Your View: Buses wont drive positive development like light rail


To the editor:

In the opinion piece Transportation tax dollars are heading in the right direction (September 15), Alexandria Chamber of Commerce CEO Tina Leone showed she and her fellow chamber members are transportation lightweights like area politicians when it comes to Alexandria and the regions transportation blueprint.

Instead of boldly calling for light rail or electric trolleybuses Ms. Leone meekly proposes bus rapid transit as panacea for area transportation woes. Unfortunately, the ubiquitous diesel buses fail to deliver the capacity needed to facilitate this process. Taken as a whole these vehicles continue to suffer from a combination of poor public perception, questionable environmental impact reliability concerns.

On the other hand, light rail can carry more people than buses and is much better at attracting new ridership because of its speed, comfort and convenience. These riders represent decreases in driving and an increase in overall transit usage. Norfolks new light rail system has nearly doubled its ridership from a projected 2,900 to an estimated 5,600 daily users in the first month of operation.

Transit-friendly development should also have been the focus of Ms. Leone and the Chamber as they prepared their recommendations. Again, developers are willing to invest in new properties along light rail routes since convenient transit benefits the community as a whole. Portlands Pearl District was a rundown collection of warehouses, seedy hotels and abandon buildings. A decade later, with a functioning light rail extension, it anchors more than $57 million in mixed use development with 7,000 housing units and 4.6 million square feet of retail and office space.

Finally light rail / streetcars tend to have a lower operational costs based on their ability to handle larger capacities and the availability of electric power. Taken as a whole electric utility prices tend to be more stable than those of oil and with the volatility in the petroleum market these can only be reflected in higher prices at the fare box.  Also, the average life of a bus is 10 to 15 years versus the 30- to 40-year life cycle of the comparable rail car, making replacement of buses more frequent and in the end, more costly.

As Canadian writer Ryan McGreal notes, Cities that have embraced light rail are enjoying growing ridership, cleaner air, and copious new investments. Cities that continue to eschew it will fall farther and farther behind. It appears the Chamber and local politicos are taking a rear guard action.