An Investigation Into the Economic Impacts on Cities of Investment In Light Rail.

A very interesting study from the UK and well worth a read.

Light Rail can be very good to the economy, especially for adjacent merchants along the line which stores become a billboard for transit customers. Modern LRT is also has many non-user benefits to the community and if designed right contributes to the social fabric of the community.

Most people who have studied modern LRT understand this and those who do not, or have not read much about transit tend to support gadgetbahnen like our proprietary SkyTrain mini-metro system.

LR UK LightRailReport An investigation into the economic impacts on cities of investment in light rail


Our friend from Ottawa, Havecow has sent us and interesting account of investment due to their new LRT installation.


13 Responses to “An Investigation Into the Economic Impacts on Cities of Investment In Light Rail.”
  1. Rico says:

    Good report,

    I notice Skytrain shows up quite frequently in it (as an example of positive outcomes), including references for reduced automobile use….

    Glad to see positive news out of Ottawa, it will be a great system.

    Zwei replies: Some caveats, the report did not deal with modes, rather the effects on investment with transit. Much of the redevelopment done along the SExpo kyTrain line was rezoning redundant industrial lands into housing which would have happened with or without SkyTrain.

  2. Rico says:

    The report is actually a pretty good summary of various transit related studies from different locations. It is generally specific to mode, although it lumped Skytrain and the Copenhagen mini-metro with LRT. The study referenced impacts on things like; extension of labour market catchment areas, stimulation of investment,real estate and Transit Oriented Development. Under the section Light Rails impacts in the UK, Canada and the USA it summarized findings from 13 different systems and measures success based on 3 criteria: Stimulating development in the CBD, Stimulation development in declining Slum areas and IMPROVING PATTERNS OF URBAN GROWTH THROUGH TRANSFORMATION OF CAR-ORIENTED TO PUBLIC TRANSPORT ORIENTED PATTERN. Skytrain and Rouen (France) were the only systems studied that achieved all 3.

    Zwei replies: As the authors only used information assembled by the operating authorities, the results seem to be reliable. TransLink’s information (unvetted) is extremely unreliable, thus what is claimed in the report may not be as factual as one would think. To date, TransLink still claims that Skytrain has a larger capacity than LRT, a statement that has proven to be untrue. Those in the know do not rely on TransLink’s information.

  3. zweisystem says:

    Just a note Rico, Skytrain does not travel through any slum areas. It goes nowhere near the downtown east side. As stated before, the derelict industrial lands would have been developed as the plan was conceived when LRT was going to be built.

    One can well say, that if LRT had been built instead of SkyTrain, there would have been a significant increase in ridership due to a larger network.

  4. Richard says:

    Good report. Thanks for posting it.

    Note that the Docklands Light Rail, which performed quite well, is also a grade separated system much like SkyTrain.

    Zwei replies: We must remember that the Docklands was built on existing grade separated rights-of-ways and there was little land take and was very cheap to build. HMG (Thatcher at the time) wanted a automatic railway instead of light rail. the first Docklands cars were indeed light rail vehicles and were were designed for on-street operation, because the French were toying with the automatic VAL system. Docklands extensions are all P-3’s and the railway remains unique as no one has copied the docklands. A extremely large population density in East London catchment area (aprox. 6 million) helps the docklands to maintain a daily ridership of just under 300,000 persons a day.

  5. Richard says:

    Oh, and the Ottawa system is not at street level and is essentially a light metro as well.

    Zwei replies: Unlike Skytrain, the Ottawa trams retain the option to operate on lesser (cheaper) R-o-W’s. This makes Ottawa’s LRT LRT and not a light-metro. Despite Mr. Cow’s defense of the subway portion, I still believe, that the subway is needlessly expensiveness and will not improve operations in the long term. Despite evidence to the contrary emerging in Europe, planners on this side of the pond refuse to acknowledge that subways, due to costs, greatly retard transit expansion. The Canada Line is ample evidence of that.

  6. Rico says:

    You mean like Portland….oh wait….

    Actually you actually do raise a valid point. While we can’t magically go back in time and see what type of network would have been built and what type of ridership would have resulted from that network I think a few things could be inferred. The first is not all of the money invested in Skytrain would have gone to LRT lines. Politicians would have found it too easy to say look we have built a line to…..and taken the left over money to general revenue or to build roads and bridges. The second is the less grade seperation or the greater the travel time the less ridership. So if you could have built 1 and 1/2 decent LRT lines for the price of one Skytrain line or 2 basic tram lines the same length of tram line would have less ridership than the LRT which would have less ridership than a fully grade seperated option (obviously a generalization as everything would be about the actual specifics). I don’t claim to know for sure how much extra ridership would be gained because of extra coverage (more lines) versus lost due to less grade separation but I can say Vancouvers transit usage increased much more than its comparitor cities. So is Vancouver’s better transit performance due to Skytrain? I would say yes, obviously you would not….

    Zwei replies: Rico, you seem to conveniently forget that no one copies Vancouver and its SkyTrain system, obviously a lot more professionals tend to agree with what i say than the SkyTrain lobby. Gerald fox, found Translink’s claims somewhat unbelievable and many other professionals do too. Unlike other transit systems, Skytrain’s ridership is mainly recycled bus customers forced to transfer and this is part of the reason why TransLink finds itself in financial difficulty.

  7. Rico says:

    They probably were referring to places like downtown New Westminister which was very economically depressed and as scary as the DTES in the early 80s. Or Whalley in the 90s.

    Zwei replies: New West and Whalley still are despite much redevelopment. Your argument dissolves.

  8. eric chris says:

    Yes, any rail line will lead to business development as long as the zoning is relaxed in residential areas to allow it. Unfortunately, ST requires massive and expensive infrastructure which needs to be refurbished. This threatens to financially ruin TransLink which does not have the money allocated to rebuild the concrete guide ways, mechanical components and electrical components in the near future. Apparently, the “talent” (inept accountants with no understanding of engineering) at TransLink never considered all these future costs. Hmm.

    Hence the elaborate hoax and spending spree to “expand” transit with billions of dollars which TransLink can siphon off for the next 10 years until it gets around to doing any expanding of transit. These bums at TransLink really do belong in jail. If they tried to build trams costing a few hundred million dollars, there would not be the billions of dollars to siphon off to rebuild the crumbling ST. So, the underlying reason for the silly fear mongering and the desperate plea to save us from impending “road chaos” – unless, of course, we expand ST – is actually, to preserve TransLink and all the crazy salaries for the executives who do nothing all day at TransLink. This is what burns me the most – the deceit from Ian Jarvis, Bob Paddon, Cathy McLay… Doug Kelsey who don’t even take transit. They drive expensive “cars”, instead. TransLink is worth every penny according to TransLink in this video:

    Well, if you’ve never had the chance to ride ST in Vancouver and want a taste of what you are missing, here’s a great promotional video for you to watch if you have six minutes to spare. If a picture speaks a thousand words, this video speaks a million words when it comes to the highly entertaining ride that you can expect on ST… anyhow, enjoy and luckily for the people in this automated ST car with no driver or security to help, some lunatic with a machete didn’t go berserk on them in the locked ST car suspended 10 metres in the air with nowhere for them to go:

    At the end of the day, ST does not solve road congestion and isn’t solving our transportation problems. TransLink is controlled by certain firms winning big contracts to build ST lines funded by taxpayers in Metro Vancouver. TransLink is corrupt and has to go.

  9. Haveacow says:

    I read the report to my children last night as a kind of weird fairy tale, raising my voice in certain tones as to show emotion and or surprise. It worked perfectly all three were asleep after the executive summary and the beginning section 1. My wife joked that, if you could read it in the form of an erotic novel she would finally have some reason to look at all those planning reports I have.

    My feeling of the report is that it reads very well if you are interested of attaching a large amount of property development to a specific rail project. However, it you are trying to convince regular everyday people to buy into rail transit it rings a little hollow. Don’t get me wrong, these types of reports are quite useful to convince people to build good rapid transit. I have been part of, and even edited a few reports similar to this over years. But my point is that, most people I have found really don’t like change in the form of very large development, even if it is profoundly positive (NIMBY is everywhere). I can’t say I have a magic answer for this but, my feeling is that, its the increased access part that gets people most excited and sometimes the fun factor of something new and different.

    A student from Carleton University once told me this about the O-Train. “I can get on the O-Train at Carleton get off at Greenboro station (north end of South Keys Shopping Centre) 6 minutes later, see a movie, do some shopping at Chapters, grab some coffee, go to the Bulk Barn and get some really cheap gummy bears and or gummy worms and be back to Carleton, long before Oliver’s or Rooster’s is closed down for the night”.

  10. Richard says:


    I would severely doubt that the extensions of the Ottawa LRT will be at street level especially now that they have shortened the stations. It would be very difficult to retain the speed, capacity and reliabily they need with street level. The 25,000 ppdph that they will eventually need will require grade separation and automatic train control. Note that the next expansion being planned will in all likelihood be grade separated.

    They would have been better off just building a metro. They likely would have saved money.

    Zwei replies: Richard you continually fail to understand, modern LRT, operating on a reserved rights-of way, maintains the speed and capacity of the mode. and 25,000 pphpd 9which I doubt will materialize in the near future does not need ATC or grade separation. As modern LRT adapts to new traffic flows, its ability to retain its capacity and commercial sppeds remains.

    Unfortunately, you have sold your soul to the Vision(less) anti-LRT propaganda to get your cherished bike lanes, just like Judas Iscariot sold out for 30 pieces of silver, and look what happened to him.

    Why do you think no one builds with Skytrain – think out of the box!

  11. Rico says:

    I don’t think you remember New West in the 1980s or Walley in the early 90s. In New West in the 80s I would have felt uncomfortable as a single guy. Now I would take my wife and family at night. Same is true for Whalley/Surrey Center although it is still a bit more of a work in progress. I would expect it will look pretty good in 5 years.

    Zwei replies: Rico I worked in and around new West in the 70’s and 80’s and it was and still is depressed. New West is just Vancouver’s “cheap seats” for people who can not afford housing in the “big town”. All SkyTrain has done is give the poor and drug dealers fast connections into Vancouver to do their business and return. Ever since the 1950’s, new West had a certain air of abandonment, poverty and social ills and as rents rise in the “Queen city”, the disposed have moved across the Fraser into Surrey.

  12. eric chris says:

    @Rico, ST is a conduit for crime. Everywhere you have ST, you have filth, graffiti, sexual assaults, murders… stabbings.

    Regional ST has a large number of transients without ties to the communities. No one in his right mind wants to live next to a ST station. This is the reason for fascist Mayor Gregor Robertson stopping his planned ST extension at Arbutus Street. There would be a backlash from voters in the next election if he tried to extend ST into Kits and Point Grey.

    While the “Vancouver Sun” does not do a very good job of reporting on serious crime on the ST and the creeps on ST, the CBC does. In case your head is up your @$$ all day, here is what ST brings with it:

  13. Haveacow says:

    Actually Richard here in Ottawa, several of the future line extensions (Phase 2) are on street LRT extensions. Both Carling Ave. (which starts life as a LRT line) and eventually the Walkley/Heron/Baseline/Robertson Rd. line will be converted from BRT lanes to LRT. Only the next 2 sections of the Phase 1 plan will be on existing Transitway , the stretch to Bayshore and Baseline Stations, mainly because the right of way already exists. After talking with several people in the LRT Office they believe the extension to Orleans is growing less likely every day. The planned O-train extension is going where its going because the city own tracks and rights of way already exist. Sometime in the phase 2 there will likely be an extension to Gatineau, Quebec as well, assuming the screaming and yelling that normally surrounds the subject of inter provincial transit can be controlled.

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