• Date: 04/25/2024

Over the six decades that transit subsidies have been virtually universal, governments and media have urged people to give up driving and switch to transit. Yet transit’s share of total urban travel was near modern lows just before the pandemic. It is recovering more slowly than other modes of travel, as transit analyst Randal O’Toole has shown in New Geography.

Indeed, city officials often portray transit as a readily available alternative to the car. But transit can quickly access only a small fraction of destinations compared to cars for most people. This article provides data for the largest metropolitan areas in the 13 Western states.

This is not an argument for cars, but simply a recognition that cars better serve what many (including this author) consider to be the ultimate domestic public policy objectives – improving affluence and reducing poverty (see: Toward More Prosperous Cities).

Improving Affluence

Economists such as Remy Prud’homme and Chang-Won Lee at the University of Paris, as well as David Hartgen and Gregory Fields at the University of North Carolina – Charlotte, have shown a strong association between better economic performance in metropolitan areas where more jobs can be reached in a specified time (such as 30 minutes) by the average resident.

Former senior advisor to the U.S. Department of Transportation Steven Polzin noted the relationship between economic progress and faster travel times in the United States and the economic losses from spending more time than necessary commuting.

An average 30-minute travel time, also called the “Marchetti Constant,” has endured through history. In the United States, about 60 percent of workers commuted less than 30 minutes (excluding those working at home), according to the American Community Survey, 2019.

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