Reason Foundation

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Reason Foundation

Rethinking Transit "Dollars and Sense"

Unearthing the True Cost of Public Transit

John Semmons
August 1, 1998

Executive Summary

The Campaign for Efficient Passenger Transportation’s 1997 report entitled Dollars and Sense: The Economic Case for Public Transportation in America purports to go “beyond the rhetoric to look at the facts.” A careful examination of their report, though, reveals that the facts do not support the rhetoric of the document.

According to Dollars and Sense, transit ridership is growing. The reality is that transit ridership has been declining for five decades. It peaked in 1945 at 23 billion passenger trips and a 30 percent share of urban travel. Transit’s share fell to 19 percent in 1955, 11 percent in 1965, six percent in 1975, and five percent in 1985. More recently, trips have been in the 7 billion range for an urban travel share of around 3 percent.

According to Dollars and Sense, riders, motorists, businesses, and taxpayers are receiving a “handsome” return-on-investment from public transit. The data say otherwise:

According to Dollars and Sense, increasing spending on transit would improve traffic safety, enhance mobility for the poor, and provide a more equitable allocation of government spending on transportation. The data say otherwise:

According to Dollars and Sense, the people are choosing transit. Local government officials may be eager to spend more money on transit. Voters, though, when given a choice, are turning down transit initiatives 80-90 percent of the time.


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