A Longer, Slower Commute

posted in: Who gets hurt | 1

Triangle Transit brags that the light rail system they want to spend nearly two billion dollars on will run at speeds “up to 55 mph”. But if you went to one of their June meetings you might have seen on their literature that the ride from UNC to Alston Avenue in Durham, a total of 17 miles, will take a full 42 minutes. That’s an increase of a few minutes since the last time I saw one of their estimates.

It means that the train is actually averaging only 24.3 miles per hour.

But if you boarded the train on route 54 right before the stretch where it runs alongside I-40, where it actually could pick up some speed, and got off at the very next stop because you worked at Patterson Place, then you’d save some time by using the rail, right?

Probably not.
When talking transit time the advocates of the light rail give time estimates of how long the traveler will be on the train, but that isn’t the whole trip. First you have to get to a train station. If someone asked you how long your commute to work was you’d answer with the number of minutes between when you walked out your front door to the time you walked into your place of work. For the majority of light rail riders this commute would have to start with them catching a bus that takes them to a train station. A car would have to start by driving to a station and parking in one of the new parking lots.

Then they’ll need to wait for the next train. During the morning and evening commutes that could be up to 10 minutes because that’s how often the trains will run. At all other times the maximum wait would be twice that, 20 minutes, because the trains will run half as frequently during non-peak times.

The worst case, of course, is the rider that has to take the train to get to downtown Durham or to Chapel Hill only to then catch another bus to go the last mile to their destination. And those minutes waiting for each transfer between bus and train could feel even longer if the person traveling were waiting on a winter morning in 30 degree weather, or during a summer thunder storm. But waiting for your ride is part of the package when taking public transit, which is just one of the many reasons Americans take their cars if they have the choice. Commuter rail systems do not lure people out of their cars.

The bottom line is this: light rail would not reduce transit time for commuters who currently use the bus system; and light rail would definitely increase transit time for anyone who currently takes a car. The billions it would cost to build the train that GoTriangle is promoting will not lure drivers switch to public transit.

Automobile commuters often support the idea of adding a light rail system, but that’s because they are hoping, unreasonably, that it will take other drivers off the road, resulting in less traffic congestion when they drive themselves to work. It’s not because they plan on using the train themselves.

This train, if built, will slow down not only those who have to, by necessity, ride it, but will also slow down those who have to drive through intersections that the train passes through ‘at grade’.

This train helps nobody and hurts many.


We Can and Must Stop the Train!


photo credit: Leamington Spa Station – Chiltern train 168112 via photopin (license)

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