Kansas City Streetcar Expansion Could Buy More Than 100 Buses
For the same cost as the proposed streetcar expansion, Kansas City could buy and operate 105 additional buses, even with a planned Transportation Development District (TDD).
The TDD is intended to raise $471.9 million to complete the nascent streetcar system throughout the inner city. Our position is that these systems are less efficient at moving people than buses and that the promises of economic development from streetcars are without empirical basis. To their credit, most streetcar supporters spend their time arguing that the streetcars bring economic development and do not try to claim that streetcars are more efficient people movers.
Nevertheless, many proponents have the idea that it is cheaper in the long run to build a streetcar system than to expand bus service. This post addresses these arguments and asks how many buses the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority (KCATA) could buy and operate if it were given the resources of the $500 million streetcar plan.
Using data from the National Transit Database, KCATA, and actual performance of streetcars in Portland, I estimated yearly operating costs and revenue streams for the streetcar and an expanded bus system. While any such calculations on an unfinished system require some estimation, my calculations are streetcar-friendly by assuming high ridership, elevated farebox recovery, and controlled capital and operating costs.
The findings were that KCATA could buy and operate 105 additional buses for the same cost of building and operating 7.6 miles of streetcar lines. To satisfy objectors who might claim huge life cycles for streetcars, I also made a calculation assuming the streetcars were not replaced and that only buses were replaced. This reduction in streetcar costs meant KCATA would only be able to buy and operate 100 buses.
To put that in perspective, KCATA currently only operates 257 buses for 61 bus routes that serve the entire Kansas City region. Adding 105 buses would significantly improve regional services and would utterly transform bus service if they were bound to the TDD meant to serve the streetcars. The chart below shows what type of bus service 7.6 miles of streetcar lines buys:
The case is clear. Whatever one believes about the economic development promises of streetcars, in terms of providing mobility, buses are far more cost-efficient than streetcars.