Americans Want Public Transit (A Satire)

Post by Steven Dale

One of my favorite websites in the world is the satirical newspaper, The Onion. Its commentary is such a spot-on accurate depiction of how the world works, it’s oftentimes a more reliable source of news and commentary than our traditional sources.

An absolute favorite article (from 2000) is titled Report: 98 Percent of U.S.Commuters Favor Public Transportation For Others. Among the highlights:

  • “With traffic congestion, pollution, and oil shortages all getting worse, now is the time to shift to affordable, efficient public transportation,” APTA director Howard Collier said. “Fortunately, as this report shows, Americans have finally recognized the need for everyone else to do exactly that.”
  • Among these positives: the health benefits of getting fresh air while waiting at the bus stop, the chance to meet interesting people from a diverse array of low-paying service-sector jobs, and the opportunity to learn new languages by reading subway ads written in Spanish.
  • The APTA is kicking off a campaign to promote mass transit with the slogan, “Take The Bus… I’ll Be Glad You Did.”

Meanwhile, in March of this year Transportation For America announced: New Poll Shows Americans Strongly Support Public Transportation.

It’s easy to say you support public transit. After all, who wouldn’t? Even easier to take a poll and say people in general support public transit.

But the real question isn’t whether or not you support public transit. The question is will you ride public transit?

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  1. It seems there are a lot of people who believe that buses are just communist subsidies for poor people who freeload of the tax paying car drivers - who would never use that service anyway. Also it will, like, never pay for itself (unlike cars of course), so is just a total waste of money. ...So supporting it is a good first step.
  2. I'm not American, so perhaps that's why this doesn't resonate much for me. My experience with public transit is that it's extremely popular - so popular that peak hour buses often drive past queues at bus stops because they're already full. Peak hour trains are filled to capacity. One of the main problems of the public transport system here is there simply isn't enough of it to satisfy the demand. The general public really does support public transport - the government however has less enthusiasm as they are locked in a perpetual war with the transit unions, and for some reason begrudge the public transport budget but not the roads budget.
  3. Transportation policy has gotten caught up in the general partisan/Culture Wars/rural-versus-urban divide in the United States. Which is unfortunate, but there are some signs that this dynamic is breaking down--see, for example, this effort to make the conservative case for a balanced transportation policy (they put it in terms of rail, but maybe we can persuade them to include cable): http://www.amconmag.com/blog/keep-america-moving/ I suspect this shift is inevitable: like everywhere else, the United States is continuing to urbanize, and many cities are also gentrifying. The politically-crucial suburbanites are starting to identify more with cities than rural areas, and suburbanites are also facing the consequences of unbalanced transportation policies (more congestion, higher transportation costs, and so on). Finally, the Great Recession has struck at the heart of the sprawl economy. So I don't think it is a mystery why the more thoughtful conservatives are starting to promote a balanced transportation policy: they need to become politically relevant in cities again as their rural base continues to shrink in relative importance, and they also need to be doing a better job addressing the basic needs of suburbanites.

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