Anyone who has taken a Blue Bus can attest to its tendency to be inefficient and consistently overcrowded. These issues serve to create a sizable gap between Central and North Campus: Students who live on Central are disincentivized from enjoying the natural beauty and arts on North, while students who must travel from North to Central are alienated from much of University life. Intercampus transportation is very clearly an issue that needs to be solved.
Fortunately, the University of Michigan and the city of Ann Arbor have begun moving forward with plans to build a light rail, named the Ann Arbor Connector. The first part of the project that would ultimately run throughout the city of Ann Arbor is the branch of the train that would unite North and Central Campus. Paid for by the University, the city of Ann Arbor, and most likely with funding from federal, state and public and private partnerships, the light rail would be expensive in the short run, but beneficial to students in the long run. This light rail system would improve student life in myriad ways, providing a quicker, safer, more accessible way to move between our campuses. A light rail system would be more reliable than the current busing system because it would move at the same rate no matter the level of car traffic. What’s more, students could get down to Central Campus faster during game days and event days when the roads are teeming with pedestrians and parents.
This project would not only benefit students in their everyday lives, but it would also prove advantageous for the University and the city of Ann Arbor. It would reduce the number of cars on the road, alleviating the extremely heavy traffic Ann Arbor faces on a daily basis. Light rail has also been proven safer than cars.
The city of Ann Arbor would also benefit because this project would reduce the city’s carbon footprint. More than 46,000 people commute to the city each day, and with a light rail, commuters would be able to park their cars near a train stop and then take the light rail to their workplace, leveraging the fact that rail systems are four times more efficient than cars. This would take cars off the road — making them safer — and save time for commuters and students who need to drive or take the bus. The light rail is planned to be powered entirely by renewable resources, which would further reduce our emissions.
In the long run, the light rail would save the University — and, in turn, students — money. According to a newly released report analyzing public transit alternatives in Ann Arbor, a light rail is the most cost-effective option. That being said, the entire project is estimated to cost between 500 and 700 million dollars and add an additional 8-percent increase in annual operating costs to both the University and the city of Ann Arbor. Subsequently, in the immediate future, students could see a tuition hike. It should be noted, however, that similar projects in the past have been paid for with a combination of federal, state and University funding, along with public and private partnerships. The University would not be taking on this project alone.
Though the project would be expensive in the immediate future, it would likely save the University and students money in the long run. A light rail would provide an easy, accessible, convenient, ultimately less expensive and more environmentally friendly way to bridge the gulf between our campuses and greatly improve the quality of student and city life.
Correction appended: This article previously implied that light rails are automated and that they are synonymous with monorails. Light rails have drivers and are different from monorails.