America’s Public Transit Sucks Because The Rich Don’t Use It


trimetroAmerica prides itself on being numero uno in a wide array of categories, though one area where the U.S. has fallen farther and farther behind is public transit. For decades politicians have pushed for large and costly highway expansions and improvements rather than public transportation, and the reason is simple; wealthy donors don’t use public transit.

Studies have consistently shown that Bus Rapid Transit, or BRT, is one of the most cost-effective ways to reduce traffic congestion, pollution, and improve downtown metro areas. Mexico City is one of the many places that have improved quality of life thanks to innovative public transit systems, but in America many of these systems meet with arduous resistance, if they even get proposed at all.

The problem, writes Salon’s Alex Pareene, is that American politicians don’t know anyone who uses public transit. While that may be a bit of a stretch (Vice President Joe Biden, as a senator, was known to take the train from Delaware to D.C. every day), the point is that such projects don’t benefit the wealthy donors that fund most political machines. Public transit largely benefits lower and middle-income people, especially in America, and America’s ruling class all fall into the vaunted “1%” of wealthiest Americans. Most of these people have never even stepped foot onto a bus.

Unfortunately, most municipalities are cutting back on public transit expenditures even as usage climbs to all-time highs. Even in places like New York City, where public transit is used by more people than anyplace else in the country, there isn’t enough political support for the taxes and surcharges needed to upgrade the century-old subway system. While New York has made great strides to promote bicycle lanes and bike sharing programs, its mass transit systems are in desperate need of improvement.

While the author laments the failures of places like New York and Minneapolis, other places, like Hartford, CT, and Charlotte, North Carolina are finally moving forward with long-delayed plans. Hartford is building a BRT system along the busy I-84 corridor, while Charlotte is expanding its successful LYNX light rail system. Meanwhile cities like Portland have successfully integrated multiple forms of mass transit resulting in one of the best systems in the country. Then again, Republicans across the nation helped bury President Obama’s plans for a national network of high-speed trains, ending the potential for millions of temporary and permanent jobs.

Public transit in America stands on a precipice, and as far as I’m concerned it could go either way. But as long as people keep moving back to cities, the pressure to build bigger and better transit systems will only grow, and eventually even the densest politicians won’t be able to ignore it.

 Source: Salon

About the Author

A writer and gearhead who loves all things automotive, from hybrids to HEMIs, can be found wrenching or writing- or else, he’s running, because he’s one of those crazy people who gets enjoyment from running insane distances.

  • Bi-Polar Bear

    Chris, I respectfully suggest that there are other contributing causes for the state of mass transit in America. Honestly, how many bankers in Bonn or financiers in London or plutocrats in China take mass transit to work?

    Surely you remember that General Motors bought up the nascent Los Angeles public transport system early in the last century and turned SoCal into the most automobile dependent community in the world. Those who are trapped on the highways of Southern California today can thank “Engine Charlie” Wilson, the architect of the GM brand.

    In countries like China, where progress is happening at a furious pace, it is easier to plan for mass transit from the beginning rather than trying to overlay a public transit infrastructure over an existing city. And the Chinese are none too picky about such niceties as eminent domain and the rule of law. Many Chinese cities finance themselves by expropriating land from the poor and reselling it to developers. Surely you are not suggesting America adopt a similar program?

    Plus, too and also, the biggest problem with mass transit is, well, having to rub elbows with the masses while jammed into buses and trams at rush hour. Another is having to visit several suburban locations on the way to or from downtown.

    If one were to ask me (I have just checked my e-mail and no one has, as of yet) I would suggest that the future of public transportation in not in cramming ever more people into gargantuan transportation modules. It is figuring out how to offer people clean, convenient and efficient transportation that fits their needs and schedules. Waiting outdoors in the pouring rain or in a blizzard is just not going to cut it, when you could be in your nice cozy car with your latte, your favorite music and the ability to dictate your route so you can pick up a nice porterhouse, 5 quarts of 5W20 or FiFi at the Poodle Puff on your way home.

    Autonomous cars will figure prominently in that bright new future. They will offer transportation to where you want to go when you want to go there with some degree of privacy from the madding crowd around us.

    Watching how people behave in an elevator provides an interesting glimpse into human nature. If the car is crowded at first, we jam together, but as people get off, we move as far apart from the other people in the car as possible. Every time. The problem with mass transit is that we are not the social creatures the pseudo-scientists say we are. Given a choice, we would much prefer to travel alone rather than in the company of hot, sweaty strangers.

    And when you get wealthy enough for a chauffeur driven Maybach, Chris, you won’t take public transportation ever again. Let’s just face it. Down deep inside, you’re just jealous! ; >

    • Clifford Carlson

      Financial services employees are a very common site on New York City’s commuter railroads . So it’s absolutely incorrect that the $250k+ “wealthy elite” that are so bashed by the liberals will never take mass transit. Commuter rail commutes have amenities of their own that a car can’t match such as a bar car and a standard electrical outlet at every seat. A commuter rail rider also has the option of turning their commute into productive time or alternatively unwinding with a drink.

      • Bi-Polar Bear

        I have no doubt you are correct, Clifford. Although I rather think Jamie Dimond and his cronies are not availing themselves of such opportunities! ; )

        My intent was to twit Chris about the major premise of his thread, which I think is inaccurate. We should all know by know that the American government is for sale to the highest bidder and there are a LOT of lobbyists for the automobile manufacturers, road builders, architects, trucking industry and airlines whispering high priced sweet nothings into the ears of our so-called elected representatives, telling them that high speed rail and better mass transit are bad ideas. I know my right wing friends all oppose high speed rail in particular with all the vehemence of Rush Limbaugh at his most strident.

        I have ridden commuter rail trains in New England, in Australia and in France. Even took the Chunnel train twice from London to Paris. I have found the experience to be both pleasant and cost effective every time. Cannot even imagine what it would be like to drive into Monaco on a race weekend and try to find a parking space!

        I did make the mistake of taking an Amtrak train from Boston to Jacksonville once. I was poor back then and could only afford an AmeriPass fare. Spent 24 completely miserable hours on frigid platforms waiting for trains that were late, trying to sleep with doors banging open and shut and the horror of overflowing toilets near my seat. Travelling long distance in close proximity to the Great Unwashed is something no one would voluntarily do twice!

  • M@

    Buses are incompatible with other forms of lightweight sustainable transportation: they ruin roads and require heavy investment in non-evironmentally sound road infrastructure: concrete (Portland cement has a major CO2 impact). Busses will shred a standard city asphalt road.

    If you bicycle in a city with buses, you can pickout the bus routes as they’re the ones with all the chuck holes and washboards in front of stop signs. A standard mass transit bus does about 850 times more damage per mile than a passenger car… and puts on TONS more miles. Overload it on a busy route or make it a ‘dualie’ caterpillar bus and it goes up over 1000 times more damage per mile. Add more weight by hybridizing ’em, more road damage. It’s compounded because when gas prices soar, people drive less (this is a good thing) but road repair coffers are filled by gas taxes (less gas is bought) at a time when more damage is done (municpal bus services typically do not pay gas road repair taxes)

    They’re also not very efficient from a fuel economy standpoint, averaging as a system between 50-60 passenger-miles per gallon. That’s beatable by a Prius with two passengers in them.

    I’m a big fan of mass transit, but not buses. They’re like low-tar cigarettes. Light electric rail is where it’s at: you can’t beat the efficiency of steel wheels on steel rails. Requires a much bigger up front investment, but pays off huge in the long run. Our city would have the bulk of their mass transit miles fueled 100% sustainably if they’d gone with a light electric rail proposal in the early 2000’s… use busses for the low mile, outlyer routes…

  • Clifford Carlson

    Once upon a time i had a bus/rail commute that had a 50 mile train ride and a 10 mile bus ride. The train commute portion took an hour and was nearly always perfectly on time. The bus portion also took an hour and often was late by as much as 30 minutes. The one thing a bus can be counted on, is to not show up at the scheduled time. Nobody except desperate 3rd worlders are going to tolerate that.

    The reason why the NYC rail system works well is because it is designed to be efficient and not a social welfare handout. I ride their systems because they are convenient not because i have to. Dressing up a bus with “light rail” and “bus rapid transit” are never going to appeal to people who have the option of driving.

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