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Transportation

Are Streetcars Mostly for Tourists?

Evidence that streetcar ridership is unrelated to service frequency, bus connections, and job proximity. 
D.C.'s getting a streetcar, but commuters may not ride it.
D.C.'s getting a streetcar, but commuters may not ride it. AP

Another day, another massive U.S. streetcar project cost overrun. This time it's Arlington, Virginia's planned Columbia Pike line, which reports now say will cost as much as $100 million more than the latest county estimate. The news follows word from earlier this year that Atlanta's streetcar will cost "significantly more" to operate than anticipated, and from last fall that the proposed Los Angeles streetcar could double in costThis is exactly what streetcar advocates don't want to hear, because it's exactly what streetcar opponents have vocally feared.

To be fair, we should expect mega-transportation projects to come in way over budget. Whether as a result of the "planning fallacy" (people like their own ideas too much) or "strategic misrepresentation" (officials lie about the cost), roads and rails routinely cost more to build than initial projections suggest. Just because something is routine doesn't make it comfortable — think: colonoscopy — but taxpayers generally accept the higher cost in exchange for the promise of a social return on investment.