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Monorails belong in Maryland

col-sig-eisingerIn her recent commentary “Good idea for Disney, bad idea for Maryland” (Dec. 12, 2019) Carol Park demonstrates that she may have been so dazzled by Disney’s amusements that her fact-checking slipped. While her claims about the safety and cost of the proposed monorail project are inflated, her conclusions about Maryland’s need for an innovative, reliable, sustainable transit solution are deflating.

The Disney World monorail that Park described is emblematic of the “the happiest place on Earth.”  It moves more than 56,000 visitors per day, by and large without incident. The few injuries that have occurred over its 55-year history are miniscule compared to its huge ridership.

Built as a loop in an amusement park, the Disney World monorail is neither state-of-the-art nor a two-way urban transit line, and therefore cannot be compared to the advanced urban monorail technology available today.

The Las Vegas monorail that Ms. Park dismisses as ‘failed’ suffered only from poor financing decisions made by New York banking institutions. It remains a fact that no taxpayer dollars were spent on the project, which continues to move people efficiently and reliably to and from the city’s convention center and entertainment strip with no need for an annual subsidy.

Look to Tokyo Haneda Airport to see an early yet effective urban monorail transit line that efficiently carries 135,000 passengers per day and has done so since 1964. Its reliability rate stands at 99.93%. Other urban monorails are underway or complete in Sao Paulo, Bangkok and Cairo. Los Angeles, too, is considering monorail to ease congestion in its most burdened traffic corridor.

A rapid transit study (2008-2012) completed by the U.S. Federal Transit Administration indicates that monorail safety ranges from zero to 0.11 injuries per million miles, placing monorail high on the list of the world’s safest transit options for passengers.

Park posits that monorails are not cheap to build and correctly cites a cost projection of $3.4 billion to build a 28-mile system ($127 million per mile) that would connect communities and commuters along the Interstate 270 corridor to the Metro Red Line at Shady Grove. Compare that to the Purple Line costing $160 million per mile with less than half the passenger capacity as monorail.

Other comparisons

Apart from the high cost of building any new transit system in Maryland, the monorail proposal bests cost per passenger as well as in overall performance. The monorail can:

  • operate on as little as a two-minute frequency schedule;
  • provide peak capacity that carries four times as many passengers per hour as BRT;
  • cover its annual operational and maintenance costs solely from fares; and
  • operate with extreme reliability.

To compete with monorail’s reliability, the BRT would need to run segregated from road traffic and would require aerial structures. More than likely, true BRT construction costs would then rival the monorail. Also consider that the life of a BRT is approximately12 years, whereas the projected life of a monorail is 50 years.

Park cites ridership projections from the Eno Center for Transportation that highlight “the hassle of transferring from monorail to metro” and its potential impact on ridership. But one need only read the online comments on the Eno website to see plenty of pent-up frustration among I-270 corridor commuters, many of whom cite Frederick County’s growth trajectory and the growing traffic crisis created by solo drivers.

Imagine instead if millennials, looking for affordable residential options within easy reach of downtown Bethesda and D.C., could live anywhere on the I-270 corridor and commute to work easily, reliably, safely, regardless of weather conditions, roadway accidents or other threats that can jam the feeder road.

A monorail-to-Metro transfer doesn’t remotely compare to the hassle of being stuck on I-270 as traffic screeches to a halt during rain, snow or ice storms. Monorail transit, segregated from roadways and not adversely effected by weather, operates at the same speed and frequency, rain or shine throughout the year. BRT cannot claim as much.

Park calls for “new transit ideas” and calls monorail “pie in the sky” as she asks Marylanders to focus on “cost-effective transit options like bus rapid transit.”

Does bus ridership really constitute a new transit idea? Its proponents wave away a truly innovative plan that feasibly and responsibly builds an automated line with a smaller carbon footprint, that is highly reliable and safe, that segregates public transportation from road traffic and that is designed for future easy expansion.

Pie in the sky?  Sounds too good to pass up. I’ll have a piece, please.

Bob Eisinger is a lifelong resident of Montgomery County, a commercial real estate developer and investment and management consultant and president of The High Road Foundation.

2 comments

  1. This monorail plan for I-270 traffic not only SOUNDS like a great idea, the historical facts of such transportation PROVES that it is a great idea. Time to update the old cultures of who makes money on commuter lanes, and do our best to support the real needs of commuters.

  2. Eisinger is right … For Park to compare his monorail concept to a Disney ride is flat out silly. She needs to stop watching The Simpsons and give monorail a serious look.

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