The nation’s transit services continue to lose market share among their most important demographics. According to the American Community Survey of the US Bureau of the Census, transit’s share of work trips has fallen from 5.0 percent in 2000 to 4.8 percent in 2006. With the rapid rise in gasoline costs, it might have been expected that transit would finally turn around its persistent downward market share trend. But the data shows no such turnaround.
Of course, the principal problem is that transit is simply uncompetitive with automobile travel for most trips. There are the exceptions, such as travel to the nation’s largest downtown areas, such as Manhattan, Chicago’s Loop, downtown San Francisco, the Hub in Boston and Centre City in Philadelphia. Some transit services are competitive with, or better than the automobile to these downtowns. As a result half or more of commuters to these areas go to work by transit.
However, most employment is not in downtown areas. These large, successful transit-based downtown areas account for less than three percent of the nation’s employment. Yet, nearly one-third of the nation’s transit commuters travel to these locations to their jobs (see Commuting to Downtown and Elsewhere).
Transit has two fundamental problems. The first is that it doesn’t go where most people need to go. The second is that it cannot at a price any urban area in the world can afford (see: Megacities: Land Use and Transport). It’s time for the advocates of higher transit taxes to stop pretending that transit has any potential to reduce traffic congestion.