πŸ“‘ Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit? (Don’t Blame Cars.)

Bookmarked Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit? (Don't Blame Cars.) by Jonathan English (CityLab)

Service drives demand. When riders started to switch to the car in the early postwar years, American transit systems almost universally cut service to restore their financial viability. But this drove more people away, producing a vicious cycle until just about everybody who could drive, drove. In the fastest-growing areas, little or no transit was provided at all, because it was deemed to be not economically viable. Therefore, new suburbs had to be entirely auto-oriented. As poverty suburbanizes, and as more jobs are located in suburban areas, the inaccessibility of transit on a regional scale is becoming a crisis.

The only way to reverse the vicious cycle in the U.S. is by providing better service up front. The riders might not come on day one, but numerous examples, from cities like Phoenix and Seattle, have shown that better service will attract more riders. This can, in turn, produce a virtuous cycle where more riders justify further improved serviceβ€”as well as providing a stronger political base of support.

Jonathan English reflects on the demise of public transport in America. Although it can be easy to blame cars, the real issue is the lack of investment. Build it and they will come. It would be interesting to take a similar look at transport in Australia.

One response on “πŸ“‘ Why Did America Give Up on Mass Transit? (Don’t Blame Cars.)”

  1. Reading your discussion of public transport, it is interesting to think about Australia and in particular Melbourne. It feels like we sit somewhere between America and Europe. Although the network is integrated with a tap on and off system in place, there is still the lack of regularity in some places.
    Living in a new suburb amoungst the sprawl, we have one bus route which runs every hour, which is pretty useless and another which runs every twenty minutes. I usually end up driving to the station, where the trains run close to every six minutes during peak. However, there are only a limited number of parks.
    There is the promise of new infrastructure, new tunnels and ring around the city. However, this will still take time and there is no political guarantee, especially when many of the ideas were first mooted in the 60’s.

    Marginalia

    Instead of building highways first, which tends to make neighborhoods auto-centric and de-prioritizes transit, European cities tended to put transit first when they built new neighborhoods.

    Why do we only run decent service on expensive subways that were built from scratch?

    Germany, for example, high-speed Autobahnen go just about everywhere. The land of BMW and Mercedes-Benz boasts a strong car culture, and its plans for a national network of expressways were first formed in the 1920s; indeed, these highways helped inspire America’s interstate build-out. But Germany never stopped building rail systems

    Fares need to be low enough that people can afford to take transit. New York City will soon join other cities like Tucson and Ann Arbor in having discounted fares for low-income people. That is important to make transit accessible to everyone. But fair fares isn’t just about keeping fares low. It’s also about eliminating arbitrary inequities. People shouldn’t have to pay a transfer penalty or a double fare just because they switch from bus to rail, transfer between agencies, or travel across the city limits. A transfer is an inconvenience—you shouldn’t have to pay extra for it

    Nearly every Torontonian is within a 15-minute walk of a 24-hour bus route. Virtually every one of the major roads on the city’s grid has a bus route that comes at least every 10 minutes, all day long. People making long trips across town usually transfer to the subway for a quicker ride, but it is also convenient to make cross-suburban journeys by transferring between buses—they come frequently enough that there is little risk of standing for an hour at a forlorn suburban bus stop waiting for the connection

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