Debunking Public Transit Myths

2 minute read
Jun. 23, 2016
Article by Nicolas Pocard


The reality of public transportation is that it will not suit everybody for all trips. There will always be people who cannot -or will not- use public transportation options. There are some trips in which public transport will never be an option. These facts are undisputable, but that doesn't mean that public transportation is not a viable option for most people. We provide a well-developed road transport systems, despite the fact that a significant number of people do not drive cars, for the benefit of those who do. This same philosophy needs to be applied to the planning and development of public transportation systems.

Two myths about public transit:

1. It won’t work

Wrong. Build it and they will come. Public transportation benefits everyone in all demographics and helps evolve the culture of a community. Planners have discovered that it is not about speed (although it is a desirable outcome) most riders want frequency.

The road infrastructure already exists to support the car-culture, therefore the barrier to implement a transit network is more about the will of community planners than anything else. These decisions around transit need to be made in unison with those made about schools, heathcare and community centres

Plus there is a changing attitude towards car ownership by millennials in urban settings. They aren’t as “car ownership” hungry as the generation before them. They are more likely to take public transportation or use a ride sharing system (Car2Go/ZipCar).

The suburbs are also a part of the discussion. This story has played out in all cities around the world. Typically, all suburbs record extremely high levels of car use, and the reason is not lifestyle choices. The real reason is very simple. Most suburbs were never provided with a decent public transport alternative, and still remain without usable public transport to this day. So for the last 50 years, the buyers of new suburban homes have been given no choice in the matter. Changing attitudes combined with increase costs of car ownership is influencing nearly everyone’s views of public transportation.

2. We can’t afford it

Like anything worthwhile in life, it requires hard work and dedication. Sure it’s easy to maintain the status quo and allow single occupied vehicles to dominate the rush hour commute. But ask any driver if this is the right long term solution and you’ll get a resounding NO. It is not sustainable nor is it healthy, viable or cost effective.

Investments in an integrated transportation scheme always benefit the entire community: rich, poor, young and old. All growing communities site a robust transit system as a key element of successful and healthy life.

In fact, public transport is a bargain for the taxpayer by comparison with the costs required to build a high-capacity road system. Each additional user adds more and more to the cost of the system. In economics this is known as the ‘law of diminishing returns’. By comparison, the cost of public transport is more or less the same regardless of patronage, so that if more people use the system, the cost per passenger actually diminishes. This is what economists call ‘economies of scale’. Since public transport revenue increases with more passengers, it is clearly economic to encourage more people onto public transport. On the other hand, it is distinctly uneconomic to encourage more people to abandon public transport and drive cars instead. But this is just what the government has done for the past four decades – and continues to do with its new motorway plans!


HYDRAIL: Rail Transport

Learn more about Ballard's experience with hydrogen fuel cell-powered trams being demonstrated globally.

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