Ridership Estimates? We Don’t Need No Stinkin’ Ridership Estimates
Instead of providing my own commentary in this post, I’m going to let the following quotes from various sources speak for themselves. This article about light rail in today’s Kansas City Star provides this quote about ridership and costs:
Opponents will have a harder time proving that argument this year. The reason: We won’t know the projected ridership until after the Nov. 4 election.
The project is priced at $815 million in today’s money, but planners say it probably would exceed $1 billion when — and if — it is built four or five years from now.
What does Randal O’Toole write about ridership estimates and costs in his study about KC transit, written for the Show-Me Institute?
“The systematic tendency to overestimate ridership and to under-estimate capital and operating costs,” says U.S. Department of Transportation researcher Don Pickrell, “introduces a distinct bias toward the selection of capital-intensive transit improvements such as rail lines.”
“If you told them we’re going to have 10,000 (riders) a day, or 20,000 a day or 30,000 a day, that doesn’t mean anything. Compared to what?” said Pat McLarney, a Kansas City lawyer and a leader of the pro-light rail campaign. “I wished we did have an exact number to give you because it would sure make our lives easier.”
Randal would certainly agree that figure does not mean anything, but would consider it an argument in opposition, rather than in favor. From his study:
Many of the transit agencies that built these lines claim they are successful, pointing to the number of people who ride their light-rail trains. But many of these riders might have been riding bus transit anyway, so rail ridership numbers are meaningless without a comparison to total transit figures.
At least someone in Kansas City is calling this out for what it is:
“If we’re going to spend a billion dollars to build something and we don’t know how many people are going to ride it, this becomes a fairy tale,” said former City Councilman Bob Lewellen, who is a leader in the campaign against the proposed 3/8-cent sales tax to fund light rail.