Mass Transit Ridership Losses

Wendell Cox
Wendell Cox is principal of Demographia, an international public policy firm. He is a founding senior fellow at the Urban Reform Institute, Houston and a member of the Advisory Board of the Center for Demographics and Policy at Chapman University in Orange, California. Mayor Tom Bradley appointed him to three terms on the Los Angeles County Transportation Commission

The Economist provides a useful perspective on the continuing decline of mass transit ridership in its current number. It starts with relating how Juana, a Guatemalan immigrant to Los Angeles, no longer takes the bus and now drives everywhere. She told The Economist that she had “two aspirations, to learn English and get a car,” which she did.

I heard a similar story a decade ago from a Gabonese student in Paris, who said that he needed a car “so that he could have feet.”

The Economist shows that the broad ridership decline occurring in US metropolitan areas (see graph) is also occurring in some of international cities, like London and Madrid.

The Economist cites more liberal car loans, working at home and ride hailing services, like Uber and Lyft.

Juana’s story is typical. For the most part mass transit is not competitive with cars. The average employee in the New York metropolitan area (with the most extensive mass transit system in the United States) can reach 13 times as many jobs in 30 minutes by car as by mass transit. In some US cities, the car reaches at least 100 times as many jobs. There is no conceivable level of public spending that can materially change that.

The car enriches lives in ways that mass transit cannot, by making millions of additional jobs accessible, by increasing shopping opportunities and by vastly expanding the potential for leisure and recreational travel. The reality is that when people can afford cars, they buy them.

Cross-posted at New Geography. 

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