By Jonathan English
Why ridership per capita low is so low in US?
Over the past hundred years the clearest cause is this: Transit providers in the U.S. have continually cut basic local service in a vain effort to improve their finances. But they only succeeded in driving riders and revenue away. When the transit service that cities provide is not attractive, the demand from passengers that might “justify” its improvement will never materialize.
On sharing the road with the cars:
It is not a coincidence that, while almost every interurban and streetcar line in the U.S. failed, nearly every grade-separated subway or elevated system survived. Transit agencies continued to provide frequent service on these lines so they remained viable, and when trains did not have to share the road and stop at intersections, they could also be time competitive with the car. The subways and els of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are all still around, while the vast streetcar and interurban networks of Los Angeles, Minneapolis, Atlanta, Detroit, and many others are long gone. Only when transit didn’t need to share the road with the car, and frequent service continued, was it able to survive.
On a vicious cycle that destroys American public transportation:
Service drives demand. When riders started to switch to the car in the early postwar years, American transit systems almost universally cut service to restore their financial viability. But this drove more people away, producing a vicious cycle until just about everybody who could drive, drove.
I live in a suburb and don’t commute to the office that often lately, but when I do I usually drive. That said, being within a walking distance from a train station was important in choosing our current house. Philadelphia will get too congested and too expensive to park at some point, so I want to have a plan B. Hopefully a local high-speed line will still be around then.