In the U.S., public transit costs are subsidized by taxpayer dollars. However, compared to other countries around the world, public transportation in the U.S. has a lower percentage of riders, longer wait times, and fewer operating hours. Thus, the main method of transportation is by car. Some people believe this is due to the U.S. being spread out. However, Canada is equally as sprawling as the U.S. and has more transportation as well as ridership per capita. The way that suburbs in the U.S. were designed were with a car in mind, meaning houses are located in neighborhoods that are not connected and contain numerous cul-de-sacs, unlike cities that operate on a tight grid. It costs less to reach more individuals in a grid-like system such as New York versus sprawling suburbs in California.
Although geography plays some role, policymakers and the public’s perception of public transit has more impact than many of us are aware. Often, public transportation is seen as welfare. In the 1950s, once transportation became cities’ responsibility, they determined that with higher car usage, public transportation should only be maintained for individuals who cannot afford to drive. While this has allowed fares to remain relatively low and subsidized, it also prevents lines from being effective, timely, and part of extensive networks. Basically, it’s not considered problematic if a bus or train comes every 30 minutes if the only people using it are those who have no other option.
SDG 9 aims to build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization, and foster innovation. Infrastructure is the structural systems nations are built on, including roads, transportation services, buildings, and even sewage systems. One of the targets for SDG 9, or ways to measure the success of this goal, is to see CO2 emissions decrease.
With more reliable transportation in the U.S., more cars would be taken off the road, which would help decrease carbon emissions. This would also create greater access for individuals from low socioeconomic status, especially in places where public transportation does not exist. Not to mention, the saying that “time is money,” is not far from the truth. The less time people have to wait for their commutes because transportation is more efficient and frequent, the more time they will have to be productive members of society. This means having extra time to spend with their children, at work, or on self-investment. Therefore, improving public transit in the U.S. would not only benefit the environment, but it would also significantly impact individuals’ quality of life, and address one of the facets of poverty and inequality in parts of the country.
Also, the idea that public transit is solely for poor members of society is not true. In Europe, for example, it is not uncommon for members from different socioeconomic backgrounds to rely on public transit. The reason in the U.S. people do not use public transit is because it is not convenient. Therefore, if public transportation was more reliable, more people would use it. Not to mention, the more cars that are on the road, the more congested the roads become in denser areas, thus, slowing down public transit. Getting more cars off the road could alleviate congestion and increase efficiency of public transit. While policy makers may see public transportation as welfare, it is a tool that could not only combat further climate change, but also decrease inequality and create a more connected country transit-wise.