The costs of supporting the nation’s urban transit industry are rising, yet ridership is declining, according data from the Federal Transit Administration. In 2018 transit ridership fell in 40 of the nation’s top 50 urban areas, and, over the past five years ridership has fallen in 44 of those 50 urban areas.
Data released by the Census Bureau in September 2019 indicate that the nation had 6.3 million more jobs in 2018 than 2015, yet the number of people who took transit to work declined by 146,000.
According to Cato Institute Senior Fellow, Randal O’Toole, “These declines have taken place in spite of huge increases in spending on public transit. In 2018 alone, subsidies to transit grew by 7.4 percent, increasing from $50.5 billion to $54.3 billion.”
O’Toole believes that it is time to end the subsidies and burdensome cost which is only going to increase. He stated, “…much greater increases will be needed to keep transit moving in many urban areas. A recent Department of Transportation report indicated that the transit industry has a $100 billion maintenance backlog, mostly for its rail lines, and expenditures will have to increase by at least another $6 billion a year to fix this backlog within 20 years.
“At the same time, the justifications for spending this much money subsidizing a declining industry are disappearing. Most low income workers have given up on transit as a method of commuting and have purchased cars. Instead of helping low income people, transit’s major growth market is people who earn more than $75,000 a year. In all but a handful of urban areas, transit uses more energy and emits more greenhouse gases per passenger mile than the average automobile. Far from relieving congestion, transit agencies are seeking to increase congestion in order to promote their businesses.”
O’Toole states that the data suggests that, outside of New York and perhaps a half dozen other urban areas, benefits of mass transit are tiny to nonexistent, especially when compared with the costs. Transit is no longer more energy efficient than driving: the energy efficiency of automobiles is increasing, while the energy efficiency of transit is declining. Transit no longer serves large numbers of low income people, as most of them have purchased automobiles. Transit systems with declining ridership do little or nothing to relieve urban congestion; nearly empty buses often increase congestion.
In short, the relationship between transit and most urban areas is not a symbiotic one but a parasitic one. Like any parasite, transit saps the vitality of the entities it is parasitizing, in this case by demanding huge subsidies from taxpayers. Like many parasites, some transit agencies even seek to reshape the regions they parasitize to make them more congenial for the health of transit even though such changes impose higher costs of living on the residents of those cities.