Out of Control Policy Blog

High Gas Prices No Boon for Transit

Despite a legion of vocal advocates and lavish public spending, public transportation can't seem to snag more than a 10% share of commuters in most areas. Despite gas prices over $2.50 per gallon, this is unlikely to change. The "why" is simple: outside of places like NYC or DC, transit is just plain inconvenient:

    Transit experts said high gas prices might prompt drivers to rethink that weekend trip to Las Vegas or a quick drive to the mall. But changing commuting patterns is another matter.

    "That's a really difficult change to make for most people," said Genevieve Giuliano, professor of transportation policy and planning at USC. "If they take the bus, it takes twice as long to get to work and it affects everything else they do during the day."

    Officials at the [Los Angeles] Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Metrolink say rising gas prices lure some new riders, but they don't always stay with the transit system for long. MTA officials said ridership on its rail lines rose 14% between June 2004 and June 2005.

    A survey conducted by Metrolink two years ago found that 10% of new riders considered the trains a way to cut back on fuel costs. But six months later, only 50% of those respondents were still riding regularly, said Denise Tyrrell, a Metrolink spokeswoman.

    "When gas prices are the reason, they don't stick with it," she said. "The changes that consumers make is in their vehicle choice. They'll buy a fuel-efficient vehicle before they'll ride the train or some other form of mass transit."

    Riding a Metrolink train also is more of a "lifestyle choice" made by professional workers who have more flexibility with their schedules, she said.

Full article here. It's amazing that so many communities fall for the lure of shiny new light rail systems that promise modernity and prestige, but don't offer the one thing that would actually make them useful—:convenience for riders. Classic case of form over function.

Leonard Gilroy is Director of Government Reform


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