Friday, September 16, 2005

Supply-Side Public Transit

...Even though conventional economists will object, public transport needs to be supply- rather than demand-led. This is the way to achieve flexibility and innovation, and to respond to changing travel needs.

Leroy W. Demery Jr. and Michael D. Setty argue at that the quality of public transit may be more important for attracting transit riders than are demand-driven factors like congestion and gridlock.

Their thesis boils down to, "build a good system and public transit riders will come." It takes a while, though -- a decade or two. And it's expensive, because it won't work unless you build a really good multi-modal system. Demery and Setty's findings go completely against the grain of public transit thinking for the past 30 years.

It's a fascinating article if you're a public transportation policy wonk. Read the whole thing.


Sue said...

"build a good system and public transit riders will come..."

Agreed. But the system has to go somewhere and back again. Part of why "no one rides the bus in Greensboro" (although it's not true, it's a perception) is in part because the bus doesn't go anywhere I want to go. I can't get from my home to downtown without driving to a bus stop. I can't wait for a bus in anything but great weather because there are very few covered areas. I can't get from point A to point B to point C because the bus goes from A-to-B, but not to C, so I can't do my errands without coming home first. One city just got free WiFi in the buses and that gets a "Wow!" I still think if a bus went to an upscale neighborhood and to the mall (and back again), the kids might ride it because Mom is tired of driving them and they get the freedom to return when they want.

Oh well, I'm an ex-city girl who's used to the train to get where she wants to go. You think it'll ever happen here?

David Wharton said...

The kind of convenience you describe is exactly what their paper talks about -- the transit system has to have great coverage, availability, reliability, and be easy to understand and use.

It probably will happen here . . . someday.

David Boyd said...

There's no question that if you increase supply you will increase demand. However, the issue is will you increase demand enough to cover the costs incurred in increasing supply?

David Wharton said...

Stuff I've read in magazines always seems to say that public transit never pays for itself if you just look at the fares.

But if you factor in the benefits of less congestion, less road-building, more freedom of travel for people who can't afford cars (or for teenagers whose parents don't want to drive them everywhere), better air quality, and maybe a more attractive overall city (aesthetically, maybe economically) . . . well, maybe people will think it's worth paying for.

Wm. F. Buckley recently called for looking for ways to decrease dependence on oil, including sellling gas rations. Post 9/11, people might be willing to re-think transportation.

David Boyd said...

One of the problems is that it's impossible to quantify those other benefits. I agree they're benefits, it's just that it's tough to put a dollar figure on because of all the assumptions you have to make. Therefore, you invariably get a bunch of monkey business from politicians and bureaucrats.