Good Transit Saves American Households $1,575 Per Year

Thrifty_Gas.jpgTo be really thrifty, invest in transit, new research shows. Image: Marshall Astor via Flickr.

High quality transit in large American cities is saving households an average of $1,575 per year, according to new research by Victoria Transport Policy Institute director Todd Litman [PDF]. That’s not even counting indirect benefits like reducing congestion or improving health. It’s simple math, with the price of fares and the cost of providing high-quality transit infrastructure and service on one side, and spending on roads, cars, gas and parking on the other.

Conventional economic evaluation of transportation only compares the cost of building transit to the cost of building roads, Litman says. But when it comes to providing choices for how to get around, what matters to most people is the effect on their wallets. Paying for transit through fares or taxes is a bargain if it means you don’t have to pay for a car or a garage.

The analysis compares transportation costs in the seven American cities with high-quality transit (New York, Washington DC, Boston, San Francisco, Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore) to transportation costs in other large cities.

It’s worth noting that Litman’s numbers are averages, so while many households save with a high-quality transit system, some end up paying more than they would otherwise. If every household saved $1,575 from transit, there would probably be a lot less support for car infrastructure.

Litman’s research adds to the body of evidence disproving the argument that transit investment isn’t worth the expense compared to spending on car infrastructure. Quite the opposite, in fact. 

  • Doug

    This is not a surprise. I’ve had friends in LA who talk about how much cheaper apartments are there than in NYC. But if you factor in car payments, insurance, and upkeep, the cost of living can, in some cases, be even.

    The $100 or so I spend on transit costs each month in New York sure does beat the hundreds of dollars it would cost me to drive a car almost anywhere else.

    And if my subway experiences a delay or malfunction, I’m inconvenienced to be sure, but I just get on a new one for the same $2.25. If my car breaks down, I could be in for thousands in repairs.

  • Larry Littlefield

    It is also the case that the majority of fares paid for transit go to local service providers, while a majority share of money spent on automobiles goes to manufacturers and fuel producers elsewhere. With transit, both the money spent and the money saved contributes to non-transportation economic vitality.

  • Larry: yes, and it’s this distinction between road money and transit money that makes Detroit so dependent on auto manufacturing. Pay no attention to Michigan boosters who think all will be well if the Big Three retool to make rolling stock; if car ownership goes down to sustainable levels, Detroit will lose the reason for its existence.


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