Two Facts about Mass Transit and Cars
By David Henderson
Americans drove nearly 96 percent as many miles in May 2021 as in the same month in 2019, indicating a return to normalcy. Transit ridership, however, was only 42 percent of pre‐pandemic levels, which is making transit agencies desperate to justify their future existence and the subsidies they depend on to keep running.
This is from Randal O’Toole, “Transit’s Dead End,” Cato.org, July 13, 2021.
But does that mean that governments are reducing their subsidies to mass transit? Guess again.
O’Toole points out the basic problem with mass transit in the United States, almost all of which is run by, or heavily subsidized by, governments:
Transit’s real problem is that it is operating a nineteenth‐century business model in twenty‐first century cities. In 1890, when American cities were rapidly installing electric streetcars, most urban jobs were downtown and the streetcar lines radiated away from downtown hubs to bring people to work.
Today, only about 8 percent of jobs are in downtowns, and large urban areas such as Los Angeles or Houston have numerous job centers with as many and often more jobs than the traditional downtowns. Yet, in most urban areas, transit still has a hub‐and‐spoke system centered around the central city downtown. Demographer Wendell Cox’s analysis of census data show that, before the pandemic, transit carried about 40 percent of downtown commuters to work, but typically carried only about 5 percent of commuters to other major job centers.