Cost per daily rider

Updated July 26, 2013 with new SWLRT numbers

We now have some preliminary Freeway BRT “Red Line” numbers … From Finance and Commerce: New bus rapid transit system averages 800 riders daily “The $112 million Red Line runs along Highway 77 and Cedar Avenue between Lakeville and the Mall of America in Bloomington.” Cost per daily rider: $140,000

Northstar Commuter Rail apparently has a post-fare cut daily ridership of 2,400 and a cost of $317 million. Cost per daily rider: $132,083

The proposed Southwest LRT (Green Line extension) has an expected daily ridership of 30,000 and a cost of maybe $1.125 billion. Cost per daily rider: $37,500. $1.82 billion. Cost per daily rider: $60,666.

The under construction Green Line (Central Corridor) has an expected daily ridership of 42,170 and a cost of maybe $920 million. Expected cost per daily rider: $21,816.

The Blue Line has daily ridership of 34,000 and cost $715 Million. Cost per daily rider: $21,029.

And finally for our simple comparison, Snelling Avenue Arterial BRT estimated cost $25 million, estimated additional ridership 3,500. Cost per additional rider: $7,142. This penalizes the Arterial BRT comparison, since I am ignoring baseline riders here, and many users of the other systems would have ridden transit anyway. Using 8,700 corridor riders gives a cost per rider of $2,873.

Now of course, this is back of the envelope, these numbers are not necessarily directly comparable, trip lengths vary, some people are more important have higher values of time than others, forecasts and actual ridership changes, some riders transfer between routes and thus would be counted twice, this tells us nothing about revenues, and so on. There are lots of considerations when making investments. But we need to think about the big picture of cost-effectiveness when making big spending decisions. These are orders of magnitude decisions, not dependent on minor differences in analysis technique.

In general, if you have a set of investments you are considering, you choose the one with the highest Benefit/Cost ratio first. Or if you don’t like B/C ratios, use return on investment, these should track pretty well. Or use cost effectiveness if you don’t want to monetize benefits. If you have money left, you do the one with the next highest B/C ratio. And so on.

Unfortunately, the investment strategy in most places has not followed such a logic.