Costs of Public Transportation

For those stuck in traffic jams, frustrated by delays on trains or the inconveniences of air travel, re-imagining our transport system is a pie-in-the-sky dream.

But the costs of public transportation are very high, and are not likely to diminish any time soon. The Federal government spends billions every year, but is barely staying abreast of the costs of just maintaining our current transportation infrastructure. In spite of Federal dollars -- the true costs of our highway system are borne by states and local governments.

The national highway system, which carries the bulk of our traffic, receives the smallest share of our dollars. 


In many suburban or ex-urban areas, local dollars go primarily to building new roads for new developments. Improving current roadways, let alone expanding them to include more lanes, has become prohibitively expensive, especially in urban areas where there is the most need. The days of massive transportation projects that ripped through neighborhoods are gone, while cities like Boston and San Francisco are spending billions reclaiming their waterways from highways that used to blight their downtowns.

The jobs are never going away, whether for maintaining our current mix of transportation options or investing in new modalities. In order to bring down traffic fatalities, especially among the young, newer cars are arriving with sensors that stop or slow down when too close to objects or other cars. Vans have video and games to help children to stay calm when stuck in traffic with their parents.

Costs of transportation on livesSome businesses have tried ‘flex hours’, letting employees shift their schedule early or late, or ‘tele-commuting’ some days a week. But the vision of a service workforce working primarily from home or at small local offices is a dream that hasn’t happened. A while ago, Yahoo president Marissa Mayer reversed the company policy on working from home for a variety of reasons. Campuses at Google and Apple are designed to get people to work and keep them there.

As air commuters – those using air to travel frequently from San Francisco to Los Angeles, or Boston to New York, are finding that the costs in time and money outweigh the advantages. The trip to the airport, long lines to get through security, no meals, restrictions on luggage, and weather delays are driving commuters away. Sitting on a train, plugged in to an outlet and using wi-fi while sipping coffee, can seem a better alternative – as long as the trains are on time and perform as advertised.

Perhaps it is time to tear a sheet from Europe and Asia, and think about an optimal mix of public transport and roadways. Cars are not going away, but perhaps the four car family might. Trains are not going away, but perhaps they can move faster and be more affordable. Airlines are not going away, but perhaps focusing on long distance could relieve congestion at airports, and serve the customers who really need it. Where do we want growth, where do people live, how to revitalize communities? These are questions that should be part of a national conversation on how we spend our annual billions.

Facts in this article from: American Road and Transportation Builders Association.