Poor Ridership = Poor Efficiency

Randal O'Toole argues that transit will never be energy efficient because ridership is never high enough to warrant the energy expelled.

O'Toole says that on average, public transit runs at about 1/5th of capacity:

"...there are very good reasons why public transit occupancy rates will never rise much above their current levels of about one-fifth full. Suppose you take a bus or train to work during rush hour and it seems full. But it really only seems full as it approaches the center of town. It is likely to be nearly empty when it starts its journey in the suburbs, and be nearly full only when it gets close to the city center."

And, says O'Toole, the "actual energy costs of buses and other forms of transit tend to be not significantly better (and in the cases of buses much worse) than cars."

Full Story: Why Transit Will Never Be Energy Efficient



Michael Lewyn's picture

self-fulfilling prophecy

This argument creates a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy: weak transit service creates light ridership, which in turn reduces the energy efficiency of transit, which in turn is another argument for the weak service that creates the light ridership! (By the way, lots of interesting comments to O'Toole's post at the link).

Todd Litman's picture

Energy Savings From High Quality Public Transit

I am glad to see O'Toole referencing my report, "Contrasting Visions of Urban Transport" (http://www.vtpi.org/cont_vis.pdf). However, he fails to address most of the points in my analysis. Private companies will only provide public transit service on a few corridors with high demand. They tend to provide either inexpensive, poor quality service, or high priced premium service. He is unable to identify any private transit companies that provide the combination of relatively high quality and affordable service provided by public transit systems in most North American cities. Only high-quality, affordable service attracts discretionary travelers (people who would otherwise drive) and therefore provides external benefits such as congestion reductions, road and parking facility cost savings, accident reductions and emission reductions.

North American public transit systems have relatively low load factors and system efficiencies because most transit service is primarily intended to provide basic mobility to non-drivers, even in times and places were there is little demand. This is justified on equity grounds. My research indicates that cities with high quality public transit systems (frequent service, grade separation, nice vehicles and stations, affordable fares, and transit-oriented development) have much higher load factors, lower costs per passenger-mile, higher cost recovery rates, and lower per capita automobile travel (see www.vtpi.org/railben.pdf ). As a result, improving public transit service quality can provide substantial energy savings and emission reductions, in addition to many other benefits to users and society.

Todd Alexander Litman
Victoria Transport Policy Institute
"Efficiency - Equity - Clarity"

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