KC Light Rail

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What is success?

By Mark Forsythe
The Kansas City Post

I think the one thing that every person who even vaguely supports light rail can agree on is the starter line has to be a success. Is that a fair statement? Is there anybody out there who wants light rail but also wants the first line to be a miserable failure?

This brings to mind for me the obvious question. What will constitute a successful starter line? As I mentioned in the Comments section of my previous post there are some who consider the MAX a success. But under what criteria? Ridership? New riders? Pretty bus stops? Is the MAX really that much better than the old 56 or could the same thing have been accomplished by keeping the 56 buses, adding the pretty MAX bus stops and running the route as express only? What about the 25? I think that's a pretty successful route if you gauge it by riders. Seems like there's always multiple riders on every 25 bus but you don't see any excitement throughout the community about that. You don't see some TV reporter gushing about how ridership on the 25 is above expectations. For me the 39 is a success for the sheer entertainment value. I never fail to come home with a story about someone interesting I encounter on that route. Is that success?

So maybe before we get caught up with Main versus Broadway; Touristy Frou Frou (thanks Rev) versus commuter use, we need to define what we're striving for in the first place? Let's try and avoid personal beliefs about this route versus that.  Overhead wires versus in-ground power supplies.
At the end of the first year of operation, what are the characteristics that you think would have the majority of the community agreeing that light rail is right for Kansas City?

What is your definition of a successful starter line?

17 Comments so far

  1. Brent August 23rd, 2007 9:12 am

    I think success means two things:

    1) Easy access to events and tourist destinations for our out of town guests, and for locals looking to avoid traffic and their unfounded concerns for not finding downtown parking. Rail is a much “safer” experiment for out of towners because there is no way that they can get lost because there is no getting on the wrong bus, or going somewhere other than a rail. Rail is improvement over any type of bus for event use because it is able to avoid traffic issues (which is the main plus IMO).

    2) It has to significantly increase usage of public transportation as a whole.

    The metrolink in St. Louis drew 2.3 million riders in July. That is more than double the amount of riders in every single bus route in Kansas City combined.

    If it doesn’t increase the overall number of riders, it will be a complete failure, IMO.

  2. Dave August 23rd, 2007 10:16 am

    a successful starter line should — at a minimum — double the existing ridership of the most popular bus route today (#25, ~7K/day) or whatever line it replaces (MAX, ~5K/day). first year should raise the ridership figures of the entire system, especially double-digit increases in routes that intersect or connect directly with the starter line.

    the starter line should also force the ATA to rethink its entire route map, resulting in simpler/shorter routes with fewer loops, side trips, and weekday variations. the MAX could be moved or repurposed into a different corridor (state avenue or the airport, perhaps). most people will concentrate on ridership, but i think the revision and simplification of the entire system is paramount.

  3. Matthew August 23rd, 2007 10:27 am

    I think one critical element that is missing in this discussion is that light rail is an investment in manipulating the perception of our city. Modern LRT vehicles skirting visitors to their destinations will be one of the single most profound testaments to the “arrival” of Kansas City and its association with great cities.

    Therefore, in addition to the points outlined here, I think that to consider the system a success, it has to stand well amongst its peers as legitimate, progressive and part of a “new” Kansas City.

  4. doinkman August 23rd, 2007 10:47 am

    I agree w/ Matthew.

    Success to me is spurring some new re-development and economic activity along the route. LRT will never be a cost effective option to simply transport people. We need to get more out of this massive investment…which is why it should run down Troost (sorry, I couldn’t resist).

  5. Brent August 23rd, 2007 11:24 am

    I think Dave brings up a great point. I think there would be huge benefits once the Rail line is in place to make more routes connecting routes to the rail line instead of the long routes that go straight to downtown like we have now….maybe a first step would be to put a MAX line down Armour and/or Linwood to give those on the East side quick service to the Light Rail Line leading either North or South…just as an option.

  6. James August 23rd, 2007 11:54 am

    For the starter line to be successful, in my opinion, it must achieve a very simple ideal: it must be as fast, easy, and convenient as possible for everyone who uses it; tourists, as well as commuters and citizens. I did not say it was an easy ideal to achieve, just a simple one. It seems to me the starter line must have 3 primary characteristics to achieve this ideal:

    1) Good Design. The design must be absolutely stellar; near genius, because it must find the most optimal way to serve commuters and tourists alike. Therefore the route and stops must be located in such a way as to simultaneously serve as many students commuting to schools, employees commuting to work, tourists going to destinations, and citizens traveling to events as possible. In addition to this, the ticketing, maps, schedules, etc. must be easy to use and read.

    2) Integration. The starter line should integrate with other modes of transportation. In other words, there should be at least one multi-modal station that involves a light rail stop, bus stops, taxi stop, and maybe even Greyhound.

    3) Right-of-way. People will not ride light rail for the novelty. They will not ride it because they care about the environment. They will ride it because it is fast, easy, and convenient. Right-of-way is the only way to make it faster than a car or bus.

    In addition to these three things, I think the starter line should cross the Missouri River, even if it terminates in downtown North KC. That’s additional 20,000 or so potential riders just across the river.

  7. Mark August 23rd, 2007 1:05 pm

    This is outstanding stuff! Keep it coming!

  8. doinkman August 23rd, 2007 1:55 pm

    Also, it needs to have Wi-Fi….or WiMax by then…

  9. Mark August 23rd, 2007 8:02 pm

    “Also, it needs to have Wi-Fi….or WiMax by then…”

    Yep. I don’t know if Wi-Fi would be crucial to success, but real-time arrival data is a must in my opinion. Not the current estimated arrival times that the MAX stops display.

    It would not take much infrastructure to have stations broadcasting Palm apps that would let you bring up data on your smartphone. “Where’s my train?” Tap tap “Oh there it is, on my real-time moving map.”

  10. Dave August 24th, 2007 11:31 am

    i’ve mentioned in previous comments that between garmin, embarq, and sprint we should be able to co-brand an innovative technology approach to transit in this town. light rail will give either company the exposure they wouldn’t get from city buses today. GPS, RFID, CDMA, WiMax, WiFi… *anything* to set us apart from the pack would be a great marketing opportunity. could you imagine tapping your sprint- or embarq-branded RFID fob to pay for your fare and see your train arrival time displayed on garmin-branded GPS-enabled LED displays?

  11. Brent August 24th, 2007 1:37 pm

    Check out this demonstration of some new technology being used in Finland:


    We could combine the use of GPS on the max buses, information on popular tourist destinations, combine with some advertising dollars (would be a huge opportunity for bars, restaurants and shopping along the route) as well as entertainment venues (movie times, revuees, etc).

    Heck, I’ll even offer to sell the advertising on commission.

  12. northlander August 24th, 2007 5:10 pm

    Sounds like we have a ad person in the group who just can’t wait for some ad space.

  13. northlander August 25th, 2007 6:53 pm

    Questions to help evaluate transit routes.

    1. How well does the route serve people truly in need of public transit?

    2. How well does the route connect people with service providers?

    3.How well does the route connect people with job providers?

    4. What percentage of the property along the route needs devlopment?

    5. What percentage of the property along the route has no tax abatements?

  14. Brent August 27th, 2007 11:03 am

    Just saying that all too often as a city, they look at things as “costs” instead of looking for opportunities for revenue creation. Like it or not, advertising is a huge revenue opportunity for people who look at it that way…

  15. northlander August 31st, 2007 5:28 pm

    I know my wife depends on it. How are thing at 17th and Main?

  16. northlander August 31st, 2007 5:31 pm

    So why not have a bus run from the Downtown airport to KCI [no traffic light all the way to airport] and see how that goes? They already have parking spaces that could be used. Next step would be Light Rail and a new bridge won’t have to be built.

  17. John September 6th, 2007 9:31 pm

    I agree completely with James. When he mentioned the importance of design, I could only think one thing. ALSTOM. Alstom Transit is a European based companies that has developed an ingenious tram system. Alstom’s CITADIS tram family has had enormous success around the world. Alstom’s CITADIS trams have been installed in cities of all sizes, some of which are not much bigger, if at all, than Kansas City (so we should be able to afford it, people, if we are all willing to chip in). I have also had the priviledge of using one of these tram systems in Montpellier, France. The system was extremely functional. The routes were well planned (although I believe we can take care of that ourselves), and the tracks worked extremely well with the roads. The tram was also fast and efficient due to 1) the traction technology of the trains themselves allowing them to reach impressive speeds, and 2) right of way over other traffic using Alstom’s signaling technology. I cannot express how impressive this company is. I don’t know who KCATA is thinking of using for the light rail, but Alstom’s CITADIS family is a terrific option! check them out: http://www.transport.alstom.com:80/home/Products_and_Services/RAIL_VEHICLES/trams/7630.FR.php?languageId=FR&dir=/home/Products_and_Services/RAIL_VEHICLES/trams/

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