Bankrupcy of the Modern Transit Model

The Anti-planner observes:

Over the past 25 years, the population of the Pittsburgh urban area
has remained fixed at about 1.8 million people. Driving, however, has
increased by almost 50 percent.

During this period, Pittsburgh has spent hundreds of millions of
dollars upgrading light-rail lines, building exclusive busways, and "”
in the latest project "” building a $435 million transit tunnel under the Allegheny River. Despite (or because of) this investment, transit ridership has dropped by more than 25 percent.

Although the numbers vary slightly from place to place, Pittsburgh's
story is pretty typical of transit everywhere. Sure, some cities have
seen ridership gains, but subsidies to transit are huge and transit
does not make a notable (meaning 5 percent or more) contribution to
personal mobility in any urban area except New York (where it is 10

He has a good summary of what's wrong and what might work instead.  I appreciated this observation in particular:

Why do we put up with this? The answer, of course, is that transit is
pork. "For most transit agencies in the United States, if they were to
write a mission statement that is reflective of what they do, they
would indicate that they exist for the purpose of serving their
employees and vendors," not transit riders, notes Cox.


  1. Dr. T:

    Why do we put up with this? The answer, of course, is that transit is pork.

    What is doubly bad is that mass transit is almost always ineffective pork. Politicians could distribute equal amounts of pork by spending taxpayer money on widening roads, building more bridges, installing smart and synchronized traffic lights, installing systems to notify drivers of tie-ups and of the best alternate routes, building park and ride stations, etc. These projects, if done just halfway correctly, would improve traffic flow far more than building light rail systems.

  2. Nobrainer:

    It would certainly be valuable to understand the city's effort to build new roads and widen old ones.

    If the city is constantly promising to upgrade and actively upgrading the road system, there is very little reason for consumers of transportation to seek out alternatives.

  3. Miklos Hollender:

    Sssshhhhh! Don't even mention the failure of public transit! You know the politicians, right? The only thing they will conclude from it is that drivers need to be forced to switch to public transport because they aren't willing to do that willingly.

  4. Jim Collins:

    Your forgetting the main reasons that they don't use that money for road improvements.

    The first is that mass transit is seen as "environmentally friendly". I live just North of Pittsburgh and commuted there daily for over 8 years. One of the main routes into Pittsburgh is SR-8. Several years ago there was a proposal to improve SR-8 to eliminate traffic congestion. The local environmental groups fought it tooth and nail. Over half of the project's costs were in legal fees. The changes were finally made, 8 years after they were first proposed. The tunnel project that was mentioned, faced no opposition from the environmentalists, because it was for mass transit.

    The second reason is that once a road is built, politicians have no control over it. Mass transit, on the other hand, has total political control. Every time there is a State election, one of the first things you hear around here is that so and so wants to cut funding for mass transit, or that so and so wants to take more of your hard earned money to waste on mass transit. To me all Pittsburgh's mass transit means is that I don't have to pay $20 for parking to go to a Steeler or Pirate game. I just park at a local shopping center for free and spend $4 to get to the game. With the dedicated bus lanes it even saves me time.

  5. bbartlog:

    the population of the Pittsburgh urban area has remained fixed at about 1.8 million people. Driving, however, has increased by almost 50 percent.
    ... transit ridership has dropped by more than 25 percent.

    Well, yes. I live in Pittsburgh (and ride the bus several days a week), and the above figures give a slightly misleading impression. The population of the urban core of Pittsburgh (the city proper) has dropped by nearly half since its peak, from something like 600,000 to 300,000 if I recall correctly. The growth of the surrounding suburbs has made up for it. But because the bus routes are mostly like spokes that radiate from downtown, the actual consumer base of the bus system is more centrally located, and the drop in ridership reflects the hollowing out of the city. The bus is not a practical way of traveling to the outer areas like Wexford, let alone a way of traveling from one suburb to another.
    That said, of course the system is a travesty. It receives huge subsidies and yet somehow makes no money. I know that too many underused routes are maintained and that the local drivers and mechanice make far more than they would if a private company were doing the hiring, but there are probably other sinks for the money as well (I imagine the management of PAT is bloated beyond belief). Private competition would be a huge relief.

  6. Sam K.:

    The Pittsburgh region should utilize its rivers for mass transit, particularly during rush hour periods. It would be much cheaper than building and constantly repairing the major arteries into the city. All it needs is a few strategically placed park and ride lots and a few large boats similar to the Gateway Clipper fleet. Buses could even drop people off at the parking lots / launch points. The boats, which could hold more people than several buses combined, could feature wi-fi capabiliies for commuters who want to work during the ride.

    The launch site on the Allegheny River could be located in Harmarville to ease the traffic on Route 28. Well placed launch sites on the Mon. could develop the struggling Mon. Valley and eliminate the need for the wasteful Mon-Fayette expressway. Launch sites in Beaver, Sewickly, and McKees Rocks along the Ohio would help people coming from the north and west.

    I think this is something that should be considered. It's a shame that the $500 million being spent on the new tunnels to the North Shore can't be put towards something like this. That money would buy a lot of boats and clear the way for the parking lot / launch sites.