Home Traffic Congestion QwikLane Solution Business Case About

The substantial and valuable role of public transit in many urban areas is undeniable. For instance, fully 70% of the work trips to the Central Business District (CBD) in New York City are by public transit. Public transit carries 50% of such work trips to the CBD in Boston, Chicago, Philadelphia and San Francisco. Clearly, transit performs a vital service for these kinds of trips. The problem with transit is that the jobs in these CBDs account for barely 10% of all jobs in their respective metropolitan areas. The other 90% are scattered about the region and poorly served by transit. Thus, when we look at the overall public transit usage we find a different story: Bureau of Transportation Statistics (BTS) data for the 2005 U.S. commute report that 88.4% travel to work by private automobile, 4.4% take public transit and the rest walk, bike or work from home. The limitations of public transit become even clearer when you consider the overall share of all Passenger Miles of Travel (PMT). Again using the latest date from the BTS, from 2004, public transit accounts for barely 1.2% of all PMT (roughly evenly split between bus and rail), while private vehicles account for 98.8%.


This overall share of public transit has been in steady decline for over 70 years; indeed, this decline began decades before the advent of the Interstate highway system. As can clearly be seen in this graph, per capita miles of travel in private vehicles (the green line) has grown over four-fold since World War II. By contrast, per capita public transit trips (the red line) have declined during that same time period by a remarkable 60%. In fact, this decline has continued in recent decades despite a significant increase in public investment. Since 1982, annual transit expenditures in the US have doubled in constant dollars, yet ridership has risen less than 25%. Moreover, public transit requires massive annual subsidies to operate: no public transit system in the US (and only a small handful around the world - the Hong Kong MTR is an example) operates profitably. BTS data from 2004 show heavy rail (typically urban subway systems) with a fare box recovery of 61%, with 28% for buses and 26% for light rail; the overall fare box recovery rate was 34%. In other words, for every $1 paid at the fare box, taxpayers kick in an additional $2 in subsidies. Further, these operating expenses do not include the cost of construction and vehicles. Bus transit is relatively cost effective since the highway infrastructure is paid for primarily from fuel taxes. Capital costs for heavy and light rail are substantial: a contemplated 16 mile expansion of the San Francisco Bay Area's subway, BART, is estimated at over $4 billion ($250 million per mile), the relatively new light rail system in Santa Clara County (Silicon Valley) costs well over $1 billion for the 42 mile system; in addition, the 100 cars cost $3 million each. While BART's fare box recovery is nearly 60%, that of Santa Clara County's light rail is a meager 12%.


In sum, public transit systems in their various modes provide valuable services as niche applications: rail and bus rapid transit (BRT) into the CBD and buses as collectors to feed the rail backbones. However, when these niches only provide 1.2% of Passenger Miles of Travel - despite the massive increase in taxpayer-financed investment over the last 25 years - it would be misguided to look to transit solutions and expect to have any measurable impact on the core transportation issues of congestion, pollution, carbon emissions and imported oil. Even if you tripled or quadrupled the share of PMT, it would still be less than 5%! These facts speak for themselves.

One of the biggest challenges to transit users and operators is bridging the distances between modes. An automated highway system like QwikLane can greatly improve and extend the functionality of the transit infrastructure at little marginal cost by adding sections that terminate at major transit hubs. Automated vehicles can then move between these hubs - say, from the subway or train station to the airport - and travelers can access these vehicles like a driver-less taxi for a relatively inexpensive ride to the next transit mode.