Transit passengers face longer commutes than drivers

by Sam Staley, director of urban growth policy at Reason Foundation


Some particularly hardcore environmentalists and a few city
planners hope cars will go the way of dinosaurs. They believe
we’ll run out of oil and be forced to find a new means of
travel, preferably by foot, bike and train.

That would mean a return to the “good life” they say, where we
live in apartments, or high-rise condos and walk or hop a train
to work in downtown high-rise office buildings not far from home.
In short, we’d revert to a 19th century life of low mobility.

The history of my Toyota Prius, which just hit 100,000 miles,
suggests otherwise. Technology and innovation, like hybrids,
show we can keep the benefits of enhanced mobility that come
with our cars — more contact with friends and family; access
to more career options and work locations; more entertainment
and shopping choices — while improving the auto in ways that
reduce impacts on the environment.

In 2003, when I bought my used Prius, gas was cheap, hovering
slightly above $1 a gallon in Ohio where I live. But technology
alone wasn’t enough to make the purchase a no-brainer. A couple
hundred dollars in gas savings would not compensate for the
potential headaches of a new technology, lack of access to
cheap repair shops and limited cargo space for kids and
sports equipment.

Now, of course, my decision looks brilliant. Gas prices hit $2
in 2004. By the summer of 2005, drivers were choking at the sight
of $3 a gallon. Refinery bottlenecks, reformulated gas
mandates, uncertainty around pesky South American socialists,
and a protracted military presence in the Middle East conspired
to keep prices relatively high.

With its consistent 48 miles per gallon performance, the
Prius has generated a small financial windfall and more than
paid back in savings the difference in price between a conventional
car and the hybrid.

I’m not alone. Hybrid sales have jumped along with gas prices.
Dealers are on track to sell 345,000 in 2007. But this is just the
tip of the iceberg. Hybrids are a small, but growing segment of the
car market. JD Power speculates that 65 hybrid models will swarm
the market by 2010. The next generation will offer fuel
efficiency approaching 70 miles per gallon (or more).

All this bodes well for mobility in America. We can live where we
want. Work we want. And commute how we want.

Yet groups yearning for cars to go extinct believe we should
ditch cars, and the mobility they provide, for transit. But
transit commuters in Washington spend an average
of 47 minutes commuting, while solo drivers spend just
29 minutes, according to the U.S. Bureau of the

In most of our biggest cities — New York, Chicago, Seattle,
Los Angeles, San Francisco, Boston and Philadelphia — commute
times are actually much longer for transit riders than solo
drivers. Yes, despite all that gridlock on the roads.

Most Americans don’t want to double our commute times by
shifting to buses and trains. Most don’t want to cram our kids
into smaller houses and apartments to live closer to downtown
or work.

And ingenuity from the creative minds that created my Prius
will make sure we don’t have to. Our cars will run cleanly,
boosting air quality and reducing the health risks of living
in cities. We will be able to reach the most diverse and
interesting places in our cities on our schedule, not someone

Instead of hoping for the demise of the car because of a
‘reliance on evil foreign oil,’ we should celebrate the
mobility it provides.

Sam Staley is director of urban growth policy at
Reason Foundation and co-author of “The Road More Traveled:
Why the Congestion Crisis Matters More Than You Think, and
What We Can Do About It” (Rowman & Littlefield, 2006).


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