The problem with transit

by Randal O’Toole, Antiplanner, posted in Transportation

Table 12 of the historical tables supplementing the 2010 Public Transit Fact Book reveals that, since 1970, the number of workers needed to operate America’s public transit systems has increased by 180 percent. Table 38 reveals that, in the same time period, the cost of operating buses, trolley buses, light rail, and heavy rail (the only modes whose costs are shown in 1970) increased by 195 percent (after adjusting for inflation using the GDP deflator).

Meanwhile, table 1 shows that ridership on buses, trolley buses, light rail, and heavy rail (again, the only modes shown in 1970), grew by a mere 32 percent. That means each transit worker produced 53,115 transit trips in 1970, but only 26,314 trips by all modes in 2008. In other words, by any measure, transit productivity has declined by more than 50 percent.

About the only other industry that has seen a similar loss in productivity during the same time period is education–which, like transit, is government-run. Health-care costs have also risen, but at least we have gained longer, healthier lives because of it. Practically every other industry has seen enormous productivity increases and declining costs, at least as a share of personal income.

To help people in different parts of the country understand the problems with transit, and alternatives to the current socialized transit model, the Antiplanner has written briefing papers for several state-based think tanks. These include:

Colorado Transit: A Costly Failure;
Montana’s Transit Systems Harmful to Taxpayers and the Environment (also see guest editorial);
Tackling Public Transit in Tennessee (also see press release);
Public Transit in Washington.

More may be published soon for other states; if so, I’ll let you know.

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