Mass Transit’s Real Contribution to Travel

Much of the debate over mass transit focuses on the role transit plays in commuting. Transit’s role can be very important, as in New York where transit serves three quarters of the commutes into Manhattan, or in Washigton, D.C. where close to 40 percent of the commutes are by transit (usually rail). Alan Pisarski has a good analysis of these numbers on pages 91-96 in his book Commuting in America III (which is a “must” read for anyone interested in transportation.)

But, this is only part of the story. Travel is becoming much more complex. In fact, commuting is becoming less important, rather than more important, in terms of overall travel (as we point out in our book Mobility First: A New Vision for Transportation in a Globally Competitive 21st Century).

So, I found this table put together by Wendell Cox particularly useful. Wendell looked at travel for entire urbanized areas, not just commutes, and calculated what share of overall travel was by public transit. Wendell used data from the National Transit Database and Federal Highway Statistics to come up with the numbers. The ranking is not that suprising, but many might find the magnitudes something worth chewing on for a while.

Public transit as a share of all regional travel in passenger miles for the top 10 urbanized areas in 2007:

1. New York (10.7%)

2. Chicago (3.7%)

3. Los Angeles (1.8%

4. Washington, DC (4.8%)

5. San Francisco (4.8%)

6. Boston (3.1%)

7. Philadelphia (2.5%)

8. Miami (1.2%)

9. Seattle (2.1%)

10. Atlanta (1.2%)

All the other urbanized areas register 2% or lower for the entire urbanized area except Honolulu which registers 3.9%.