Jordan Candler / May 2, 2016

Consumers Aren’t Keen on Mass Transit

Central planning for the “win.”

Activists are as devoted as ever in their quest to establish a nationwide mass transit infrastructure. But numerous studies and statistics show that a transit system in America that consists predominately of railway is neither practical nor affordable. And the trends bode ill for its biggest supporters who, for decades now, have insisted it’s only a matter of time before we make the switch.

First, the cost. According to Marc Scribner at the Competitive Enterprise Institute, “By 2014, 28 percent of total surface transportation funds were spent on mass transit, with the majority of those dollars coming from fuel taxes paid by drivers. Yet … mass transit still represents less than 2 percent of trips taken nationwide. Even when one looks only at commuting, where trains and buses do best, mass transit’s national mode share is less than 5 percent — down from more than 6 percent in 1980.”

This continues what should be a chastening pattern — though, frankly, nothing is stopping politicians in blue states (like in California) from constructing railways. A recent study by University of South Florida researcher Steven Polzin shows that the number of Americans riding on Public Transit Ridership dropped anywhere from 1.3% to 2.5% between 2014 and 2015. Polzin further notes, “While transit supply remains well below the aspirational levels of many transit users and transit advocates … supply has grown far more rapidly than demand for the past several decades.”

Meanwhile, automobile sales are on the uptick among young adults. According to Reason Foundation’s Robert Poole, “Millennials’ share of new-car sales had increased from 17% in 2010 to a whopping 28% in 2015, second only to the market share of far more-affluent Baby Boomers.” And nearly a quarter of Millennials plan to become car owners in the near future.

For those banking on America’s future to be awash in mass transit, none of this is good news. As Scribner writes, “Mass transit can serve a very important, albeit narrow, purpose for people in limited settings. There is a reason that 40 percent of all U.S. mass transit trips take place in the New York City metro area. But it is wholly irresponsible for politicians to continue mass transit’s taxpayer gravy train, which is based on less substance than Kevin Costner’s dramatized auditory hallucinations.” Mass transit just isn’t American — we’re too individualistic and independent. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s part of what makes us exceptional.

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