Will American mass transit make a comeback?

Transit ridership fell in 31 of 35 major metropolitan areas in the United States last year, including the seven cities that serve the majority of riders, with losses largely stemming from buses but punctuated by reliability issues on systems such as Metro, according to an annual overview of public transit usage.

…Researchers concluded factors such as lower fuel costs, increased teleworking, higher car ownership and the rise of alternatives such as Uber and Lyft are pulling people off trains and buses at record levels.

I know, I know — if only we would spend more money, do it better, and so on.  An alternative and really quite simple hypothesis is that mass transit is largely a 20th century technology, it is being slowly abandoned, and in the United States at least its future is dim.  The more you moralize about the troglodyte politicians and voters who won’t support enlightenment, the harder it will be to give that hypothesis an analytically fair shake.

And what about the D.C. area?:

Metro’s ridership dropped by 3.2 percent. The trend was largely driven by a 6 percent decline in bus ridership. Dramatic losses to subway ridership, including a 10 percent decline in 2016, had appeared to level off by 2017, when the total number of trips fell by about a percent and a half.

Metro has said about 30 percent of its ridership losses are tied to reliability issues, with teleworking, a shrinking federal workforce, Uber and Lyft, and other factors to blame for the rest.

Here is the full WaPo story by Faiz Siddiqui.

Comments

The exceptions to the trend belie that hypothesis:

Exceptions to the trend: Seattle, Phoenix and Houston, which either expanded transit coverage and boosted service or underwent ambitious network overhauls, as in Houston’s case.

Is there a confounding factor in common with those three cities that would explain it as something other than "places that bothered to overhaul their transit systems to greater modernity while expanding access saw ridership gains"? Phoenix is particularly noticeable because it's also ground-zero for the self-driving car trend, plus open to all kinds of ride-share services and personal car commuting. If there was a technological reason why mass transit was "obsolete", then we'd expect the decline to be more severe there than elsewhere.

The fact that ridership numbers boost immediately after you add more public transit doesn't really say much about the technology's viability.

Of course, neither does the fact that ridership goes down when systems become creaky and unreliable. The Metro may claim that only 30% of their losses are due to reliability, but I doubt that can be measured robustly. And like any organization, they have an interest in not blaming themselves for problems.

Tyler's "alternative hypothesis" may be true (at least outside very high density cities), but I don't really see evidence for it in this news.

Here in the SF bay area, the BART system has degraded badly due to a) high crime on the system, b) homeless people using it as a comfortable place to stay during the day, c) public urination and defecation on the trains (which have no bathrooms), and d) needles left behind by junkies who openly use them on the trains. These have all been widely publicized in local media. Also reported are the insanely high salaries paid to BART workers, from janitors to top executives. A janitor makes more than cops do.

Here in the (south) SF bay area, the VTA has faced declining ridership for years, even in the face of rising traffic congestion and massive job growth.

The VTA runs a 10 acre bus terminal within a stone's throw of Google's headquarters (https://goo.gl/maps/1uzouRwU86q), but Google still runs 100's of private shuttles a day. Why doesn't the VTA serve the Google campus? They are prioritizing serving residents without cars, and serving the San Jose area (15 miles south of Google).

Maybe transit agencies aren't trying to increase ridership?

I'm not trying to defend the VTA, but it seems like they are trying to do something other than what I would expect them to do.

Remember Dial-A-Ride? What a dumb idea that was. Notable for the full-size buses running around with typically one passenger, often a teenager. I think that was in the 1980's. I guess when your businesses is buses, you never stop to think there might be a better way to do this.

What are rents like in each? What is the trend in rents in each?

London is pouring money into transport yet ridership is falling. Conventional beliefs are that this is about bikes, but rents are also falling.

My hypothesis: people are outsourcing work from high rent places. The combined effect of better project management/communication technology with management who have grown up with the internet and are comfortable with non-presence is shifting startup growth and support services out of expensive cities.

This is partly about "work from home" but it's also about satellite offices and outsourced services in other cities. Do you really need the company managing your website or your accountants in New York? What about Philadelphia? You might need to take a 2hr drive but how often do you need to do it?

London transport usage falling? Not according this source, Underground rides show a constant increase in passenger numbers up to 2017 from about 500million in 2004 to 900million in 2017.
https://www.statista.com/statistics/304852/passenger-journeys-on-the-london-underground/

The other thing to mention is the spectacular increase in passenger numbers on UK national railways after privatisation. It seems like actually state owned railways really are badly run, who knew? This is probably the most likely reason public transport doesn't work in the US - it is usually a state owned monopoly.

"UK national railways after privatisation."

Actually, most UK rail is owned by *other governments*:

https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/apr/01/british-rail-franchises-foreign-owners-subsidy

"It seems like actually state owned railways really are badly run."

This maybe, but the hypothesis consistent with the example of the UK seems to suggest that the British state is particularly bad at running railways and that other states operating in the UK do better.

Do you honestly believe the improvements are merely due to change in ownership rather than transformation to a market? Explaining system behaviour through the character of individual actors is...unimpressive. The left readily ascribes behaviour of individuals to their social-economic circumstances but never seems able to extend the idea that government agencies and private companies also respond to incentives from their environment. Strange.

The rail franchises are now running regional competitive tenders rather than a national monopolies; who cares who the ultimate shareholders are? The incentives have been fixed and, lo-and-behold, performance rises too.

The improvement in service quality and reliability over the last 2 decades has been remarkable. Commuter routes are packed like sardines at rush hour, of course, but that's a sign of success not failure.

This. Please God let the Trump administration sell Amtrak to a private company. Or hell, to a bunch of European governments. I don’t care. Anyone.

Amtrak almost certainly has a negative net worth, given it's commitments. No one would buy it unless they were allowed to drop all of the low ridership routes.

From 2017, the numbers of passengers on London Transport fell by 20m.

I don't buy the privatisation argument at all, and I'm generally in favour of reducing the size of the state. Technically speaking, they're privatised, but they're still monopolies running only a tiny fraction of the service with a 500 page agreement telling them everything they have to do. It's more like outsourcing. And honestly, they didn't get much better. What really boosted rail is specialisation and work changing.

I checked on the Transport for London website using the last annual report's data on ridership. If I add up all the public transport categories it shows passenger journeys in London fell by 0.3% in 2016/17.

Of the main categories, the only form of public transport for which journeys fell was bus journeys which fell by 2.2%. Bus is the largest total number of journeys so this has a large effect.

The number of Underground, DLR, Overground and Tram journeys all increased by between 1.9% and 9.3%.

This data does not seem to support your comments. It may be more about people voting with their feet on London buses than London public transport in general. Where there is a choice between other forms of public transport and bus people are choosing not to use bus. And anecdotally people choosing to use apps like Uber instead of public transport.

I think you need to look at longer term trends than just one year.

I can't find a link to the data, but this news reporting is common: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-london-42622891

Passenger numbers are down 2% on tube,also rail, bus and there's a wider South East problem. Season ticket sales across the UK are down by 11% in a year and the biggest hit has been London and the South East, not regional rail http://orr.gov.uk/__data/assets/pdf_file/0006/25719/passenger-rail-usage-2017-18-q1.pdf. 11% fall in season ticket sales almost sounds like someone got the numbers wrong or changed the way they were calculated.

I agree, Uber is going to have an effect on transport even within that. And i think I'll agree that even with the 2018 data, it's probably too early to say it's a trend.

This is the link to the data on ridership. The data is a few pages in to the document and shows the trend over 5 years.
tfl-annual-report-and-statement-of-accounts-2016-17.pdf

The data does not talk to the same time period as the BBC article you provided the link to.
The trends are similar for bus showing a decline in journeys over the last couple of year and less journeys in 2016/17 than 5 years ago.
But the trend for underground shows steady growth over the 5 year period. If you also add in London Overground, which is now better integrated with Underground, and has shown more rapid % growth, then overall the underground+overground trend is steady growth.

Seattle, Phoenix and Houston?

In the Houston region, non-Hispanic whites make up 38 percent of the population, Hispanics 36 percent, African-Americans 17 percent and Asians 9 percent

According to the 2010 Census, the racial breakdown of Phoenix was as follows:[131]

White: 65.9% (46.5% non-Hispanic)
Black or African American: 6.5% (6.0% non-Hispanic)

According to the 2010 United States Census, Seattle had a population of 608,660 with a racial and ethnic composition as follows:[111]

White: 69.5% (Non-Hispanic Whites: 66.3%)
Asian: 13.8% (4.1% Chinese, 2.6% Filipino, 2.2% Vietnamese, 1.3% Japanese, 1.1% Korean, 0.8% Indian, 0.3% Cambodian, 0.3% Laotian, 0.2% Pakistanis, 0.2% Indonesian, 0.2% Thai)
Black or African American: 7.9%

Nope, can't think of a reason why use of public transport might be dropping. By the way, the Ferguson Effect means that the police across America are refusing to do more than the minimum. Hence homicides are rising in places like Baltimore. Interesting that no one mentioned the possibility of being murdered as one of the causes of the drop in ridership isn't it?

I predict that use of public transport in Houston will drop over the next decade.

I can't tell whether you think those white percentages are high or low. For a large American city, they're pretty high; Seattle is, by and large, safe; Houston less so, Phoenix in between. What is your point?

Phoenix isn't an exception either. Warren Meyer has been blogging the Phoenix transit situation for a while. As in other places, light rail expansions are extremely costly (both to build and operate) and come at the expense of rest of the transit system. After rail expansion, Phoenix bus ridership has fallen by more than rail ridership has risen, yielding an overall decline in transit use -- and that in a growing metro area that has recently made enormous investments in rail. It's a disaster, really:

http://www.coyoteblog.com/coyote_blog/2017/09/phoenix-transit-ridership-continues-to-fall-as-light-rail-investment-goes-up.html

It's a similar story in Los Angeles -- major investments in light rail haven't prevented big declines in transit use (and may have exacerbated them by pulling funds from the bus operations).

The Nashville Mayor (before she resigned in disgrace last month) has been strongly pushing a light rail system. Despite the various studies that indicate the system will recoup less than half it's costs in ridership fees, require substantial increases in taxes to cover the capital costs and result in disrupted ground traffic for years as it's built.

Light rail has showed itself to be a hyper-expensive failure. The purpose seems to be to payoff cronies and labor unions and not to provide good transit service or solve the traffic problem. They suck up all the revenue that would have gone towards providing real traffic solutions. In general where the citizens have the opportunity to give input they reject light rail but the government typically ignores that and builds it anyway.

>hyper-expensive failure

It's even worse. Take a system that everyone agrees makes no sense, but fund it using federal matching funds. Cities will now build that same system to get "their share" of the federal money. But, of course, where does those federal funds really come from? Answer: the citizens of that city. It's fiscal alchemy.

You would expect transit share to be increasing in the fastest growing medium-large cities even if there is a general trend of dropping transit usage. The interesting question is how transit usage could be declining if average city density is actually increasing? Part of the answer is probably that the US is terrible at infrastructure development, but least terrible at auto oriented development. The other part is probably that mass transit is a mostly crappy experience that tends to indicate a pretty long commute. In theory you should be able to entertain yourself better while commuting on the train. I don't know if this matches people's experience or not.

Seattle's growth in transit use is almost certainly due to the big increase in downtown-ish employment. If you moved here in 2007, it was probably to take a job in a suburban office surrounded by parking lots. If you moved here in 2017, it was probably to take a job in a place where there's a waiting list to pay $200/month for parking. Everybody still owns a car but relatively more people leave it at home when they go to work.

Ridership grew in 2017 in Phoenix and Houston but their overall trend is declining. Really, Seattle is the only exception to the rule, and growth there may be due to some completely irrelevant factor like a lot of new jobs in downtown that are difficult to reach by auto because of congestion.

There is a technical reason why transit is obsolete. It costs four times as much as driving. It only survives because it is propped up by subsidies.

As if driving wasn't propped up by subsidies. See Shoup's research on parking.

There’s no stated hypothesis to your hypothesis. To paraphrase, usage is down because it used to be higher last century, and people are using is less, and people are stopping using it?

"An alternative and really quite simple hypothesis is that mass transit is largely a 20th century technology, it is being slowly abandoned, and in the United States at least its future is dim"

Driving a car is in decline as well, so using cars for transportation has a dim future.

"Before purchasing a vehicle today, many American households consider pickups, minivans, sport utility vehicles (SUVs), and passenger cars. These first three vehicle types are classified as light-duty trucks (LDTs) and currently capture 51% of new U.S. passenger vehicle sales,1 a share much larger than the 9.8% they had in 1972 (64 Federal Register 82). " -University of Texas at Austin report for BTS.gov.

You increasingly need a truck with high road clearance and rugged suspension to use the decaying roads.

By 2040, the amphibious vehicles will be taking over to handing crossing bodies of water plus handle flooded roads and streets as bridges and levies fail.

>bodies of water plus handle flooded roads and streets as bridges and levies fail.

Someone's seen "Inconvenient Truth"

Re: "really quite simple hypothesis is that mass transit is largely a 20th century technology"

Hoisted from comments on the LA post below:

"It’s cars. They take up large amounts of space while parked and huge amounts of space while moving. Adding 5000 residents to an urban neighborhood is barely noticable, but when they all need cars, it’s terrible for everyone", Vinny @ 11:04 am

UPSHOT: What do you want, your population growth or your driving culture? You can't have both.

Israel has train service that is pretty good in a few places and terrible in most. Also: a car ownership-to-km-of-road ratio that is by far the highest in the OECD and horrendous traffic jams. When high-speed rail is eventually available (as promised for 10 years) people will use it immediately in mass numbers to escape the roads.

So in other words in a densely populated area you can invest in mass transit, or you else can invest in roads and related infrastructure. There is no reason to think that there is no case for mass transmit in urban areas.

The case against mass transit is very simple. You are not going to get Americans out of their cars unless forced. And God help the politicians who actually attempt this.

Whenever gas prices spike transit ridership goes up, I saw this in Florida back in 2007-08 when gas prices were flirting with 4$/gal. The TriRail trains I took from Ft Lauderdale to work in Boca Raton became quite crowded. Some people at least will leave their cars at home when it starts to bite them in the wallets too much. Probably the biggest reason behind the drop in transit use in the decline in gasoline prices starting in 2014 (though the numbers are bouncing up a bit these days)

That's not true; people use mass transit when it is more convenient. It is often not - buses without their own lane are the worst for this, since they are caught in the same traffic as a car and have extra stops. People who live near light rail and heavy rail and are traveling to somewhere along the rail path frequently will use the system - because it ends up being more convenient.

LA Metro's new purple line subway will get heavy traffic because it will connect downtown and Century City, for example.

Back in 1980, I worked on a project that had a big chunk of work outsourced to our lab in Israel, so our people in Santa Clara often travelled to Israel. I heard all kinds of crazy stories, like the traffic was so bad that people would die because they got so frustrated waiting for a break in highway traffic that they'd just jump in and get hit in a collision. Also, the inflation at that time was so high that people would rush out on payday to spend their money because its value was wasting away so quickly. One of our managers came back and he said he was amazed that one of our Israeli engineers was able to get a fixed-rate mortgage on his apartment. Several months later, he could pay off the whole thing with one paycheck.

"UPSHOT: What do you want, your population growth or your driving culture? You can’t have both."

Really? Because the fastest growing states and urban areas in the U.S. during recent decades have been the ones with single-family homes, cars and 'sprawl', not the ones with subways and high-rise apartments. And what growth there has been in 'legacy' metro areas has occurred primarily in the auto-dependent suburbs and exurbs, not the dense urban cores. For example, in 1960, the city of Chicago accounted for over half of the population in a metro area of 6.8 million. As of the 2010 census the city accounted for only a bit over a quarter of 9.4 million. During that 50 year period, the city lost almost a million residents while the outlying areas gained three and a half million.

The population of the city of Chicago has stabilized at around 2.7 million people over the past three decades or so. There's a lot of new building going on.

I was s small kid 50 years ago when we moved to a "new" suburb just outside Chicago along the "new" interstate surrounded by cornfields. Access to downtown and country living- best of both worlds.

Now, the whole area is built up at least 15 miles in any direction, traffic is a mess, access to downtown is not so great. Feels more like worst of both worlds.

In the meantime, "old" suburbs built along train lines are doing better, particularly near the train stations themselves- little walkable mini-downtowns with access to the real thing.

Inside the city, real estate near elevated train and subway stations commands a similar premium. This used not to be the case. In the old days, extension of elevated train lines was perceived as a crime risk.

Anyway, Illinois ain't doing so great, but Chicago continues to be the engine of the state. And we're not making high density cities anymore.

Anecdotally, it seems like parts of Los Angeles are having success with transportation-related density. Hollywood and Pasadena, for example, are getting a lot more sense around Metro Rail stations. I would hypothesize that a combination of transit and zoning improvements could be pretty attractive. While TC dismisses the “do it better” aspect, and rightly so because it’s hard to get better execution in practice, it still seems true that better designed programs get better results. It would be interesting to see more work done to try to separate good and bad implementations.

"And we’re not making high density cities anymore."

Yes, exactly. And we're not even keeping the ones we have nearly as full as they used to be. Why? Because when people have a choice and can afford it, most don't want to live that way. They've voted with their feet in the opposite direction (either to the suburbs and exurbs or to lower density sunbelt cities). For the region, the city of Chicago's loss of population is actually a relative success story -- others have lost a far greater percentage of their peak populations (even as their surrounding metro areas have grown).

Living in a dense urban area could be nice even for families if they didn't have to pay 2-4x the price per sq foot of living space. I'm not sure if this is an intractable problem related to the construction cost of even mid-rise apartments compared to detached homes or more tied to the hugely inefficient public spending that results in any major American city. There are areas in the world with much more livable dense urban areas on a US salary, but local prevailing wages are definitely lower.

Cars do take up to much space. Perhaps they should be charged by the area they use so cars like this take off:: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commuter_Cars_Tango

Raise the fuel tax + add congestion taxes and use the funds to increase capacity.

"Raise the fuel tax + add congestion taxes " .... and get voted out of office.

Of course a municipality could probably get away with charging entrance fees, because the voters inside the municipality won't be paying nearly as high a proportion as the commuters.

And yet Los Angeles spent billions of dollars on transit on new rail lines, funded by several sales taxes, only to see transit use continue to fall. Only in several cases of orchestrated will are cities avoiding transit decline, and as trends continues it'll require more and more social engineering. One major issue is that the majority of transit users are bus riders while nearly all the new dollars are inefficiently spent on rail systems.

https://www.wsj.com/articles/its-the-last-stop-on-the-light-rail-gravy-train-1510354782

The goal should be to give people the housing and living situations they want instead of aiming for a particular, academic, vision of the world. A huge proportion of American people don't like transit, dense living, lack of yards, etc. as much as urban planners do. It's time to rethink the future in light of decentralized technologies that can give people mobility wherever, whenever, using clean fuels and autonomous technology.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/joelkotkin/2018/02/21/autonomous-cars-are-about-to-transform-the-suburbs/

http://www.newgeography.com/content/005824-what-if-everything-you-know-about-the-suburbs-is-wrong

Do you mean that the goal should be to sell people the lifestyle they want at prices that reflect the true underlying economic costs. The large subsidies to driving have driven other alternatives out of the market. Also, cars pose such a danger to other modes, that gresham's law applies. Railways actually have to pay property taxes in every county they pass through, in contrast to heavily subsidized interstate highways.

"Railways actually have to pay property taxes in every county they pass through, in contrast to heavily subsidized interstate highways."

Those intercity railways are nonetheless profitable and efficient -- arguably the world's best. They carry freight rather than passengers.

American freight rail is highly efficient. I agree it probably is the best in the world--I can't think of any place close. Think how many trucks would be taken off the road if railways didn't have to cope with highly subsidized competition. There is really no call for trucking routes more than 300-400 miles.

"Think how many trucks would be taken off the road if railways didn’t have to cope with highly subsidized competition"

Do you have evidence to back up that claim. Trucks pay pretty high taxes for using the road.

"Commercial trucks make up only 10.6% of all registered vehicles, but pay 33.7% or $31.3 billion in combined federal and state highway-user taxes. Commercial truck taxes average nearly $16,000 per vehicle."

>Commercial trucks make up only 10.6% of all registered vehicles, but
>pay 33.7% or $31.3 billion in combined federal and state highway-user taxes

It's not obvious that it's the right comparison. Commercial trucks drive many more miles each year. They also cause more wear-and-tear than do cars + require thicker concrete, higher bridges, etc.

Then again, commercial trucks (probably) avoid cities during rush hour, so maybe that balances out.

"American freight rail is highly efficient. I agree it probably is the best in the world–I can’t think of any place close"

Well, the US circa 1950 rail service was superior except in efficiency. Much faster freight service to far more destinations.

But the US rail system would not exist without the massive government investment from 1840 to 1890, and then the massive government bailout of the industry 1916-1920. Without the Federal government bailout, it's not clear the US could have mobilized to aid Britain in WWII. The Federal government takeover of railroads was due to the near total failure of US railroads in shipping war materials to US ports for WWI.

The past decade of rail is interesting in that increasing speed and reliability of freight service on some lines has been a priority for investors. This has been at the expense of shipping coal. But as coal shipments decline, so does "local" rail access.

As rail lines are abandoned, the land reverts back to government, which provided land by eminent domain to private corporations to build rail lines back in the 19th century.

And no nation has as much rail as the US because no nation provided so much government funding for building rail lines, often more money than was spent building rail lines.

I agree with this approach in general, but there is at the same time a huge fight going on in CA and other places about right to build, not to mention the zoning itself. There is plenty of indication of market demand for more dense development, especially with good access to transit. Frankly, the United States at this time does not need less of any kind of living arrangement. There is market demand both for more dense urban living space and more suburban options with demand capable of paying for the infrastructure costs. Governments just have to let it happen.

In LA, rail passengers are up, bus passengers are down, for a net decrease. Also, LA is spending billions on new rail lines - many are not yet open. The system will be significantly more convenient once the Purple Line and Downtown connector are open.

The fastest growing metro areas are the Sunbelt ones like of Charlotte, Atlanta, Dallas, etc. which tend to have over 85% of commutes done by car. We don't need to think one-dimensionally and always continue to add new residents to the same neighborhood. They can also expand horizontally as well. Indeed, when you continue to run up against neighborhoods who refuse to budge and add housing anyway, that may well be the expedient and efficient solution (or you could try to pre-empt local zoning with a state law).

New forms of urban-friendly mobility sharing are also appearing: Bird, an electric scooter sharing app that lets you get from point A to point B and never have to worry about parking a heavy car. Instead of pouring billions into declining transit systems, perhaps cities could invest in systems like these.

In the future, increased ridesharing and autonomous technology will also mean far less space needed to park and drive cars. With that, older suburbs will have a huge theoretical economic boon as car spaces like garages and parking lots are converted to other productive uses, and ironically may even be densified

'An alternative and really quite simple hypothesis is that mass transit is largely a 20th century technology, it is being slowly abandoned'

Strangely, that does not really seem to be the case outside of the U.S. And mass transit is at least as much a 19th century technology as the automobile.

"Strangely, that does not really seem to be the case outside of the U.S."

Are you sure about that?

Yes. Let us just use France for an example. 'Whereas American light rail systems have had modest success and modern streetcar lines have questionable transit value, France operates 57 tram lines in 33 cities that together carry some 3 million passengers a day and create a fantastic balance of mobility options for urban and suburban residents alike—all built in the last 30 years.

"We have little streetcars here that carry a thousand people a day. They have lines that carry a hundred thousand people a day," says Gregory Thompson, chair of the light rail committee for the Transportation Research Board and retired urban planning scholar at Florida State. "What's the difference?"

The difference largely comes down to what the French call "insertion," but what Americans would simply see as street design. French cities typically install (insert, if you will) tram tracks onto public right-of-ways—streets, alleys, plazas and the like—even if that means removing car lanes or street-parking spaces to do so. To accommodate trams, streets are often redesigned in full to prioritize pedestrians and cyclists and other potential transit riders. For the most part, trams get exclusive lanes that cars can't use; it's not that the French don't drive, it's that cars don't automatically monopolize city streets.' https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2014/10/what-france-can-teach-us-cities-about-transit-design/381742/

Strasbourg is the French city I am most familiar with, and the introduction of trams since 2000 or so has changed the landscape considerably. Cars are essentially no longer allowed in much of the old city, for example. The trams are convenient, and use a typical European concept - an unlimited ticket for a period of time, such as a month or year. (Tourists tend not to get a lot of benefit from such tickets, of course.) The other thing that is common is giving school kids such tickets, so they can use the tram system without needing to be driven. This is fairly typical in this region too - 10 year olds use the transit system all the time to get around.

Of course, having 10 year olds use public transit to a public pool or a large public park or to the movies is the sort of thing that one would expect in socialist hellholes like France or Germany.

Yes, the Europeans build a lot of transit and use more of it than Americans do. But even so, cars account for 75% of passenger traffic there (compared to over 85% in the U.S.)

Well, I have some doubts about that figure, and here is a contrasting study providing some other data. Comparing the home city of Mercedes to DC, it may not be broad enough, but it is fairly typical for Germany (though a cynical person living outside of Stuttgart would note that Daimler has immense influence in its 'native' city, and Stuttgart may not be all that typical for that reason).

From the article -

Car-ownership (per 1,000 people) — D.C.: 744, Stuttgart: 544

Share of all trips by car — D.C.: 81%, Stuttgart: 57%

Center city share of all trips by car — D.C.: 51%, Stuttgart: 44%

Suburban share of all trips by car — D.C.: 70-85%, Stuttgart: 60%

Periphery share of all trips by car — D.C.: 90%, Stuttgart: 70-75%

Short trips by car (<1.25 miles) — DC: ~66%, Stuttgart: <25%

https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2015/02/all-the-ways-germany-is-less-car-reliant-than-the-us-in-1-chart/385163/

"Well, I have some doubts about that figure"

OK, so lets look at the figures you provided. In Germany, 58% of all trips are by car vs 9% by transit. And on a distance-basis, the discrepancy would almost certainly be greater (because the average car trip is longer than the average transit trip). A figure of 74% for cars doesn't sound unlikely if you consider distance rather than trips. There is no doubt that Germans rely more than Americans on public transit. But there is also no doubt that Germans rely MUCH more heavily on private autos than they do on public transit.

@clockwork_prior: By German standards, Stuttgart is actually an exhaust hellhole built for cars with four-lane highways (up to eight lanes in some places) cutting through much of its narrow valley. Public transport is substandard. So in a more typical city (Frankfurt, Munich, Hamburg) the mode share of cars is even lower.

@Slocum: The average public-transport trip in Germany is actually 50% longer (21.3 km) than for cars (14.7 km), according to the drivers' lobby, ADAC.

In France, is transit increasing faster than car miles traveled?

Interesting question - but considering that all the major French highways are privatized toll roads, it might not be as simple to answer as you think. Plus, I mainly used France because it had a major program to provide trams in every city with a population over 100,000 (or so I remember) in the last 20 years.

What is the efficiency of the European light rail/tram solutions though? Are they still crazy-subsidised? Is there any real reason to assume the European system is better, rather than just bigger?

Let's not confuse extent of system with efficiency of it. Again.

For a system with massive positive externalities, let's not confuse profit with public value.

I'm not sure about the "massive" extent of the positive externalities; though I'm happy to see the numbers worked through honestly.

Maybe is the fact the US has a car centric culture that makes mass transit more difficult to implement.

My nephews frequently need to go from the southeastern San Fernando Valley to downtown L.A., a trip of about 16 miles. They have tried going by bus, by subway (the closest subway stops are about three miles away), by driving themselves and paying to park, or by Uber/Lyft.

They prefer Uber/Lyft, with the lower cost of a shared ride usually being their ideal choice.

How long does it take them using each mode of transport? Depending on traffic, I wonder if biking to to the train station and then taking the train would be the quickest option.

Biking in LA is terrible, and I forbid my children from biking on the streets. Too many nutty drivers, no dedicated bike 'ways'. A painted line on the road does not add any safety for the bicyclist.

Right. A city needs to build curbed-off dedicated bike lanes like NYC has done it it wants anybody other than people who lost their license due to DUIs to ride bikes. It used to be that a few illegal aliens in L.A. rode bikes, but the sanctuary city thing has apparently encouraged them to drive.

Biking in L.A. is suicidal. I biked 2 miles to high school in the 1970s and only gotten flattened by a car once, but the population is 50% higher now.

Plus, they need to be nonsweaty when they get to work.

Having the closest subway stop 3 miles away is a killer to making it worthwhile; they have to fight traffic to get to the station and it is likely in the wrong direction (I assume heading west to the North Hollywood Red Line station when they want to go southeast to DTLA).

Cars are also a 20th century technology. A very innefective one btw when it comes to move a lot of people in urban centres.

" A very innefective one btw when it comes to move a lot of people in urban centres."

Cars may be an inefficient means of transportation, but they are a highly effective one.

"A very innefective one btw when it comes to move a lot of people in urban centres."

Yes, but who really travels from urban center to urban center? Mostly lawyers and bankers.

Transit has been there for a long time and we don't know if Uber will be the Uber we know by 2020. Uber is nice but there are no sings of being a sustainable money making operation.

On a second though, both Uber and transit are money losing operations. If Uber is a better alternative, it would be worth pondering if the subsides for transit are redirected to it. However, with human drivers it does not make sense that half of the population becomes an Uber driver to move the other half of people around the city. For the future, autonomous cars are a possibility but: a) when?, b) is it really cheaper than transit? and c) cities lack physical space: 1 bus less = 20+ cars, 1 train less= 100+ cars, it seems streets are not large enough for that.

I've never seen published the fraction of people who can afford Uber. For sure it's not 100%. A solution is still needed for the people that cleans our offices, makes and serves our food, etc.

Are Uber and transit rivals or complements? I've mostly used Uber to connect with another service: train, airport, etc. I still use a form of mass transportation. Uber or any similar just make it easier for the last kilometers, specially at night when bus frequency goes down.

Ps. It has been 105 months of the boom phase of the economic cycle. I would expect transit ridership to fall during good times. Don't kill transit, it may be missed during not so good times.

School buses, they're also mass transit. Is ridership going down? Oh wait........some people make sure public transit and school buses are rivals thus making both operations worse. https://www.bostonglobe.com/opinion/2014/06/17/sending-school-kids-school-public-transit-bad-choice/iDZy8kwfOZ7UczKeKxlqVK/story.html

"School buses, they’re also mass transit. Is ridership going down?"

I don't have the data, but I'm certain that school bus ridership is lower than it used to be. The number of people who drive their kids to school (and the number of high-schoolers who drive themselves -- and give rides to others) is clearly *much* higher than when I was a kid.

"However, with human drivers it does not make sense that half of the population becomes an Uber driver to move the other half of people around the city."

Uber drivers are carrying a lot more than one passenger per day.

Yes, a bit hyperbolic but let's do some numbers: drivers say it's 2-3 rides per hour. Assume the driver works for 10 hours and 2 rides per client (daily commute), a driver can only move 15 commuters.....assuming not everyone wants to arrive to and leave the office at the same time.

Update: perhaps we should talk about Waymo instead of Uber. This post has not aged well ;)

How much of this drop is canabalizing their own system? e.g. change from a superior efficient mode of transportation to an inefficient inferior mode: Bus line to Light Rail/Tram
The latter one significantly lowers total ridership by using 18th century modes of transportation as a substitute for 20th century modes of transportation.

I live in Switzerland, I don't own a car and I use public transport every day. I do so because it is fast, reliable and I can read while I go to work. In the US metro areas I've visited for longer, public transport has been slow, unreliable, and most importantly run down, dirty and disgusting. I've encountered masturbating homeless people, open drug use, and many other extremely unpleasant behaviors. I would clearly get a car and use that if I would move there permanently.

You need to clarify you live in URBAN Switzerland. Public transport is superb in core urban areas. It is possible to live with public transport outside a core urban area, but life quality drops. You can go to work and nothing else, forget about going to a restaurant or a concert in the city, taking an early/late flight, when friends meet you leave early or you don't get home.

Depending on how long your trip is, it can actually be cheaper to take an Uber as opposed to paying for parking at the airport.

Is your experience typical or atypical of most people who live in Switzerland?

20% of Swiss households don't own a car. In the city of Zurich it's 50%.

I’ve encountered masturbating homeless people, open drug use, and many other extremely unpleasant behaviors.

The people who support mass transit in the US tend to be the same people who say that the homeless and drug users have the same rights as everyone else and deserve to be on the public transit.

They might even be right. But it means we very quickly get a market for lemons, where people who don't want to be assaulted by homeless people move to other choices, and soon you get a concentration of people on mass transit who are there because they have no other choice.

Compare the Google Bus. People take it willingly and prefer it over other transport. Also witness the number one complaint: randos can't get on board. But that's the number one perk. People can sit there in peace, even leaving their laptop bag sitting next to them while they nap.

Making transit good isn't just a matter of money. (Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but the people in charge of any operation will always say they need more money.) You also need to make people want to ride it, and that often means making certain other people not ride it.

Hygiene itself could be a much more relevant factor in local mass transit appeal than either WaPo or Tyler have suggested.

"The people who support mass transit in the US tend to be the same people who say that the homeless and drug users have the same rights as everyone else and deserve to be on the public transit."

+1, Also, these same people generally wouldn't be caught dead shopping in a Walmart with the riff raff.

>Also, these same people generally wouldn’t be caught dead shopping in a Walmart with the riff raff.

In fairness, their commutes would be better if the riff raff all took transit.

"Take the bus. . . I'll be glad you did!"

+100

I have encountered the following on the BART: a stabbing (victim staggered off the train instead of waiting for help but train was delayed anyway), several fistfights, one bag snatching, one defecation-in-progress. Every time, I see homeless people sleeping, sprawled out. They smell really bad, they forced everyone else to congregate on the other end of the railcar. I saw one guy with an IV still in his arm.

And this is the same BART that spent $500 million on a 5 mile extension from the BART station to the airport. The revenue doesn't even cover the interest.

+10

Can you imagine what would happen to a private airline or bus company if it tolerated anti-social behaviours and clientele in the same manner as government run mass transit?

Of course, defending public property from the depredations of the homeless/delinquent/mentally ill is probably "discriminatory" or "racist" in right-thinking-circles-that-never-use-public-transport.

"Making transit good isn’t just a matter of money. (Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t, but the people in charge of any operation will always say they need more money.) You also need to make people want to ride it, and that often means making certain other people not ride it."

I use the bus quite a lot, but I also live on the nicest bit of town. Most of the other passengers are people going to work and some old people. You don't see face tattoos on my bus.

Americans will spend time and money sitting in traffic for the same reason Americans will tack on an extra $100K to their mortgage in order to live in certain neighborhoods.

One of the larger voter-policymaker disconnects is that of where/how people vote to live with their feet (revealed preferences) vs. the urban planning conversation, which is 90%+ hostile to alternative/less-transit-focused forms of development. There are perhaps a few heterodox academics and wonks like Randal O'Toole or Wendell Cox but the voice is definitely out of whack with voter preferences. It's this way and the lack of non-government-transit voices, that transport spending is regularly 50%+ on transit even when transit share is something like 10-20%.

In lower density areas, where traditional transit systems are essentially a carrier of last resort, cities can even work to entirely supplant their low-ridership systems by instead giving passes or partnering with Uber and Lyft to provide city-subsidized, shared rides whose routes can be algorithmically determined and door-to-door. If the subsidies needed for shared Uber rides is less than for the existing transit system, perhaps that's a smart move. And most of these subsidized rides would be somewhat shared. I see suburban areas often run either really-empty buses or informal ridesharing in jitney-style services. Which is basically an Uber Pool. A government could even "nationalize" one of these companies, heh.

The use case outlined is very like a last-mile solution, where ridesharing complements transit. But I'd wager that the vast majority of Uber and Lyft rides today are point-to-point, not to a transit location. The NYC public Uber pick up data set could be useful for this: https://data.cityofnewyork.us/Transportation/uber-Data/gre9-vvjv/data

See cities doing this in 2016: https://nextcity.org/daily/entry/five-florida-cities-subsidize-uber-rides

http://www.businessinsider.com/some-cities-are-subsidizing-uber-rides-to-cut-public-transportation-costs-2016-12

In my opinion, it shouldn't be about transit agencies keeping their systems running 100% at the current model, even though the modern transit-oriented city has a certain cultural aesthetic that jibes well with city dwellers. It should be about providing the best mobility service to the citizens. In Manhattan that may mean better subway and transit systems, and 50-story buildings. In Charlotte that may mean something entirely different. However, there is a very good point about an economic downturn or one of these private companies going away.

Most autonomous vehicles in the future won't be a sedan-sized car carrying 1 person, many will be essentially informal bus routes in the most dense areas, a 5-person car carrying 2-3 people. Given the typical load of a bus in the US is well less than 50%, I think there is a lot of space left. If space begins to run low we can begin charging properly for it according to demand and hours - perhaps people will take marginally more shared rides in rush hour, reducing space wasted, and marginally more convenient rides at night. https://truecostblog.com/2010/05/27/fuel-efficiency-modes-of-transportation-ranked-by-mpg/. I think presently solo-car-commuting starts breaking down around 7,000 people per square mile (completely random guess), but with 3-5x capacity with autonomous vehicles and better pricing we have a long ways this model can be stretched out. If you reach Tokyo level densities, yeah, you're gonna still want subways, but for most American development the self driving car could be a real saver. Most US cities facing congestion issues like SF Bay Area, Atlanta, Los Angeles, etc. are at 2-5 storeys of development and not super high density like Manhattan. People are willing to pay a premium for the speed and convenience/comfort of cars, and they probably will too for self driving cars unless there is a sudden and great innovation in the bus/rail sphere.

It may be that Americans have gotten too rich for their own good, as also seen by the decline of carpooling relative to driving alone for many decades. But as ridesharing networks reduce the coordination costs for future carpooling, cities can also begin to impose demand-based congestion charges that will tilt the usage of roads toward carpooling in peak hours. Perhaps because this policy is very unpopular or difficult to enforce with 2018 not-very-smart-technology without a very ham-handed and politically unpopular approach e.g. same price all day, it hasn't handled the largest urban traffic problems well. Instead planners keep relying on other, less-market-oriented approaches to solving mobility.

As for the rest of the world: Many lower-density Anglophone countries like Canada/Australia also have 80%+ car commute shares. And cities like London and Berlin have lots of transit use, but there are always more people who prefer traveling by car, than who actually do. If the deficiencies of present-day car use e.g. cost (fossil fuel), space/private ownership (sharing, self driving) improve faster than the deficiencies of transit, betting on car travel increasing in the long term seems like a good bet.

London/Berlin data: https://www.citylab.com/transportation/2015/09/how-london-and-berlins-daily-travel-habits-compare-to-the-us/406840/

Re the voter-planner gap, the same sort of people who advocate higher density urban tenements for people also want free range treatment for chickens because crowding is inhumane.

Transit has a “last mile” problem. But most of my travel is last mile, and ALL of it has a last mile component. The old London black cabs are my benchmark for a reaonable solution for this, for central London visitors, although I never tried to use one for grocery shopping.

I’m going out for breakfast in a while, it’s about 3 miles, suburban area, and I’ll be driving. Mass transit is a ridiculously bad non-starter. My car is clean, convenient, private, ready when I want it, and completely solves the last mile problem. That’s the competition.

Americans are so addicted to their cars. If you would live in Europe you would not think like that. Mass Transit is US is just really bad, I think some third world countries might even be better.

If you lived in America, you would not think like that either.

Well, some people who come from Europe to the U.S. simply cannot get with that program - and go home again, without feeling any need to adopt such a silly framework.

Yep. Driving since I was 14, car since 16.

There is no mass transit between my house and the breakfast place. It’s a pretty long walk.

For work, the company I worked for had 3 sites where I worked. A was 15 miles north (bus might have covered 10 or 12 of those miles), B was about 4 miles west (no mass transit), C was about 15 miles west. C had the best mass transit option - drive 2 miles to the mall, where a shuttle bus ran with a drop point about half a mile from office C. No city bus.

A few people use an 6-8 passenger van, with gathering point at a shopping center parking lot, and park in the office lot/garage at work. That works pretty well if you have 6 people who live in the same neighborhood and work in he same office. One guy drives the van, the others pay a fee.

People who expect to replace this with the Paris metro (which I’ve used) are dreaming.

>That works pretty well if you have 6 people who live in the same neighborhood and work in he same office.

And, of course, they all want to come and go at the same time. One of the big perks of office work vs shift work is schedule flexibility.

"A few people use an 6-8 passenger van, with gathering point at a shopping center parking lot, and park in the office lot/garage at work. That works pretty well if you have 6 people who live in the same neighborhood and work in he same office. One guy drives the van, the others pay a fee."

I see autonomous vehicles operating in transportation-as-a-service mode operating like tree branches, trunks, and roots.. People will start out in roots (single-seat incredibly small vehicles) and then transfer to trunks (minivans or mini-buses) and then potentially to branches (other single-seat incredibly small vehicles) to get to the final destination.

For example, a person going from one house in Chapel Hill NC to another house in Raleigh, NC (about 25 miles away) might get in a single-seat, single-occupancy vehicle to get to I-40, get on a minibus to travel Raleigh on I-40, and then get off the minibus in Raleigh to take another single-seat vehicle to get to the private residence destination.

"Many lower-density Anglophone countries like Canada/Australia also have 80%+ car commute shares"

They don't in the CBD's of Sydney or Melbourne, I can assure you [8.5 of 25M people].

What about the impact of recently rising crime rates in major cities? One of my primary considerations when deciding between Uber and subway is likelihood of getting mugged.

The crime rate is at a 20 year low.

and other factors to blame for the rest.

Unmentioned is the fact that people eventually choose other options when faced with the combination of inconvenience and rubbing elbows with strangers on mass transit.

"elbows" aren't the only thing being rubbed.

https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/women-public-transportation-harassment_us_59e88cfee4b0d0e4fe6d8202

The likelihood of unpleasant encounters (regardless of your gender) varies between the various public transit agencies and has to be a factor.

Autonomous vehicles is a euphemism for "transit". If one believes that autonomous vehicles are the future of transportation, then one must also believe that "transit" is the future of transportation. The death in the desert only served to confirm that autonomous vehicles need a separate right of way. Whether the separate right of way is built alongside streets and highways or underground as suggested by Elon Musk only serves to distinguishes the "L" from the "subway". Personally, I believe a separate car for every traveler is highly inefficient, but that's the American way.

It may not be as inefficient as you imagine:

http://ti.org/antiplanner/?p=13830

A Toyota Prius and many other small cars weigh about 3,000 pounds. ... A light-rail car weighs about 100,000 pounds and in 2016 carried an average of 23 people. That’s more than 4,000 pounds per person. .... Subway cars weigh about 90,000 pounds and in 2016 carried an average of 27 people.... The typical transit bus weighs about 30,000 pounds and carries an average of nine people....

Let's posit for a moment that each mode of transportation uses the same amount of energy per person...If so, weight doesn't matter, but square footage of road used does. In that case I'd say the Prius loses.

If you don't want to accept that each mode of transport uses the same amount of energy per person, quote energy usage statistics, not weight statistics. Weight is pretty much meaningless without context.

Weight matters for road wear. And road wear scales as a square or cube of weight.

I found this quickly but it conspicuously leaves off buses https://streets.mn/2016/07/07/chart-of-the-day-vehicle-weight-vs-road-damage-levels/

>In that case I’d say the Prius loses.

Even on that metric, it depends on the usage factor of the dedicated light rail / subway "lanes." Normally, there is a huge gap between trains.

As others have pointed out, it's really unclear the Prius loses on roadspace.

Even if 4-carraige 120-person trains are 5 minutes apart at stations...they generate 0.4 persons per second. Compare 1.5 occupancy Cars spaced 10m apart and crawling at a mere 10mph / 5m/s generate 0.75 persons per second. And a train needs more lateral width. I don't think the spacing argument for rail is strong. The same goes for buses.

Actually, roads need significantly more lateral width than rails. Overall, mass transit is an order of magnitude denser than cars.

Oreg

Sorry. Not buying this argument on land use. Swerving well into "beyond the evidence of common sense" realm. The persons per square kilometre per minute stat does not look much different in rush hour. Outside rush hour, it's not even a contest. If you want to make a case for transit, it has to be made on environmental grounds, because the land use doesn't justify it.

>Actually, roads need significantly more lateral width than rails.

What on earth is your basis for comparison? Seriously? You didn't just count the gauge, did you? In the UK, rail lines take about a 10m cut on either side of the track to accommodate fencing, embankment etc. You have to count that too in width. Most (96%) of roads don't need that wide separation (though larger dual carriageways and motorways do).

"Autonomous vehicles is a euphemism for “transit”."

Well yes, duh.

"then one must also believe that “transit” is the future of transportation. "

Yes transportation does indeed involve "transit". They are after all synonyms.

>Personally, I believe a separate car for every traveler is highly inefficient, but that’s the American way.

It reduces the largest "cost" of transit i.e., that there is no way to go from 'where you are' to 'where you want to be' at the right time. Put differently, the true cost of transit isn't the fare. It's the fact that I need to waste 45 minutes waiting for the bus to leave.

Semi-related: it's also why we should focus our rail resources on freight, not people. Freight's logistical needs fit that system far better than does human cargo.

It's important, I think, to distinguish between different kinds of mass transit. Buses suck, because they're slower than cars, they stop every three blocks, and they still get caught in traffic. Light rail lines that run on the street generally suck for the same reason. Dedicated subway lines like in DC and New York are pretty swell, but we can't afford to build them anymore. Bummer.

Cities with large elevation changes like Pittsburgh and LA should consider investing in more of those inclined cable car type things. Or aerial commuter trams like they have at OHSU in Portland. Waterfront cities like Baltimore and Boston should consider investing in more and better water taxis and ferries.

Forgot add the link: http://www.ohsu.edu/xd/about/services/transportation-and-parking/tram/index.cfm

There's also the feedback loop there with the ridership of buses: since they generally service less affluent parts of town, they seem to attract a higher percentage of weirdos and crazies, probably because the more weirdos and crazies the less non-weirdos and non-crazies want to ride them.

Trains suck because they are not flexible. They go fewer places and have a single point of failure problem. At least buses can route around problems. When a bus breaks down, a new one can replace it more easily. Trains also suck because they are hugely expensive, which means that bus routes and frequency are cut in order to pay for less effective trains.

Where I live, the trains were built 45+ years ago. Where they were built is no longer convenient to where people live today. A bus doesn't have this problem.

Cars are better, but buses make much more sense than trains.

And yet in my experience what people want and are willing to use is the exact opposite. If you ask people, trams are better than trains which are better than buses. I know people who gush over trams - especially if they are genuine 19th century trams and not modern imitations - who would not be seen dead on a bus.

I guess it is just that people are very conservative. The older forms of transport have a social cachet that the modern ones do not.

"I guess it is just that people are very conservative. The older forms of transport have a social cachet that the modern ones do not."

More likely, the people you know like trains because, unlike buses, they don't tend to serve poor areas or have many poor people on board:

https://www.cato.org/blog/bus-shelters-poor-trains-rich

(I think you're right about the 'social cachet' factor -- but not because of nostalgia for steel wheels clacking on the tracks)

+1. Tram sez "Heritage" and "High Value area".

I'm sure median incomes along Tram routes (and ridership) are waaaaaay higher than median incomes along bus routes.

Trains have their limitations, certainly. The thing is...people are willing to actually ride them because they are at least fast when they run on dedicated lines. Buses don't, and so a drive that should take 15 minutes winds up being 35 on a city bus, and unless you're poor, there's really no reason to waste time like that on a regular basis.

>because they are at least fast when they run on dedicated lines

It depends on how many stops the train makes. IIRC, NYC has some express trains, but most places don't.

FWIW, this was the big selling point of personal rapid transit. They didn't have to go as fast b/c they didn't stop until you hit your destination.

Buses are great if they are filled with professionals like yourself, going from a residential area to an office area.

I'd love a bus that stops within 1000 feet of my house in the suburbs and drops me off within 1000 feet of my office. Even if it stops 6 times to pick up other professionals and stops 6 times to drop them off, that would be a slightly longer commute in time but I'd be able to ride in peace and not think about traffic.

Sure, and it's a nice thought experiment to conjecture a bus that only let well behaved middle or working class people in good standing ride it, with suitable certification and dress codes. We know the Google bus is great. But then our Public bus would be disparate impact.

Then it would be a racist bus. Full of racists. Probably thinking racist thoughts whilst not being mugged.

I thought that we have technology that lets busses get green lights when they approach intersections. Also, it is very simple to deal with the problem of a bus making too frequent stops.

>Buses suck, because they’re slower than cars, they stop every three blocks, and they still get caught in traffic.

IDK, You're more likely to get an express bus than an express train given the relative sizes. And dedicated bus lines are much cheaper than dedicated rail lines given the relevant engineering constraints.

Rob Ried's After On podcast has a good Rodney Brooks interview on robotics, ai, and future transportation. The guy who has built and sold more ai and robotics than anybody.

Skip the 11 minute(!) intro and fund drive.

https://after-on.com/episodes/023

tl;dr - contra Silicon Valley bros, self driving is hard

I liked Brooks’ response to self-driving proponents who laud the law-abiding characteristics of these cars.

The need to obey the law, he says, is precisely why they will never get from A to B efficiently, because we break the law when driving by necessity.

"...because we break the law when driving by necessity."

This is true, and thus much carnage ensues.

"tl;dr – contra Silicon Valley bros, self driving is hard"

Well, Jensen Huang (NVIDIA CEO) agrees that self-driving is hard. But he still says that Level 4 self-driving cars will be mass-produced by the very early 2020s, and that Level 5 (completely autonomous in all conditions) cars are 5-10 years out.

http://fortune.com/2018/01/09/nvidia-ceo-jensen-huang-brainstorm-tech/

At the end of the day, point-to-point transportation will always win-out over the alternative. It's fine to live on a transit line if your job happens to be on that same line, but what if you suddenly need to change jobs? There would have to be a highly efficient grid of transportation that is effectively impossible to build in the US given costs and density.

> At the end of the day, point-to-point transportation will always win-out over the alternative.

Only if people can afford to do so. If transportation energy costs rise by a factor of 2-3, then transit ridership will increase, despite the inconvenience.

If they rise *another* factor of 2-3 beyond that, then as well as the economic chaos, the entire suburban way of life is at risk.

Perhaps solar and electric vehicles will avoid that scenario, perhaps it won't.

Is there any reason to anticipate increases in energy costs of the magnitude you're describing, outside of, say, some Pigovian tax?

Not particularly. Only the general fact that if energy is cheap (as it is now), then we'll buy larger cars and waste gas until it isn't.

"Only if people can afford to do so. If transportation energy costs rise by a factor of 2-3 ..."

Tesla and every other car maker will start selling millions of electric passenger vehicles and start putting increasingly intense downward pressure on transportation costs.

"Perhaps solar and electric vehicles will avoid that scenario, perhaps it won’t."

Solar/wind and electric vehicles effectively put an upper limit on how much transportation energy costs can rise. That limit is probably less than $6 per gallon gasoline.

It's certainly far less than $12 per gallon gasoline.

>If they rise *another* factor of 2-3 beyond that,

Telecommuting becomes cool again. It's by far the most energy efficient mode of "transit."

(FWIW, higher energy costs will hit traditional mass transit hard, too)

Trains, like windmills, are not the future.

What Tyler is slowly beginning to tap into, but will probably never realize, is the overall concept of Urban Rot in the USA. It's not limited to, or even specifically about, infrastructure.

You simply cannot run cities poorly for 60-70 years and not expect consequences. Some will die spectacularly (Detroit) and some will become hellholes of crime (Chicago) but the majority will just slowly rot from neglect. And one of the first things you'll see is that the subway just isn't worth taking any more. It's unpleasant, it's late, it's unreliable... and also, more and more, people just really don't need to be anywhere that badly for some reason.

Bingo. This has nothing to do with technology or anything else mentioned in the OP.

I first worked in downtown Chicago in 1981, and I have worked and/or lived in the city ever since. This rot, this despair you speak of, that was the zeitgeist at the time -- things were bad, they were getting worse, and there was nothing to be done about it. Your jeremiad would be more appropriate there. And it would be wrong.

Yep -- parts of Chicago have done spectacularly well since 1980 (chiefly downtown and the neighborhoods going north to Wrigley). But other parts of the city (ones you don't frequent, I'm guessing) have gone in the opposite direction. Have you seen Daniel Hertz's animated GIF:

https://www.citylab.com/life/2014/04/40-years-chicagos-rising-inequality-one-gif/8786/

I went to college on the south side in the mid-1980s. Years later (early 2000s), driving back from Indiana, I decided to show my young son how the other half lived, so we took State Street through the South Side. The kid got an eyeful, but it was nothing like as bad as in the 1980s. No comparison.

>And it would be wrong.

It depends. Is Trump another Reagan?

"Trains, like windmills, are not the future."

Trains do seem to be limited and subject to a high density model that modern technology may well be making obsolete. We still only have limited remote work technology, but clearly the effectiveness is increasing over time.

Wind Turbines however are a reasonably efficient energy producer. Granted, they have been subsidized, but (at least in the US), those subsidies are phasing out, and it looks as if new turbines will be cost effective without Federal subsidies. They are still subject to intermentency, of course.

Where I live, ATL, the issue that we deal with is years of NIMBYism have left a lot of people stuck facing incredibly long commutes for relatively short distances. Want robust mass transit? Fine, lets do it. Tax us, lets make it happy. Want none of it? Fine, lets do it, tax us, lets build more roads.

What we got stuck with is a highway system that virtually guarantees gridlock (designed to appease the city residents, it is highly inefficient) and a mass transit that for a lot isn't really any quicker or even goes where you need to (designed to appease the suburbs).

It can take me up to 2 hours to travel 30 miles. Thankfully my company has seen the light and offers flex time plus one work from home day a week. At off times, commuting can be 35-50 mins each way.

"It can take me up to 2 hours to travel 30 miles." That is hell on earth, and no human being in a civilized country should have to go through such an ordeal on a regular basis.

Don't know what the solution is, but I hope the future finds a way to make it easier for everyone.

Sounds about the same as Chicago. Unfortunately, because of the number of large corporations based in the suburbs, there is no such thing as a "reverse commute" here. It usually takes an hour to drive 18 miles from the North side where I live to the suburb where I work. Usually takes longer on the way back, even if I leave well before 5pm.

The Metra train lines are left over from shipping in the 1800s, so they aren't necessarily reflective of population clusters in the city. And, very helpfully, the CTA stops are not always near the Metra stops (take Damen and Ravenswood, which are a 15 minute walk from each other), so even if one wanted to take public transportation the whole way, it adds significant travel time, and time walking outdoors which is as you can imagine not pleasant 6 months out of the year.

An alternative and really quite simple hypothesis is that mass transit is largely a 20th century technology, it is being slowly abandoned, and in the United States at least its future is dim.

This is not a hypothesis at all, as Eric points out above.

Regardless, I have a question. Is the automobiles the wave of the future in transportation? I tend to think of it, at least in its current and foreseeable future form, as a 20th century technology itself.

Public transit in Japan is quite enjoyable for the most part, convenient, and not that pricey. Apples to oranges perhaps, but it shows it can be done.

Japan does make driving a car expensive though, which is a definite draw back. Tolls on some of the major bridges are $50 or more, and on the turnpikes they're very expensive as well.

Exactly. It's funny how many commenters assume public transport cannot be improved from the abysmal state in the U.S., when many other countries have vastly better systems.

PT doesn't have to be full of homeless people and drug users. Buses don't have to stop at every intersection. Trains don't have to be this heavy. Networks and schedules can be much denser.

I suspect the situation is more complicated than you assume.

Buses don't stop now unless someone wants to get on or off, or they are burning off some slack in the schedule. Getting rid of either would have a cost: you can't go where you want and/or you won't get there as predictably.

Networks and schedules can be denser (only up to a point with trains obviously), but your average utilization will drop, and thus your costs will explode. You might be able to fix that with driver-less trains (this is the PRT solution), but you have to buy off the unions somehow

You can have a better class of customers. But the cost is that you need the will and means to exclude the undesirables. This probably means gates and, of course, having to defend lawsuits from a variety of NGO's.

Bus stops in Europe are spaced twice as far as in North America, significantly reducing travel times. The slightly longer walk to the next stop is not a problem in practice.

Utilization actually increases with denser schedules (up to a point) as they make the system more attractive.

Again: The reality in other countries with better transit systems prove you wrong.

"PT doesn’t have to be full of homeless people and drug users. Buses don’t have to stop at every intersection."

But they do, given the notions of justice held by urban leftists.

Here's an American visitor who thinks London's underground system is far superior to New York's subway.
http://uk.businessinsider.com/london-underground-better-than-nyc-subway-2017-8

And yet passenger numbers are falling in London too.
http://www.wired.co.uk/article/tfl-finances-transport-for-london-deficit-passenger-numbers

You are good at cherrypicking data aren't you: " for the first time in 20 years, fewer people are riding the London Underground than in the previous year".

Are you in a particularly sour mood or are you just a tosser? I supplied the link, for heaven's sake, and the writer supplied the background. Maybe your command of English is poor. But fuck off anyway.

You're cherry picking. Doubled down, you now look dishonest too. And the casual ad hom doesn't help you on this kind of blog.

It’s impossible to make mass transit work in post war sunbelt environments. Every aspect of the suburban-exurban post war regulatory state is designed to make mass transit fail.

Massive governement roads, severe setbacks, car based suburban environments are the antithesis of the people based-urban environments that mass transit thrives within....

Several very good comments on "transit" alternatives. Like many my age, I envision a transportation system made up solely of autonomous cars moving quickly and efficiently without a single traffic jam as the "smart" cars avoid a back-up before it can develop. Readers likely recall the image of the futuristic city with little autonomous cars zipping here and there. The problem is that we already have little cars zipping here and there driven by human beings rather than computers and creating all manner of chaos and death. How does one get from here to the futuristic city of everyone's dreams? The same can be said of mass transit: cars have facilitated sprawl, and sprawl and mass transit don't work very well together. Sure, we could develop better mass transit, but how does one get from sprawl to development centered around mass transit hubs? You can't get there from here, that's the answer to both of my questions. So we fantasize about autonomous cars sharing the road with non-autonomous cars, and pretend that chaos and death wouldn't be the result. Sure, we could limit the speed to roughly 30 mph or we could ban non-autonomous vehicles from the road. Not. From time to time my sister tells the story of the time she and her husband and their traveling companions rented a car in Paris. With my sister's husband driving, they entered one of those large roundabouts, where they stayed, going around and around for what must have seemed like hours, unable to exit the thing once entered.

"How does one get from here to the futuristic city of everyone’s dreams?"

My answer would be to let autonomous vehicle technology develop unfettered. Autonomous vehicle technology is changing so fast that government regulators can never keep up with and anticipate the next developments.

"Sure, we could develop better mass transit, but how does one get from sprawl to development centered around mass transit hubs?"

This question assumes that "development centered around mass transit hubs" is a good idea.

"So we fantasize about autonomous cars sharing the road with non-autonomous cars, and pretend that chaos and death wouldn’t be the result."

Chaos and death are already happening. More than 30,000 people are killed by human drivers every year in the U.S. Adding autonomous vehicles is not going to increase that amount...especially considering that new cars will have features like automatic braking and automatic distance control. Those new features will allow humans to be somewhat safer drivers in the next couple decades, until fully autonomous vehicles are traveling the vast majority of miles in the U.S.

"Autonomous vehicle technology is changing so fast that government regulators can never keep up with and anticipate the next developments"

And yet, we already have a model which works, but, moreover, maximises capacity utilisation of roads:

https://www.cringely.com/2018/03/26/the-real-problem-with-self-driving-cars/

"And yet, we already have a model which works, but, moreover, maximises capacity utilisation of roads:"

We don't have that model in the real world. We only have it in the author's mind...that it would be a good thing to do. What we do have in the real world are some Level 4 vehicles (supplied by Uber, Waymo, and GM) and many more coming in the next few years. So regardless of whether the author was right about how technology *should* have developed, it definitely hasn't developed that way. There are no highways with central control of the cars on that highway.

I think Toronto is an example of a city successfully retrofitted around mass transit after the ubiquitous automobile.

This is a dumb post, Tyler. Ridesharing and public transportation solve different problems. Ridesharing solves the problem of car ownership being expensive and time consuming. Public transportation solves the problem of limited capacity on roads leading into and out of dense population and job centers.

Public transit is like a public bathroom in that it's mostly something one uses when one has no other alternative.

Of course, if alternatives to transit can be made costly enough or difficult enough to use then people may again choose to use transit.

The fundamental flaw of transit is that it seldom offers a one-seat ride; typically it's a walk to the bus to the train/light transit to another bus and then a walk to one's destination. This makes transit slow and inconvenient, especially if one is burdened with packages or other carry-along cargo.

This flaw has existed since transit was invented in the 19th and early 20th centuries. It just might be eliminated by some form of self-driving vehicle, but until/unless happens it will mostly remain a public, umm, utility.

And, if/when self-driving urban vehicles become available, keeping their passengers from tagging, soiling, or otherwise trashing them will be a major challenge.

There are also so-called 'personal rapid transit' systems (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Personal_rapid_transit)

They solve the some of the same problems as self-driving cars, but I suspect the technology won't go far. Self-driving cars will win politically because they don't require a separate public investment.

"And, if/when self-driving urban vehicles become available, keeping their passengers from tagging, soiling, or otherwise trashing them will be a major challenge."

I think it will be a challenge, but not a "major" challenge. My reasoning is that autonomous vehicles will likely have cameras watching what's going on inside the vehicles, and payments will be by means that will provide the identity of the passenger(s). So people who trash vehicles will have to pay for their activities

Public transportation is an inferior good. Isn't this good news?

What else has changed:

1. "Many U.S. cities are seeing an increase in bicycle commuters, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report released today. Nationwide, the number of people who traveled to work by bike increased roughly 60 percent over the last decade, from about 488,000 in 2000 to about 786,000 during the 2008-2012 period. This is the largest percentage increase of all commuting modes tracked by the 2000 Census and the 2008-2012 American Community Survey." From US Census report.

2. Gentrification, urban density increase, movement of people back from the suburb to the urban core, displacing previous users of mass transit. Condo housing being built close to work, so walking becomes an alternative.

3. Carpooling facilitated by apps.

4. Unreliability of transit systems due to maintenance, which makes choice of alternatives a habit which is hard to overcome. By the way, this was the major point of the article: that system maintenance is leading to less usage because of unreliability.

Bicycling is great. As far as I know it is the only form of transportation that increases the user's statistical lifespan. Sure you *might* get hit, but you are more likely to live longer.

https://www.telegraph.co.uk/science/2017/04/19/cycling-work-could-help-live-longer-greatly-reduces-chance-developing/

We decide whether biking is great or not, buddy.

Out of the way Old One, make way for the new God on the street.

"As far as I know it is the only form of transportation that increases the user’s statistical lifespan."

This study seems potentially suspect to me. How did they control to make sure that the bicyclists were compared to non-bicyclists who were just as fit at the start of the study as the bicyclists?

There are lots of similar studies. My favorite, to which I cannot find the link, was trying to prove bicyclists had a lower environmental footprint, but since they lived longer, they didn't!

So to answer your question, I'm confident based on the number of studies rather than the details of this study.

In the US, the cost of driving a car is heavily subsidised, and so people like driving. In Moscow and its suburbs, where I live, public transportation is heavily subsidised, fairly fast, and even comfortable off peak. And so I never drive my car unless I really have to.

I do hope at some point to have a self-driving car, which can drop me off at the commuter rail station in the morning, drive itself back home to be used by my wife, and then pick me up at the train station in the evening. Unless they get very inexpensive (less than my yearly budget for booze, for example), I really doubt that I'd want to buy two of the damn things, one to drive me to Moscow and back, and one to drive my wife around. So I expect to be using trains until the day I die.

"I do hope at some point to have a self-driving car, which can drop me off at the commuter rail station in the morning, drive itself back home to be used by my wife, and then pick me up at the train station in the evening."

I don't think it will work that way. I think the way it will work is that a fleet owner will provide you transportation-as-a-service. In other words, you will call a car that will take you to the train station, and then it will go and serve other customers. If your wife wants a car, she'll call and a separate car will pick her up.

The advantage of transportation-as-a-service is that the cars will be on the road probably 12+ hours per day, whereas even a car that served both you and your wife will only be on the road maybe 4 hours per day (assuming your wife uses it 3+ hours per day). Another advantage is that the cars can be perfectly suited to the particular trip. For example, taking you to the train station could be a one-seat car, whereas a car that takes both you and your wife somewhere would be a two-seat car...maybe with some space for luggage if you needed it.

whereas even a car that served both you and your wife will only be on the road maybe 4 hours per day

The problem is that half those hours are the hours that everyone else wants to use it.

Self-driving cars will make owning a car cheaper and easier. They will also make some other methods of mass transit cheaper and easier, like Big Red said.

Imagine cars were like George Jetson's, where they fold up into a briefcase. Those would make mass transit a lot more convenient. The number one problem with taking mass transit somewhere is that I am now reliant upon that same mass transit to get me back, and if I could tote around my own car I would have a nice option value and it would decrease the negative costs of mass transit.

"The number one problem with taking mass transit somewhere is that I am now reliant upon that same mass transit to get me back, and if I could tote around my own car I would have a nice option value and it would decrease the negative costs of mass transit."

Of course cheap Uber's and autonomous cars will also provide the same benefit. Indeed, I suspect that the cost of using an autonomous car would be less than a theoretical suit case car, because the user only pays a fraction of the capital and time depreciation costs.

"Indeed, I suspect that the cost of using an autonomous car would be less than a theoretical suit case car, because the user only pays a fraction of the capital and time depreciation costs."

Yes, I think there are tremendous scale benefits from fleet owners operating transportation as a service (TAAS). Among them are:

1) The fleet owner can buy a whole range of different vehicles, tailored to the needs of a wide variety of people. For example, there are literally no mass-produced single-seat, single-occupant vehicles in the U.S. I predict that in a few decades, they will be the most common vehicle by number in the U.S. Then the fleet owner can also buy minivans or minibuses that nearly almost always operate close to full capacity (because the fleet owner buys the vehicles based on an analysis of ridership).

2) Fleet owners can more easily deal with liability/collision and maintenance/warranty than individual vehicle owners. Individual owners have no clout with car companies. A fleet owner with 1000+ vehicles has far more clout.

3) TAAS will promote electric vehicles in preference to gasoline vehicles, because there will be no "range anxiety" issues. The TAAS fleet owner will only dispatch a car if the fleet owner knows that the car has enough battery capacity to handle the trip. Electric vehicles will have more and more cost advantage per mile over gasoline vehicles as time passes.

4) Since TAAS will promote electric vehicles, fleet owners will have *significant* clout with electric utilities. Consider a fleet owner with 10,000 cars, with an average of a 20 kWh battery pack per car. That's 200 megawatt-hours of electricity. They will have significant clout with utilities in terms of coordinating their fleet to be taking electricity from the grid when prices are low, and giving to the grid when prices are high. An individual electric vehicle owner is not of any interest to an electric utility.

"For example, there are literally no mass-produced single-seat, single-occupant vehicles in the U.S"

I'm not sure I agree with this. Usually a second seat can be added on for very little incremental cost. The motors and interstate rated wheels impose a certain width that is already greater than a single person, assuming a 4 wheel design. Furthermore, the additional seat can be used for additional cargo capacity when not used by a second person. I suspect that two seater configurations will tend to dominate.

It comes down to the marginal costs of course. If you assume 240 paid trips per month then I doubt that a two seater design would cost more than $0.25 additional per trip. That has to be balanced against having to maintain a mixed fleet, where sometimes your mix will be wrong and car trips will go to the competitor while yours idle.

Let's ignore, use cases of greater than 2 people. Assume two fleets, a) having 200 two seaters and b) having 100 two seaters and 100 one seaters. Assume that both fleets typically have 80% utilization, on a typical day fleet A has to discount it's cars to be competitive with B. But probably by a very small amount. However, on a non-typical day, when there is a high demand for two seaters, company B may be stuck at 50-60% utilization and B may absorb all the additional demand, driving it's utilitization to 100%.

Long story short, if 2 seater fleets average 90% utilization and 1/2 seater fleets average 80% utilization, there's probably not a market for a 1/2 seater fleet.

People think more space == more protection. Usually with some reason. If I get hit in the passenger side while driving alone, that's 3 feet that can be crushed before I get hurt.

This may become moot if self-driving cars improve safety. You could also probably give extra room on every side, saving me from being T-boned from my left.

"The problem is that half those hours are the hours that everyone else wants to use it."

I'm not sure that's a strong objection. I suppose that will simply bid up the price for those hours? So book in advance? Or pay a premium.

It is a reasonable point that whole-fleet utilisation may not improve as much as transportation as a service advocates are assuming, as whole-fleet numbers will be driven by peak demand which cannot be smoothed over the whole day.

I think the advocates anticipate that the vehicles will be delivering freight during the day.

Cars take up to much space, perhaps road use should be charged by the area a vehicle uses so cars like this https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commuter_Cars_Tango become popular.

Also if you raise the fuel taxes with some creativity you could increase capacity.

Also is cars shaped like this: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Commuter_Cars_Tango were self driving you could put them very close in urban areas increasing capacity tremendously and you would still have door to door transport but you need to charge by area used in congested areas.

Another idea would be a first class section on mass transit.

The idea of driver less cars being shared transport -> people might trash the vehicle.

A subway car with a fight attendant and a rolling drink cart!

Is it dying in the rest of the world? If not, why are we different?

One answer is that we've given urban space over to cars in a way that the rest of the world simply did not. Why ride the bus when your car is more flexible? Nevermind that it's killed our city centers.

Who needs city centers?

Cities, to answer your question.

Do they? Or is LA (i.e., no real center) the modern model for a city?

Interesting point about LA. Though why does it have all those tall buildings if it does not need a center?

Does Silicon Valley have a center? Or even San Jose?

For someone so obsessed with regulation and incentives, Tyler here neglects to even mention the land use regulations (minimum parking requirements, separation of uses, and density limits) that subsidize automobility and make walking, cycling, and transit impractical for most Americans.

Nor does he mention the massive state roadbuilding bureaucracies that see themselves as having an exclusive mandate to maximize automobile throughput at the expense of even human life— and that thus make walking to a bus in a newly-developed area nearly always unpleasant, and often straight-up dangerous. Beyond this, they design roadways to maximize vehicle throughput as opposed to human throughput, and usually neglect to stripe bus lanes that would maximize human throughput.

These massive government interventions are likely more responsible for how much people use automobiles in the US, not 'free choice'.

Suppose you took the tracks up from NYC's subway and converted them into two lane roads...but not simply roads you drive on with your own car. An alternative road system, specialized cars probably self driving on demand...electric protected from the elements. More flexible than a full subway train but still capable of getting you from point A to point B in a straight shot without the stop and go of surface traffic.

Seattle has an early version of this idea... using buses.

I am a transport economist and am constantly warning colleagues that (counter to many's intuition) mass transit technologies like heavy rail (and high-speed rail) are VERY high risk. I find that people find this idea VERY hard to take - and sometimes consider it foolish - as their thinking is commonly dominated by two narratives. One which says: 'Infrastructure investment (capex) always creates economic growth', the second which says: 'we have a habit of under-investing in infrastructure'.

I have had to develop presentations that go through the evidence concerning these two narratives step-by-step. A short summary of the first is that, like Fogel's work on the Great American Railroads, the impacts of growth from new infrastructure capex are surprisingly low; if not achieved through other means - such as relaxing zoning restrictions and achieving operational improvements in existing assets. When it comes to the second I show that historically (in Australia) there has been an overcapitalisation (over investment) in assets like heavy rail, with demand for rail journeys dropping due to cheaper automobiles in the 1950s. This lead to railways lines in our major cities being retired because their maintenance liabilities were too expensive relative to fare revenue (they are now bike paths or roads), and (Greece-like) sovereign debt crises over the related debts.

The debt-funded overcapitalisation in Australian rail assets was so significant that one State Government was paying off debts connected to the 1880s heavy rail investments (some of which had been abandoned) in the 1960s. The same State Government is committing billions more in debt-funded capex just as rail is threatened (as in the 1950s) by the arrival of new technologies such as autonomous vehicles but also a large amount of evidence showing that dedicated bus lanes are a much lower cost and low-risk option.

I would also note that the risk mentioned above are the tip of the iceberg. Metro rail assets have a range of other risks related to their choice of technologies for operation and maintenance, dealing with public sector unions and construction companies (often a gateway for corruption and/or operational inefficiencies), a range of principal-agent and asymmetry of information problems related to the corporate structure that run metros . Then there are risks in operational as metro networks appear to mimic complex systems, with emergent behaviors that make optimizing use of the network very challenging.

"The debt-funded overcapitalisation in Australian rail assets was so significant that one State Government was paying off debts connected to the 1880s heavy rail investments (some of which had been abandoned) in the 1960s."

So, California circa 2100 will still be paying off the High Speed Rail project of the 2020's.

Here in Durham, NC, we have the proposed Durham Orange Light Rail (DOLRT...DOLT probably would have been better). Costs have ballooned to over $3 billion for a proposed 17 mile system, and not a single foot of track has been laid.

https://www.indyweek.com/indyweek/sticker-shock-why-does-the-durham-orange-light-rail-transit-project-suddenly-cost-33-billion/Content?oid=5880780

I think that thankfully not much will be spent, because hopefully the federal government is not going to pay any significant percentage of the project costs. I try to tell people who think DOLRT is a good idea that it's probably the worst time in the last 100 years to be spending significant capital on light rail, with the coming revolution of computer-driven vehicles. However, the words "light rail" are very attractive to many people in Durham and Chapel Hill.

We subsidize cars a lot.
Roads
Ample parking
Etc.

Question is: if we had fully internalized all costs to car and public transport costs:
Would care be as attractive as they are now?

Roads existed well before Cars. Furthermore, Car fuel taxes and fees cover a substantial portion of road building costs. Granted fuel taxes should be increased to bring that amount up to 100%.

Bicycles & walkers are the subsidy Kings.

Has Professor Cowen read book called The High Price of Free Parking? For an economist, this blog entry was shockingly devoid of economic analysis.

PLEASE! NASHVILLE! GET A CLUE! You can't over lay 20th century tech on a city where the populous would have to completely shift their habits. A 10 billion dollar boondoggle on the way. Ride share picks us up at the door and the Uber Pool and Lyfts multi-rider option will be just as cheap as a train ticket. I am all for the poor having access to transportation but you can't have a multi billion dollar transit plan that only 4% of the population will use.

Have mercy and contact our city fathers. @jeremyElrod26 @transitfornash and Mayor @mayorbriley

"Usually a second seat can be added on for very little incremental cost. The motors and interstate rated wheels impose a certain width that is already greater than a single person, assuming a 4 wheel design. Furthermore, the additional seat can be used for additional cargo capacity when not used by a second person. I suspect that two seater configurations will tend to dominate."

Transportation-as-a-service will allow hyper-specialization. There can and will be cars that only perform inside neighborhoods...that are no more than enclosed, climate-controlled golf cars. They'll never travel on interstates or even on roads with speed limits above 45 mph. That will allow insanely inexpensive vehicles. I'm thinking new-car costs of under $7000.

In your case of the fleets of cars, what I'm envisioning would happen is that a party of two people might get into two separate single-seat cars at their house, to get to a main road a couple miles away, where they might join in a bigger car or minivan for the ride to their destination. (That would be if *no* two-seat vehicles were available in their neighborhood. The fleet owner would logically have at least some two-seat vehicles available.) I just don't think it makes sense to have a two-seat vehicle that operates the majority of its time with only one passenger. This is the case at present, where the driver is the only occupant for the majority of vehicle miles traveled in the U.S.

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