Why the Federal Government Should Require Minimum Service Standards for Rail

According to Yonah Freemark, there's folly in the way the federal government has been funding rail transit projects but failing to set standards for minimum service—a key indicator of transit ridership success.

1 minute read

August 21, 2014, 9:00 AM PDT

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell


Yonah Freemark introduces a discussion of transit service standards by citing the example of Salt Lake City's S-Line rail transit project. The project was built at costs competitive with bus rapid transit but has delivered only a third of the projected ridership.

According to Freemark, "providing new rail lines isn’t enough – service standards really matter when it comes to attracting people to use transit. And on that front, too many transit agencies around the country are failing to offer the services people can rely on."

Freemark goes on to point out that, while the Federal government has been funding the majority of recent streetcar and light rail projects, they've also failed "to enforce any sort of minimum level of service." More specifically, "[rather] than mandate that new services funded through grants offer service at least every 15 minutes, for example, the Federal Transit Administration simply requires agencies to 'develop quantitative standards for all fixed route modes of operation' for issues like vehicle headway. In other words, if a transit agency provides service every three hours on a just-built rail line, that’s fine — as long as that information has been submitted in triplicate to Washington in advance."

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