The 1986 LRTA Study: Bus – LRT – Metro Comparison

From 2016

I have not reprinted this for a while, but I see a rise of anti-LRT cods-wallop on local and social media and a reply must be made.

Every year I reprint this post to remind everyone of the ability to move large amount of people at an affordable cost.

There is an ongoing debate today that LRT can only carry a limited number of riders and that the magic number for a subway is about 100,000 riders a day on a transit line. This may have been true in the 197’s, but not the 21st century, where modern multi-articulated low-floor light rail vehicles (tram is much easier to say!) are able to easily carry three or four times this number, thus negating the need for expensive subway construction, except on the most heavily used routes. The LRTA shows that modern LRT can carry over 20,000 pphpd in 1986 and in 2010, in Karlsruhe Germany, one tram or LRT line on Kaisserstrasse was seeing traffic flows over 35,000 pphpd.

Karlsruhe also shows what the threshold for traffic flows necessitating subway construction in Germany, after many very expensive lessons with subways built on lesser routes.

Those who demand a SkyTrain Broadway subway should take note.

The 1986 LRTA Study: Bus  LRT Metro Comparison

Toronto Strteetcar

Toronto Strteetcar

A Vienna tram on a simple reserved rights-of-way.

The following is from the Light Rail Transit Associations hand book Light Rail Transit Today, comparing the operating parameters of bus, light rail, and metro on an unimpeded 8 kilometre route with stations every 450 metres. Using real data based on acceleration, deceleration, dwell time, etc., the study gives real time information for the three transit modes.

Please note: This study has been abridged for brevity and clarity.

The study assumes a vehicle capacity for a bus at 90 persons; LRT 240 persons (running in multiple unit doubles capacity); and metro at 1000 persons.

The time to over the 8 km. route would be:

  1. Bus  22.4 minutes
  2. LRT 18 .6 minutes
  3. Metro 16.3 minutes

The Round trip time, including a 5 minute layover:

  1. Bus  54.8 minutes
  2. LRT  47.2 minutes
  3. Metro 42.6 minutes

The comparative frequency of service in relation to passenger flows would be:

At 2,000 persons per hour per direction:

  1. Bus  2.7 minute headway’s, with 22 trips.
  2. LRT  7.5 minute headway’s, with 8 trips.
  3. LRT (2-car)  15 minute headway’s, with 4 trips.
  4. Metro 30 minute headway’s, with 2 trips.

At 6,000 pphpd:

  1. 1 Bus 0.9 minute headway’s, with 67 trips.
  2. LRT 2.4 minute headway’s, with 17 trips.
  3. LRT (2-car)  4.8 minutes, with 13 trips.
  4. Metro 10 minute headway’s with 6 trips.

At 10,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus 30 second headway’s, with 111 trips (traffic flows above 10,000 pphpd impractical).
  2. LRT 1.4 minute headway’s, with 42 trips.
  3. LRT (2 car)  2.8 minute headway’s, 21 trips
  4. Metro 6 minute headway’s, 10 trips.

At 20,000 pphpd:

  1. LRT  0.7 minute headway’s, with 83 trips.
  2. LRT (2 car)  1.4 minute headway’s, with 42 trips.
  3. Metro 3 minute headway’s, with 20 trips.

Comparative Staff Requirements on vehicles in relation to passenger flows. Station staff in brackets ().

At 2,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus  21 (0)
  2. LRT  7 (0)
  3. LRT (2 car)  4 (0)
  4. metro  2 (up to 38)

At 6,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus  61 (0)
  2. LRT  20 (0)
  3. LRT (2 car)  10 (0)
  4. Metro  5 (up to 38)

At 10,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus  110 (traffic flows above 10,000 pphpd impractical) (0).
  2. LRT  34 (0)
  3. LRT (2 car)  17 (0)
  4. Metro 8 (up to 38)

At 20,000 pphpd:

  1. LRT  69 (0)
  2. LRT (2 car) 34 (0)
  3. Metro  15 (up to 38)

Though the study is 38 years old and completed before the advent of low-floor trams (which decreased dwell times), it still give a good comparison of employee needs for each mode. Metro, especially automatic metro systems do require a much larger maintenance staff than for bus or LRT and when one factors in the added high cost of subway or viaduct construction plus higher operational costs, Metro only become a viable proposition when traffic flows exceed 16,000 pphpd to 20,000 pphpd on a transit route.

Claims from other blogs that automatic metros can operate more frequent headway’s than LRT are untrue; automatic metros can not operate at higher frequencies than LRT, but if Metro is operated at close headway’s in times of low traffic flows, they do so with a penalty in higher maintenance costs and operational costs.

Taking into account the almost universal use of low-floor trams, operating in reserved rights-of-ways, combined with advances in safe signal priority at intersections; given an identical transit route with equal stations or stops, LRT operating on the surface (on-street) would be just as fast as a metro operating either elevated or in a subway at a fraction of the overall cost grade separated R-o-W’s. Also, automatic (driverless) metros, though not having drivers have attendants and station staff, which negate any claim that automatic metros use less staff than light rail.

The LRTA study does give good evidence why LRT has made light-metros such a as SkyTrain and VAL obsolete.


12 Responses to “The 1986 LRTA Study: Bus – LRT – Metro Comparison”
  1. legoman0320 says:

    LRT In Karlsruhe Germany

    Bus and LRT Can be pretty much equal in travel time depending on the level of priority or Separation.
    Metro being built fully separated.
    Different need on available staff to meet demand.

    Rolling stock available in platform length 90-120 Meters
    3 or 4 Trams to make one set train.
    Manufacturer Capacity 4 or 6 p/2m
    Bombardier Flexity Swift, 210 Capacity, Train length 37 M (Tram-train)
    Stadtbahnwagen B 183 capacity Train length 28 M
    flexity link 251 capacity Train length 37 m
    35,000 pphpd
    46-63 Train an hour. 3 Train setup
    34-47 Train an hour. 4 Train setup
    Pphpd÷ Train capacity = Trains per hour.
    A theoretical Capacity or Discomfort capacity Available. Multiple lines going through One street for the city. Like a traffic jam just Trams.
    Mix of local, Express, Regional Tram services on one street. Design their cities around the lines.

    Table of reference Mode overlap capacities.(TTC Practical capacity)
    pphpd Capacity, Mode, Maximum frequency

    0-350 Community shuttles 5 min
    0-800 Mini Bus Under 30ft 3 min
    0-1,020 Conventional bus 40ft 3 min
    500 -2,000 Articulated buses 60 ft 3 min
    0 -2,100 Double-decker bus( Highway services) 5 min
    000 – 6,000 BRT
    650 – 2600 Street car 1 Train 5 min
    2,600 – 5,200 Street car 2 trains 5 min
    1,000 – 13,800 Mix LRT 2.5 min
    3,000 – 24,000 LRT (grade separation) 145 sec*
    5,300 – 21,200+ TTC Subway 2.5 min
    3,000 – 38,800 Sky train or RER 85 sec
    10,000 – 60,000 Metro 100 sec
    1,000 – 6,000+ Commuter rail 10 min

    International competitors of intermediate solutions.
    2,000-5000 3S Gondola( Mountains or Over River)
    Rubber tire metro.
    0-8,000 People mover*
    0-11,00 Bus ways
    Author gondola
    Omnibus (Small automated bus)
    Triple articulated bus
    (Sorry, incomplete list)

    Remember each one of these has a different customer Traveling different distances. Local, express, regional.
    Depending on mode, running more frequent service is more expensive to Certain degree.
    All railroads have a form of Automated Train control. The only difference is it Automatic or Semi-automatic Operations. Semi-automatic operations needs extra trains.

    Side note. Skytrain, it’s more closely to RER Stop spacing and average speed. What’s your opinion zwei or Mr haveacow?

    Transit agencies are always exclamation on how much a project cost VS how much it will cost to operate?

    Zwei replies:

    Three points:
    1) Toronto was operating coupled sets of PCC cars in the late 40’s and early 50’s on select routes and were offering a peak hour capacity of over 12,000 pphpd in mixed traffic.
    2) MALM (SkyTrain) and REM are both light metro’s. It is the lazy lack of research by local media that refers REM as light rail.
    3) In Europe, trams are about 10% faster than buses in mixed traffic, in the peak hours. Trams operating on dedicated R-o-W’s have operating characteristics of a metro.

    The study was done released in 1986 and gives a snapshot of what modern trams, can do when compared to buses and metros. Today the flexibility of operation by the tram, when compared to metro or bus and the ability to deal with high passenger loads, without an increase in employees is greatly understated.

  2. Haveacow says:

    I always loved the TTC’s Practical Capacity measures. It’s ok with buses and streetcars but the Yonge-University-Spadina-York Subway Line blows it away (Line #1, aka the Yellow Line). A maximum of 21,000 passengers per hour per direction, give me a break. This line averages 29,000-31,000 p/h/d during the morning and afternoon peak periods every business day. I have been on it during one of its, “single day records” (the Pope was visiting Toronto) 34,340, oh was that packed. Until they completely install there new signaling system on Line 1, they can’t add anymore trains below the maximum operating frequency of 2 minutes and 30 seconds. The point of when to add extra vehicles which is the real reason for the TTC’s practical capacity number. It’s when you really need to add another vehicle because you are losing passengers at this level of crowding. if they can add an extra vehicle!

    You need to seriously check the validity of some of those numbers. Having worked for Bombardier, if your “people mover” is moving more than 3000 p/h/d at peak periods of the day, you have by far, the busiest operation in North America. You are also probably in serous contravention of your operating contract. There are serious maintenance concerns for people movers handling more than 2500 p/h/d. Meaning if you are getting those kinds of passenger numbers on a daily basis, someone seriously screwed up, Bombardier should have built you an actual train line.

    There are Gondola systems that move between 3000-4000 p/h/d but they wouldn’t operate for very long in North America for several reasons.

    1. Any Gondola Network moving more than 1500 p/h/d, would fall under a special transport system definition in the U.S. Department of Transportation rules and a similar special category exists under Transport Canada as well, the title of which I can’t remember. Anyway, gondola networks that operate in that capacity, HAVE TO, use expensive specialized equipment that other commercial systems don’t. Thus the operating costs of these networks are so high, they are guaranteed to never make a profit. They will airways loose money.

    2. Like any gadgetbahn system (Skytrain included), as they age their operating costs increase dramatically. The Expo Line is entering this time period now, this is why Translink is talking about maintenance and infrastructure upgrades more and more to the public. The costs associated with gondola’s get so high after a certain point abandonment becomes the only option.

    3. Toronto had a major Gondola system “The Alpine Way” (2 cables in each direction holding many 4 person pods that was almost a mile long) at the Exhibition Grounds. There was a single 4 person pod every 100ft or so. It was just too expensive to maintain for what it did. I loved it but the upkeep and insurance was just too much for the Ex. and the City.

    4. London has one going to London City Airport, it’s very expensive to ride, and yet, its heavily used but it never makes money and the airport operator realised that, a simple, London Tube or Londoon Overground station would be much more sustainable in the long term both environmentally and financially. The line is now perpetually being threatened with shutdown and removal.

    5. Gondola systems or networks are unique in that, they really require a highly detailed operating plan before you begin the final engineering and early construction period. These operating plans will spell out how, what and when the system is built. It will guide when the very, very expensive structural steel is purchased and when it will be required. This level of detail isn’t needed with most transportation related construction projects At no point, has anyone with the Simon Fraser project confirmed to me when I asked, “is there an operating plan yet?” The answer is always, we are working “on one right now” or “we will develop one after the engineering and pre construction work is done”. This is a major red flag. Add 50% to the planned capital and construction costs.

    Commuter or Regional Rail can move inexcess of 75000 p/h/d in places like Tokyo or Yokohama. The current GO Train Lakeshore East and West Lines in Toronto operate a train every 15 minutes during peak periods. Each train holds over 2000 passengers (12 cars per train at 168 seats per car, not including standees) that’s 8000-9000 p/h/d. With the GO electrification upgrades currently being done, the trains will be reduced to 8 cars long but running every 5 to 7 minutes during peak periods. That’s 16,000- 18,000 p/h/d.

    The Tram-Train system in Karlsruhe (a LRT and Region Rail Hybrid) currently moves 28,700 p/h/d at peak period.

    Line 1 in Budapest alone, a upgraded street tram line, moves over 120,000 passengers a day.

    The Expo Line with all its Skytrain and infrastructure upgrades complete will only move a maximum of 17,500 p/h/d (Translink’s and Thales’s figures ). The Millennium Line, 7500 p/h/d.

    Before conversion to LRT, Ottawa’s Central Transitway (Busway) moved 10,700 p/h/d at peak using, 185-200 buses per hour per direction, when actually physically counted. The official maximum was 180 buses per hour per direction.

    The Brisbane Busway, built by the same people as Ottawa’s system, moves 12500 – 14000 p/h/d using 210-225 buses/h/d. Many South American and Chinese BRT lines move twice the amount of Ottawa’s busiest line.

  3. KP says:

    A 1986 study is not relevant today. This website is so stuck in the past. If LRT is so great, why did Vancouver get rid of them a long time ago. Been to Toronto many times, their street cars are very slow. Even their newer LRT that replaced the old trains is slow too. The express train from the airport was good and replaced the slow express airport buses. Toronto need more subways because it is a big city. Just look at London, a city of 9 million with 15 subway lines. Toronto has 6 million and should have at least 10 subway lines. Looking at Toronto metro map, there is only three subway.

    Zwei replies: Typical troll and I wonder why you waste your time.. If SkyTrain is so great, why doesn’t anyone want to build with it? Only seven built in over 45 years is not a great selling point. There are over 500 LRT/tram systems in operation around the world, with over 200 built since 1980. I would say you are stuck in the past.

    As for subways, they are very expensive with costs from $500 million/km and higher.

    Sorry, you haven’t a clue.

  4. KP says:

    Zwei accusing people of being a troll is not nice.

    Subways are always faster than surface based transit. Yes, it costs more to build tunnels for the subway. It costs more for faster service.

    I have been all over the world and use a good deal of public transit.

    Toronto needs more subways for being a big city. Toronto’s sky train is being replaced with an extension of the Bloor line to Scarborough.

    Subways are a good investment for bigger cities.

    Zwei replies: Oh dear me, your Email gives you away.

    Subways are faster because they have fewer stations, fewer stations attract fewer customers. Contrary to your comment that subways are good investment, do not say that too loudly in Germany where subways tend to bankrupt the operating authorities. The resurgence of the tram, upgraded to LRT is a direct result of the huge cost of subway construction.

  5. Haveacow says:

    @KP The North American market for Subways (Heavy Rail, Metros) whatever you want to call it, is largely tapped out. True some extensions are being built but the number is very limited.

    You need money, political will and really high high ridership. There is very limited political will for even Light Metros outside of very large cities in North America and I mean large cities with existing systems. There is almost zero political will outside those large cities for Light and Heavy Metros. Plus the number of Light and Heavy Metro extensions that can generate significant ridership is even more limited.

    Here in Canada, the Federal Government has largely been the reason Skytrain extensions have been occurring at all. The Liberals are losing out presently to a very much harder right wing federal Conservative Party, who will likely form the next government. They have ZERO INTEREST, in building rapid transit in cities that generally don’t vote Conservative. Even less interest in rapid transit in cities that do vote Conservative. They want to cut spending not increase spending. They get their political support by cutting spending on things not increasing spending on any infrastructure.

    For example, if you are going to extend a Light Metro Line like the Skytrain Network’s Expo Line for $4.5 Billion – $4.7 Billion to Langley (costs adjusted for inflation) you need to be generating more ridership than the 40,000 per day (the estimate for opening day by Translink). Thats less than the South-East Transitway, one of our heavy BRT Busways (part of the Transitway Network) here in Ottawa. Something that was designed to easily handle 180,000 per day but would costs less than 1/2 of Skytrain Extension to Langley to build. This is why Light and Heavy Metro spending is rare, its extremely expensive and most of the areas outlined for Light or Heavy Metro extensions can be handled by BRT, LRT or Regional Rail at generally 1/4 – 1/2 of the construction and capital costs. Not to mention a significant savings on operating costs.

    I have been in this game for 25 years. The days of big infrastructure spending is done, the political will pendulum is swinging away from expensive infrastructure to cheaper infrastructure. It has to be cheap or it just won’t get built.

  6. P M says:

    Havacow’s point #5 regarding Gondolas can be dismissed. If Gondolas were so bad, why are they being engineered, built and operated by hundreds of operators. The Gondolas inSquamish and Whistler seem to operating and were built with a business plan and seem to be successful. In that the ridership to the top of Burnaby mountain is going to be even more steady, not depending on th ebbs and flows of tourism, planning is easy. Also, in that the project is happening in the middle of the lower mainland, logistics, manpower, etc are likely not to be the source of unforeseen contingencies as in smaller communities where parts have to be trucked further or workers have to make a distant commute or find accommodation.

  7. zweisystem says:

    Just as a reminder about the SFU gondola, it’s income will be much less as it will be used mainly by U-Pass holding students. Thus if a student takes a bus and then transfers to Sky
    Train and transfers to the gondola. the portion of the gondola’s income will be 33 cents a full in an out commute would mean the gondola fare with the U-Pass would be 16 to 17 cents.

  8. Haveacow says:

    The gondola’s work in Squamish and Whistler because they are serving high end ski resorts and tourist areas, you are paying an incredible premium to ride them.

    This is supposed to be a public transit system, unfortunately, most of the students and university staff are paying 1$ per ride, because of their massively subsidized transit pass. Passes that are subsidized at the expense of all the other riders paying full fare, by the way.

    Remember the rapid transit system which the Gondola is supposed to be part of is supposed to be profitable or at the least, revenue neutral regarding their operating costs, to help support the many surface bus routes that don’t or can’t pay for their operating costs.

    Zwei replies” It is even worse if you apportion the fare with bus, SkyTrain, with an average of two transfers it is about 17 cents for a return trip. Even with one transfer it works out 25 cents a return trip!

  9. Haveacow says:

    The issue is the TTC and GO Transit in the Toronto Greater Golden Horseshoe Region, cover around 70% and 76% of their operating budgets through fares whereas Translink’s fare recovery is around 33%. People are getting tired of paying for that. Especially when Translink s fare box recovery rate keeps dropping. Unfortunately, there is a very large number of Canadians who believe transit passengers should be at the least, covering no less than 100% of the transit operating budget. We will work on the transit capital budgets later. These people vote for mostly Conservative anti-transit policies and p@

    You can’t keep producing rapid transit projects that don’t cover their own operating costs. Especially when the cost of a gondola project is so large that if you just put the money into a new and improved surface routes and bus roads to SFU, not only would it be more efficient, it would be significantly cheaper to operate over the long term. I have worked in the industry a long time, I have never seen a Canadian public so aggressively turn on transit operators about the amount they pay in taxes towards them as I have in the last few years.

    As a transit professional, I don’t expect most local surface transit routes to make a profit or come close to covering their operating costs. However, a fare box recovery rate of 40% is a good starting point There are just tòo many factors that make local surface transit cost neutrality, extremely difficult. However, I do expect most of a community’s rapid transit network to be at the least, revenue neutral, if not outright profitable. It won’t work in all cases, or with all projects.You’ve got to however try to be revenue neutral as much as possible.

    For example, you can’t keep building Skytrain lines that cost multiple billions to build but produce tiny passenger numbers upon opening. The Langley extension is one really glaring example where the passenger revenue recovery will be negative for multiple decades into the future. The Skytrain is an expensive system to operate, mainly due to its advancing age and really high maintenance and station upkeep costs versus its relatively low capacity to generate passengers.

    Plus, the Expo Line will be operating over enormous horizontal distances versus where it’s main passenger destinations/generatos actually are. Meaning your are running the line over huge linear distances, with no fewer than two dozen station stops between the majority of the main passenger origins and destinations. This results are very long travel times for the majority of its passengers, this will negatively effect the number of riders in the outer areas of the region willing to ride it. These are distances that the Skytrain technology was never designed to operate over. This by itself guarantees higher operating costs.

  10. Bill Burgess says:

    What is the logic for rapid transit having to cover most or all its operting costs but not local surface routes (buses)?

    Is there anywhere in the world that public transit covers its operating costs? Why bow to anti-transit thinking that is should here?

    Zwei relies: building expensive transit for the sake of building expensive transit is a fools game.

    I half to laugh at your “anti-transit” claim, really? The cheaper and more user-friendly transit generally means a larger network or more transit. In Metro Vancouver we can afford one rapid transit line per decade, using cheaper light rail means for the same cost, we can build at least three light rail lines of equal distance. Sorry, our logic is badly flawed.

  11. Haveacow says:

    @Bill Burgess if you do this job for real, you have to worry about cost. Too much money and it won’t get built, that’s simply the reality. Most politicians of a certain political leaning get their primary political support from cutting things, not providing things.

    For example many years ago, I was young planner working for consultant which was proposing expanding a community centre. At a public meeting we were showing the public our ideas about what parts of the physical building should be expanded and why. An elderly gentleman spoke to me very plainly saying that he wanted the building and services to be cut back, not expanded. “I can barely afford the taxes I pay now! I want my taxes to go down not up!” He wanted the government to do way fewer things. He is not alone, there are many who want less not more. Unless it’s privately run and they can choose to invest in in a project or not, they don’t want their tax money spent on wasteful spending like more infrastructure. They want the services to be completely transactional not publicly paid for and out of their control. Their transit projects included.

    Certain political parties get most of their support from people like this. It doesn’t take many of those people to drive a party or an individual politician to be quite hawkish on cutting things, if that’s what gets them elected. That’s the reality of politics. Public transit has always been a political as well as a technical process.

  12. Haveacow says:

    @Bill Burgess YRT (York Region Transit) has its VIVA Rapidway BRT Network. For less than $2 Billion they built 37 km of physically segregated Busway (a medium capacity busway), that includes the buses as well. For $6.5 Billion more they are planning to build no less than 132 km of VIVA Rapidways. Does an individual VIVA Busway have the capacity or function as well as a single Skytrain line? No! But for the same amount they can build 8 – 9 times the Rapid Transit Network.

    Part of York Region ‘s transit plan is the Yonge North Subway extension (8.2 km for $5.6 Billion, 7 km of it in tunnel). That project is soon to start construction. It must be finished after the Ontario Line because the Ontario Line functions as a relief line for the existing Yonge St. Subway. It’s 8.2 km costs almost as much as 114 km of VIVA Rapidways.

    What do you think looks better to a politician, especially a politician interested in looking thrifty, 114 km of busway or 8.2 km of subway?

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