Public transit is a public good. A greener alternative to fossil-fuel cars, public transit has climate benefits and makes cities more accessible. Yet, as COVID has dramatically changed Americans’ use of public transportation, access to public transportation is highly uneven across American cities, and infrastructure urgently needs updating.
About 45% of Americans have no access to public transport. Black households are thrice as likely as white households to not have access to a vehicle. When public transit is only accessible to some, there is Negative consequences lack of access for all.
In an effort to reduce inequities in access, Boston Mayor Michelle Wu recently secured funding to free public transport on three city bus lines and hopes to make free travel a reality for all. Likewise, the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority is Driving test a free plan on certain buses to reduce inequalities in access to public transport.
In 2019, the last pre-COVID year for public transit use, Americans took more than 9.9 billion bus and train journeys. That same year, nearly 8 million people used public transit to get to work. However, the average one-way bus ride is almost 47 minutes, perhaps discouraging more workers from using public transport. Moreover, the United States historically has invested in highways rather than public transit, which means many workers cannot get around without access to a vehicle.
During the pandemic, many people worked remotely all or part of the time and minimized public transit trips to reduce their risk of contracting the virus, leading to a drop in number of users. Many of those who have to go out have relied more heavily on cars to stay socially distant from others. At the same time, automobile fatalities has increased sharply during the first half of last year.
This comes as the United States faces an infrastructure crisis. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave the country a grade of C- on their 2021 Infrastructure Report Card. In November, the Infrastructure Investment and Employment Act was enacted, in part providing for investments in more climate-friendly car and bus infrastructure.
Federal investments in better public transit infrastructure would allow more cities to offer free travel. Los Angeles, unlike most cities, does not depend on fares to run its public transit system. The city Free free trips during the pandemic as a safety mechanism. However, estimates show that the free program in Los Angeles had unintended climate and equity benefits. To research has shown globally that more accessible cities with integrated mass transit networks increase equity and climate benefits for all.
The Chicago Transit Authority received $912 million of the US bailout to help recover from the economic impact of the pandemic. This money will support jobs and help the agency improve its low-carbon transportation services.
Public transport has enormous positive effects. Every dollar invested in public transit generates $5 in economic returns. Traveling by public transport is 10 times safer per mile than traveling by automobile. New proof suggests younger generations are more frequent users and supporters public transport.
Public transport is a greener alternative. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, transportation represents 29 percent greenhouse gas emissions in the United States, and 41 percent of these emissions come from cars.
Some states provide excellent public transportation in their cities and have bills pending in their state legislatures to expand and protect public transportation.
In Washington State, the Legislature is hearing bills on improved transit zones and additional transit credits. The defenders wrote a “Charter of Transportation Rights» and plead for «just transportation.” This framework is designed to take concrete action to stop extractive and unjust systems that can contribute to the climate crisis and systemic racism.
In Utah, House Bill 322 would allow the Utah Department of Transportation to undertake light rail and bus rapid transit line expansion projects. Mike Schultz, Majority Leader of the Utah House noted, “It has to be done, honestly. We have to think regionally, being the fastest growing state in the country. We have to think about 10, 20, 30 years.
However, not all states support or advocate public transit.
In Indiana, Senate Republicans recently introduced a bill that thwart the development of public transport in Indianapolis. In 2016, Indianapolis voters passed a referendum to raise taxes to pay for new rapid transit bus lines, a referendum still backed by 87 percent of registered voters in 2021. Despite widespread support, Indiana representatives Continue to introduce legislation to put an effective end to it. The last is Senate Bill 369trying to stop the development of the blue line rapid transit bus line that will connect downtown and eastern Indianapolis to the airport. Since 2014, Indianapolis is banned of the construction of a light rail in the city.
Be certain, not everyone supports or uses public transit, and it is expensive to fund adequately. On a per mile basis, the United States has some of the Very expensive transit in the world. Opponents sometimes argue that the development of public transit disturb traffic and local businesses along the route. However, despite the high price of well-built and adequately funded public transit, the benefits are widespread.
A 2021 report by the Brookings Institution advocates for targeted federal government investment in public transit infrastructure because there is economic costs if we fail to modernize our public transit. Federal investment in public transit and federal-state partnerships to ensure quality public transit for all can meet these needs. Going forward, policy makers need to invest heavily in public transit. It is time to make public transit a guaranteed public good for all.
Ana María Ferreira, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of Spanish and Latin American literature and culture at Indianapolis University. Colleen E. Wynn, Ph.D., is assistant professor of sociology and co-director of the Community Research Center at Indianapolis University. Both are Public Voices Fellows under the OpEd project.