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OP/ED:  A Light Rail Letter to the Editor
Reprinted by permission of the Center for Transportation Excellence

Editor’s note: Much of the debate about transit development will be waged in the media. Progress is reprinting this sample “letter to the editor,” prepared by the Center for Transportation Excellence. Feel free to use it in support of your local rail initiatives!

As representatives of cities with new light rail systems, we’d like to share our successes with your citizens. Soon, voters in your community will be making an important decision. They will not only be voting on light rail, but, quite directly, on the quality of life and economy of your city. In our cities, the voters said yes and we can say with certainty that light rail has been pivotal to our communities’ mobility and economic health. Light rail is helping us keep pace with growth and protect our regions’ livability. Here are a few samples of the real benefits of light rail development:

St. Louis: Before MetroLink Light Rail service began in 1993, ridership was projected at 17,000 people per day. In the system’s first month of operation, approximately 26,500 passengers rode MetroLink each day. By 2000, the average weekday ridership averaged 41,766 commuters. In addition:

  • The average commuter saves about $1500 and 200 gallons of gas yearly, simply by using public transit instead of driving.
  • A full MetroLink train removes 125 cars from the highway.
  • Metro Link boosts civic pride and brings people together on the train.
  • And Metro Link stimulates economic development and helps sell St. Louis as a wonderful place to live.

Salt Lake City: Ever since the TRAX system began operation in December 1999 (a year ahead of schedule and under budget), residents have flocked to use it. Projecting average weekday ridership of 14,000 people, actual ridership has greatly exceeded projections, with a high of 19,742 trips per day in March, only three months after the system opened. Those numbers have continued to rise to more than 20,000 riders per day. It is standing room only during peak hours and often in the evening, as people use the system to visit the many entertainment venues in downtown Salt Lake City. Saturday ridership is even higher, with a high of 25,621 trips per day last April. Surveys found that 45 percent of TRAX users were new to public transportation and more than 47 percent has used one of the system’s free park-and-ride lots. Light rail is a success in Salt Lake City and is helping to protect Utah’s quality of life for generations to come.

Denver: Growth in the Denver metro area continues at a rapid pace with population forecasts continuing to increase. Like Austin, Texas, people are coming to Denver and to Colorado because it’s a great place to live and the economy is healthy. While growth brings greater opportunities, it also puts tremendous pressures on local and regional transportation systems. Recognizing this, local voters decided to invest in public transit. The resultant Southwest Corridor Light Rail is now 56 percent ahead of ridership projections. Of all commuters into downtown Denver, 25 percent use transit, while an additional 15 percent carpool, bike or walk. We have found that light rail offers a fast, efficient and cost competitive alternative to the automobile.

The decision the voters in your community make will be an important one. Federal funds for light rail are limited and the competition is great. Forty-seven of 50 metropolitan areas have some type of rail planning underway, with many of them looking at rail in particular. We encourage voters to do what voters did in Salt Lake City, Denver and St. Louis – and numerous other communities - vote yes for light rail and yes for the health and vitality of your community!

Susan Stauder, Deputy Executive Director, Bi-State Development Agency, St. Louis, Missouri

John Inglish, General Manager, Utah Transit Authority, Salt Lake City, Utah

Clarence “Cal” Marsella, General Manager and CEO, Regional Transportation District, Denver, Colorado


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