I have mixed feelings about streetcars. But if we’re going to pick on them, let’s do it for the right reasons, like the fact that they don’t have dedicated right of way. Yesterday the Pioneer Press reported that the Met Council was presented with a report about streetcars that “questions whether the costs outweigh the gains”.
Dollars are one way to measure cost, and if we’re spending too much to get gains, that is bad. How much money do we spend on transit elsewhere to get gains?
The proposed Nicollet streetcar in Minneapolis will cost $200 million and serve 9,200 riders in 2030. Bus Rapid Transit proposed for the Gateway Corridor will cost $469 million and serve 9,300 riders in 2030. That’s double the cost per rider. The Met Council has already adopted its Transportation Policy Plan, which includes the build-out of Gateway in the “Current Revenue Scenario” (meaning they don’t need any new money from the legislature or others). Bottineau and Southwest LRT also come in with price tags significantly higher per rider than the Minneapolis streetcar (Southwest is more than double).
Yes, we could be choosing arterial bus improvements on Nicollet instead of streetcars. That might be good. But we could also be prioritizing expenditures across our regional transit system – looking at projects that have the highest cost-effectiveness per rider, or that most effectively address current inequities in job or destination access.
If we were really serious about costs and benefits, we’d be building projects like Hennepin Avenue Bus Rapid Transit tomorrow, which has a cost per rider 55 times lower than Gateway Corridor. Instead, it’s on the “Increased Revenue Scenario” list, waiting in the breadline with the other high-value bus improvement projects, for the legislature to maybe, someday, hopefully fund.