I Gave a Talk at Transit Con

An online conference just concluded in which I gave a half-hour presentation about construction costs. Instead of giving my usual spiel, showing parts of our growing database and pointing out patterns, I spent a lot of time on why this is important. I’d written about this before, twice, but I’ve since looked more carefully at an example of two countries that are similar enough in their rail and public transit tradition that their large difference in costs must be the primary reason one has a bigger and more successful urban rail system than the other. I focused on developed countries, that is countries that manifestly have high incomes, good public health, good education, and so on; however, I believe the importance of costs is also a big reason behind delays in public transportation in high-cost developing countries like India.

You can read the slides here; this was recorded, and I’ll update this post with a link when it gets published.


  1. Nathan Davidowicz

    Nice seeing you at the meeting. We need someone like you to come to BC to help the BC Government figure out what is the best way to proceed with RAIL transit on few corridors.

  2. Eric2

    Hm, does your example make your point? Seoul has ~3x the population of Taipei in both core and full-metro. Its metro length is ~2x. It has ~2x the core ridership and ~4x the full-metro ridership. Looks like cheaper building has not allowed for more construction per capital, and the ridership gains are weak (and possibly all attributed to the tendency of bigger cities to have better transit usage because transit becomes more convenient with population=frequency while cars become less convenient with population=traffic).

    • seangillis78

      But isn’t cheaper construction (assuming similar outcomes for capacity, reliability, build quality, operating costs) good in it’s own right? Resources are limited. Cheaper construction lets you build other transit, or other good things, or fund other services, or lower your taxes, or not take on as much debt for your subway building program.

      And from a political point of view, convincing people to expand transit is easier when headlines read: “New subway line projected to cost $1.8 Billion” instead of “New subway line to cost $5 Billion”.

      • Eric2

        I agree. I am responding to the specific point in the summary “their large difference in costs must be the primary reason one has a bigger and more successful urban rail system than the other”

  3. Eric2

    Offtopic to this post – here is an interesting description of how defense software contracting works, from a private sector employee. I wonder how much of this carries over to transit contracting? The lack of expertise on the government side, at least, seems to be common.

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