Metro’s ambitious plans for light rail expansion have been scaled back to one goal: connecting to Hobby Airport. Metro has proposed both an $881 million, 7.4-mile extension of the Purple line that would garner an estimated 2,800 riders per day, and a 6.4-mile, $900 million extension—slightly costlier but picking up higher ridership, an estimated 4,400 riders per day.
A more recent proposal would even connect both the Green and Purple lines to the airport, with both lines joining on Telephone Road for a three-mile shared segment into the airport, for $1.1 billion and 6,600 daily riders.
Airport travel is a hassle, and many Houstonians may think that a train to the airport may come in handy for them someday. Nevertheless, a light rail line to Hobby would be a poor use of their money. All of the options for rail to Hobby would be expensive compared to their ridership. Even the combined line, which has the lowest cost per predicted daily rider according to Metro’s own predictions, would still come in at about $167,000 per daily rider, several times what projects typically cost in Europe. The most expensive option, the Purple Line extension, would cost $315,000.
Most transit agencies would consider these costs far too high. The transportation journalist Alon Levy has noted that typical costs for full subways in Europe are around $10,000 to $25,000 per daily rider, and costs for new trams in Paris are typically less than $10,000; one planned subway line in Paris that will cost $49,000 per rider is widely opposed on cost grounds. One should also not ignore that ridership estimates for airport connectors in other cities, such as San Francisco, are frequently far too optimistic.
Photo by Mikeph1 via Wikimedia Commons