Saturday, May 10, 2008

Transportation tradeoffs

In the US at least, it's common wisdom that people simply don't like mass transit. They won't use it, ever, some say. Of course, from an economic point of view, that's absurd – every good has its utility value, and costs can go from zero to almost infinity. While American doesn't seem to be in danger of becoming anything but a 90% car society any time soon, the NYT has an article that reports huge upticks in ridership of public transit systems throughout the US. (I blogged about a similar article a few months ago, but this one is much more comprehensive.) While traditionally transit-oriented cities like New York are reporting gains in ridership, the biggest gains are coming from systems in places that are very car-oriented: Miami's commuter trains saw year-to-date increases of almost 30% in April, and Minneapolis-St. Paul's Hiawatha Line saw a rise of 16% over the past year.

The article cites rising gasoline prices as the primary impetus for the shift, and notes that the trend could indicate that the economy is still strong:

“If we are in a recession or economic downturn, we should be seeing a stagnation or decrease in ridership, but we are not,” said Daniel Grabauskas, general manager of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, which serves the Boston area. “Fuel prices are without question the single most important factor that is driving people to public transportation.”

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