One thing I heard many Euro summer travelers lament about in returning to the United States is the lack of public transportation infrastructure. Whereas in Europe or other regions of the world, they may have easily been able to book relatively reasonably priced tickets to visit another country over the weekend, in the U.S., we no longer have that option. Outside of most cities, there is poor access to reliable public transportation.
This has not always been the case. Indeed, in the early 1900s, streetcar and train systems were interspersed through societies, creating a reliable public transportation system. As the automobile became more popular in the mid 1900s, this all began to change. Less funding was put towards public transportation systems and, as many know, decreased funding usually leads to worsened service. This entices people less and less to use public transportation, which became less popular and became under-resourced, specifically outside of urbanized areas. Compared to the better-maintained public transport systems in Europe, some argue that this model is not feasible in the U.S. as the population densities in many areas do not compare to many European nations. But one only needs to look to Canada, a similarly spread out country, to see that this is not a valid excuse. Indeed, the city of Toronto, with its neighboring suburbs maintains a reliable public transportation system. When public transportation is given proper funding and concurrently creates a system of reliable and clean transportation, people choose public transportation.
But why do we need good public transport when it seems like society here has adapted to the maintenance and expansion of interstate highways and roads? For the populations who need it most — such as people who cannot afford cars or people who can’t drive—a reliable, reasonably priced and clean transportation system would be an invaluable commodity. Another important note is how the system is set up to accommodate a heavy reliance on cars, which makes it incredibly difficult for people who cannot obtain a car to travel within their communities. When we look specifically at who lives in these communities, we see that some populations are more disadvantaged than others, showing that the lack of public transportation also in many ways augments inequalities. Adequate public transport may allow these communities to access better jobs by giving them the means to travel farther from their home.
Beyond that, a reliable system of public transportation would also service people outside of these populations. Teens could safely travel to their friends’s house or local hangout spots. A well-built public transportation system would create more jobs. The roads may become less crowded, reducing air pollution. The bottom line remains that while rebuilding these infrastructures may takes significant time and planning, the good it would serve the public would certainly balance out this cost.