Regional LRT rider subsidies lower than buses | Finance and Commerce

Janice Bitters writes “Regional LRT rider subsidies lower than buses” in  Finance and Commerce (and sister publication Politics in Minnesota Capitol Report) [$$$ paywall $$$]


When it comes to operating subsidies, light rail lines in the Twin Cities region have the lowest cost per passenger of all transit modes, according to newly released numbers from the Metropolitan Council.

The report, however, doesn’t account for the costs of building light rail.


Those capital costs would raise the passenger subsidy amounts significantly if taken into account, said David Levinson, professor of civil environmental and geo-engineering at the University of Minnesota. He argues capital costs should count.

“A private firm would not just say, ‘Oh, this is excluding capital costs,’” said Levinson, who also works in the University’s Center for Transportation Studies. “It’s not fair to report one number without the other.”

State leaders have echoed Levinson’s concerns over the past year as Met Council planners work to secure the final $135 million in local funds for the planned Southwest LRT line between Eden Prairie and Minneapolis. Though the regional planning body is looking to the state for that money, some legislators have said the $1.8 billion price tag is too high.

But rapid bus lines shouldn’t be discounted because of the Red Line’s high subsidy, Levinson says.

New arterial BRT lines that are cheaper to build than light rail and follow already well-used routes will bring that subsidy average down, Levinson said. The new $27 million A Line from Rosedale Center in Roseville to the 46th Street Station in Minneapolis and the planned C Line between downtown Minneapolis and Brooklyn Center will help lower those numbers in the coming years, he said.

“It’s a shame that [arterial BRT] hasn’t been given a higher priority,” Levinson said. “It’s relatively inexpensive compared to the light rail and on a cost per rider basis.”

Subsidy by Service Type, 2013 (per passenger)

Regional Average $3.41
Light rail (Blue Line only) $1.80
Urban local buses $2.72
Express buses $3.30
Vanpool $3.55
Suburban Local buses $4.81
Bus Rapid Transit (Red Line only) $10.83
Commuter Rail (North Star only) $14.15
Dial-a-ride $18.52
ADA services $23.88

Source: Met Council


2 thoughts on “Regional LRT rider subsidies lower than buses | Finance and Commerce

  1. It’s a bit weird of you to insist that capital costs should count for LRT but not for BRT.

    Building a new right-of-way for BRT would be just as expensive if not more (as we learned here in Cambridgeshire).

    Now you are pointing out that reusing existing rights-of-way is a way that BRT can save on capital costs from the transit perspective. But someone has to pay those costs. All you are doing is moving the costs from the transit agency onto the road agency. Now, instead of the transit agency paying to create and maintain the right-of-way, it’s the roads agency doing it. Still the taxpayer.

    Not that I’m opposed to getting road agencies to subsidise transit, but let’s not lie to ourselves. Rights-of-way cost money, and buses are no panacea.


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