"If So Many People Support Mass Transit, Why Do So Few Ride?"

Posted by Ryan Croft on 9/24/14 3:49 PM

In the recent article "If So Many People Support Mass Transit, Why Do So Few Ride?,"  CityLab author Eric Jaffe wrote about why there is such a large support-usage gap in public transit in the United States, and some ways to potentially remedy this usage issue. The solution lies somewhere in changing the mindsets of the commuters and travelers. As Eric wrote, city residents understand and support the idea of public transit, but for most of them, they support it as long as other people are utilizing it. As a culture, US citizens need to grow to appreciate what benefits public transit can provide to each and every one of us, not just that they theoretically can benefit our neighbors and the planet as a whole.

Here are a few excerpts from the article:

Every transit advocate knows this timeless Onion headline: "98 Percent Of U.S. Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others." But the underlying truth that makes this line so funny also makes it a little concerning: enthusiasm for public transportation far, far outweighs the actual use of it. Last week, for instance, the American Public Transportation Association reported that 74 percent of people support more mass transit spending. But only 5 percent of commuters travel by mass transit. This support, in other words, is largely for others.

What's more striking about the support-usage gap is that it doesn't just exist on paper. In addition to saying they support transit funding, Americans back up that support with their own pocketbooks. Time and again at the polls, people are willing to raise local taxes to maintain or expand the transit service that so few of them actually use. According to the Center for Transportation Excellence, there were 62 transportation measures on ballots across the country in 2012—many with a considerable transit component—and nearly 80 percent of them succeeded.

Nor do these investments necessarily pay off in greater transit usage over time. Recently, transit scholars Michael Manville and Benjamin Cummins analyzed 21 local transportation funding ballots from 2001 to 2003, and found that, on average, these tax increases were approved by 63 percent of the vote. Yet a decade later, the share of commuters who drove alone in these places had fallen just 2 points, from 87 to 85 percent, while the share of transit commuters had stayed the same, at 5 percent. At best, the behavioral shifts were modest; at worst, they didn't exist.

Read the full article

Metro overpass in Melbourne

Topics: Smart Cities, Mobility