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Old Posted Dec 20, 2020, 7:28 PM
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Study: The U.S. Can Afford to Build More Rail

Study: The U.S. Can Afford to Build More Rail


Dec 18, 2020

By Kea Wilson

Read More: https://usa.streetsblog.org/2020/12/...ild-more-rail/

Study: https://www.enotrans.org/enotransitc...ctiondatabase/

Quote:
.....

In a preliminary analysis of more than 171 intracity light and heavy rail projects in America and abroad, one of the most comprehensive studies of transit construction costs to date, the Eno Center for Transportation found that the average U.S. rail project costs $107 million per kilometer of track, or about 22 percent less than comparable international projects. And contrary to popular belief, light rail that carries fewer passenger is actually not substantially cheaper to build than heavy rail that can move a lot of people and goods.

- When Americans put their train lines anywhere but flat on the ground often the best approach in dense downtowns that need frequent rail service the most costs quickly get out of control. Whether elevated or underground, nearly all the cities in the Eno database paid a premium for building their rail line anywhere but at grade. And the costs really climb once you go underground: a U.S. subway line with at least 80 percent of its track below surface level costs a staggering average of $354 million per kilometer, compared to $215 million per kilometer abroad. — That’s a staggering 65-percent cost difference and it may be a conservative number. When the researchers kept those two gargantuan, entirely underground New York City projects in the data mix, the per-mile cost skyrocketed to a jaw-dropping $756 million per kilometer. — So why, exactly, is it so much more expensive to dig a tunnel under an American city than under a European or Asian one? The Eno researchers say further study is needed, but it probably doesn’t have as much to do with stuff like trade wars over Chinese steel than some people might think.

- “The cost of steel and [other raw materials common to transit construction projects] are about the same in Paris as they are in New York City as they are in Seattle, because they’re all globalized commodities,” said Paul Lewis, vice president of policy and finance for Eno and the co-author of the report. “And materials alone can’t explain why tunnels are so much more expensive here than abroad sometimes by a factor of 10.” — Building lots of stations to put transit in reach of all residents isn’t the culprit, either. The researchers found that most of the stateside projects in their database chose to place their stations somewhere between one to three kilometers apart, which was much less dense international train lines, which placed them between 0.4 and one kilometer apart; still, on a cost-per-station basis, the international projects were often more affordable than American ones. — I think it’s because European stations aren’t always as elegant as what we build in the United States, and the standards for safety, like ventilation or fire escapes or those kinds of things, aren’t always as high. I’m not saying that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but it’s something to investigate.

- The Eno researchers suspect American staffing costs might partly explain the high price tag on boring projects and the hard-won wages of union construction workers aren’t nearly as big a problem as Washington bureaucracy, or our federal tendency to underfund mass modes. — “Transit tends to have more support generally abroad, that can definitely make expensive things like environmental review processes easier and cheaper,” Lewis added. “And other researchers have found that U.S. agencies are, generally, not as efficient at managing big, complex contracts [as their international counterparts]. To be clear, that’s not to cast blame on agency staff in any way; they’re overworked, and underpaid, and often deeply understaffed. But a lot of the costs of managing tunnel projects comes down the sheer capacity and expertise of the public sector staff; we, as a country, tend not to invest enough in that.” — “What we’re really hoping is to engage the activist community and have people pick it apart and challenge some of our assumptions, add new questions, and request new data points,” Lewis adds.

.....



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  #2  
Old Posted Jan 16, 2021, 4:50 AM
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The cost to build transit in the US is preposterous. Maybe streamlining the permitting process and reigning in the budget busting bidding contracts would help. Honestly though, we just need a better transit building infrastructure not hell bent on maximizing profits.

Every big city in this country should have decent urban rail and suburban commuter systems in place. We are over regulating the building process and under-regulating the cost process.
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 6:28 AM
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Building more rail won't do much in most cities. Many large US cities have been expanding their rail networks at a dizzying pace but have seen ridership fall. This 'build it and they will come' and 'look everybody now we have light rail too' mindeset has not served the general population well although developers love it as do the politicians they bribe because it results in a politician wet dream............a ribbon cutting ceremony.

This stupid idea that rapid transit has to be rail based is one that has not withstood the test of time. Not only is rail MUCH more expensive than BRT but BRT can also be very quickly expanded and cover vastly more areas and destinations but also hundreds of thousands of more people.

To the situations where rail is justified or can be built affordably due to ROW etc, most newer US systems are still a failure. They spend a fortune on the initial infrastructure and then rob it operational dollars so you get trains running every 15 minutes during the day on supposed 'rapid' transit lines. Also the buses system isn't there to bring people to the actual stations which is why nearly all newer US rail stations are surrounded by massive park n rides.

Transit is very much a SYSTEM and in order for one part to succeed requires all the parts to work.
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 7:19 AM
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Lightbulb

immediately, at the very first bullet point, they give us double talk.

"An initial look at the data supports five takeaways, all of which are explained in detail on the main database page. Those are, in a nutshell:

1. Light rail is not necessarily cheaper than heavy rail. Grade alignment, rather than mode, is the major determinant of cost. Defining the mode of a transit project – whether it’s light rail or heavy rail – does not correlate well with its construction cost. Most of the construction and planning inputs for both modes are the same. A transit line, whether heavy or light, includes laying track, installing electrical systems, and building accessible stations. The main difference between the two modes is that light rail tends to be mostly at-grade, and heavy rail is often either tunneled or elevated."

Note, you have to read all the way down to the last line of the bullet point to find the double talk - but there it is staring at you with a left hook punch out of nowhere.

That first bullet should have stated in the very first sentence that light rail is cheaper to build than heavy rail because it is mostly built at grade - then explain away why most of the other costs of designing, financing, and building electrical and mechanical systems are the same. But that is not the tact they decided to use.

Frustrating isn't it, how an supposedly impartial organization is not.

Therefore, save yourself hours of time and ignore this biased study. Double talk is just another way of lying.
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 3:42 PM
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Just because the US can build more rail, doesn't mean it should. If anything, the US already has too much rail. Dallas is a good example: largest light rail system in the US, the worst transit ridership and mode share among urban areas with 3+ million people. More buses are the key to higher ridership, not more rail.

People need to realize that rail is for solving the problem of too high ridership, not too low ridership. Places like Seattle and Las Vegas that have high ridership but they rely mostly or exclusively on buses, and these are the sorts of places that need more rail, to increase the capacity of the system. They need to build more rail because they have high ridership, not because they have low ridership.

In contrast, places with low ridership like Oklahoma City and Indianapolis, these places don't need rail, the ridership is nonexistent. The lack of rail is not the reason for low ridership, it's the lack of buses.

Las Vegas' system gets close 70 million boardings each year without any rail. Oklahoma City, Indianapolis, Nashville, each get less than 10 million, so they still have a long way to go before rail is needed, and that is typical of the US. You can also see bus-only systems in Canada like Winnipeg and Quebec City that get around 70 million boardings (45-50 million linked trips) annually.

In terms of ridership, most of US is closer to Oklahoma City, Indianapolis and Nashville than Las Vegas, Winnipeg and Quebec City. So just forget about rail. If you really want higher ridership, then you should invest in buses instead.
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 8:08 PM
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Most people I know aren't going to rethink driving to their destination if the alternative to car travel is a bus, especially here in Florida.
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 9:51 PM
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Originally Posted by UrbanImpact View Post
Most people I know aren't going to rethink driving to their destination if the alternative to car travel is a bus, especially here in Florida.
Then chances are they wouldn't use trains either. Even if they were lucky enough to live next to a rail station, their workplace might not be. Or even if their workplace is next to rail station, their home might not be. As ssiguy said, transit lines don't work in isolation, you need a complete system. Even if you build more rail, you will need more buses. If people are unwilling to use buses, then there is no point building rail either.

Highest ridership in Florida is Miami. 79 million boardings annually on Miami-Dade Transit, 29 million on Broward County Transit, 10 million on Palm Tran, 5 million on Tri-Rail. That's 32 million on rail, or 26% of the total ridership of Miami. Is that 26% the main reason that Miami has 130% higher ridership per capita than Tampa, or is it the 74% using buses that make the most difference?
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 9:53 PM
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The more you learn about American transportation planning the more you learn that they're incompetent.

That's pretty obvious just from the state of most of our transit systems.

But it's not just an issue of funding. Read any alternatives analysis and you'll see how clueless they are about the different modes and types of service that are exist around the world. All they know are buses, BRT, and light rail, except they don't know any of those very well either because most of the time the proposed service quality is so garbage that in practical terms it's pointless.

How many transit agencies could drastically improve their on time performance by updating the bus schedules to reflect the actual typical times? How many transit agencies have bus stops spaced every other block? And these same people are supposed to pull off multi billion dollar infrastructure projects?


I do think though that cities should seriously consider paying for their projects by themselves, to avoid the bureaucracy and regulations and complexity and expense. A good investment is a good investment, and most cities have the financial ability to pay for transit projects themselves (even if they're unwilling to).
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Old Posted Jan 18, 2021, 11:05 PM
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These truly useless little streetcar routes employed all over the place are stellar examples of poor transit decisions brought forward by ribbon cutting salivating politicians, developers, and rail companies. The needs of the transit users are usually secondary at best.

BRT is a far superior option for the vast majority of US cities and can serve many more neighbourhoods and destination for the same amount of money as LRT. Austin's recent announcement of a massive transit expansion relying mostly on new rail is a classic example of bad urban planning. Austin has very low ridership and hence expensive rail is not needed but rather frequent bus service with priority lanes etc...........BRT.

For people who say that people won't take the bus, that is a false narrative. The reality is that the people who wound't take a bus won't take any form of transit. Get the ridership first and then expand when the particular routes become over crowded, not the other way around.
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Old Posted Jan 19, 2021, 12:36 AM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ssiguy View Post
For people who say that people won't take the bus, that is a false narrative. The reality is that the people who wound't take a bus won't take any form of transit. Get the ridership first and then expand when the particular routes become over crowded, not the other way around.
bingo. I suppose there are some people who don't understand how to figure out when to get off the bus, but that must be a much smaller problem now than ten years ago.
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Old Posted Jan 19, 2021, 5:53 AM
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lol no shit the richest country in world history can afford better infrastructure, didn't need a study for that.
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Old Posted Jan 19, 2021, 10:09 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ssiguy View Post
These truly useless little streetcar routes employed all over the place are stellar examples of poor transit decisions brought forward by ribbon cutting salivating politicians, developers, and rail companies. The needs of the transit users are usually secondary at best.

BRT is a far superior option for the vast majority of US cities and can serve many more neighbourhoods and destination for the same amount of money as LRT. Austin's recent announcement of a massive transit expansion relying mostly on new rail is a classic example of bad urban planning. Austin has very low ridership and hence expensive rail is not needed but rather frequent bus service with priority lanes etc...........BRT.

For people who say that people won't take the bus, that is a false narrative. The reality is that the people who wound't take a bus won't take any form of transit. Get the ridership first and then expand when the particular routes become over crowded, not the other way around.
I disagree with this. American culture is very different from Canadian culture when it comes to public services. Americans generally do not like transit, especially buses. Busses in particular are viewed as transportation for poor people. Trains are almost always seen as the most desired form of transit and people will at least ride trains to the airport or sporting events. Trains are also more likely to be used by tourists or infrequent transit users. There are also huge racial and socioeconomic issues that have made having adequate public transit systems an issue in America. In St. Louis, you should see how packed the trains are to go downtown for a MLB or NHL game. These are people that would never ride a bus in the city.
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Old Posted Jan 20, 2021, 2:07 AM
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St. Louis' light rail ridership has not grown since 1996, and the overall transit ridership has fallen 30% during that time. Current transit ridership per capita and mode share is worse than most other MSAs of over 2 million people, including those with little to no rail service such as Austin, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Seattle, Pittsburgh... It doesn't convince me that about any anti-bus culture in the US. As I said, if people aren't willing to use buses, chances are they won't use rail either, and St. Louis is a good example of that. To have lots of people riding the trains, you need to have lots of people riding the buses feeding into the train stations. To argue about the merits of light rail vs heavy rail when you can't even fill the buses just doesn't make any sense.

To blame low transit ridership on a lack of rail is like saying that high crime rates in US is because of not enough police in black neighbourhoods. It's not looking at the root of the problem, and it's suggesting further division as the main solution to division. I think if there is difference between US and Canada it's that obsession with division, and that is the real reason so much of the USA cannot have adequate transit: dividing rail riders and bus riders, when transit is supposed to be about connecting people. If USA wants transit that connects more people, then it needs to stop trying to divide people so much, stop using transit as yet another way to divide people. Connecting more people together instead dividing them might help solve some of those huge racial and socioeconomic issues as well.
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Old Posted Jan 20, 2021, 4:37 AM
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yes, if people won't ride the bus in St. Louis, it's probably either not great service or doesn't go where they want to go.
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Old Posted Jan 21, 2021, 5:04 PM
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Transit can't exist in a vacuum. It needs to be useful and that means cities needs to change land use policy to reinforce use of transit. Or put it more simply, the reason why transit share is low in American cities is because we have low density and zoning that encourage car use.

Building rail in itself won't change anything just like building BRT won't improve bus ridership either if neither were supported with policy that reinforce density and transit use on the corridor it serves. That being said, there are corridors in many city that already have high transit mode share and upgrading the service from regular bus to BRT and rail will increase transit mode share - e.g. most of the major streets in Los Angeles or Seattle. These are the low hanging fruits. Beyond that, zoning changes that removes car-use preference will have a much greater impact on transit use than building new rail line. Most of the fast growing sun-belt cities fall in this category. Las Vegas does a fairly good job for example with its concentrated employment center with high quality (by US standards) bus network - and they've largely eliminated free parking on the Strip and incrementally upgraded some bus to BRT to further support growth in transit mode share.

Last edited by bzcat; Jan 21, 2021 at 5:17 PM.
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Old Posted Jan 21, 2021, 5:41 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by bzcat View Post
Transit can't exist in a vacuum. It needs to be useful and that means cities needs to change land use policy to reinforce use of transit. Or put it more simply, the reason why transit share is low in American cities is because we have low density and zoning that encourage car use.

Building rail in itself won't change anything just like building BRT won't improve bus ridership either if neither were supported with policy that reinforce density and transit use on the corridor it serves. That being said, there are corridors in many city that already have high transit mode share and upgrading the service from regular bus to BRT and rail will increase transit mode share - e.g. most of the major streets in Los Angeles or Seattle. These are the low hanging fruits. Beyond that, zoning changes that removes car-use preference will have a much greater impact on transit use than building new rail line. Most of the fast growing sun-belt cities fall in this category. Las Vegas does a fairly good job for example with its concentrated employment center with high quality (by US standards) bus network - and they've largely eliminated free parking on the Strip and incrementally upgraded some bus to BRT to further support growth in transit mode share.
Ever wondered why most fast growing cities in the USA are in the sun belt where zoning laws favor private autos? Ever wondered why suburbs grew faster than inner cities 50-60 years ago where parking was free? The plain and simple fact is that Americans love the freedom private automobiles provide. Except for just a handful of cities in all of North America, private automobiles are still the fastest and cheapest way from one location to another within every city. Cities tried making private cars more expensive 50-60 years ago with the invention of parking meters. Few cities still have them, having to remove them to appease downtown businesses that saw most of their business flocking away to the suburbs where parking is free. Now the new flavored push is for congestion pricing just to enter downtown districts, even on public transit. The end result will be more businesses departing downtown districts, just watch it unfold.

Encouraging growth and human patterns by government usually works eventually, but discouraging growth and human patterns usually fails with unintended consequences.

If you want public transit to grow in the USA, you have to make it competitive with private automobiles by making it a better product, not by making it more expensive for those using private cars. I do not want a service at the lowest possible common acceptable level. That means frequent, on time service with luxurious padded seats for everyone in a super clean vehicle. Ever see anyone standing in a private vehicle, why is that acceptable for public transit? Why not provide a service at least as one would expect in a private automobile?

As long as public transit provides a worse overall service than private vehicles, it will never be a competitive choice in most North American cities.

Last edited by electricron; Jan 21, 2021 at 5:54 PM.
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Old Posted Jan 21, 2021, 6:35 PM
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Except for just a handful of cities in all of North America, private automobiles are still the fastest and cheapest way from one location to another within every city. Cities tried making private cars more expensive 50-60 years ago with the invention of parking meters. Few cities still have them, having to remove them to appease downtown businesses that saw most of their business flocking away to the suburbs where parking is free.
Since I know you love numbers, PLEASE provide the data showing that owning, fueling, insuring and maintaining a private automobile is cheaper than taking public transportation (when that option is a realistic one). Also PLEASE provide the data that "few cities still have [parking meters]".

Thanks
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Old Posted Jan 21, 2021, 8:31 PM
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Yeah, cities like Detroit haven't done enough accommodate private automobiles, and that is the reason it and other Snowbelt/Rustbelt cites have declined compared to Sunbelt cities. Not enough cars, not enough parking lots, not enough highways, too much transit, that is what has killed downtowns across North America. And it is not over yet. There are still places like San Francisco and Manhattan which continue to make that grave mistake of ignoring auto users and favouring transit users. Places like downtown Toronto and Montreal too that continue to lack adequate infrastructure for automobiles. They are just moving in the wrong direction, forcing people to move to the suburbs so they can use a car and avoid transit to save money on transportation costs. As property values continue to tank in these places and the amount of people using transit continues to rise, their future is looking bleak, and there is not much time is left to prevent complete disaster.
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Old Posted Jan 22, 2021, 9:23 AM
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Since I know you love numbers, PLEASE provide the data showing that owning, fueling, insuring and maintaining a private automobile is cheaper than taking public transportation (when that option is a realistic one). Also PLEASE provide the data that "few cities still have [parking meters]". Thanks
Link that supports your opinion
https://www.liveabout.com/public-tra...e-cost-2798677
Average cost to drive a car $11,000 per year
Minimum cost to drive a car $2790 per year (doing the bare minimum)
Average costs for public transit using monthly passes
NYC $1452 per year
LA $1200 per year
Dallas $1080 per year
Indy $706 per year

Off hand, it appears public transit wins easily, even when compared to bare minimum driving expenses. But the public transit data points only include monthly fares. Those monthly fares have a varying amount of farebox recovery ratios, maybe your city is included here
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Farebox_recovery_ratio

I'm more familiar with DART located in Dallas. The farebox recovery ratio is 14%. Not the highest, but also not the lowest. Subsidies coming from other taxes, either local, state, or federal, make up the difference.
If $1080 per year provides 14% of the cost to provide the service; $7,714 per year is needed to provide the service; therefore an additional $6,634 per year on average comes from taxes.
So in Dallas, the average rider pays $7,714 for public transit, and anywhere from $2,790 to $11,000 per year on driving. Again, there will be some who pay less, and some who will pay more because individual income will determine how new your car is and how much sales taxes you pay.

Of course, we have yet to add the highway costs to maintain and build our highways to the equation. But amongst the costs for driving was the taxes on fuel. Fuel and other highway taxes on average pay 34% of their costs nationally
https://www.instituteforenergyresear...le-road-costs/
So, whatever the highway taxes collects, double that amount comes from other taxes.
A different link looks at it a different way, a per capital expenditure from general funds vs highway funds.
https://www.urban.org/policy-centers...d-expenditures
Nationally, the average is $560 per year per capita additional tax above and beyond highway taxes. And there are multiple of ways and data points on highway construction and maintenance costs. I have no idea which is the more accurate way to look at it, mainly because it varies so much per state.
Never-the-less, an additional $560 subsidy tacked onto $2790 to $11,000 cost of car ownership is minuscule in comparison to the public transit subsidy on top of the costs of fares.

So the cost of driving and the cost of highways and the cost of public transit is extremely difficult to lock down to specifics. Depending upon where you live and how new your car is, driving can be cheaper or more expensive than taking public transit.
But the important point I wish to make is that those just using the cost of individual fares for public transit is doing a great disservice to the debate. And likewise, those just using the cost of buying and maintaining cars for driving is also doing a great disservice to the debate. Because in both cases, public subsidies are required to build and maintain over and beyond their user taxes, fees, and fares. And I would like to add, in most small cities and towns across America, regular scheduled public transit does not exist.

And I will try once again to repeat the main point of my earlier response, make riding public transit a better experience than riding in your own automobile if you really want to compete with automobiles across the country. As long as the seats are uncomfortable, as long as the vehicles are dirty, as long as the headways are too long, as long as the amount of service is so poor, public transit can not compete.

Last edited by electricron; Jan 22, 2021 at 3:27 PM.
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Old Posted Jan 22, 2021, 2:00 PM
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Originally Posted by Doady View Post
St. Louis' light rail ridership has not grown since 1996, and the overall transit ridership has fallen 30% during that time. Current transit ridership per capita and mode share is worse than most other MSAs of over 2 million people, including those with little to no rail service such as Austin, San Antonio, Las Vegas, Seattle, Pittsburgh... It doesn't convince me that about any anti-bus culture in the US. As I said, if people aren't willing to use buses, chances are they won't use rail either, and St. Louis is a good example of that. To have lots of people riding the trains, you need to have lots of people riding the buses feeding into the train stations. To argue about the merits of light rail vs heavy rail when you can't even fill the buses just doesn't make any sense.

To blame low transit ridership on a lack of rail is like saying that high crime rates in US is because of not enough police in black neighbourhoods. It's not looking at the root of the problem, and it's suggesting further division as the main solution to division. I think if there is difference between US and Canada it's that obsession with division, and that is the real reason so much of the USA cannot have adequate transit: dividing rail riders and bus riders, when transit is supposed to be about connecting people. If USA wants transit that connects more people, then it needs to stop trying to divide people so much, stop using transit as yet another way to divide people. Connecting more people together instead dividing them might help solve some of those huge racial and socioeconomic issues as well.
St. Louis actually has one of the more successful LRT systems for a metro it's size. It has higher rail ridership than similar sized cities Charlotte, Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Cleveland as recent as 2019. The low ridership per mile is more to do with it going through literally rural areas in the Metro East (Illinois) to get to Scott Air Force Base. The system has expanded several times since its inception in 1993. Ridership has gone down ever since service cuts happened during the 08 recession and have never recovered. There were also concerns over some high profile crimes that happened on and near the city. With all that said, you still haven't provided any evidence that someone riding busses is a prerequisite to train ridership. Also, many people that don't have to ride transit aka "choice riders" do prefer rail over busses. It's just a reality in many US metros. Also, St. Louis has higher bus ridership than light rail.
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