It’s Nice to Have the Option
Ezra Klein points out that, at least in the context of mass transit, if you build it, they will come.
Driving is often a drag. Given a viable alternative, I’ll happily choose the competitor. There’s this tendency to ascribe Americans’ low use of public transit to some sort of cultural preference, as if it’s been a choice. But in many cases, it’s simply been a case of shitty, or inadequate, public transit options. If Irvine had had a real system of subways or light rail, I would’ve much preferred taking that to the Spectrum than having my parents drop me off. But I didn’t have the option. When I lived in LA, I would’ve done ANYTHING to avoid the freeways. People who move to DC or New York or Toronto don’t start taking subways because they adopt a new culture on day two. It’s because they suddenly have the option to take subways.
Living in a virtually mass-transit free area, I have to concur. I absolutely hate driving, and would love to have more options.
One of the tragedies of the history of mass transit isn’t just the lack of support it’s received throughout most of the country, but also the fact that many viable, working, well-used systems of mass transit were actually systematically dismantled in the middle of the 20th century. I don’t buy into the GM conspiracy theory, but there were certainly opportunities for governments to step in and preserve the systems — heck, just allotting public right-of-way instead of forcing transit companies to own their own might have saved some of them.