What is it about?

In this study we identified and compared key station-level ridership factors associated with streetcar and light-rail transit in the United States. The results suggest that each mode serves distinct rider markets, with streetcars mostly serving tourist and special activity-centered riders while light-rail serves more utilitarian riders. The role of special activity centers is notably higher for streetcar systems.

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Why is it important?

Streetcar transit technology is making a surprising comeback in the U.S., but academic, technical, and planning literature on its performance and ridership factors is lacking as compared to light-rail and other transit systems (i.e. heavy-rail, bus, or BRT). Also, non-trivial public monies are being invested in these systems. Our study not only identifies key modern-era streetcar ridership factors for planning, policy and performance evaluation purposes but also clarifies key differences with light-rail systems, which often get commingled with streetcar systems in professional, academic, and non-academic publications.


In addition to shedding light on ridership factors and transit rider markets in the U.S., this paper serves to disentangle two distinct transit systems that are often discussed as variations of a single mode. Streetcars are not "... a cheaper version of light-rail". They are distinct in several dimensions, including vehicle technology, operational characteristics, their relationship to the local urban context, and thus potential rider markets. As noted in other transportation and streetcar studies, because of the cultural legacy and symbolic values associated with streetcars in the U.S. their planning, implementation, and operations might be more vulnerable to economic and political influences in transportation decision-making.

Dr. Luis Enrique Ramos-Santiago
Clemson University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: A comparative assessment of the factors associated with station-level streetcar versus light rail transit ridership in the United States, Urban Studies, February 2015, SAGE Publications,
DOI: 10.1177/0042098015571057.
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