Four reasons American mass transit went awry

John Rennie Short explains why America’s mass transit infrastructure is in such bad shape today:

The first is the early and continuing embrace of the private car as a form of urban transport. In Europe, expensive gas and restrictive land use measures kept people in dense cities, and urban growth followed along the lines of mass transit, reinforcing and consolidating their use…

Second, as cities were designed to meet the needs of the motorist, mass transit systems that had been owned by private companies were abandoned or effectively dismantled in the late 1940s and throughout the 1950s because they were losing money…

The third reason is that all infrastructure ages and needs costly maintenance and continual improvement, yet funding is often constrained…

Fourth, there is a deeper tension in the U.S., first noted by economist Kenneth Galbraith, between private affluence and public squalor.

It is difficult to overestimate the effect the car had on American social life. Many cities had thriving mass transit systems – railroads, electric streetcars – before automobiles reached the mass public. People had to live closer to where they worked. Street life could be very hectic – just remember all those horses out on the streets of major cities – but there was more interaction. Today? People often prefer driving solo in their vehicle at their own convenience. Mass transit simply didn’t look as appealing with the new option of driving on the table and governments spent lots of money to push driving rather than mass transit.

Is the insistence on driving America’s ultimate enduring response to big government? Residents may be willing to put up with being constrained in other areas but don’t you dare tell me that I can’t go where I want when I want.

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