Monday, February 13, 2012

Why do people confuse "transit" with rail?

Perhaps the most important transportation economist since World War II was John Kain.  Professor Kain liked transit very much, but be showed, over and over again, that urban buses were more efficient in virtually every context than urban rail: for the same amount of money, buses can take more passengers more places more conveniently than trains. 

When transit agencies build expensive rail systems, they inevitably cannibalize bus systems.  This has happened in Salt Lake City, in Portland, in Atlanta and in Dallas.  The goal of transit should be to move people as efficiently as possible.  The evidence is overwhelming that rubber tire transit beats fixed rail pretty much everywhere.  So why the nostalga for an obsolete technology?  I just don't understand.