Making a Successful LRT-Based Regional Transit System: Lessons from Five New Start Cities

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - tram/light rail, place - north america, operations - performance, operations - frequency


light rail, Portland, high ridership, high speed, high frequency LRT network


This paper examines five metropolitan areas where light rail transit (LRT) lines serve as regional transit backbones. The paper defines a successful LRT-based regional transit system as one with high riding habit and productivity for all combined modes in each metropolitan area, and as also having high LRT ridership and productivity. Based on these criteria, Portland emerges as a successful LRT-based regional transit system. Our analysis reveals three characteristics that explain the Portland transit system’s strong performance: the network’s dispersed nature, the overlay of a higher-speed, high-frequency regional LRT network atop the local bus system, and the use of transfers to provide passengers easy access to a diverse array of destinations. We examine the performance of all five metropolitan areas with respect to these characteristics using a combination of agency data and insights from interviews with key informants.


Permission to publish the abstract and link to the article has been given by Journal of Public Transportation, copyright remains with them.