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One Chart Showing How Much Money Major U.S. Public Transportation Systems Lose Per Trip


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My local light-rail system apparently loses $5 per trip! Surprised to see that BART is one of the least lossy systems, and NJ Transit is way up there despite what seems to be good density and ridership. For all you transit haters, remember that one of the benefits of transit is all the people who are not driving on the roads with you every day!

caltrain?

Nope, Santa Clara VTA. Caltrain wasn't big enough to make it on this list.

She's referring to the Santa Clara light rail. I don't see Caltrain's numbers in the article. 

If my arithmetic is right, I think Caltrain only loses about $2 per trip.

Is there a good reason why public transportation can't be run at cost?

Or is the whole point to subsidize it so people are incentivized to use it?

The thing about VTA that I think makes it lose so much money per trip is that it's so cheap! They use a $2 flat fare on all the light rail, or $4 for unlimited rides for 8 hours. But also people don't use it that much because it doesn't take people from where they live to where they work -- San Jose is the only big city with more residents than jobs -- it mostly just goes around to the commercial areas. I think things will get better once the BART extension is complete, because then people in the East Bay residential areas will be able to ride the system to Silicon Valley jobs.

Hardly any big business really is run at cost, you know. I think there's a far better argument for tax dollars subsidizing poor people trying getting to their jobs, students and young workers, the elderly, environmental nuts, tourists, and partiers trying to avoid DUIs -- which seem to be the main groups I see on public transit, the transportation option of last resort for people who have zero accumulated capital -- than propping up giant banks, auto companies, or real estate developers. Instead of trying to identifying the truly deserving of these groups and subsidize only them, it's probably more cost-efficient to just make the fares affordably low for everyone and figure the well-off would mostly choose other means of travel. And as the article points out, the societal costs of transit-takers are far lower than they seem because the public doesn't have to pay for nearly as many parking lots, meter maids, cops to write tickets, firemen to rescue people from accidents, gas stations, pollution, etc.

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