Streetcar Costs Balloon in Charlotte
Austin Alonzo at the Kansas City Business Journal reported that Kansas City is tabulating up the cost of the failed streetcar expansion. We’re still waiting on that, but news out of Charlotte, North Carolina, suggests that streetcars are more expensive than proponents argue.
The Charlotte Observer reports,
When Charlotte was planning to build its streetcar line last decade, one touted benefit was cost savings. The idea was that an electric-powered streetcar is cheaper than a diesel-powered bus and that a larger streetcar provides more economies of scale than a smaller bus.
But as the costs of a 4-mile streetcar line are coming into focus, an analysis shows that the streetcar will likely be more expensive to operate than city buses and the Lynx Blue Line.
The specific overruns in Charlotte are detailed in the article.
My colleague Joe Miller points out that some streetcar advocates claim streetcars have lower operating costs than buses because they compare the costs of operating a streetcar at full capacity to a bus at full capacity (120 passengers versus 60). However, in real life the transit systems don’t normally operate at anything close to full capacity, so their numbers are very inaccurate. Even then, this doesn’t include the enormous capital costs of rail.
Regular readers of this blog will not be surprised that streetcars are inefficient. We have been highlighting the poor economics of rail transit for some time. The same Charlotte Observer article also points out that the supposed economic development benefits of the rail line—those so dramatically emphasized in Kansas City—”are difficult to evaluate in a cost-benefit analysis of a transit project.”
The initial streetcar website in Kansas City relied heavily on data prepared by the Charlotte Area Transit System (CATS), so it is no surprise that the claims made were similar. As Charlotte deals with higher-than-expected construction and operational costs, Kansas City voters should be pleased that, at least in this instance, they made a wise choice by not going along with other streetcar cities.