Board Members Fib About Capacity of Streetcars vs Articulated Buses

Some board members have been hitting the local press lately with claims about the capacity of various transit alternatives for Columbia Pike.  Unfortunately, the remarks show a serious disregard of fact.

In an article in February at Arlington Mercury, the author attributed the following to Ms Hynes:

BRT carries 100 passengers, she said, but the streetcar has an even higher capacity. ‘The streetcar vehicles can carry up to 150.’

Ms Hynes is either ignorant or disingenuous: Metrobus is in the process of acquiring buses for its articulated (artic) bus bus fleet that have a maximum capacity (according to the manufacturer) of 116 passengers.  The streetcar planned for Columbia Pike has an estimated capacity of 115 according to the official Engineering Report for the 2012 Alternatives Analysis.  (One has to wonder, did Ms Hynes even read this report?)  Ms Hynes is simply wrong – the capacity of the streetcar that Arlington is considering has a nearly identical capacity to a comparable artic bus.

The good news for Ms Hynes is that she isn’t the only board member with a weak grip on facts about the topic.  Over at Blue Virginia, a fawning profile of Jay Fisette contained this nugget attributed to the hoping-to-be-re-elected board member:

[W]e looked at the range of options…[and] we know that the capacity for transit along Columbia Pike to carry that number of people today, from 16,000 a day to 30,000 a day, you cannot do with buses.

This isn’t quite as demonstrably bogus as Ms Hynes, but it’s close.  As noted several times on this blog, the biased, Board-funded Pike Transit Alternatives (AA) Analysis concluded that the peak capacity advantage of a streetcar over articulated buses is…5%.

But the dishonesty in Mr Fisette’s quotation is that he is conflating estimated daily ridership with estimated daily capacity.  The AA didn’t say that artic buses can’t carry 30,000, it said it wasn’t expected to carry that many*, as the chart below reveals (TSM2 is the plan for artic buses):

Screenshot from Pike Transit Presentation, February 2010

Screenshot from Pike Transit Presentation, February 2010

Sadly, the Pike Streetcar remains a solution in search of a problem for the Trolley Four on the County Board.  Yet dishonesty and inaccuracy aren’t good starting points for a board supposedly looking to do more community outreach on this topic.

*There is no reliable objective method to estimate ridership of these alternatives. But the important thing about the Board Members’ claims is that they are making inaccurate claims about capacity – which can be (relatively) objectively estimated – not claims about ridership.

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One Response to Board Members Fib About Capacity of Streetcars vs Articulated Buses

  1. Chris Slatt says:

    You’ve got to pick a vehicle for the EA/AA – they picked pretty much the smallest Streetcar vehicle available (the Portland vehicle). The County Board is apparently strongly leaning toward a larger & higher capacity vehicle.

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