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Monorail advocates frequently make extravagant assertions about the supposedly exceptional "profitability" of monorail systems, particularly compared to light rail transit (LRT) and other standard rail transit systems. Zealous monorail supporters have been known to make claims such as "the only public transportation systems in the world being run for profit are monorail systems." This, it's argued, should be considered "evidence of superior technology."
On its website, for instance, the Monorail
Society claims that "No matter what the cost of building one is, monorail has the
best chance of all transit modes of turning a profit." To support this type of assertion,
the foremost evidence offered by monorail
advocates invariably comes from Japan - particularly the experience of Tokyo's
Haneda Airport monorail connector line (see photo). Thus the Monorail Society
assures us that "... monorail can turn a
profit once built. The Tokyo Monorail ... is operated by a private business and turns a profit each year. This
is unheard of with conventional rail or bus systems."
Such assertions of the exclusive "profitability" of Japanese monorails are refuted by real-world facts. it should be noted that, particularly in Japan – where traffic volumes are high, transport by automobile is less encouraged than in North America, and public transport is encouraged through government policies – a number of rail passenger modes, including LRT (light rail), report operating profits.
This is solidly substantiated by reliable operating data. As
researched from Japanese government statistics and analyzed by
Leroy Demery, Jr., various Japanese rail transport operators
reported an operating profit (simple operating revenues less
operating expenses, without deducting any finance charges or
taxes) for the 2000 fiscal year.
These "profitable" rail and guideway system operators are grouped by type of system in the following listings:
Monorails and ICTS (intermediate Capacity) Lines
- Kitakyushu Monorail
- Enoshima Electric Railway
- Fukuoka subway
Major City Electric Railway Systems
- Aichi Peripheral Railway (Nagoya, small)
Provincial Electric Railway Systems
- Enshu Railway (Hamamatsu, interurban LRT)
It should also be noted that the three private-sector successors to JNR on Honshu – JR-East, JR-Central, and JR-West – also reported operating profits.
it may come as a surprise to North American readers that such a sizable number of transit services in Japan – such as the Hakodate streetcar system, pictured at left – are able to meet direct operating costs from farebox revenues, and even to generate a surplus – a phenomenon certainly not limited to monorail systems, as the data above underscores. Commenting on these data, Leroy Demery notes that "Large operators earn profits from extremely high peak-period volumes. Smaller operators (monorails in particular, but streetcar systems as well) manage to collect a much higher average fare per passenger than US operators could, and therefore turn a profit despite unimpressive (i.e., unimpressively high) unit operating costs ."