Bus vs. Rail – 2007 Comparison and 2012 Opinion from Los Angeles

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The Gold Line BRT opened in 2003, the Orange Line Rail in 2005. Each is about 14 miles long, and each has 13 stations, about a mile apart. How did they perform?

  • The BRT line was expected to start out at 5,000 to 7,500 average weekday boardings, growing to 22,000 by 2020. It actually achieved the 2020 goal by its seventh month.
  • The LRT, by contrast, was supposed to start off with 30,000 weekday boardings and double that by 2023. But its actual ridership has been lower than that of the BRT line—well below projections.
  • The capital cost of the BRT line was $349 million. The Light Rail cost was $859 million.
  • The operating costs also favor BRT, with the Orange Line costing $0.54 per passenger mile compared with $1.08 for the Rail. On a cost per boarding basis, it’s $3.79 for BRT versus $7.54 for Rail.
  • Lesson: A high-end BRT is far more cost-effective (bang for the buck) than a typical LRT, meaning you get a lot more transit per dollar spent.
  • If a city is short on transit dollars, then a simple express bus service on a major arterial can provide tremendous value per dollar spent.

“When you look at the size of Honolulu (and) you look at the transportation problem they’re seeking to solve, BRT is almost certainly a better investment,” UCLA Prof. Brian Taylor said.

Taylor’s research shows one of the greatest factors in determining a transit system’s appeal is the ease with which riders can get to a transit line, whether it’s BRT or rail. If a rider needs to go through various steps like walking, driving or transferring to get to a final destination, the less likely he or she is to use public transportation. “So, making the vehicle a little bit faster is not nearly as important as having a cutting down of the wait time,” he said.
While the overall number of projected riders appears impressive, Taylor says it’s not nearly enough to offset the tremendous capital cost needed to build the system, as well as the additional expenditures required to operate and maintain it. Heavy rail is much better suited for large, metropolitan cities like Tokyo, New York and London, which generate extremely large numbers of riders.
Source: UCLA expert weighs in on transit debate, Andrew Pereira, KITV





  1. the bus/rail debate is an example of an idea that NEVER should have gotten past the "stupid idea" stage. unfortunately in modern america even the most retarded of ideas gets a listen as it would be 'disrespectful' to not give every wacky idea, and its' proponent, courteous consideration.

    if someone had suggested a grossly over-expensive transit plan that would serve less than 5% of the island, and that it was necessary to scar the landscape to do it, it would have been laughed down…and rightly so. the truly unfortunate part of this is that you have ridership experience and construction cost experience data from dozens of similar projects nationwide that PROVE the folly of the plan and yet it is still being pushed through by the pigs that will shove their noses in the trough and by politicians that want to build monuments to themselves and their ego's.

    i cannot think of a single thing that is less appropriate for the hawaiian landscape than an elevated rail…it is so out of place that this can only be a bad dream.

    buy a few trainloads of buses, re-engineer the bus routes to serve the folks where they are and run them with an eye toward frequent tweaking of the routes to be most suited to the use patterns of the riders and you will have a winner. add bike racks to the front and add more riders still.

    rail is just plain dumb. and wait until you see how expensive it is. the costs will be absorbed by everyone in higher water bills, gas taxes, car reg fees and any of the other ways that the knuckleheads fund these boondoggles so that a miniscule ridership can waste hours not saving money.

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