Rail Transit In America – A comprehenshive evaluation of benefits (August 2006)
This study evaluates rail transit benefits based on a comprehensive analysis of
transportation system performance in major U.S. cities. It finds that cities with large, wellestablished
rail systems have significantly higher per capita transit ridership, lower
average per capita vehicle ownership and annual mileage, less traffic congestion, lower
traffic death rates, lower consumer expenditures on transportation, and higher transit
service cost recovery than otherwise comparable cities with less or no rail transit service.
This indicates that rail transit systems provide economic, social and environmental
benefits, and these benefits tend to increase as a system expands and matures. This
report discusses best practices for evaluating transit benefits. It examines criticisms of
rail transit investments, finding that many are based on inaccurate analysis.
Although Large Rail cities have higher per capita congestion costs, this occurs because
congestion tends to increase with city size. Taking city size into account, rail transit turns
out to significantly reduce per capita congestion costs, as indicated in Figure ES-3.
Matched pair analysis indicates that Large Rail cities have about half the per capita
congestion costs as other comparable size cities.
U.S. rail transit services require about $12.5 billion annual public subsidy (total capital
and operating expenses minus fares), about an extra $90 per Large Rail city resident.
However, economic benefits more than repay these subsidies: rail transit services are
estimated to provide $19.4 billion in annual congestion cost savings, $8.0 billion in
roadway cost savings, $12.1 billion in parking cost savings, $22.6 billion in consumer
cost savings, and $5.6 billion in traffic accident cost savings. Rail transit also tends to
provide economic development benefits, increasing business activity and tax revenues.
It can be a catalyst for community redevelopment. Additional, potentially large benefits
include improved mobility for non-drivers, increased community livability and improved
This study critiques studies which imply that rail transit is ineffective. It finds that their
analysis is often incomplete, inaccurate, and biased. It examines various factors that
could offset rail transit benefits, including the possibility that transit oriented development
is harmful to consumers, that new rail systems cannot achieve significant benefits, that
apparent benefits of rail actually reflect other factors such as city size, and that bus
transit can provide equal benefits at less cost.
This study indicates that rail transit is particularly important in large, growing cities. Large
cities that lack well-established rail systems are clearly disadvantaged compared with
large cities that do in terms of congestion costs, consumer costs and accident risk. Rail
transit can be a cost effective investment in growing cities, provided it is supported with
appropriate transport and land use policies. Large cities with newer and smaller rail
systems have not yet achieved the full potential benefits of rail transit, but, if their rail
systems continue to develop with supportive public policies, their benefits should
increase over time.
This analysis does not mean that every rail transit project is cost-effective, or that rail is
always better than bus or highway improvements. It attempts to provide a fair and
balanced evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of each mode, and identify
situations in which each is most appropriate. This study concludes that rail transit
provides significant benefits, particularly if implemented with supportive transport and
land use policies. In many situations, rail transit is the most cost effective way to improve