In the USA: More Americans Than Ever Commuting To Work Alone In Their Car
In Canada: Canadian Transit Ridership Breaks All-Time Record Again In 2006
Both of these articles make mention of the fact that gasoline prices have hit all-time highs and people are becoming increasingly conscious about global warming. So, why isn’t everyone switching to public transit?
Probably because the infrastructure is lacking in so many places. We have cities that are built for cars and impossible to navigate without. This is especially true in the United States where the Interstate Highway System built massive freeways through cities and out to the suburbs, leading to massive sprawl and the Great White Flight, which I have been reading so much about lately. We’re stuck in a car culture and many politicians are afraid to challenge the status quo and shift people from cars to buses.
As I mentioned before, the United States is combating sprawl and gridlock by building more highways (the lone bright spot being New York City which may introduce Congestion Pricing). Contrasting that, we have Canadian cities like Montreal and Toronto, which are both set to invest billions of dollars in public transit (the biggest Canadian blemish being BC’s Gateway project).
I think high gas prices and global warming will prompt people to reconsider the amount of driving they do, but without viable alternatives (in the form of efficient public transit) its impossible to change the ingrained behaviors.
The way markets work
You ask why isn’t everyone switching to public transit?
Certainly you are right when you talk about lack of supply – but its not just infrastructure – though that is one component. It is also becuase what is there is inadequate in many ways (see my piece Transit Sucks for some more).
But the real problem in getting people to switch modes is the amount they already have invested in their cars. So much of what is paid to get and keep a car is paid up front whether or not it is used means that the marginal cost of use is low. Or “you might as well use as it is sitting there anyway”. The perception of trip journey cost is limited to gas and parking. Plus of course the all important time component – and waiting time is valued much more highly than in vehicle time.
That is why auto shariung is really good for transit. Once people do not own a car, it is not the forst thing they think of for every trip.
In Vancouver, walking and cycling are also increasing as transportation modes.