Why We Believe that the Cap Metro Milestone-2 Study Is Flawed

The Austin Rapid Transit Project funded a study which produced a report on competing urban transit vehicles.  Light Rail was ranked as #1 and monorail was ranked last based on certain evaluation criteria. We believe that this vehicle rating is biased and flawed.

PRIMARY TRUNK FUNCTION

 

Cap Metro describes Primary Trunk Function as a backbone or spine of long term transit network. Under the Streetcar Light Rail plan there is a long route line drawn down Austin's center. In Austin Monorail's route plan there is a long line drawn down Austin's center. Each one is clearly a 'backbone or spine,' yet Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 2; Monorail 1.

 

CIRCULATOR FUNCTION

 

Cap Metro describes this criterion, not surprisingly, as 'Reflect characteristics of a circulator or distributor system.' Monorail is expandable to serve as a distributor system, and is superior to a streetcar since there would be no tearing up of roads in order to lay rails. Monorail beams are pre-fabricated. Only the columns have to be constructed in the roadway on a very small 'footprint,' the area of the street that is taken up by the column. Then the beams are brought in and mounted to the columns. There is virtually no loss of business to local stores during any construction phase. Even though streetcars merit a zero, Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 2; Monorail 2.

 

With circulators, flexibility is the key.  Streetcars (and monorails) are poor circulators.  Tracks only go in fixed routes.  The best vehicle to access a variety of locations quickly and comfortably would be something on the order of the friendly-appearing ‘trolleys' that Cap Metro presently runs downtown over the lunch hour.  If you've sat on those hard wooden benches, you know they're meant for short ‘circulator' runs.
 

AFFORDABILITY

 

The Cap Metro study appears to be highly biased towards light rail. In the study, Cap Metro cites several representative light rail systems which have an average capitol construction cost of $29.2 million/mile and a median construction cost of $25.3 million/mile (half of the systems studied were below $25.3 million per mile and half were above $25.3 million/mile). 

 

However, Cap metro gives a figure of $918 Million in capital construction costs for their base route (called Alternative 1) (Revised Executive Summary Milestone 1 10-12-01). Given a base route length of 20.8 miles (our assumption based on Cap Metro's route map), this yields a per mile capitol cost of $44 million/mile. Note that this is in the high range of all the representative light rail systems shown here. Yet the study which recommends light rail over monorail does not cite these costs, only the costs for the cheaper light rail systems [note plural] that apparently will not apply to Austin."

Cap Metro is also considering both partial and fully elevated light rail transit systems. They are trying to gain some of the benefits of a true monorail system without giving up the streetcar mentality. They cite the cost of a fully elevated light rail transit system (Alternative 6) as an additional $561.8 million dollars for a total of $1,486 million dollars. That is almost $1.5 BILLION dollars of capital construction cost. This comes out to $71 million dollars per mile.

In comparison, the Cap Metro study cited three of the most expensive monorails in existence and ignores other more moderately priced systems and cost data from the monorail manufacturers themselves.

See our complete page on Cap Metro's capitol construction cost vs. monorail here. Predictably, Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 2; Monorail 0.

 

COMMUNITY CHARACTER

 

This vague criterion is described as 'Support and enhance existing and planned development ... in keeping with desirable densities, community character and quality of life.' Now lets think for a moment...streetcars have accidents with cars and cause fatalities to pedestrians; streetcars take away existing traffic lanes; streetcars can end street parking for businesses on the route; streetcars must sound their horns at every unprotected intersection; streetcars have ugly power lines suspended from poles spanning the route. Are we supposed to think that streetcars meet any part of this criterion?  Monorails are sleek looking. Monorail stations and even the columns can be designed and decorated, or even landscaped to suit any neighborhood. Monorails take up no lanes of traffic. Monorails have no accidents with street vehicles or pedestrians, and there is engineering to prevent monorail-monorail accidents, and they're powered through the beam itself; no ugly overhead wires. Given all this, it must have been a tough decision, but Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 1; Monorail 0.

 

EASE OF IMPLEMENTATION

 

Here's where Cap Metro says that the system should be rated by whether or not it will be able to travel down existing railroad rights-of-way. Well, here a streetcar will win hands down. That's a given. But people don't live on railroad tracks. Businesses won't benefit when the people are whisked away from their stores. Neighborhoods will not grow and blossom (as they continue to do in Dallas) when the streetcar goes down the middle of MoPac. And when you exit in the middle of Mopac, where can you walk to? Monorail promises to spur neighborhood growth as both Monorail and light rail have done when they run in populated areas. Businesses thrive, and ugly stretches of commercial areas often revitalize as they strive to attract the 'new' pedestrians who transfer nearby between busses and the Monorail. As the areas become more attractive, people in their cars are tempted to stop as well. It ends up working for everyone.  As a criterion, this one is an obvious red herring.  Incredibly, Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 0; Monorail 0, even though it's a free-bee to streetcars.

 

ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECT

 

Cap Metro is looking here to determine the most desirable system in terms of 'air quality, noise, visual setting, et al' [sic] Streetcars are louder than monorails. They're steel on steel. Some Monorails use steel wheels, but the beams are padded to absorb any noise. Streetcars have horns that must be sounded. Monorails don't. Streetcars make noise when they hit passenger vehicles. Monorails can't. Their report says that monorails 'increase visual impacts.' Perhaps. But the electrical power lines that are strung from side to side down the streets, and criss-crossing at intersections have a very negative visual impact. Monorail beams are narrow, they do not restrict sunlight from hitting the street like some old elevated train tracks do. If there's any complaint, it's that the Monorail will not provide enough shade! Predictably, Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 1; Monorail 0.

 

EXPANDABILITY

 

The description here is, 'Be able to expand system coverage, add vehicles and/or increase frequencies to accommodate increased future demand for service and growth.' Wait till you see the rating here! It's totally arbitrary. As we've said above, Monorail is infinitely expandable, and it's done at the least inconvenience for businesses on the route. Monorail trains can run every 20 minutes or every 6 minutes, the same kind of flexibility that is enjoyed by major city subway systems depending on demand. This is how you increase mobility! On the other hand, when you run more streetcars, you actually tie up more and more automobile and pedestrian traffic because the crossing gates go down more often and the signal lights will always favor the streetcar. Thus, streetcars ultimately reduce overall mobility!  When you try to expand a streetcar system, the first thing that has to go is the street. Ask the merchants in Houston how much revenue they've lost due to prolonged construction. Ask them how much business they will permanently lose when the streetcar eats up the parking in front of their stores. As plain as day as this may seem, Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 2; Monorail 1.

 

FLEXIBILITY

 

This category was created to deliberately confuse.  Check out this definition: 'Be able to operate in a  variety of right-of-way conditions (exclusive right-of-way, in-street dedicated right-of-way, grade separated).' The Monorail excels at flexibility. A Monorail can operate down an alley behind homes if that were needed (it isn't). The residents would hardly know it was there. However the streetcars are the ones plagued with having to be gerrymandered hither and yon to suit the 'right-of-way conditions.'  This description of Flexibility is self-serving.  It's a definite Zero for streetcars and a 2 for Monorail. But Cap Metro won't be outdone. Cap Metro  scores: Streetcars 1; Monorail 0.

 

This category also includes (probably because there's no where else to include it), 'accommodate bicycle access and bicycles on board vehicle. Monorails could be a bit more difficult for the bike rider, but once on the platform bicycles are just as welcome as on a streetcar. Every platform will have to have an elevator, principally for wheelchairs and scooters.  So there's really no reason someone with a bicycle could not have access to the Monorail.

 

 IMPROVED OPERATING CONDITIONS

 

Check this one out! Cap Metro defines this criterion as, 'Potential to reduce the number of busses on downtown streets.'  What? What kind of a category is this? If they do replace any busses on downtown streets, light rail will only replace them with streetcars! Street congestion is street congestion.  If you want to reduce downtown street congestion, you have to put your transit in the air or under the ground, and everyone agrees subways are too expensive. When a car doesn't get through an intersection completely when the light changes, other cars try to go around. Streetcars can't go around. Not only are they stuck, but every streetcar behind that one is stuck, and that further snarls traffic. If there's a collision between two autos that puts one onto a streetcar track, the whole length of the line behind that car is stopped. Is this really what Cap Metro sees as 'improved operating conditions?' Also, auto-streetcar accidents are not uncommon. Check out our light rail accidents link (and see our safety' point below), or type 'light-rail accidents' into your search engine and see what comes up. It's quite sobering. Fatalities are not uncommon.  Monorail cannot guarantee to reduce the number of busses downtown. But Monorail can guarantee that those busses connecting to the Monorail will be carrying a lot more people than they carry now, as more and  more people decide that true mobility is important in their lives, regardless of the vehicle they use. Myopic Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 1; Monorail 1.

 

PROVEN TECHNOLOGY

 

Cap Metro has a spin for this one too. 'Proven technology' as they define it is, '...proven  technology in operation in the United States.' That disqualifies the Monorail that has been running in Wuppertal, Germany, since 1901. It disqualifies the Haneda line in Japan. Monorail has had limited use in the United States for no good reason, really, "but their scoring ignores 5 monorail systems in Germany, 2 in England, 1 under construction in Moscow, 9 working in Japan with one more on the way, 2 in Singapore, 2 in Korea, 1 in China, 1 operating and 2 under construction in Malaysia, 3 in Australia, 2 in Brazil with one scheduled, numerous smaller installations in the United States, and 1 in Montreal, all of which have millions of rider-miles of 'proven technology.' " We consider this criterion to be disingenuous in the extreme, deliberately refusing to consider the 100 years of proven success established by Monorails all over the world.  Thus it is no surprise that Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 2; Monorail 0.  "Yes, Cap Metro, we know that streetcars are also a proven technology. So is the horse and buggy a time-tested and absolutely proven technology, but they're both impractical and obsolete."

 

And why deliberately exclude available data that could help the public decide for themselves? This is intellectually dishonest.

 

STANDARDIZED vs PROPRIETARY

 

The definition is, 'Standardized system with multiple vendors providing interchangeable vehicles, parts, guideway, etc. preferred to proprietary systems.'  Good point. But let's consider the details.  Streetcars are only 'standardized' as to the track size. Every manufacturer offers parts and service support only for its products. No matter who made the streetcar, only that company has parts for it. The parts are no more interchangeable than are the parts between a Chevy and a Daihatsu. So yes, equipment can be purchased from several different vendors, but the disincentive to do so is found in Cap Metro's need to keep a separate and distinct parts inventory for each manufacturer. So in any new equipment purchase, the strong inclination will always be to accept the bid from the previous vendor, for streetcars, Monorails, or any transit system. A Monorail system is proprietary in the sense that unlike rails, the beam size is not standardized. But just as there are 'aftermarket' manufacturers who produce parts for Fords, Chevys, Toyotas, and all makes of cars, so too will there be machine shops that will be happy to compete with the original equipment manufacturer to supply needed parts to Cap Metro for maintenance.  As to standardization, there was a time when rails were not standardized either. Here in Texas we still have examples of narrow gauge railroads, for instance. If Austin installs a 20 mile Monorail system, not only will other cities take notice and order Monorails as well, but Austin's example will be copied. There is every likelihood that Austin could set the standard for beam size in the United States at least.  In any event, we do not see this as a real obstacle.  Cap Metro scores: Streetcars 1; Monorail 0. If it weren't for the fact that Cap Metro seems to deliberately shortchange Monorail time and time again, and give undeserved credit to streetcars, we'd probably agree with this score.

 

THE MISSING CRITERION: SAFETY!

 

How is it possible that Cap Metro could devise this method of measuring and evaluating competing transit systems without considering probably the most crucial element: safety to the user and safety to the people nearby. Nowhere in their 'Summary of Vehicle Types by Criteria' is SAFETY shown to be a concern. 

 

 We see an obvious reason for this. Streetcars have a dismal safety record! A Salt Lake City Trax streetcar killed a lady last year when her car hit the front of the Trax car. The impact of this single car was enough to derail the streetcar and throw it into the other tracks. The newspaper revealed that the flanges on the wheels were only 3/8 of an inch wide. 3/8 of an inch is all that kept that streetcar on the tracks! A monorail cannot derail. It cannot fall. It is permanently affixed to the beam. And the straddle type sits atop the beam. It can't hit cars, and can't be hit by them. It can't hit people unless someone falls onto the tracks, an awful event which could happen with streetcars as well. But with streetcars dismal safety record and Monorail's exemplary record, we must ask Cap Metro, What is the value you place on a human life in Austin? Is it a cheap shot to ask this question? It could be considered so, until you consider that they did not have a single evaluation criteria that asks the question, 'How safe is this method?' If this is an oversight, it is inexcusable. Cap Metro has paid millions to consultants to ask and answer exactly this type of question. 'Austin Monorail' consists of a few interested citizens, volunteer citizens. Safety is important to us. We're not apt to overlook it.

Cap Metro's Revised Executive Summary; Milestone 2: Urban Transit Vehicles 'Vehicles Studied and Evaluation Criteria':

The vehicles studied were:

  1. Metro Rail- a type of “heavy rail (long distance trains and commuter/regional rail are other forms of heavy rail) specifically for urban transit applications, using conventional rail track and capable of carrying a high number of passengers.

  2. Light Rail Transit (LRT)- Light rail is a form of urban transit designed to serve lower passenger volumes than metro rail levels but higher passenger volumes than existing bus operations. Light rail generally employs rail vehicles, singly or in 2- or 3-car trains, powered by overhead electric wires.

  3. Diesel Multiple Units (DMU)- Diesel Multiple Units are rail passenger vehicles that use diesel powered engines as the propulsion mechanism, eliminating the need for overhead electrical wires or a third rail. DMUs operate in trains of 2 or more vehicles that are reversible, since they have driver cabs at each end of the train.

  4. Bus Rapid Transit (BRT)- Any type of bus (see Glossary) can be operated in a type of better/faster service system called Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The characteristics of BRT in general are: signal priority, rapid/convenient fare collection, and use of some advanced/intelligent transportation systems technologies to enhance safety and operations

  5. Monorail- The term "monorail" is used to describe a type of transit system, generally elevated, with vehicles that straddle or are suspended from a single rail, beam, or tube.

  6. Automated Guideway Transit (AGT)- Automated guideway transit is any transit mode with fully automated operation (i.e., no drivers on revenue vehicles). Since there is no driver, automated guideway requires a fully separated right-of-way, usually elevated. Systems can be built at ground level but the right-of-way must be fenced.

The study rated the six competing vehicles by the following criteria:

  1. PRIMARY TRUNK FUNCTION - Desirable Condition:  Reflect characteristics of a primary trunk system (i.e. “backbone or spine” of long term transit network

  2. CIRCULATOR FUNCTION- Desirable Condition:  Reflect characteristics of a circulator or distributor system

  3. AFFORDABILITY- Desirable Condition:  Be affordable (initial capital costs and annual/long range operating and maintenance costs) and cost effective.

  4. COMMUNITY CHARACTER- Desirable Condition:  Support and enhance existing and planned development in the Austin area, in keeping with desirable densities, community character and quality of life. 

  5. EASE OF IMPLEMENTATION- Desirable Condition:  Ability to be implemented with relatively lower infrastructure investment and, therefore, more quickly, in existing railroad right-of-way

  6. ENVIRONMENTAL EFFECT- Desirable Condition:  Have beneficial effect on air quality, noise, visual setting, et al.

  7. EXPANDABILITY- Desirable Condition:  Be able to expand system coverage, add vehicles and/or increase frequencies to accommodate increased future demand for service and growth.

  8. FLEXIBILITY- Desirable Condition:  Be able to operate in a variety of right-of-way conditions (exclusive right-of-way, in-street dedicated right-of-way, grade separated); accommodate bicycle access and bicycles on board vehicles.

  9. IMPROVED OPERATING CONDITIONS- Desirable Condition:  Potential to reduce the number of buses downtown

  10. PROVEN TECHNOLOGY- Desirable Condition:  Be a proven vehicle technology in operation in the United States

  11. STANDARDIZED VS. PROPRIETARY- Desirable Condition: A standardized system with multiple vendors providing interchangeable vehicles, parts, guideway, etc. preferred to proprietary systems.

SUMMARY OF VEHICLE TYPES BY CRITERIA

Table 7:  Cap Metro's Vehicle Types By Criteria

Criteria

Desirable Condition

Metro Rail

LRT

DMU

BRT

Monorail

PRT

People Mover

Automated Urban Rail

Primary Trunk Function

Reflect characteristics of a primary trunk system (i.e. “backbone or spine” of long term transit network

+ +

+ +

+ +1

+ +

+

-

-

++

Circulator Function

Reflect characteristics of a circulator or distributor system

-

+ +

+ +1

+ +

+ +

++

++

+

Affordability

Be affordable (initial capital costs and annual/long range operating and maintenance costs) and cost effective.

-

+ +

+ +

+ +2

-

n/a

+

+

Community Character

Support and enhance existing and planned development in the Austin area, in keeping with desirable densities, community character and quality of life. 

-

+

+ 1

+

-

-

-

-

Ease of Implementation

Potential for lower-cost, earlier implementation in existing railroad right-of-way

-

-

+

-

-

-

-

-

Environmental Effect

Beneficial effect on air quality, noise, visual setting, et al

+

+

-4

-4

-5

-5

-5

-5

Expandability

Be able to expand system coverage, add vehicles and/or increase frequencies to accommodate increased future demand for service and growth.

+ +

+ +

+ +

+ +

+3

+3

-

++

Flexibility

Be able to operate in a variety of right-of-way conditions (exclusive right-of-way, in-street dedicated right-of-way, grade separated); accommodate bicycle access and bicycles on board vehicle.

-

+

+ 1

+

-

-

-

-

Improved

Operating Conditions

Potential to reduce the number of buses on downtown streets

+

+

+

-

+

+

+

+

Proven Technology

Be a proven vehicle technology in operation in the United States.

+ +

+ +

+ +

+ +

-

-

+

+

Standardized vs. Proprietary

Standardized system with multiple vendors providing interchangeable vehicles, parts, guideway, etc. preferred to proprietary systems.

+

+

+

+

-

-

-

-

1In street operations would be a new application for DMUs

2 Cost of urban surface applications are widely disparate

3 Number of vehicle can be increased

4Rating would be + if DMU and BRT are not diesel powered

5 Elevated systems increase visual impacts; capacity of PRT and People Mover limits air quality benefits

Note that this slide (goto slide 6- Vehicle Type Rating) from the Rapid Transit Project, has ranked the six vehicle alternatives based on the table above and has ranked monorail last. The Rapid Transit team appears to have assigned zero points for '-', one point for '+', and two points for '++' and totaled up and then ranked each column.

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