CATS (Charlotte Area Transit) reports:
The average light-rail passenger is better educated than the typical express bus rider, and Lynx passengers belong to households earning more money, according to a Charlotte Area Transit System survey of Lynx Blue Line riders.
CATS touted the survey results – especially a finding that 72 percent of light-rail riders didn’t use public transportation before. That shows that light-rail has attracted new riders, said Olaf Kinard, a marketing manager for CATS.
A couple notes on this:
- 72% of 15k transit trips = 10k new riders, or 5k persons making round-trips.
- There are some 3200 parking spots at Lynx stations, so the new transit trips are not necessarily car-free trips.
- The huge upfront capital costs ($462.7 million) means the cost of each new trips is on the order of $6 (not including operating subsidy).
By any measure, 10k new trips in a city following post-war, sprawl development patterns is respectable. Though the metric obviously depends on the availability of transit which preceded the project .
The problem, again, is the huge upfront capital costs of nearly $50m per mile. The CATS service area is a whopping 445 square miles and there is simply not enough money to build a comprehensive passenger rail network over such a huge area at $50m / mile. As a result, the long-range Lynx plan shows a very skeletal network despite a multi-billion price tag.
Given that the line runs entirely within a pre-existing rail ROW, the $50m / mile cost does not compare favorably against similar non-USA rail projects. To put in perspective, $50m / mile is what it costs to build underground metro lines in Spain. And in Germany, the cost to convert old freight track to modern “LRT” is an order of magnitude cheaper.
Archaic FRA regulation is one reason for the cost blowout. Whereas Germany permits mixed operation, FRA does not allow mixing of LRT and freight trains except under waiver. Thus, we get nonsense like this very expensive grade separation, where LRT tracks had to be put on an aerial over lightly-used freight tracks:
Further down the line we find another grade-separation at Woodlawn. The only possible explanation I can see for this expensive aerial was to preserve all-important LOS for the automobiles (i.e. scarce transit dollars benefiting only motorists).