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Rail vs. Buses for Southland Mass Transit

June 22, 1997

Once again anti-rail fanatics James E. Moore II and Thomas A. Rubin (Opinion, June 15) are given space to promote more freeway construction and those ugly, ludicrous multibillion-dollar elevated transitways which will be maxed out in 20 years and prove to be more problem than solution.

The excellent busway system of the Seattle Metro offers models for us to consider. However, if this were the final panacea they suggest, why is Seattle in the process of building a massive rapid-rail system?


Sherman Oaks

* The relevant question is car vs. transit, not rail vs. bus. The Los Angeles metropolitan area has a population of almost 15 million who must use 10 million cars and trucks to travel to work, schools, shopping and recreation. Thirty to 40 million trips are made each day, almost all by car. Only 2% to 4% of these trips are made by transit. Each trip made by car costs driver and community about $7, a trip by bus $2.80, and a trip by rail has a potential cost of about $1.75.

Low-cost urban transportation depends on patronage. Rail transit benefits from economies of scale. The more passengers, the less real cost per trip. Buses presently have some economies of scale, but only because many now run mostly empty. Cars and freeways, on the other hand, have diseconomies of scale--the more cars, the greater the cost per trip.

Buses and cars are both labor and space intensive. Eighty percent of bus cost is labor--salaries for drivers and mechanics. The principal charm of buses is that they are able to run on existing streets. Bus guideways are more costly than rail guideways. The Harbor Freeway high-occupancy vehicle lane and guideway construction cost is almost $1 billion. It's one mile long.

These inefficiencies cost Angelenos tens of billions annually.


Transportation Committee

Angeles Chapter, Sierra Club

* My heart perked up June 14 at Hal Bernson's very practical push for a commuter train across the Valley using tracks that already exist. Of course, as is always the case when an idea seems to make sense, the bombardment was immediate. Is there any transportation system that won't cause one neighborhood or another some inconvenience? Metrolink suggested using lighter-weight trains. Maybe there is a combination of solutions to noise and other problems. By the way, didn't freight trains once rumble down those tracks?

We must have some way to get people to work from the San Fernando Valley before 2011. That means working together, maybe even accepting some things we don't like, and being open to all ideas and options.



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