Wednesday, October 7, 2009
Ding dong went the trolley - faintly
None of these US and Canadian study (cough, splutter) tour cities have metropolitan area populations of less than 2 million. Whatever inspiration and ideas Mayor Parker & Co may glean it is hard to imagine their report - I am presuming ratepayers get one - matching costs and ridership back to Christchurch. And hard to imagine that any of the party on this tour have the specialised background in public transport planning to adequately evaluate what they see (let alone number crunch the multiple different stats involved).
If these astute travellers had pointed their telescopes to some cities a little more comparable in size to Christchurch - surveyed CANZUS (the small cities of Canada, Australia, NZ, USA) they would have had to look bloody hard to find a light rail project in any city under a million!
In fact, checking out all 117 cities in these four countries, in the 300,000 - million metropolitan population band, a few tourist orientated heritage trams aside, I could only find a single small city which currently operates a modern light rail system,Tacoma in the State of Washington, USA. The Christchurch team may even visit there - it is only 51 kilometres south of Seattle, the major southern point of Seattle's elongated metropolitan sprawl.
One of the many rabbit holes amateurs such as Parker and co. can fall down is city size - Tacoma city itself is only 203,000 residents - but it is also the county seat of Pierce County which has substantial urban areas. The land area is about 10% that of Canterbury with 805,000 residents, three-quarters of the local population outside the city boundary, mainly sprawling out to the east of Tacoma. (In similar vein,Seattle, the city itself, is only 602,000 population -the metropolitan area (within easy commuting distance) is 3.4 million - a tad larger than greater Christchurch).
As I said in a previous posting public transport usage in the USA is pretty abysmal, but there are some very progressive systems and Seattle-Tacoma etc are making huge attempts to lift transit usage in the State of Washington. Part of this has been has been the building of a light rail between the commuter rail station (services to and from Seattle) and parking building, and the downtown core area of Tacoma - all 2.6 kilometres.
The line opened in 2003 and is free to use. The (excellent) Quarterly Report to the CEO, calculates the current cost per passenger boarding at $4.90 (spread costs excluding depreciation) and average daily boardings at slightly above 3000 (first quarter 2009) - equivalent to around $15,000 a day operating costs. The cost of building this short line - $US80.4 million - reflects both the high cost of installing rail suitable for the considerable weight of multiple unit light rail vehicles (as opposed to smaller "street car" level light rail) through built-up inner city areas and the fact that heavier rail has been built with the idea that this short line will one day carry vehicles of commuters from further afield. Each of the three Czech-built Skoda trams cost $9 million and carries 56 passengers (30 seated and 26 standing).