The Livable Communities Coalition

Working to improve Atlanta's quality of life through smart growth

Anti-transit myth #11: No one uses transit

Excerpted from Moving Minds: Conservatives and Public Transportation by Paul M. Weyrich and William S. Lind.

Myth 11: On average, most of the seats on a bus or train are empty.

The anti-transit troubadours usually sing this line only in passing, as a quick reference to “empty buses” or “empty trains.”

And how many seats are occupied in the average automobile? Even in rush hour, the answer is usually one, out of four or five. During the same rush-hour, if you look at the average bus or rail car, all the seats are taken and some passengers may be standing.

Transit systems must be designed to handle rush-hour volumes of people. They can and do adjust to some extent to non-rush-hours, by running fewer buses or trains and perhaps shorter trains as well. But their ability to adjust is limited. A bus or rail car has a fixed number of seats. Shortening or lengthening trains several times a day can cost more than is saved by running shorter trains. In most cities, bus drivers and train operators are paid for an eight-hour shift, whether they are working or not. And off-peak service must be provided, for commuters who have to get home early, people who work non-standard hours and the wide variety of non-commuting transit trips.

If total ridership is averaged over the number of hours transit is provided, the average may appear low – even though the trains and buses are full to bursting during the morning and afternoon rushes. But even if we compare averages, transit still comes out ahead – dramatically so, if we look at passenger miles per vehicle mile. Both heavy and light rail fill double the percentage of seats that automobiles used in commuting fill, and generate 20 times as many passenger miles per vehicle mile.

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