The 1986 LRTA Study: Bus – LRT – Metro Comparison


A Vienna tram on a simple reserved rights-of-way.

The following is from the Light Rail Transit Associations hand book Light Rail Transit Today, comparing the operating parameters of bus, light rail, and metro on an unimpeded 8 kilometre route with stations every 450 metres. Using real data based on acceleration, deceleration, dwell time, etc., the study gives real time information for the three transit modes.

Please note: This study has been abridged for brevity and clarity.

The study assumes a vehicle capacity for a bus at 90 persons; LRT 240 persons (running in multiple unit doubles capacity); and metro at 1000 persons.

The time to over the 8 km. route would be:

  1. Bus – 22.4 minutes
  2. LRT – 18 .6 minutes
  3. Metro – 16.3 minutes

The Round trip time, including a 5 minute layover:

  1. Bus – 54.8 minutes
  2. LRT – 47.2 minutes
  3. Metro – 42.6 minutes

The comparative frequency of service in relation to passenger flows would be:

At 2,000 persons per hour per direction:

  1. Bus – 2.7 minute headways, with 22 trips.
  2. LRT – 7.5  minute headways, with 8 trips.
  3. LRT (2-car) – 15 minute headways, with 4 trips.
  4. Metro – 30 minute headways, with 2 trips.

At 6,000 pphpd:

  1. 1 Bus – 0.9 minute headways, with 67 trips.
  2. LRT – 2.4 minute headways, with 17 trips.
  3. LRT (2-car) – 4.8 minutes, with 13 trips.
  4. Metro – 10 minute headways with 6 trips.

At 10,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus – 30 second headways, with 111 trips (traffic flows above 10,000 pphpd impractical).
  2. LRT – 1.4 minute headways, with 42 trips.
  3. LRT (2 car) – 2.8 minute headways, 21 trips
  4. Metro – 6 minute headways, 10 trips.

At 20,000 pphpd:

  1. LRT – 0.7 minute headways, with 83 trips.
  2. LRT (2 car) – 1.4 minute headways, with 42 trips.
  3. Metro – 3 minute headways, with 20 trips.

Comparative Staff Requirements on vehicles in relation to passenger flows. Station staff in brackets ().

At 2,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus – 21 (0)
  2. LRT – 7 (0)
  3. LRT (2 car) – 4 (0)
  4. metro – 2 (up to 38)

At 6,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus – 61 (0)
  2. LRT – 20 (0)
  3. LRT (2 car) – 10 (0)
  4. Metro – 5 (up to 38)

At 10,000 pphpd:

  1. Bus – 110 (traffic flows above 10,000 pphpd impractical) (0).
  2. LRT – 34 (0)
  3. LRT (2 car) – 17 (0)
  4. Metro – 8 (up to 38)

At 20,000 pphpd:

  1. LRT – 69 (0)
  2. LRT (2 car) – 34 (0)
  3. Metro – 15 (up to 38)

Though the study is 24 years old and completed before the advent of low-floor trams (which decreased dwell times), it still give a good comparison of employee needs for each mode. Metro’s, especially automatic metro systems do require a much larger  maintenance staff than for bus or LRT and when one factors in the added high cost of subway or viaduct construction plus higher operational costs, Metro only become a viable proposition when traffic flows exceed 16,000 pphpd to 20,000 pphpd on a transit route. 

Claims from other blogs that automatic metros can operate more frequent headways than LRT are untrue; automatic metros can not operate at higher frequencies than LRT, but if Metro is operated at close headways in times of low traffic flows, they do so with a penalty in higher maintenance costs and operational costs.

Taking into account the almost universal use of low-floor trams, operating in reserved rights-of-ways, combined with advances in safe signal priority at intersections; given an identical transit route with equal stations or stops, LRT operating on the surface (on-street) would be just as fast as a metro operating either elevated or in a subway at a fraction of the overall cost grade separated RoW’s. Also,  automatic (driverless) metros, though not having drivers have attendants and station staff, which negate any claim that automatic metros use less staff than light rail.

The LRTA study does give good evidence why LRT has made light-metros such a as SkyTrain and VAL obsolete.

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11 Responses to “The 1986 LRTA Study: Bus – LRT – Metro Comparison”

  1. Justin Bernard Says:

    I like this study. I have read studies where the operating parameters for each mode have been studied using different operating environment ie, Subways, and BRT tend to always have wide station spacings, while LRT has shorter station spacings, and more stops. Seems to be a pretty sleazy way to recommend a mode for a corridor.

  2. David Says:

    One of the things the local audience needs to notice in the study is that ‘metro’ means heavy metro with a capacity of 1000 passengers per train.

    Vancouver has light metro. The longest trains used on the Expo line have a capacity of 500 passengers and those used on the Canada Line can accommodate about 340 if all the space in the bicycle and wheelchair areas is filled with standees.

    Light metro has the same station staffing requirements and similar construction costs as heavy metro but only has LRT capacity.

    It’s really no surprise that use of LRT is growing rapidly around the world while Bombardier struggles to find a single new customer for ART. Meanwhile the world’s first SkyTrain installation in Toronto is scheduled to be torn down and replaced by LRT.

    Zweisystem replies: I did not want to confuse the issue with light-metro. As the one of the transit specialists I consult with said; “Light-metro has the capacities of LRT, but with the cost of a heavy rail metro.

  3. barsta Says:

    Business and Residents Association for Sustainable Alternative Transport re: broadway and w 10th proposed translink
    community mtg on june 22nd 7.30 p/m/
    west 10th ave and truthc, st james comm. centre
    various speakers, a.o. patrick condon of ubc
    mel lehan, local ndp candidate and comm. organizer
    all welcome

  4. bulleid35028 Says:

    Thanks Zweis for putting up the results of this study, although the LRTA study in itself is over ten years old the figures quoted remain relevant to day.
    The description of the different rail-based transit modes can lead to misunderstanding as different cities, counties, provinces, transport authorities and countries may use similar terms to describe different modes.
    If I may post the European perspective of which I am more familiar.
    Light Rapid Transit can be considered as a generic term, which includes; tramways, Light Rail, Trolley Buses, Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) and Metro
    Light Rail has supplanted or even replaced trams, known more usually as streetcars in North American definition as the description of the particular mode; Light Rail, built to LIGHTER design & construction standards than HEAVY Rail suburban, metro & Interurban (another North American term) rail systems.
    From Wikipedia:-
    Light in this context is used in the sense of “intended for light loads and fast movement”, rather than referring to physical weight, since the vehicles often weigh more than those on so-called heavy rail systems. The investment in infrastructure is also usually lighter than would be found for a heavy rail system.
    The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) in its Glossary of Transit Terminology defines light rail as: “An electric railway with a ‘light volume’ traffic capacity compared to heavy rail. Light rail may use shared or exclusive rights-of-way, high or low platform loading and multi-car trains or single cars.” However, some diesel powered transit calls itself light rail, such as the O-Train in Ottawa, Canada and River Line in New Jersey, United States, which use diesel multiple unit cars. In traditional transit terminology, these would perhaps be considered commuter rail lines, or branch lines, or interurbans. (If those lines had been electric, they would clearly be interurbans.)
    Most of the modern (2nd generation) European tram systems are Light Rail systems, running on line of sight, without the heavy rail signalling systems, in the street as the old trams/streetcars used to, on separated private-rights-of way or on former heavy rail lines.
    Metro is an even more difficult mode to define accurately, again from the European perspective, the term Metro is generally used to describe a rail based system that runs beyond the city centre and into the suburbs.
    In Britain, the London Underground is built to heavy rail standards with signalling, historically the Metropolitan & District lines were built as railways to compete with the outer London suburban services and can be described as Heavy Metro. The Dockland Light Railway (DLR) is a Light Metro, signalled & semi-automatic (driverless), running partially on grade-separated viaducts and partially on former heavy rail freight lines in East London. Very successful, very well patronised, on its 6th extension since the original network opened in the early 90’s and considerably cheaper to construct & operate than Translink!
    Often described as Light Rail the Tyne & Wear Metro [Newcastle, N & S Shields] also runs partially on former Heavy Rail lines, it is signalled and track circuited & also shares track with Heavy Rail freight services over part of the system – Heavy Metro.
    The new London Crossrail system, which is currently under construction, is also Heavy Metro, though conceived as similar in concept to the French RER Réseau Express Regional in Paris
    The Merseyrail (Liverpool) and SPT (Glasgow) are technically also Heavy Metro, though the system has more in common with the German S-Bahn systems, found in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hanover, Munich, Stuttgart & Vienna. The S-Bahn is a railway that serves metropolitan traffic as well as direct regional traffic, and is characterised by high efficiency and a synchronised timetable that allows for denser train traffic on the rail lines. This is achieved by the use of separate tracks.
    The U-Bahn is conversely a German underground rapid transit system, classed legally as a Tramway, so LRT but not metro as in London or Paris. S-Bahn are found in Berlin, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Nuremburg & Vienna.
    Finally to confuse all, there are the Tram Trains; Karlsruhe and Kassel in Germany and Randstad Rail in the Netherlands. Light Rail – yes, Light Metro – yes, Interurban also yes.

    Zweisystem replies: My fear is that in the USA, what is termed LRT is more and more like light-metro than LRT. Once you grade separate LRT, there is only a very minor benefit building with the mode as construction costs rise dramatically! In the USA, the term fast streetcar is used to what was termed LRT!

  5. CLC Says:

    David, while LRT is growing rapidly around the world *(EXCEPT ASIA), light metro and heavy metro is still the norm in much of East Asia, noticeably in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan. I am following a number of new light metro lines project in China cities for 2010-2020. You can’t ignore that light metro fit the profile for mid-sized high density cities.

    “Light-metro has the capacities of LRT, but with the cost of a heavy rail metro.” – well , I agree that Light-metro and LRT do serve similar capacities demand. In those mid-sized Chinese cities, the need for building light-metro is to avoid traffic congestion deadlock.
    I also want to point out that there is still significant difference between the cost of heavy rail metro and light-metro. For instance, Hongkong new rail development for next 5 years would give a reliable measure: Island Line West extension(full subway) would be HK$5.1B per kilometer. A new South Island Line elevated light-metro would be HK$1.4B per kilometer.

    Zweisystem replies: Light-metro is built in Asia beause the cities do have the dense city populations that can provide the traffic flows that would justify the investment in building a grade separated light-metro line. According to the 1980’s TTC ART Study, found that ICTS (light-metro or SkyTrain) cost as much as a heavy rail metro to install but with much less capacity. The study killed the TTC’s ICTS/ALRT plans.

    As a general rule of thumb, elevated construction (not specifically light-metro) costs about one half to build than a subway, with LRT/tram/streetcar costing up to one tenth to build than elevated construction.

  6. David Says:

    Light metro is the worst of all worlds (too expensive, too little capacity, intermediate station spacing yields a speed/convenience combination that’s neither convenient nor particularly fast)

    For 1/3 the cost of light metro you can have BOTH frequent stop LRT and limited stop inter-city LRT. With through running the same train can pick you up 4 blocks from your house and drop you off 1 block from your office.

    The nearest light metro station will be a 10 minute bus ride away, it will take 40% longer to get into town and drop you off 6 blocks from your office. Of course that’s irrelevant because he light metro line will finally open for service the year you retire and no longer need it.

    Possible reasons why it is built in Asia:
    – they have 70% of the world’s population
    – they have incredibly crowded streets
    – they have much lower labour costs
    – they have a strong desire to be seen by the rest of the world as leaders
    – when it comes to being “first” or “best” the Chinese government is prepared to spend whatever it takes.
    – they’re holding the western world’s debt and can thus afford anything they want including maglev trains to whisk people along at over 400km/h.

  7. CLC Says:

    “For 1/3 the cost of light metro you can have BOTH frequent stop LRT and limited stop inter-city LRT. ”

    What is the cost of Transit City LRT lines in Toronto? please check. You will be surprised, David.

    Zweisystem replies: The new LRT lines in Toronto are ‘Greenfield’s’ construction and include many new (needless?) tunnels and viaducts, which carry with them extremely high construction costs. LRT on Broadway would be reinstating streetcars (built to LRT standards with a reserved RoW’s) using the old median formation and which the electric overhead is already in place. We can build LRT on Broadway quite cheaply and quickly if need be.

  8. David Says:

    Toronto is digging tunnels. There’s no comparison between that and my proposal of on-street LRT connecting to existing railway lines for fast service between cities.

    The specific example I was referring to above was a local LRT service in Langley that connects to the SRY for an express run to Vancouver with a half dozen stops at important transfer points along the way.

    A basic service to Vancouver including up to 10km of track in Langley could be completed by 2015 for roughly $1 billion.

    If we’re lucky Langley will get a single SkyTrain station in 2040.
    God only knows what another 30 years of inflation in the construction industry will do to a project that would cost $3 billion today.

  9. Justin Bernard Says:

    A significant cost of the Transit City project is the 14km tunnel under Eglinton AveThe Sheppard East LRT is 14km long, and includes a tunnel. The total cost will be $950Million.

    Zweisystem replies: How long is the tunnel again? Is there a decimal point missing?

  10. Justin Bernard Says:

    Sorry, I should have been more specific. The Eglinton LRT is a separate line. The Eglintom LRT is proposed to be 31km long, 14 km in tunnel, and the remainder 17km on the surface in a ROW. The total cost for this line wil be 4.6billion.
    The Sheppard East LRT is entirely on the surface in ROW with signal priority, and .5km will be underground to allow cross-platform transfer with a subway line. The cost is 950Million.
    The Finch West LRT will be 17km, entirely on the surface in ROW with signal priority. Two stops will dip briefly underground to allow better access to 2 subway stations. Total cost 1 Billion dollars.

    The only reason why the Eglinton has such a long tunnel is Eglinton Avenue is really narrow, and quite congested, and I guess the city is afraid of reducing lanes for autos to 1 lane.

    Zweisystem replies: Thank you for the clarification’s. The problem I see in Toronto, as in Vancouver, is that transportation planners don’t see light rail as a solution to reduce auto traffic, rather they see it as a complication and put it either up in the air, as with SkyTrain or underground. The result is massive extra costs that burdens the transit authority for decades to come.

    In Europe, LRT/tram is seen as a solution for congestion and with LRT built on-street dramatically increases the capacity of a traffic lane from under 2,000 pphpd to over 20,000 pphpd. The trick is to build it to cause the least pain for a modal change for car drivers. In Vancouver, we just force bus riders on the new metro and let car drivers trundle merrily along. TransLink may claim high ridership but in reality there is little or no modal change and the transit authority is burdened with massive costs for generations and the provincial government, after spending huge sums of money on a metro line are reluctant to invest in more ‘rail’.

  11. The Fruit of the Poisonous Tree – TransLink’s Regional Transit Planning « Rail For The Valley Says:

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