The conversation at the water cooler chatter at many businesses may revolve around a big sporting event, the latest movie premiere, or a hit tv show; but the subjects we like to focus on here at RATP Dev USA include the growing possibilities and options for mobility in the transit ecosystem. Today, we turn our attention to light rail because get this: the U.S. has more modern light rail systems than any other country in the world1. Pretty incredible, right? Currently, there are approximately 51 operational light rail systems in the U.S. -- 27 modern light rail, 12 modern streetcar systems, and 12 heritage streetcar systems. Several more are under construction and scheduled to begin operations in the next couple of years.
A light rail system can be an attractive option for communities looking to increase the mobility options available to their citizens. This form of high-capacity transit is an effective and efficient way to move large numbers of people in an urban environment. With light rail, comes benefits including:
- Decreased Vehicular Traffic
- Reduced Pollution
- Economic Development
- Increased Mobility
Plus, people really enjoy riding the light rail. Why wouldn’t they? The ride is smooth, affordable and reliable. It’s easy for new and infrequent users to ride without worrying about missing their stop. A light rail system is often seen as urban renewal and can attract businesses to the area and encourage the development of housing units. A study by Rice University found that the development of the light rail in Houston, Texas, brought “measurable positive impacts” to the city. Those “positive impacts,” however, came with a cost. Increased development translated into rising property values, which priced some existing residents out of the neighborhood.
And that’s not the only challenge put forth against light rail. It is argued to be inflexible and expensive to construct and maintain. It’s true – light rail is more expensive than the bus in terms of capital costs. Light rail requires train tracks, electrical substations, and other infrastructure that buses do not. However, proponents argue that because the capacity of light rail is so much greater than that of buses, operating costs tend to be lower. Therefore, in communities with large population densities, light rail –despite its capital costs – can be less expensive to operate.
Light rail might not be the answer for every community, but it is a viable option for many because of its associated benefits. It is an environmental superstar: reducing traffic, noise pollution, and carbon emissions. It is perceived as an aesthetically pleasing and easy-to-use public transit option. It tends to encourage business and housing development, and it provides a comfortable, smooth, and quiet ride.
So, the next time you are chatting with coworkers, and you want to talk about something new, exciting, and growing in popularity in the U.S. – think light rail!
Do you think your city would benefit from a Light Rail System? Share your thoughts with us on Twitter!