Transportation For America, a non-profit organization, based on a coalition of businesses, politicians and advocacy groups, is campaigning for better transportation has two great studies on their website regarding the status of transportation in the United States.  The first study is on transit cutbacks in the US.  The more recent study on the status of transportation in each state is revealing.  The study broke down information on the following for each state:

  • Percentage of roads rated “poor” versus the 5.8% national average
  • Pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 versus the 1.26 national average
  • Metric tons of CO2 per capita from transportation versus the 6.9 tons average
  • Percentage of population without a driver’s license versus the 32% national average
  • And various data on public transit ridership, efficiency, aging population and building to real needs

Some of the more telling statistics include:

  • The projected 103% growth in seniors in California by 2030.
  • The fact that people in New York state emit only 3.7 tons of CO2 per capita per year.
  • The projected 500% growth for transit in the Twin Cities by 2030
  • Ohio has very good roads, with only 1.4% rated “poor”
  • And San Antonio peak drivers waste 39 hours a year in delays, compared to 19 hours in 1995

The statistics about poor roads, aging population, and population growth are all very important because they reveal the transportation for Americaimportant need to develop public transportation going forward.  Older citizens and immigrants frequently either don’t have cars, cannot afford them, and in the case of senior citizens are a hazard to be on the road after a certain age.  These factors scream for the need for development.  The state of roads in this country, especially in suburban, exurban, and urban areas also reveals part of the true cost of driving.  Cars are only cheap as long as oil is and roads are kept in tact.  The former is not likely to stay true forever and the latter will only become more expensive as fuel prices rise.  Public transportation is a critical arm toward fending off the need for paving more roads and having to repave all of the current ones.

The second study, on transit cutbacks is just a sad story of how in rough economic times states and localities are cutting back on and raising fares on public transportation when people need it most.  The below map illustrates this elegantly.

While I lament the reality, I have a truly difficult time criticizing the agencies, cities and states that are doing this. Those who work in public transportation are generally dedicated public servants pushing for greater service that is accessible to people of all needs.  There is nothing more painful than cutting back on service to people who need it.  I do not have a ready solution to this problem.  However, I do wonder if a stockpile of rainy day funds could be accumulated in much the way there is a strategic petroleum reserve.  I realize it is an odd analogy, but the US has a reserve of oil in the case that prices rise dramatically or Saudi Arabia decides that it won’t sell abroad anymore.  Perhaps Congress (since states are too cash-strapped to begin with) should establish a strategic public transportation reserve that is available when the economy crashes so that public transportation can continue running when the need is greatest.  Irony should not continue that when the economy sinks people need public transit most and it is not available.



There is an awful lot of nastiness going on in Massachusetts transportation circles, to put it lightly.  The latest issue regards a potential 19.5% fare hike at the MBTA and whether or not is needed at this moment.  The T’s finances are too complicated for me to weigh in on whether a hike is necessary.

That said, what is going on is indicative of the larger problem of leaving fare increases to periodic public discussion and implementation.  No one wants to see fares go up, but it is economic insanity to think fares can always remain the same price (such thinking killed many nickel trolley lines at the beginning of the 20th century).  Transportation–like any business–faces rising costs based on inflation and demand for greater services.  The latter is a good thing.

I understand that many economically needy people depend on public transit and that any increase in their monthly fare can be a serious hardship.  However, as opposed to facing large increases every 5 to 10 years, I think transit agencies should work with states to legislate a standard increase every 2 to 4 years.

I would propose an agency implementing something like an automatic 9% increase, rounded to the nearest nickel, every three years.  This is in line with 10.25% inflation rate that occurred between 2005 and 2008 and 8.6% rate between 2002 and 2005 in the United States.  For example, let’s take an imaginary transit system where fares are currently $1.50 a ride.  My suggestion would result in the following fares.

  • 2010: $1.65
  • 2013: $1.80
  • 2016: $1.95
  • 2019: $2.10
  • 2022: $2.30

I understand that there are political and social consequences to such automatic action and many low-wage passengers might be hurt.  However, this should alert us to the inequities experienced by low-wage laborers, not the problem of charging reflective fares for public transit.

Part of the problem is we’re conditioned to believe the price of transportation should be a choice as most roads are free and highway tolls rarely change.  However, that’s a reflection of government subsidies, not true costs.  Transit fares must rise occasionally to keep up with costs; every fare hike should not be a political crisis.  Hopefully a system that institutes fair automatic fare increases will make government more likely to provide fair adequate subsidies for public transit systems.