The Livable Communities Coalition

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

Anti-transit myth #3: Cars are faster than trains or buses

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

Myth 3: Commuting by rail is slower than commuting by car or bus.

If rail transit is slower than driving, why do so many people drive their cards to rail transit parking lots and take the train into town?

Both speed and commuting time comparisons used by transit critics tend to be misleading, because they compare apples and oranges. Cars are faster if they are on freeways away from city centers at rush hours, where traffic congestion is relatively low. Once the cars are in or near city centers during rush hours, highway speed drops drastically. That is the logic behind park-and-ride: the train bypasses the clogged highways in or near the central business district.

In comparing car vs. rail commuting times, the critics introduce another spurious factor. Many of the commuting journeys represented in their “average commuting time by car” figures are short, suburb-to-suburb trips, not trips from the suburb into the city. The latter usually takes more time because they run into the congested traffic in the city center, and because the journey itself is usually longer.

On the train, your time is not wasted. You can read, think, perhaps even write on your laptop. Behind the wheel, the most you can hope to do in the way of useful work is talk on your cell phone, usually to tell someone you are caught in traffic and will be late. And if you walk to and from the train station, on either or both ends of your journey, you get to add some exercise to an otherwise sedentary day without taking time to go to a gym or health club.

The train is fast. But it is also civilized, far more than a traffic jam. There is a reason so many people who have cars and could drive are taking trains to work instead. And it’s not because they can’t read a watch.

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