The Development of Rail-Based System

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  • STEP 1: Specify the Set of Alternative Projects
    STEP 2: Decide Whose Benefits and Costs Count (Standing)
    STEP 3: Identify the Impact Categories, Catalogue Them and Select the Measurement Indicators. The next step in the Richmond Metropolitan Area cost-benefit analysis is to identify the impact categories, catalogue them and select the measurement indicators (Boardman et al., 2011).


The city of Richmond has a population of 204,214 as of the 2010 census and is currently estimated to have 227,032 persons (United States Census Bureau, 2017). It is the fourth most populated city in Virginia and the Richmond metropolitan area has a population of 1,263,617. This population is currently served by Greater Richmond Transit Company (GRTC). The GRTC Transit System was founded in 1860 and has operated continuously, with one temporary suspension during the Civil War, for over 150 years (GRTC Transit System, 2018). GRTC was voted the “Best Transit System in North America for 2008” by the American Public Transportation Association and it continues to revolutionize their transportation system (GRTC Transit System, 2018). The GRTC Pulse is an example of GRTC’s attempts to provide high quality services to their patrons. The GRTC Pulse is a bus rapid transit (BRT) route which runs along Broad Street and runs 7.6 miles from Willow Lawn to Rocketts Landing as shown in figure 1 (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014). The area is currently serviced by multiple local bus routes and, during peak hours, as many as 48 buses in one segment (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014). This resulted in a congested network of overlapping and converging transit routes that contribute to inefficiencies in service and impede the flow of traffic within the area (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014). I personally have driven these roads during rush hour and the congestion rivals the northern Virginia/D.C. area. The addition of the GRTC Pulse should assist with this congestion. I would have preferred if the city of Richmond invested in a rail-based system that would eliminate the interaction with vehicles on the roadways. I believe that rail-based systems are more beneficial. Buses tend to have a stigma attached to them which can affect ridership. In this CBA, I will attempt to compare the GRTC Pulse, a generic rail-based system and the status quo to ascertain the merits of each.

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Bus rapid transit was successfully integrated in the city of Cleveland in 2008. The city of Cleveland examined different transportation solutions before ultimately deciding on a bus rapid transit system. They conducted a comparative evaluation of alternatives using ridership forecasts, the capital cost estimates, operating and maintenance costs estimates, environmental impacts and financial feasibility (Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, 2012). The alternatives that were compared included four separate rail systems. The rail alternatives outperformed the rapid transit system in many of the evaluation categories, but the cost of the rapid transit system was half of the cost of the cheapest rail alternative (Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, 2012). I do believe that a rail-based system is the best sustainable public transport option.

There are several examples of a successful rail-based system such as the DC area METRO or the New York subway. I look at a bus rapid transit system as no different from riding in a car. The bus-based system is still subject to the same traffic ebbs and flows that any other vehicle is on a roadway. Problem is, the cost investment tends to be too much when there are cheaper alternatives such as bus rapid transit. Still, The Cleveland Healthline is an example of a successful bus rapid transit system and ridership has increased by 60 percent since BRT implementation and buses operate at 12.5 miles per hour, compared to pre-BRT speeds of 9.3 miles per hour (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014). The Healthline BRT is touted to have spurred $4.3 billion in development along its route, becoming a focal point for economic growth (Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, 2012). This can be debated. Discussions with local real estate professionals have indicated that the area redevelopment would have occurred regardless of the implementation of the bus rapid transit system. Healthline is often visited by representatives of other areas as an example of a highly successful system (Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority, 2012). It is not the only successful system.

In July 2005, the Kansas City Area Transportation Authority developed their first bus rapid transit line. This line was called the Metro Area Express (MAX) and the Federal Transit Administration has called it a model bus rapid transit line (Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, 2009). The Kansas City MAX is six miles long and incorporates numerous technologies to enhance the system. For example, MAX stations have real-time arrival signs and it also uses unique vehicles as well bus stations with modern shelters that are designed to provide weather protection (Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, 2009). The Kansas City MAX also incorporates green technologies. There are rain gardens at MAX stations, solar-powered lighting, recycling receptacles, and even solar-powered trash compactors (Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, 2009). The Kansas City MAX originally started with its Main Street line, but it has expanded to three separate lines with a fourth scheduled. The Kansas City MAX BRT is a notable example of BRT working for its city. It is not without its flaws.

Although the system has its own dedicated lane and signal priority, it can still get caught up in signal stacking situations, which delays its schedules (Davis, 2010). The Kansas City MAX also failed to increase the development in the surrounding areas and there is little visual evidence of any development around the bus stations or its corridor (Davis, 2010). Davis (2010), disagreed with the adoption of a bus-based system for Jacksonville, FL. He believes that bus-based systems do not spur economic development and that the permanent constructions of a rail-based system would be more advantageous. A rail-based system may eventually become an option for the City of Richmond, but those systems require tremendous infrastructure investments as well as significant public support. The adoption of the bus-based system similar to the Kansas City MAX may solve Richmond’s transportation congestion issues as well as increase ridership.

The Cleveland Healthline and the Kansas City MAX are two examples of a successful bus rapid transit line. The New Delhi BRT was not. Traffic congestion and its accompanying smog were valid reason why New Delhi wanted to implement a bus rapid transit system. In 2008, New Delhi opened a 3.6-mile BRT corridor which could move 12,000 passengers an hour (Misra, 2016). The New Delhi BRT was a failure for many reasons. According to Misra (2016), bus maintenance was not up to standard and many broke down, traffic signals malfunctioned, pedestrian accidents and even car owners filed lawsuits that pushed for universal access to bus lanes. The New Delhi BRT’s first problem was that the dedicated bus lane was only 3.6 miles long and afterward buses would need to merge into the flow of traffic (Kansas City Area Transportation Authority, 2009). The average length of bus users in New Delhi is 6.2 miles, which is too short of a distance to evaluate any system (Misra, 2016). This meant that most riders ending up riding the BRT out of the dedicated bus lanes, increasing the traffic on the roadway.

The second issue was that other vehicles were allowed to use the BRT lane (Misra, 2016). This defeats the purpose of having a dedicated bus lane if other vehicles are allowed to use it. With the amount of people and congestion in India, the roadway would have quickly turned into just another lane and attracted the same congestion as others. The third issue was that the public was not thoroughly educated on how to safely navigate the system (Misra, 2016). Public education is the key to any social project. If the public does not know how to navigate your system, they will begin to question why it is needed in the first place. This happened in New Delhi and the public began to call for its closure. After eight years, the government of New Delhi decided to eliminate the program. The New Delhi BRT was an example of an unsuccessful BRT system due to problems in its implementation. The GRTC Pulse should take heed of this example if it wants to be a success.


STEP 1: Specify the Set of Alternative Projects

The first step of a cost-benefit analysis for the GRTC Pulse is to specify a set of alternative projects (Boardman, Greenberg, Vining, & Weimer, 2011). Alternative one would be for the City of Richmond to maintain the status quo. This would mean no new transportation initiatives. Prior to the introduction of the Pulse, GRTC operated over 50 routes as well as express buses and rideshares (GRTC Transit System, 2018). Maintaining the status quo will add no new benefits as the current funding will continue. Alternative two will be the implementation of a light rail system. This system could transport passengers to the heart of the Richmond Metropolitan Area without dealing with the associated traffic congestion and delays. This alternative could eventually be expanded to the surrounding counties and create an easier way for residents to commute to the city for employment or entertainment. It would likely require a significant monetary investment that would have to be shared by all parties involved. Alternative three is the construction of the GRTC Pulse bus rapid transit system. This system would be highly modular, if expansion is warranted, and it wouldn’t be difficult to expand to the surrounding counties. This alternative would be a cheaper than the construction of a light rail system but may not have the same benefits of that system. Economic development in the area is already in progress and the GRTC Pulse would not have any effect on attracting new developments into the city.

Alternative 1 Maintain the Status Quo – No Additional Transportation Improvements

Alternative 2 Urban Light Rail System

Alternative 3 GRTC Pulse

STEP 2: Decide Whose Benefits and Costs Count (Standing)

The next step in the cost-benefit analysis for the GRTC Pulse is to identify the standing and key stake holders for the public transportation improvements in the Richmond Metropolitan Area (Boardman et al., 2011). The key stakeholders in the Richmond Metropolitan area are the residents as well as the corporations that are headquartered there. The Richmond Metropolitan area is home to the headquarters of Dominion Virginia Power, CarMax, Genworth Financial and Altria among others. According to the most recent Fortune 500 list, these companies are worth over a combined $55 billion and there are other companies not mentioned which are headquarted in the area. Any improvement to the transportation infrastructure can be seen as an attraction for other Fortune 500 companies for their headquarters or expansions. The focus of this cost benefit analysis will be on the regional standing. The residents, businesses and politicians in Richmond and its surrounding areas stand to gain the most from the implementation of new transporation infrastructure. I will not focus on the national standing regarding these transportation decisions. Richmond, VA is not yet seen as a major national city and the introduction of any of these alternatives will not increase that. The population or businesses in the area are not comparable to a major city such as New York or Chicago therefore I do not believe that the national standing is as important when dealing with Richmond.

STEP 3: Identify the Impact Categories, Catalogue Them and Select the Measurement Indicators. The next step in the Richmond Metropolitan Area cost-benefit analysis is to identify the impact categories, catalogue them and select the measurement indicators (Boardman et al., 2011).

Project Costs Project Benefits

Construction Travel Cost Savings

Light Rail Construction Vehicle Cost Savings

Additional Employees Real Estate Tax Revenue

Additional Bus Purchases

The primary costs of the alternatives are construction and its resulting maintenance and upkeep. This would entail the cost of construction site work, traffic signals and communication systems and any additional upgrades needed for GRTC Pulse stations. Maintenance costs are costs associated with the upkeep of the stations and vehicles. Other costs include the cost of constructing a light rail network. This cost would entail the cost of purchasing the railing and building the necessary infrastructure as well as any other associated cost. The final cost is the cost of purchasing additional GRTC Pulse vehicles. With the addition of the GRTC Pulse system, new buses will need to be procured. The final cost is the need for employees. Both alternatives will require an increase in employees. This is somewhat mitigated because the new infrastructure will open up the hiring area for many companies as people have easier access to their businesses. The primary benefits include the travel cost savings. The travel costs savings include the cost of gas or any tolls that riders paid. The vehicle cost savings include the cost of the vehicles and their resulting maintenance. Another benefit is the real estate tax revenue that will be collected due to expected developments along the infrastructure.

The fourth step for the Richmond Metropolitan Area transportation CBA is to predict the impacts quantitatively over the life of the project (Boardman et al., 2011). Using data about Richmond and public transportation I will try to predict the impacts.

Richmond Metropolitan Area Population 227,032 persons (United States Census Bureau, 2017)

BRT Construction $46.9 Million (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014)

Light Rail Construction $240 Million per mile (Levy, 2018)

Additional Bus Procurement $800,000 per bus (Uhler, 2017)

Employee Salary $39,790 (U.S. News, 2018)

Tax Revenue $4.9 million per year (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014)

Electric Bus Vehicle Savings $25,000 Annually (Chicago Transit Authority, 2018)

Travel Time Saved 93,195 Annually (Broad Street Rapid Transit Study, 2014)

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