Cost Ineffective

posted in: Costs | 0

This just doesn’t make sense!

The cost of serving each person who commutes on the light rail being championed by GoTriangle (Triangle Transit) comes to:

$170,939.13 per expected passenger!

This is a conservative estimate based 100% on GoTriangle’s numbers as published on their website. Let’s walk through this.

$1,820,000,000 Costs to build the system: 1.82 billion. Sometimes you’ll see significantly lower numbers, but those were estimates given in 2011 and 2012 (and earlier) dollars; the newer, larger number is supposed to include the full effects of inflation, and was posted in 2015. For this calculation we’ll stick to the 2015 number.

$16,200,000 Cost per year to operate and maintain the system. This appears to be in 2012 dollars but it may also have been adjusted in 2015, the website isn’t clear. We’ll stick to their number here, too.

11,500 Predicted number of people using the system on an average weekday in 2035, after the train has been in service for a full nine years. Their estimate for “number of trips” was 23,000, but almost all passengers are taking two ‘trips’, or rides, each day: one to work or school and one returning home from work or school. So I halved the number of rides to get number of passengers/people served: 23,000 / 2 = 11,500.

Many of these people are currently taking bus service which would be replaced by the rail; obviously busses that cover the same route would be discontinued so the passengers will need to ride the train once that happens. Other passengers will come from the new “compact housing” units that are planned to be built along the route. But GoTriangle appears to also be assuming that there will be passengers who will drive to parking lots at light rail stations, then ride the train the rest of the way.

9 The number of years of operation needed to work up to 11,500 riders per day. The expected ridership estimate given by GoTriangle is for nine to ten years after the system is planned to come online (2025 or 2026). They believe they need that long to build the ridership up to that level.

Weekdays generally have the most riders because people are going to work or school each day, therefore weekday ridership is the best measure of how many people are using the train. So: how much will we have spent to get up to 11,500 weekday riders 20 years from now?


(1.82 billion + [ {9 years} x {16.2 million maintenance}]) / { 11,500 riders }

= ($1,820,000,000 + $145,800,000) / 11,500

= $1,965,800,000 / 11,500

= $170,939.13 spent for each rider served on an average weekday in 2035.


Now, moving 11,500 people to and from one place to another in one day is pretty cool, and I’m sure it’s downright ‘fantastic’ in the mind of someone who has a passion for public transit…

But is it worth spending over $1.9 billion to get there? Over $170,000 per rider? 20 years of spending, planning, building to get there? Followed by $16,200,000 per year to operate and maintain?

GoTriangle is seeing this goal as being reached 2035, 20 years from now. But they haven’t taken into consideration the massive changes that will be happening in ground transportation between now and then; changes that will most likely ensure this goal is not reached. And changes that our area will not be able to properly adapt to because too much of our transit funding will be tied up in operating and maintaining last century’s transit solution.

Reference notes:

Numbers used in this post were taken from the FAQ found here:
The specific questions that include these numbers are “Question #20 How much will the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project cost?” and “Question #22 What is the anticipated ridership on the proposed Durham-Orange Light Rail Transit Project?”