Whenever a new rail transit line opens, the first thing the highway buffs claim is that all the riders are former bus riders. This is especially true in Salt Lake, where a vocal opponent of light rail claims the light rail line is carrying fewer passengers than the busses it replaced. If this were true, then the investment into the light rail line would not have been a good one. However, this is not true, and once we break down the numbers, it will be obvious that light rail does attract riders who would not have ridden the bus.
According to critics, the ALL north-south Utah Transit Authority Busses carried a total of 20,000 passengers per day before that start up of light rail service. At the present time, the Sandy Light Rail line carries 17,900 passengers per day. So, yes it does appear that the light rail line is carrying fewer people.
But, let's delve more deeply into the numbers and find the truth. As stated earlier, 20,000 rode the busses before TRAX. Where does one arrive at the 20,000 number that is quoted? Actually it is very simple. According to a long range transportation plan prepared for the Wasatch Front Regional Council before the start of light rail, 37% of the approximately 51,600 daily trips on UTA come from 4 primary north-south corridors. That number actually comes out to 19,000 trips per day. So it does look like TRAX is just stealing passengers off the busses - but wait, that's not the end of the story.
Of those 19,000 trips, 8,200 of them originated on the State Street Corridor. The State Street Corridor parallels the light rail line. Before the light rail line opened, three routes traversed State Street from downtown: 12, 22, and 24. The 22 ran every half hour and the other routes were hourly, providing every 15-minute service from Downtown to 6200 South, where the 12 and 24 split off, and the 22 continued to Sandy. After the light rail line opened, the 12 and 24 where terminated at the 6200 South TRAX station - no longer providing service to downtown, while the 22 was split up. The route north of 6200 south continued to service downtown and ran every 15-minutes, while south of 6200 south, new line 222 replaced the portion to Sandy.
This means that the portion north of 6200 South had 66% of the bus service and the portion south of 6200 South had 33% of the ridership. The whole State Street corridor carried 8,250 riders per day, dividing that by the bus service frequency means that 5,450 riders per day ride the section that does not connect with light rail (the number is actually higher since more people ride north of 6200 South than North. Let's also assume that 33% of the riders of those busses, connected from other routes, but instead now connect to the light rail line. That will leave 3,500 passengers still riding the 22 that do not ride the light rail line. That brings us down to 15,500 bus riders that may now be on light rail.
The figures by the Wasatch Regional Council say that Eastside routes accounted for 6,192 riders per day. These routes included the 8, 9, 21, 27, and 32. All of these routes still travel directly in Downtown Salt Lake. But let's assume that 25% of the riders transferred from other routes that now transfer to light rail (that would mean that these people are traveling well out of their way to ride light rail). Let's also assume that 25% of those riders now ride light rail because it is more convenient for them. That leaves ,3096 riders still riding these routes. That drops the number of potential former riders of north-south busses down that now take light rail at 12,404.
Another 4% of the north-south bus riders traveled on Route 43. This route also continues to travel into Downtown Salt Lake. The route travels on very busy Redwood Road from Downtown to the city of Riverton. As with the Eastside routes let's assume that 25% of the riders transferred from other routes that now transfer to the light rail line, and that another 25% now ride light rail instead of riding the bus. That means that 1,030 riders are still riding the route 43 instead of taking light rail. Another 5% of the ridership is on the 37-Magna. This route was included in with the north-south routes although it is primarily a east-west route. This route carries 2,600 passengers per day; however, over 50% of the ridership travels between the Valley Fair Mall and Magna which makes no connections to the light rail line. For our example, we will assume that the remaining 50% transfer to light rail. That means that 10,074 former north-south bus riders are potentially now riding light rail.
That means that at least 7,800 riders or 43% of the riders on the light rail did not previously ride the bus system. We have not even removed riders that rode the busses that where rerouted to feed into the light rail line who travel between points not involving a transfer to the light rail system. For example, route 33 that travels on 1300 East was rerouted to feed into the light rail line at 6200 South. However, over 50% of the ridership do not transfer to light rail.
This shows that light rail does attract new riders who are not former bus riders. The Highway Lobby claims that less than 25% of the ridership on light rail is former drivers. However, we have shown in this one example that new riders are attracted to the comfort of the system. It should also be noted that light rail can also be good for bus ridership. The early morning TRAX runs between 5:30am and 6:30am run with standing room only by the time they reach 3900 South. Many riders are now transferring to routes 441, 442, and 449 that travel run from 3900 south to Downtown. These routes, which where poorer performing routes, are now seeing higher ridership thanks to TRAX.
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