When Different Capital Investments Compete and When They Don’t

Pedestrian Observations

Advocates for mass transit often have to confront the issue of competing priorities for investment. These include some long-term tensions: maintenance versus expansion, bus versus rail, tram versus subway and commuter rail, high-speed rail versus upgraded legacy rail, electronics versus concrete. In some cases, they genuinely compete in the sense that building one side of the debate makes the other side weaker. But in others, they don’t, and instead they reinforce each other: once one investment is done, the one that is said to compete with it becomes stronger through network effects.

Urban rail capacity

Capacity is an example of when priorities genuinely compete. If your trains are at capacity, then different ways to relieve crowding are in competition: once the worst crowding is relieved, capacity is no longer a pressing concern.

This competition can include different relief lines. Big cities often have different lines that can be used to…

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