Matt Yglesias,in an otherwise good VOX explainer about the high cost of transportation infrastructure in the United States, is getting something very wrong as to why street cars have more political support from relevant local actors than expanded bus services:
7. The clearest case is the growing popularity of mixed-traffic streetcar projects. These are much cheaper than grade-separated light- or heavy-rail, but still far more expensive than a conventional bus without actually moving people any faster. In terms of offering a transportation service, spending money on a streetcar is much worse than spending the same amount of money on multiple new bus routes or upgrades to existing ones.
8. Streetcars appeal, however, because those high costs create construction jobs and because the aura of classiness around them appeals to real estate developers and other would-be drivers of gentrification. So cities across America are opening stub streetcar lines rather than investing in improving the transit experience of bus riders.
Classiness may or may not be a significant part of the developpers’ value proposition. However the dominant reason why urban developpers who have the choice of supporting either bus mass transit or street car mass transit is permanance. Once tracks are laid down, the route is fixed and the political inertia is to continue to run streetcars on a route for as long as feasible. Buses are much more flexible. That is their advantage, but that also means that a transit orientated development built with bus transit in mind is at the whims of the regional transit agency deciding not to move 75% of the buses to other, higher priority lines.
Street cars and other rail transit systems allow developpers to plan with a much higher degree of certainty than bus transit. That is their value proposition to local developpers, not the implied classiness.