Research points to light rail benefits

17/03/2015 - 15:26

The Committee for Perth has added to the debate over Perth’s public transport system by releasing research indicating light rail systems attract more passengers, have lower running costs, and travel faster than rapid bus systems.

Transport Minister Dean Nalder.

The Committee for Perth has added to the debate over Perth’s public transport system by releasing research indicating light rail systems attract more passengers, have lower running costs, and travel faster than rapid bus systems.

The group has been a long-time advocate for light rail, saying today the research had been sent to Transport Minister Dean Nalder, who disclosed earlier this month the state government was considering a rapid bus system as a cheaper alternative to the $2.5 billion MAX light rail project.

“Our research identified light rail as a critical element in Perth’s future transport needs and urban landscape and that it was the most appropriate model to achieve the objectives outlined in Directions 2031,” the committee said.

“While light rail and buses both have a significant role to play in Perth’s future, we believe that bus rapid transit does not create enough benefits to be considered as part of Perth’s future public transport network.”

It said bus rapid transit had significant capacity limitations and could generate negative external issues, making it less suitable for high-volume transport routes than light rail.

The research found light rail would provide a higher quality passenger experience and had the capacity to attract new occasional public transport users, as well as delivering a higher-volume passenger service while being more cost-effective because it would require fewer vehicles to move the same number of passengers.

It also found light rail would be able to move more people while generating less pollution, pedestrian obstructions, on-route traffic congestion and footpath congestion.

“It’s predicted that by 2031 the percentage of commuters travelling into the city using public transport will increase from 47 per cent to almost 70 per cent,” the committee said.

“The committee believes that light rail is required to bridge the gap between bus and heavy rail and that will meet long-term public transport demand in the CBD and inner suburbs.”

 

The Committee for Perth statement is pasted below:

 

Light Rail v Bus Rapid Transit
 

As you would be aware, the State Government, citing budget constraints, is currently exploring the option of Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) instead of the MAX Light Rail project, which has been pushed back to at least 2017.
 
Last year, the Committee for Perth carried out detailed research, which we sent to the Transport Minister that revealed that light rail outperforms buses both financially and when it comes to moving large numbers of people.
 
Our research identified light rail as a critical element in Perth’s future transport needs and urban landscape and that it was the most appropriate mode to achieve the objectives outlined in Directions 2031.
 
While light rail and buses both have a significant role to play in Perth’s future we believe that bus rapid transit (BRT) does not create enough benefits to be considered as part of Perth’s future public transport network. BRT can have significant capacity limitations and generate negative external issues, which make it less suitable for high volume transport routes than light rail
 
The research has found that light rail has the ability to bridge the gap between heavy rail services and high frequency bus because it:

  • Provides a higher quality passenger experience to bus and, like heavy rail, has the capacity to attract new, occasional public transport users.
  • Delivers high volume passenger services more cost effectively and efficiently than bus because it requires fewer vehicles to move the same number of passengers.
  • Can move more people while generating fewer negative issues like pollution, pedestrian obstructions, on-route traffic congestion and footpath congestion than high capacity, high frequency bus services.

It’s predicted that by 2031, the percentage of commuters travelling into the city using public transport will increase from 47% to almost 70%. The Committee believes that light rail is required to bridge the gap between bus and heavy rail and that it will meet long-term public transport demand in the CBD and inner suburbs.
 
While there are international examples of very high capacity BRT systems, generally LRT systems attract up to 30% more passengers than BRT, are more appealing to developers as a catalyst for transit oriented development, can be run on a variety of energy sources, and are faster and more reliable than BRT systems.
 
Operating costs for BRT tend to be higher, especially on high-demand routes, because it takes more vehicles and more drivers to carry the same number of passengers and because fuel costs for buses are higher and more volatile. BRT also has more external costs, like pollution, noise and disruption to pedestrian environments than LRT.
 
Light Rail Benefits

  • Greater demand - LRT has been found to attract more occasional public transport users. This can be partially attributed to the perception of greater comfort, speed, safety and reliability but also due to rail having a better general public image and greater appeal than a bus.
  • Higher Capacity – Light rail systems generally have a higher daily ridership and capacity to accommodate more passengers than BRT systems. This is due to the higher capacity of LRT vehicles compared to buses which allow LRT systems to carry more passengers with fewer vehicles. Up to date, light rail systems can carry up to 25,000 to 30,000 passengers per hour, per direction and usually attract more riders per day than BRT systems.
  • Lower land acquisition costs – LRT systems usually have lower land acquisition costs than BRT systems ($1.52 Million USD per mile versus $3.018 Million USD per mile for BRT)
  • Lower cost per passenger mile – LRT systems have a lower cost per passenger mile than BRT systems with an estimated cost of $578 per thousand passenger mile compared to $616.4 for BRT.
  • Faster – LRT usually operates at higher speeds than BRT. While buses could be expected to reach speeds similar to light rail, buses are required to slow and stop at intersections more frequently than light rail due to the increased frequency of service required to provide carrying capacity which means that they are generally not provided with full signal pre-emption. For example, light rail lines in Los Angeles which have predominate exclusive right of way and full signal pre-emption achieve average speeds that are between 36% and 40% faster than those achieved by BRT (which do not have full signal pre-emption). In Australia, LRT has been estimated to travel at an average of 35km per hour, compared to 30km per hour for BRT.
  • Lower operating and maintenance costs – LRT is more cost efficient to operate and maintain on routes carrying more than 2,000 passengers per hour. Operating and maintenance costs for LRT systems in the United States have been found to be 4% to 46% lower per passenger mile travelled than BRT. This is because LRT vehicles last three times as long as BRT vehicles, require less ongoing maintenance and are cheaper to power. In addition, far fewer LRT vehicles are required to move large passenger volumes compared to BRT.
  • More positive land-use impacts - Rail has capacity to be a catalyst for higher density urban living and transit oriented development, particularly when accompanied by positive planning policies. This effect on land use and infrastructure efficiency and positive economic impact can offset the initial higher capital costs of LRT.
  • Increases property values – There is substantial evidence that rail, including LRT generally has a positive impact on property values along its route. Studies of transit corridors in the United States have identified property price increases of up to 25% along rail transit routes.
  • Improves community image – LRT has more appeal than bus systems, it is more visually appealing and has a more positive impact on community image.
  • Provides Certainty – Once constructed an LRT route will remain and isn’t likely to face pressure for conversion back to a traffic lane as has occurred with a number of BRT routes internationally.
  • Lower Subsidies – Higher passenger volumes and lower operating and maintenance costs mean that high volume light rail routes usually have lower average subsides than rapid bus. In Los Angeles buses operate at 0.46 cents per passenger mile while light rail operates at a subsidy of 0.41 cents per passenger mile.
  • Higher voter support – Studies in the United States have found that voters are more likely to support spending on rail than on bus.
  • Less air and noise pollution – LRT is not reliant on fossil fuel and therefore does not contribute to vehicle pollution and will have the capacity to provide a sustainable transport option as the world moves towards peak oil.
  • Less pedestrian and traffic disruption on high volume routes – Moving high passenger volumes on a BRT system requires more vehicles than LRT. This increases disruption to pedestrians and other traffic.

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