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Study shows light rail ineffective

Study shows light rail ineffective in countering traffic congestion

The Road Transport Forum and the Automobile Association today released the findings of a study which concludes that the introduction of light rail systems in cities in the United States with similar characteristics to Auckland are ineffective in meeting traffic congestion problems.

The study was prepared by Wendell Cox Consultancy in the United States, a specialist transport and public policy consulting firm. It was commissioned by the two organisations to shed light on the degree to which light rail systems have been effective in reducing congestion.

The report concludes that light rail is “a highly ineffective and expensive strategy for traffic reduction, mobility and access”. It also concludes that light rail fails to meet three specific tests in relation to effectiveness, cost efficiency and objective analysis.

“There are a number of Auckland leaders who have promoted light rail as the answer to the city’s transport infrastructure problems,” says Automobile Association Director of Public Affairs, George Fairbairn.

“But nobody had taken an objective look at how effective or otherwise light rail has been in meeting the congestion problems experienced by cities in the United States that have similar characteristics to Auckland.

“We welcome this report as an important contribution to the body of knowledge that should improve the level of debate about Auckland’s infrastructure problems. Our concern at this moment is to encourage planners and decision-makers to look objectively at the city’s transport needs,” says Mr Fairbairn.

Road Transport Forum Chief Executive Tony Friedlander says the Wendell Cox Report should be interpreted by Auckland civic leaders as a death certificate for light rail.

“Wendell Cox is a highly respected figure in the field of transport planning and public policy formulation. While his report focuses on United States examples, he’s been to Auckland and he says it has much in common with many US cities in terms of population densities and transport problems.

“Local research shows the same decline in both public transport usage and the importance of the central business district that Wendell Cox identified in US cities. Only 13.6 percent of employment is now in the CBD and this figure is declining annually as jobs become more dispersed throughout the region.

“In the light of his findings, it is unthinkable that any form of light rail system should proceed. The Wendell Cox Report reinforces our own view that completing the Auckland motorway network and improving public transport systems would be a far better way of dealing with the city’s traffic congestion.”

In the report, Mr Cox says light rail’s ineffectiveness in the United States is closely linked to the decline in public transport usage.

He attributes the decline to the fact that central business districts are no longer the magnets for workers they once were.

“On average, barely 10 percent of employment in major metropolitan areas is downtown. Even the world’s largest central business district, in New York, accounts for less than 20 percent of the metropolitan area’s employment.”

Mr Cox argues that because public transport systems, such as light rail, are focused on central business districts, 90 percent of work locations, on average, have little or no alternative mode of transport to the motor vehicle.

He further argues that as little as 10 percent of the cost of building and operating light rail systems are recovered in fares. He ironically suggests it would be less expensive to lease a new car for each new commuter, and in some cases, a luxury car could be leased!

“Proponents often claim that light rail is less costly than building motorways. This, however, is misleading because light rail carries so little passenger volume compared to motorways. On average, the cost to build and operate motorways, including private automobile costs, is one seventh that of light rail per passenger kilometre,” says Mr Cox.

Wendell Cox Consultancy is an international public policy firm, specialising in transport, economics, labour and demographics. The principal, Wendell Cox, is a specialist in the field of urban transport. He is currently a member of the Amtrak Reform Council, which has responsibility for overseeing intercity rail passenger policy over the next three years.


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