Via Alon Levy’s great walkability and planning website, Pedestrian Observations, here’s a chart showing transit operating costs using two different payment models:
[Note: these data are from New York City commuter rail, e.g. the Long Island Railroad or LIRR and Metro-North, a NYC commuter rail line.]
Levy has a lot of information on how scheduling and staffing levels can affect costs. Here’s Levy’s key idea:
But whatever happens, the most important reform from the point of view of reducing marginal off-peak service provision costs is letting go of redundant train crew. Halving the variable operating costs is exactly what is required to convert the nearly empty off-peak trains from financial drains to an extra source of revenues, balancing low ridership with even lower expenses. This would of course compound with other operating efficiencies, limiting the losses of branch lines and turning the busier main line trains into profit centers. But nowhere else is there the possibility of cutting costs so much with one single policy change as with removing conductors and changing the fare enforcement system to proof-of-payment.
There’s been lots of conversation about enforcement on the Green Line. People ask things like “why aren’t there turnstyles?” or “why aren’t there more police checking tickets?”
Well, the answer lies in economics. In general, I think Twin Cities rail transit is pretty efficient!
Our LRT lines are pretty efficient (at least if we assume the Green Line is performing about as well as the Blue Line — I don’t think I’ve seen data released on that yet), though unfortunately our Northstar commuter line is way on the other end of the scale. I included a chart in this post that showed Northstar having an unusually high operating cost. This may be one reason why.
Commuter rail systems are often flawed by design, though — on Northstar, there would still need to be a crewmember to deploy a bridge plate or onboard lift to assist passengers in wheelchairs or other mobility problems, since the train isn’t designed for level boarding. Very frustrating that the freight companies don’t allow good platform designs to be used.
The other end of the operational spectrum is a system like Vancouver’s SkyTrain. Or other completely grade separated trains like the skytrain connecting JFK to Jamaica Station in New York….
With full grade separation comes automated operations. With automated operations comes significantly lower operational costs. With significantly lower operational costs comes 24 hour operations at frequent headways.
I could just kiss Vancouver’s public transit on the mouth. I was there with my family (me, wife, 5-year-old and 1-year-old), and the Canada Line subway comes every three minutes. We wanted to go to Lynn Canyon Park out past North Vancouver, and transit got us there in an hour (a one fare trip that included a train, a boat, a sushi stop and a bus).