Taxpayer’s Return on Investment of Pike Transit Alternatives

Previously, Pike Spotter tried to answer the question of whether the County Board’s current streetcar+bus plan would be cheaper than an articulated bus plan.  The evidence suggested it would not.  This post will turn to analyzing the streetcar+bus plan on a different metric: the cost and effectiveness of getting people out of their cars.

The chart below from the Pike Transit Initiative analyzes four proposals: leaving the current Pike Ride service as-is (No Build), adding better service using traditional buses (TSM 1), an articulated bus service (TSM 2), and the Board-endorsed streetcar+bus plan (Streetcar Build).

Screenshot from Pike Transit Presentation, February 2010

Comparing the estimated daily ridership from above with the capital cost estimates, we can determine the cost-per-additional rider for each of these plans compared with doing nothing.  Adding better service using traditional buses, each additional daily rider (in 2016) costs $1,282.  Articulated buses, $7,260 per rider.  The Board’s preferred trolley+bus plan?  Almost $30,000 per additional daily rider.

This CPTI data assumes that the Board’s streetcar+bus plan attracts more riders than an articulated bus plan.  One can debate whether that’s even true.  But assuming it’s true, this data reveals significant declining returns on investment for the Board’s plan.

Here’s a simpler way of looking at it: A $53 million investment would raise ridership 41%.  A $250 million investment would raise ridership 47%.  That’s an additional $200 million investment (or five-fold increase) for an increase in ridership of a mere 6%.

But don’t take Pike Spotter’s word for it.  Here is how the Pike Transit Initiative analyzes how articulated buses (TSM 2) stack up against the Board’s streetcar+bus plan:

CPTI: 5 of 6 Goals Met for $53M. $200M for Last Goal.

At the end of the day, the Board’s plan is 200 million additional dollars for shaving 1-2 minutes off of the ride time from Jefferson Street to Pentagon City, while leaving Pentagon-bound Pike Riders on the same old buses.  Is this worth it?

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2 Responses to Taxpayer’s Return on Investment of Pike Transit Alternatives

  1. NewLeaf says:

    And out Portland way, where the streetcar is king, people will tell you streetcars are actually slower, way slower than buses. The streetcar is a mere developer toy. It’s irresponsible to suck up Federal dollars that are passed along as crushing debt to our children and grandchildren, and to tax business and the populous in general at the state and local level, for a streetcar system that has as its core jusitification benefiting private developer interests. Unless and until the streetcar financing scheme is deep sixed, in favor of a plan that taxes directly the development interests it is intended to beneift, buses I say, buses all the way.

  2. Pingback: Q and A on Articulated/Bendy Buses on Columbia Pike | Pike Spotter

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