Comparative Performance of Public Transport in U.S. New Start Rail Cities Versus Bus-Only Cities

This study explores some performance differences of public transport in major U.S. urban areas that have emphasized new start rail transit development, including light rail transit (LRT), in comparison with urban areas that have emphasized public transport development with buses only, including bus rapid transit (BRT). There is an ongoing need to assess the performance of major new capital-intensive rail transit investments. In addition, rail critics have recently begun asserting that some cities operating only buses, including BRT, exhibit more significant performance gains than those of rail transit cities—suggesting that rail investment is a waste or even a disaster. This study examines those issues. Available statistical data from the FTA’s National Transit Database, examined over a study period from the mid-1990s through 2003, is analyzed to contrast U.S. cities with new start rail systems (i.e., installed since the mid-1970s) with approximately four dozen major cities operating bus-only transit services. The study concludes that U.S. cities with new start rail systems, on average, have outperformed bus-only cities in terms of growth in ridership and passenger miles. Measured in “constant” dollars, operating and maintenance expenses per passenger mile declined for the cities operating both rail and bus systems, but rose in the cities operating buses only. In 2003, overall operating cost per passenger mile in the cities with new start rail transit systems was only about 74% of that in cities operating only buses. The analysis suggests that the investment in new start rail transit projects has been justified, in that these new rail transit systems overall seem to have outperformed comparable bus-only cities, and to have helped produce a more positive transit system performance.


  • English

Media Info

  • Media Type: Web
  • Features: Figures; References; Tables;
  • Pagination: pp 451-470
  • Monograph Title: Joint International Light Rail Conference: A World of Applications and Opportunities, April 9-11, 2006, St. Louis, Missouri
  • Serial:

Subject/Index Terms

Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01044151
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Files: TRIS, TRB
  • Created Date: Mar 16 2007 11:50AM