It is generally true that light rail costs more to build
than busways. However as the old saying goes "you get what you pay
for" and it was never more true than with light rail. We often see
in the media how much more light rail costs to build. However 50% of that
expense will be paid by the federal government. We never hear about the
high cost of labor to operate a busway, or that buses need replacing nearly
3 times as often as light rail vehicles. In a few years any money that
was saved building a busway will be lost to cover the high cost of operating
and maintaining the system. Once that has happened we will continue to
pay these high costs for the lifespan of the system. These systems have
on the average a very long life expectancy. For example the systems in
New York and Chicago are now well into their second 100 years, and show
no signs of going away anytime soon.
Even more important, the operating and maintenance cost
of these rapid transit systems are paid for almost entirely by local government
through their transit agencies, with a little help from state government.
We can not expect any assistance at the federal level to help cover these
Anti-rail critics seem to concentrate solely on the construction
costs of rapid transit without regard to the operating and maintenance
costs of running a system. They either don't get it, or don't want to
get it! The operating and maintenance costs of running rapid transit are
far more important than the initial cost of its construction because we
will likely be paying for them out of our own pocket for the next 100
years or more!