NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Mass Transit Still Hasn't Caught On

June 25, 2002

Recent increases in transit ridership are largely overrated, say critics, while the long-term trend in ridership is increasingly toward the automobile and away from mass transit. The billions of dollars invested in transit have done little to increase ridership, but have left surface roads largely underfunded.

  • The number of workers commuting by transit has not increased since 1990 despite an 11 percent growth in employment.
  • In urban areas, the growth in auto travel is ten to a hundred times greater than the growth in transit ridership.
  • Spending on roads amounted to less than 3 cents per passenger mile in the last decade.
  • Meanwhile, spending on transit amounts to nearly 68 cents per passenger mile.

Automobiles account for 2.6 trillion passenger miles a year on urban roads, and another 1.7 trillion on rural roads, while urban transit carries less than 50 billion passenger miles a year -- barely 1 percent of surface travel and 2 percent of urban travel.

Despite transit advocates claims, transit gains are tiny relative to increases in auto driving.

Source: Randal O'Toole, "The Good News and the (Mostly) Bad News About Transit." Vanishing Automobile Update #27, June 17, 2002, Thoreau Institute, Post Office Box 1590, Bandon, Oregon 97411, (541) 347-1517.

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