Reconnecting America People * Places * Possibility

Resource Center

Evaluating New Start Transit Program Performance: Comparing Rail and Bus

There is ongoing debate over the relative advantages of rail and bus transit investments. Rail critics assert that cities which expand their bus transit systems exhibit better performance than those that expand rail systems. This study examines those claims. It compares public transport performance in U.S. urban areas that expanded rail transit with urban areas that expanded bus transit from the mid-1990s through 2003, using Federal Transit Administration data. This analysis indicates that cities that expanded their rail systems significantly outperformed cities that only expanded bus systems in terms of transit ridership, passenger-mileage, and operating cost efficiency. This indicates that rail transit investments are often economically justified due to benefits from improved transit performance and increased transit ridership.