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An Open Letter to Governor Hogan: the New Metro Lines Are Too Expensive

May 21, 2015 in Economics

By Randal O’Toole

Randal O’Toole

Dear Governor Hogan,

You have said you would approve the $2.5-billion Purple Line light-rail in suburban DC (along with Baltimore’s $3.0-billion Red Line) if the cost could be substantially reduced. Here is a way to accomplish this goal.

First, use buses instead of railcars. Order buses with wide doors for easy entry and exit and free WiFi to attract young riders, and paint them bright purple to distinguish them from existing transit buses.

Standard 40-seat buses cost under $400,000. Let’s be pessimistic and say that the WiFi, wide doors, purple paint, and a few other amenities raise the cost to $500,000 apiece.

Why should a few heavily subsidized transit riders get to avoid traffic when the auto users who are paying most of those subsidies have to endure the increased congestion caused by light rail?”

Second, operate the buses on existing roads between Bethesda, Silver Spring, College Park, and New Carrollton. In moderate traffic, a vehicle can go from Bethesda to New Carrollton on streets approximating the Purple Line route in 50 minutes. With nineteen intermediate stops each lasting about 30 seconds, the total trip time would be just under 60 minutes, comparable to the projected 62.6 minutes for light rail.

Third, run buses every two minutes in each direction during the six busiest hours of each weekday, reducing service to every four minutes during twelve other hours and on weekends and holidays. A fleet of 72 buses costing $36 million should be sufficient to meet this schedule and provide a few spares.

Fourth, to speed service, build platforms level with bus floors at each of 21 stops along the route. Each platform would have ticket machines, turnstiles, a wheelchair ramp or lift, and shelter protecting passengers from harsh weather.

People would pay or use metro farecards to pass through the turnstiles. When buses arrived, people could quickly exit and enter the buses without having to climb stairs at the bus doors.

Some places have built platforms like these for under $100,000, but let’s be pessimistic and assume they cost $250,000 apiece. Larger platforms would be needed for the Bethesda and Silver Spring stops, which are expected to attract the most traffic, so let’s assume those two cost $500,000 each.

Two platforms each at 21 stops would cost $11.5 million, for a total cost of less than $48 million. The federal government’s Bus and Bus Facilities program could cover up to 80 percent …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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