Public Transit, a Failure Still

Summed up in this article from New Geography.

An excerpt.

“The future of public transit is nearly empty buses and railcars. Yet President Biden’s American Jobs Plan calls for spending $85 billion on transit. Although transit carries less than 1 percent of passenger travel in the United States, and no freight, this represents 28 percent of the funds Biden proposes to spend on transportation.

“Considering that the pandemic has cut transit ridership by more than half , while driving has recovered to 97 percent of pre-pandemic levels, this a poor, and poorly timed, use of public funds. Biden’s plan claims that spending more on transit “will ultimately reduce traffic congestion for everyone.” Other transit advocates claim that it will help low-income people as well as reduce greenhouse gas emissions. But none of these claims are true.

Third-Class Transportation

“Transit is fundamentally inferior to the alternatives.

  • It’s slow: According to the American Public Transportation Association, transit averages 15 miles per hour, while driving in many American cities averages 30 miles per hour or more.
  • It’s inconvenient: While people can drive door-to- door on their own schedules, transit riders are limited to traveling on transit agency timetables and must usually first walk or drive to a transit stop, then walk to their final destination.
  • It’s expensive: Counting subsidies to both highways and transit, American transit agencies spend more than five times as much moving people per passenger mile as Americans spend driving their cars.
  • It doesn’t reach many jobs: The University of Minnesota’s Accessibility Observatory estimates that a typical resident of the nation’s 50 largest urban areas can reach more than twice as many jobs in a 20-minute auto drive than a 60-minute transit ride. Auto users can reach 12 times as many jobs in 60 minutes up to 67 times as many jobs in 10 minutes as transit users.
  • Transit can’t even compete with bicycles: The Accessibility Observatory also calculates that people can reach more jobs in bike rides of 50 minutes or less than in same time spent on transit.
  • Spending more money on transit doesn’t solve the problem: The New York urban area has by far the best transit system in America and one of the best in the world, yet residents can still reach four times as many jobs in 60 minutes and 12 times as many in 10 minutes by car as by transit and can reach more jobs by bicycle than by transit on trips of 30 minutes or less. In 2019, nearly 96 percent of working Americans lived in a household with at least one motor vehicle. Of the 4.3 percent who did not, most didn’t take transit to work. We should be happy that fewer people have to depend on third-class transportation.

“The Transit Mystique

“Instead, transit supporters claim that any reduction of transit will cause some kind of urban crisis. “Working from home for some threatens mass transit for all,” reports one headline, ignoring the fact that only 5 percent of American workers relied on transit before the pandemic. “Let’s do our part to save public transit” by riding it again, exhorts another writer. “Save public transit by making it free,” i.e., by increasing subsidies even more, says another. In short, their goal is to make more people dependent on third-class transportation.

“To justify their demands for ever-more subsidies, transit advocates make unrealistic claims about its benefits. Transit is supposed to save energy when in fact it uses far more energy per passenger mile than cars. Transit is supposed to reduce greenhouse gas emissions when in fact it emits about the same amount of carbon dioxide per passenger mile as cars. It’s supposed to help the poor when in fact 95 percent of low-income workers don’t commute by transit. It’s supposed to relieve congestion when many transit lines actually make congestion worse.”

Retrieved May 27, 2021 from $85 BIllion for Empty Buses and Railcars |

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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