STUCK: Public transit's moment arrives just as public spending disappears

[Read the post]


How is working from home in LA working out for you? Can you do without a car?


Yup. I don’t own a car, though my wife does. A couple times a month, I’ll have a meeting or something that’s out of the neighbourhood and I’ll take her car and she’ll use a rideshare to go into the office, and we use it for short trips to take the kid to gymnastics and swimming lessons.

But in my daily life, I work out of the garage, walk to the pool, walk to the bank, walk to the post office box, walk to our local shops, etc. All 5-10 minutes away!


OT: I had that incremented-slidewalk idea (the illustration) when I was a kid. Mine wasn’t nearly that wide, only three or four lanes, but what happens when one strip breaks down while people are using the fast lanes on the other side? And how do the faster lanes terminate? Maintenance would be a nightmare too. Ah well, it was fun to think about.

Semi-related because that reminded me of the Mitch Hedberg joke:


The biggest problem wih cuting and underfundig public transportation is that will make it less useful and less used by commuters, while keeping alive the bureoucracy inside, making in turn easier to say that is a waste of money, so proposing other cuts.
Stoing road maintenace makes the road worse and raises the costs associated to use the car, too, but these cost are piad by car owners, due the increased trip times.

1 Like

And yet ridership is up almost everywhere, year after year. I don’t think you will see that drop until the system becomes really bad, but there seem to always be just enough funds to keep things limping along.

One of the biggest problems is that mass transit almost always serves a city, but cities don’t have enough funding, so they’re paid for by a state. State government is often dominated by rural and suburban voters, who just don’t think it’s worth a lot of money to get those people to work. To compound the problem, most cities are forbidden by law to raise taxes. Only Pennsylvania and Ohio allow local taxes, I think, maybe also NYC.


One of these days, American magazine writers/editors will start to put titles of their articles something like: “Why, in the USA, Traffic Is Awful and Public Transit Is Worse”.

Then, I’ll be a little less curmudgeonly.


You think the rest of the world matters? I scoff.


Not just America.

Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver – all struggling.

London. Manchester. Struggling.

Paris Metro – chronically underfunded.


A lot of this stems from a bizarre prejudice that has been allowed to take root in the political system:

Roads are a public utility, and maintaining them is naturally accepted as one of the duties of government.
Railways and transit are new-fangled nonsense, having only been around for a couple of centuries, and funding or maintaining them is obviously not a function of government, and it’s practically communism to suggest such a thing.


Do you mean only income taxes? Because we definitely have local sales taxes, hotel taxes, parking lot taxes, parking meters, a sundry array of fees, municipal bond issues, and other tricky ways to raise money. Some of them require voter approval, but they’re hardly outlawed.

Denmark: Government is deliberately sabotaging the train system by failing to invest and hiking fares to an extent where a one way ticket from my home town to my office (40 km) costs twice the diesel cost of a round trip by car (granted, maintenance not included - but still).

This was exacerbated when our 5 million strong country decided to incest billions upon billions on the IC4 trains, which were designed from scratch in Italy, rather than look at what works in e.g. Gerrmany or France. The project failed and the money is largely wasted.

Also, they’re trying to introduce an all-surveilling London Oyster Card-style “Rejsekort” which will store the time, date and location of all your trips for five years.

But they’re investing hugely in motorways and want to lower taxes on cars, though they just opted to tax electrical cars at the same level as fossil-driven ones. Oh, and they believe air travel will be the new public transportation, in a country where most distances are < 300 km (Copenhagen is in the other end of the country from here, all of 350 kilometers). Did I mention that the current Danish government is evil?


Not just London and Manchester. The Tyne and Wear Metro is having problems too.

1 Like

Perhaps, just perhaps, the reasons vary from place to place.

San Fransisco is in California, a state that collects, from what I keep reading, no way near enough taxes to properly support public infrastructure. The rich people there dictate government policy, and they don’t want/need/care about public transit, so why fund it, eh?

Where I live, in the Maritimes, there’s essentially NO public transit (except for Halifax) because there’s not enough population density; everything is so far away so every one has to have a car.

I really wish that travel by train in Canada was what it was in the sixties and seventies, cheap and relatively plentiful (though I could live without all that stopping to thaw out the brakes in winter with hand-held blow torches (couldn’t that be automated?) . The Trudeau government has promised some funding for public transit in their first budget (though the actual funding will be in a few years - the transit corporations can start planning now).

In any case, from a quick search, it’s not so bad in many/some places in Europe. Helsinki, Stockholm, and Brussels are well-served, no?

Maybe poor public transit is mostly caused by people who speak English.


I can’t find it but many years ago MAD had a great bit of American jokes they’re telling in Poland. One was, “Why do Americans drive their own vehicles to work instead of using public transit?” And then under a picture of a skeleton sitting in a driver’s seat checking its watch was the caption, “For the convenience!”

This, from the same place, though, really sums up why we have a problem.


I guffaw!

This just in folks, civilization costs money.

County level taxes are often very allowed (and large cities tend to be counties unto themselves). I know because I look at my paystubs. :grin: That being said, the gist of what you’re saying is right. Oftentimes city and county budgets are sufficiently mismanaged and unbalanced in a way that they need state level funding. The wealth is usually there though.

1 Like

This was about 20% of Scott Walker’s election spiel in Wisconsin: “Why do those liberals need a train, I drive my minivan just fine”


Mega-likes for posting a Don Martin cartoon

For a lot of us, measured by door to door times, it is still a convenience.

And most people can intuitively do the math: the incremental cost of my 15 mile, 25-30 minute commute (since I have to own a car for every other trip) is less than $2.00.

Now, I would gladly vote for a transit system that would equal or beat that cost and time.

But it’s not just me.

I don’t think it’s possible to build a system that would beat that cost and time for 50%+1 of the voters. Not without so much trackage that the cost is unsustainable.

1 Like

Hamburgers complain about the state of public transport sometimes, but my family does pretty well on the city border (our neighbours live in Schleswig-Holstein, not Hamburg). We can get a city day pass for five adults for 12 EUR, and this includes buses, subways, inner city trains and ferries. A day pass for one person and up to three kids costs 6 EUR. The closest bus from our home (50 m away) leaves every 20 minutes, which isn’t bad. Young children travel for free, so schools often take kids on outings without charging parents. The Netherlands has much better cycle routes, but they aren’t bad here either and drivers give way to you. My MIL is recovering from a hip operation and needs to travel around the city quite often, so anything other than a pretty good and pretty affordable system would mean that she had to get a car.

A big difference here is that the population density seems a lot higher than in US cities - even the outskirts of the city aren’t far from main bus routes.