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The Mis-Marketing of Transit

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Door-to-door rail transit is four times slower than a car in the suburban market it is trying to serve. See Tables 1 and 2. Local buses are still slower. Buses and trains are also worse than cars for comfort, security, privacy, weather, transporting parcels, and a number of other functions.

Why would anyone switch to transit? The answer won’t be found in transit’s speed or convenience. It lies, instead, in the substantial savings from not having to own a second car (or sometimes a first) by relying on a mix of transit, walking, biking, and car rental.

The typical second car costs about $4,300 a year. Transit and occasional car rental cost about $1,300 a year. Middle and lower income Americans can save more than $3,000 a year, net, by giving up a second car for transit and occasional car rental. See Table 3. For many, households, that will mean a 10 percent increase in disposable income. If taking transit adds thirty minutes each way to a commute, or an hour a day for 250 days a year, and saves $3,000 a year, you can pay yourself $12 an hour to give up a second car and sit on transit. That is a genuine reason for many people to use transit and occasional car rental. It is a reason to stay on transit even if the roads are empty. It is an incentive to make much more selective use of cars.

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