Gridlock and the History of Light Rail in Saint Louis
I’m currently reading Gridlock: Why We’re Stuck in Traffic and What to Do About It by Randal O’Toole, the Antiplanner. Although the book discusses the problems in America’s transportation system in general, certain parts of it are specific to light rail in Saint Louis and the debate surrounding the proposed MetroLink expansion. I’d like to share some passages from Gridlock that communicate why expanding MetroLink is unnecessary and cost-inefficient.
First, O’Toole provides evidence that expanding MetroLink hasn’t historically increased ridership in Saint Louis:
When St. Louis opened its first light-rail line in 1993, it was hailed as a great success because system ridership, which had shrunk by nearly 40 percent in the previous decade, started growing again. But when St. Louis opened a second line in 2001, doubling the length of the rail system, rail ridership remained flat and bus ridership declined. By 2007, total system ridership was no greater than it had been in 1998.
Second, O’Toole describes how Saint Louis experienced a reduction in energy efficiency after launching a light-rail line. He explains that this is because the city ultimately uses more fuel on buses that carry smaller average loads than it did before building the line.
For example, in 1991, before Saint Louis built its first light-rail line, St. Louis buses averaged for than 10 riders and consumed 4,600 BTUs per passenger mile. In 1995, after opening the light-rail line, average bus loads declined to less than 7 and energy consumption by bus and light rail together increased to 5,300 BTUs per passenger mile. CO2 emissions also climbed, from 0.75 pounds to 0.88 pounds per passenger mile.
Third, MetroLink’s revenues add up to less than its expenses, and an expansion would exacerbate this deficit:
The transportation plan for St. Louis […] notes that the transit agency’s projected revenues could not even cover its operating costs, much less the cost of light-rail expansion. The plan adds that county voters rejected a tax increase needed to support transit operations and that, even with that tax, the agency’s revenues would be insufficient to support the proposed expansions.
O’Toole has written several pieces on the subject of high-speed rail for the Show-Me Institute. His most recent study for the Show-Me Institute, “Why Missouri Taxpayers Should Not Build High-Speed Rail,” was published in September.