David King, Michael Manville and Michael Smart pointed out in their March 21 Washington Forum commentary, “Get on board: Transit is in trouble,” that transit ridership has not kept up with population growth since 2008. They didn’t mention, however, that driving, as measured in vehicle miles traveled nationally, has declined in real terms since 2008. Most likely both declines are related to the recession, but the data indicate that transit is proving more popular relative to driving.
The authors also did not note that, relative to where it was 30 to 40 years ago, transit is doing incredibly well. In the 1970s and 1980s, many of our major transit systems were in a state of disrepair — especially in New York — and losing ridership.
The authors’ proposed solution to our transportation problem — charging drivers more — has been offered for several decades with limited success. The real hope for improved transit will come from technological innovation, which the industry is sorely lacking. Most U.S. transit systems continue to consist of large diesel buses running fixed routes in traffic, with a sign on the sidewalk indicating stops. Enabling and encouraging new innovations, similar to what Uber, Waze and Capital Bikeshare have done for other areas of transportation, represent a much more promising way forward.
Joshua L. Schank, Washington
The writer is president and chief executive of the Eno Center for Transportation.
David King, Michael Manville and Michael Smart are right that driving is too cheap, but they appear to frown upon addressing this issue through greater funding for public transit, asserting that “increased subsidies for public transportation have neither reduced driving nor increased transit use.” What is the evidence for this claim? The better public transportation becomes, the greater the number of people who will use it. Sound transportation policy requires both increasing the cost of driving and increasing subsidies to public transportation.
Robert S. Hagen, Springfield
From 1995 through 2013, public transit ridership grew 37.2 percent, almost double that of the population growth (20.3 percent). It is disheartening that David King, Michael Manville and Michael Smart cherry-picked recession-focused data from 2008 to 2013 that reflected the loss of jobs because of the recession. Since nearly 60 percent of the trips taken on public transit are for work commutes, it is not surprising that ridership went down during that time. Our 18-year data set more accurately shows the upward trend.
Also, to say that public transportation is crucial only to large cities and that it plays a small role in the lives of other Americans discounts the value it brings to people and communities across the country. The real issue is the need for increased investment in our transportation systems so that public transportation and roads work for everyone.
Michael P. Melaniphy, Arlington
The writer is president and chief executive of the American Public Transportation Association.