Don’t buy Light Rail propaganda

Anyone who reads The Arizona Republic knows that they are unapologetic cheerleader for light rail.  And it’s impossible to miss the fact that they are constantly writing articles about how ridership has exceeded “predictions.”

If it seems to you like every light rail system opened recently exceeds “predictions,” there is a good reason for it.  They have.  Which begs the question of whether the predictions are really predictions or simply propaganda tools that allow advocates for light rail to declare light rail a success because it is performing beyond expectations?

Clearly it is the latter.  Of the six new light rail systems in cities west of the Mississippi, Phoenix, Denver, Dallas, St. Louis, Portland and Salt Lake City, guess how many failed to exceed ridership expectations?  NONE. There was one light rail system in New Jersey that failed to meet expectations, but also one in Charlotte that, once again, exceeded expectations.

So the next time you hear someone from the Republic pretending to be a journalist and trumpeting the claim that light rail exceeded predictions, you will know exactly what they mean by “predictions”–it’s the level at which light rail propagandists must set expected ridership in order to ensure that it will be exceeded no matter how poorly the system is utilized by the public.  It’s one of the oldest tricks in the book-set expectations low so you can declare victory later no matter what.  It may not be clever, but it is enough to fool light rail fawning journos.


  1. I was skeptical of the light rail but have enjoyed it. I probably use it once a week and I go into downtown Tempe and Phx a lot more than i used to

  2. You blatantly fail to point on the basis of making predictions. REVENUE! They make predictions to justify the subsidy that light rail requires. There is a breaking point to which it makes financial sense or not.
    If ridership projections had come in too low, the cost would not be justified and therefore the system never would have been installed.
    In other words, you’re conspiracy theory is yet another item to throw on to the pile of reasons you should not be posting on Sonoran Alliance.

  3. Isn’t just possible it has exceeded expectations in all cities because people want it and it is helpful.

    Why does everything have to be some liberal media propaganda tool?

  4. I take the light rail home every night. Standing room only.

    I’ve taken it on the weekends. Standing room only.

    If they didn’t call it a success, they’d be lying.

  5. Chewie, don’t let the naysayers fool you. Keep up posts like this!

  6. I’ve ridden the light rail into Tempe, a town I had kind of given up on gracing with my presence. I have a new found appreciation for it when I get off the Metro in front of Monti’s and ride my bike to local businesses.
    This was not government forcing somehing down our throats- I voted in favor of it. I think it is better to err on the side of caution. How can anyone argue that government setting the bar low in terms of expected revenue is bad, and with the same breath criticize our former governor for making plans based on unrealistic expectations of revenues? Seems like according to SA, we’re screwed no matter which way we go.
    That kind of sucks.

  7. Johnny, it’s possible but as we know that’s not the case. Minneapolis’ Hiawatha line was trumpeted to have exceeded predictions. Only if you look back a few years before it got funding, you’ll see they were turned down for state funding by Ventura and at that time were predicting the same number of trips (aka ridership; it’s easier and more accurate to call it what it is, trips). So they get turned down and a few years later, despite it being the same line, same cars, same stations, they are suddenly predicting a lot less trips. Low and behold in their first year they reach the number of trips they were telling Ventura they would get.

    The new SE line in Denver didn’t meet it’s trip projections it’s initial year. It actually came up short of them. What RTD was combine the trips for both lines and their projections. They were then able to claim they were exceeding predictions, which they were. Not because ridership on the new line was pulling people out of their cars in droves. About 75% of the initial trips on the line were from people who were already riding the bus or had been taking the SW Line.

    The reason the the two lines combined exceeded those predictions is that RTD had predicted, IIRC, @4k more trips would DISAPPEAR from the SW line than what actually did. That’s right, they were predicting the new line would siphon off even more trips from the existing one than it did.

    So maybe there are situations where more people are riding than expected because it turns out people just love LRT. THat could be. But we know in some situations that is not the case.

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