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Central Florida Commuter


A case study in Ecological Economics
B. Salmons, Fall 2006
• Plans for a commuter rail system for Central
Florida were agreed upon in August 2006.
• Commuter rail offers several benefits to Central
Florida and has the potential to be a sustainable,
equitable and economically efficient development
strategy for the region.
• How does commuter rail exemplify the concepts
of Ecological Economics?
The Plan
• 1992: the first “project feasibility report” for
commuter rail was generated.
• August 2006: FDOT and CSX reveal an
“agreement in principle” about the use of existing
freight lines for a new commuter rail system.
• 2006-2008: details ironed-out and construction
• Late 2009: Phase I becomes operational.
• 2013: Phase II becomes operational.
The Plan
• 61-miles of track, north/south direction,
paralleling Interstate-4.
• Strings together a four-county metropolitan region
with Orlando at the center.
• Inter-modal transportation hubs.
– parking
– bus service
• Service mainly during “rush hours” – hence
“commuter” rail.
The Plan
• Why commuter rail?: reduce congestion!
– on I-4 (Orlando’s main artery)
– on north/south arterial roads
The Evidence
• Cities with commuter rail systems experience:
– increasing popularity of rail
– increased quality of life
– egalitarian quality to transportation choices
– potential for economic growth, development along rail
corridors, increase in property values
• Tri-Rail (South Florida):
• Trinity Rail Express (Dallas-Ft. Worth):
• Metra (Chicago and suburbs)
The Benefits
• Reduced congestion
• Reduced sprawl
• Pave the way for other mass transit options
• Local economic development
• Reduced CO2 emissions
• “Sustainability Multiplier Effect”
The Benefits
• Reduced Congestion
– Growth in Central Florida is inevitable
– Build more roads, widen roads: more drivers will use
them, more congestion
– Solution: channel commuters into alternate modes of
• Lessen congestion on existing roads
• Slow down expansion of roads
• Accommodates growth in population in an ecologically-
friendly way
The Benefits
• Reduced Congestion
– Commuter rail transit is less polluting than automobile
• DMU – Diesel Multiple Unit (self-propelled commuter rail
– “decreases fuel consumption by a factor of 4” compared to
conventional locomotives (, accessed 3
December 2006)
– During peak hours, commuter rail in Central Florida is
projected to carry as many commuters as 1 lane of I-4
• I-4 is currently from six to eight lanes in the proposed
commuter rail area – so commuter rail will carry from 12-17%
of rush hour traffic.
The Benefits
• Reduce sprawl
– Need for diverse services at rail stations will
arise: “transit oriented developments” (TODs)
• Mixed-use (residential/commercial/office)
development, denser living space: lessens pressure
for outward expansion into suburbs & new
• More opportunities to walk to stores, restaurants, the
doctor, and even to work – less automobile traffic.
The Benefits
• Reduce sprawl
– Debate over whether the market should determine
where people chose to live, or should local
governments encourage TODs along rail corridor.
• Importance of TODs lies beyond consumer preference – they
are a more sustainable type of development than is urban
sprawl – market may not account for this social benefit.
• Some towns on the corridor have already begun plans for
TODs (e.g. Longwood), combining government lead with
private sector interest (, accessed 3 December 2006).
The Benefits
• Pave the way for other mass transit:
– In the past, Central Florida has failed to
implement mass-transit rail systems:
• High Speed Rail Amendment (to State constitution,
mandating the building of a high-speed rail system)
was passed and then repealed a few years later.
• Viewed as too costly and a waste of money
• People too attached to their cars, would not take the
train, loss of “freedom”
The Benefits
• Pave the way for other mass transit:
– Commuter rail transit is the “foot in the door” for other
forms of mass transit:
• LYNX (the Central Florida bus system) – expansion and
improvement of service
– more routes/stops and denser scheduling.
– interface with commuter rail may remove stigma associated with
riding the bus, as more professionals begin to use it.
• “Bus rapid transit” (BRT)
– expansion of Lymmo service – a no-fare circulator bus operated
by LYNX.
– “The 10 low floor Lymmo vehicles use compressed natural gas
as fuel and are capable of controlling traffic signals to minimize
stops.” (American Public Transportation Association website,
accessed 3 December 2006).
The Benefits
• Pave the way for other mass transit:
– “light rail transit” (LRT)
• Electrically-powered vehicles, almost no emissions
• Proposed 22-mile stretch linking the core communities of
metropolitan Orlando (Altamonte Springs to south Orange
• Complements commuter rail: “ideal for linking residential
communities with downtown areas or other urban
activity/employment centers” (, accessed 3 December
– Revival of interest in high-speed rail as commuter rail
catches on??
• No action has been taken since 2005. (,
accessed 3 December 2006).
The Benefits
• Local economic development
– TODs will provide opportunities for local
entrepreneurship (“mom-n-pops”).
– Local businesses are more oriented towards
their community, invest money back into
community – “multiplier effects”
The Benefits
• Main benefit of commuter rail: reduction in CO2
– Reduced congestion means fewer automobile
– Reduced sprawl means fewer automobiles and more
people walking or biking.
– Better and more varied mass transit means fewer
automobile emissions and use of sustainable
technologies in mass transit vehicles (e.g. CNG in
BRT, electric LRT)
– Local economic development means more mom-n-pop
businesses who care what externalities their operations
The Benefits
• “Sustainability multiplier effect”
– CRT encourages TOD
– TOD encourages LRT, bus and BRT
– LRT, bus and BRT increase accessibility of
CRT, which makes TOD more viable…etc.
• e.g. Sheridan Station Side Village
– TOD at Hollywood, FL station of Tri-Rail
(, accessed 3 December 2006).
The Linkages to Theory
How does the Central Florida Commuter
Rail project demonstrate the principles of
Ecological Economics?
The Linkages to Theory
• Basis of EE:
– The economy is a subset of the ecosystem.
– Laws of Thermodynamics are inescapable
• Matter/energy is neither created nor destroyed
• Flow of matter/energy is linear, irreversible
– Less growth, more development (in a
qualitative sense).
The Linkages to Theory
• Three goals of Ecological Economics:
– Sustainability
– Just distribution (concurrently and inter-
– Economic efficiency
The Linkages to Theory
• Sustainability
– Commuter rail is less energy intensive than are
• Barring a cessation of in-migration, the only
solution is to slow growth and redirect commuter
traffic into other forms of transit.
• Growth in commuter rail ridership is more
sustainable than growth in automobile traffic.
The Linkages to Theory
• Sustainability
– TODs are conducive to walking, sometimes
unwelcoming to automobile traffic – this is
good for reducing car-dependence.
– LRT, bus and BRT are overall more fuel
efficient than cars, less polluting.
The Linkages to Theory
• Just distribution (concurrently)
– CRT will initially benefit commuters who live near, or
can drive to, the stations.
– When “sustainability multiplier effects” start to happen,
benefits will spread:
• Bus service will improve – service for low-income persons
gets better.
• Stigma of riding the bus will lessen when new customers (e.g.
professionals) begin using it.
• Increased connectivity between diff. forms of mass transit
improves mobility of low-income persons (including seniors)
The Linkages to Theory
• Just distribution (concurrently)
– Egalitarian quality to transportation choices
• All income levels ride
• Status of car ownership less important, the need to
buy a car decreases (beneficial to low-income
The Linkages to Theory
• Just distribution (inter-generationally)
– Resources for powering automobiles are used
less intensively, leaving more resources and
less waste for future generations.
– Land use is less intense – “smart growth” –
leaving more room for preservation of natural
and cultural resources to be enjoyed by present
and future generations.
The Linkages to Theory
• Economic efficiency
– Profitable
• TODs: local businesses, local investment
• Greater connectivity throughout the region attracts investment
from the outside
– Scripps Florida in Palm Beach County – access to Tri-Rail (24
January 2004,, accessed 4 December 2006)
– CUNA Mutual Group’s new location in Fort Worth – access to
Trinity Rail Express (16 May 2006, Business Journal of Milwaukee,
accessed 4 December 2006)
– Contrary evidence
• Some studies say alternate forms of transportation are not cost
effective for various reasons (e.g. most rail commuters are bus
transplants, thus no reduction in cars on road)
• This is why efficiency is not first priority in Ecological
Economics: social & environmental costs are more important.
The Linkages to Theory
• Commuter rail is a local/regional example
of how to work towards global
– less dependence on non-renewable resources
(oil for cars)
– less emphasis on growth, more development
(“smart growth”)
Central Florida Commuter Rail
“Thinking globally, acting locally”