Light Rail Study Didn’t Focus on Crime
The Kansas City Star‘s Prime Buzz blog yesterday had a couple of posts criticizing our recent light rail study‘s use of crime statistics. While the statistics used by Randal O’Toole, the study’s author, are correct as O’Toole points out at the end of the second part of the blog entry, the correct comparison is between types of transit it’s misleading to suggest that O’Toole’s study has "characterized crime as one of the major reasons why Kansas City should not pursue light rail."
Crime on light rail systems is touched on only briefly in the full Show-Me Institute light rail study. Out of approximately 150 paragraphs of text (not including endnotes, pull quotes, etc.), I count seven that mention crime at all one paragraph in the executive summary, five paragraphs on page 5, and one paragraph on page 23. In fact, the one mention of crime in the executive summary comes toward the end of a litany of reasons why light rail isn’t a worthwhile investment. In that list, O’Toole mentions crime 9th out of a list of 11 reasons and even then, only after first mentioning safety statistics. Clearly, while light rail’s crime level in relation to buses is worth mentioning, it’s not one of the study’s primary arguments.
It’s true, I focused on the crime statistics myself during my response to the original Star piece covering the Show-Me Institute study, but that’s because O’Toole’s brief mention of light rail crime was the only aspect of the study that Mr. Spivak actually critiqued. If Mr. Spivak had criticized any of O’Toole’s economic or efficiency arguments, I would have responded to those instead.
Make no mistake, the study’s points about the high costs and low efficiency of light rail in relation to other forms of transit are O’Toole’s primary arguments points which remain unchallenged by the Star. The only real "ado" about light rail crime was spurred by the selective coverage of Mr. Spivak’s original article.
Apart from O’Toole’s brief mentions of crime in the study, these are his primary arguments:
- Light rail is expensive, typically experiencing high cost overruns;
- Light rail has a much lower ridership capacity than freeway lanes;
- Light rail costs much more to operate than buses;
- Light rail requires years of advance planning, with no guarantee that transit needs or preferences will remain static during that time;
- Few regions have actually seen increases in per-capita ridership after constructing light-rail lines;
- Most regions see the share of riders using transit for travel actually decline after constructing light-rail lines;
- Light-rail lines that operate in city streets significantly increase traffic congestion;
- Light rail is particularly ineffective in municipalities without high concentrations of downtown jobs like Kansas City;
- Light rail is usually less energy efficient per passenger mile than passenger cars;
- Light rail does not stimulate urban development without huge additional government subsidies.
The crime statistics O’Toole used are correct, but still only a small part of this analysis.