Disproving Common Misconceptions of Public Transportation
This is the fifth installment of GOPC’s new series: Getting Ohio to Work: Transporting the People. Click here for our previous blogposts in this series.
Public transit is critical to creating a vibrant state economy in Ohio by moving people from where they live to where they work. Misinformation about public transit, including its usage and results, oftentimes can stand in the way of creating a strong public transit network able to enhance the state’s economy. Below, we dispel comment myths about public transportation by highlighting the broad benefits it provides.
More Ohioans are Choosing Public Transportation
Many Ohioans use public transportation as a vital resource to safely and reliably get to work and critical services, such as health appointments. In 2016, there were a total of 103 million transit trips in Ohio; that is over 8 rides for every Ohioan (i). Low-income Ohioans who cannot afford the costs of buying and owning a car, along with elderly and disabled residents who are unable to drive, make up a large share of transit ridership. However, more middle and upper-income Ohioans are choosing to use transit, as studies show that Ohioans prefer to live in neighborhoods where reliable public transit is one of many available transportation options. The Central Ohio Transit Authority’s pilot C-Pass program, which is paid for in part by downtown employers, offers workers the chance to ride the bus into work every day as a means of reducing congestion (ii). As of early June 2018, just a month after the program launched, more than 7,600 employees had signed up for the program (iii).
Benefits of Public Transportation Reach Beyond the Rider
Public transit provides a benefit to the intended user; however, benefits beyond the user are rarely discussed when speaking about public transportation. Transit significantly reduces traffic on the roads and eliminates pollution that would otherwise be emitted from individual vehicles. Access to bus routes that take workers to job centers ensures business have the ability to hire and retain a stable and reliable workforce. This of course keeps business moving forward. By being connected to jobs and education, many transit riders have the opportunity to earn a living for their families and move upward along the economic ladder, which reduces poverty and the myriad social costs that accompany it.
The Demand for Public Transit is Increasing – Thought Not Always Perceived
Statements about infrequently used roads, bridges, sidewalks, or other modes of transportation are rarely heard when discussing infrastructure; however, statements regarding empty buses are quick to occur when discussing public transit funding and usage. While there are occasionally public transit trips with just a handful of riders, this is generally the exception rather than the rule – especially in light of the growing demand for transit service in Ohio and reductions to service as a result of budget cuts. In 2015, there was a need for an additional 35 million trips than available, and demand by 2035 is expected to grow to 250 million annual trips in Ohio – up from 103 million in 2016. Because there are fewer riders at non-rush hour times, transit agencies adjust the frequency of their service depending on the time of day. Local transit agencies are working to get the most out of their systems by being as efficient as possible with the dollars they have. Akron’s transit agency is undertaking a “Driving METRO Forward” project which seeks public input on how bus routes should be adjusted so that they reach jobs and stores that have opened up in the suburbs (iv). In light of Lancaster Public Transit’s increased demand for routes, the system has brought in fixed route service to increase ridership and decrease operating costs (v).
Public Transportation is Modernizing – Just like Other Modes of Transportation
With plenty of news coverage buzzing about the latest transportation technologies in development, there is a tendency to forget about many of the effective modes of transportation that are used every day in Ohio and throughout the country. With the limited resources at their disposal, transit agencies around the state are seeking to, and implementing, modernized service with new innovations such as real-time bus trackers through global positioning system (GPS), automatic vehicle location (AVL), and electronic payment systems through smartphones. It is important to remember that supporting systems and technologies that exist promotes innovation and improvement within a transportation area that has been used successfully as a means of furthering economic development for decades. In fact, the American Public Transportation Association estimates that every $1 invested in transit generates $4 in economic productivity (vi).
i Ohio Department of Transportation. “2018 Status of Public Transportation”
ii Columbus Dispatch. “Downtown workers begin using free Cpass bus program.”
iii WOSU Radio “New COTA C-Pass Provides Free Bus Passes for Some Downtown Employees.”
iv Akron METRO. “Driving METRO Forward.”
v Lancaster Eagle Gazette. “Lancaster transit plans expansion, upgrades”
vi American Public Transportation Association. “Economic Impact of Public Investment”