The Light Rail Evaluation Continues
Bus routes, trolleys, subways, and rail are established and expected means of mass transit in legacy cities such as
New York, Los Angeles, and Chicago. However, the implementation of mass transit systems, in particular light rail, in mid-tier markets is picking up momentum. Cities such as Charlotte, Cleveland, and Denver have successfully developed systems serving their metro areas, and cities like Indianapolis and Spokane continue to evaluate the addition of rapid bus transit lines and light rail into their future mass transit plans.
Aside from the obvious result of reducing congestion, studies supporting the positive impact of public transportationfrom the American Public Transportation Association (APTA) show an impact of $4 in economic returns for each $1 invested into public transportation. Additionally, for every $1 billion invested, more than 50,000 jobs are created.
After Salt Lake City opened its first light rail line in 1999, ridership exceeded projections, sometimes even doubling anticipated demand. Since the initial investment, every referendum of support has been passed by more than
60%, and the rail line is expected to expand 70 additional miles in 7 years. The economic impact of the light rail system on Salt Lake City resulted in nearly 1,300 net new jobs and $227 million in additional annual business sales.
Community leaders across the country are taking into consideration the generational preferences of mass transit in the workforce. There are studies showing Millennials prefer to utilize mass transit and give up cars and driver’s licenses, or not obtain them to begin with. Other studies show Millennials trend towards buying cars and moving to the suburbs. In November, voters in Spokane and Indianapolis chose to increase taxes to pay for mass transit improvements, suggesting that the greater population in both communities understands the importance of high-quality transportation amenities to the younger generations.
“Is Spokane the kind of place where young, mobile, talented workers want to stay after they graduate? Will the Lilac City be able to compete with other midsize cities in the Pacific Northwest and beyond to attract a younger workforce and prosper for decades to come?”
“I heard a story out of Indianapolis recently (a city facing similar talent retention challenges as Spokane). A younger resident testified in the Statehouse about efforts to build a new system of bus rapid transit lines across the region. Lawmakers were told that ‘selling a city without transit to Millennials is like selling a phone without a camera.’”
In fact, 66% of Millennials identify access to quality transportation as a Top 3 criteria they would consider when deciding where to live, according to TransitDrivesIndy.org. Arguments against mass transit and light rail are typically centered on the funding of those systems. Transportation costs are not always shared equally, as wealthier citizens tend to live in the suburbs with more disposable income that might be spent on personal cars or private services such as Uber and Lyft. Since mass transit tends to be successful only if there is adequate ridership to support the system, this puts additional pressure on urban users to bear a greater portion of their cost. However, mass transit systems also provide increased benefits to urban users, allowing them new opportunities for entertainment and employment that may not have been possible with limited transportation options.
The costs and burdens will likely continue to be debated in growing urban areas. In Indianapolis, local leaders are continuing to examine the development of mass transit in wealthy suburban districts, whereas people with less money and influence are not being serviced.