we’ll appreciate what a small capital investment has produced for us.