Public transit in the bigger mobility context: Yesterday, today and tomorrow

One of the reasons I so enjoy watching travel-type shows is because on the preferred ones watched, water, rail and roadway travel all get equal billing.

Imagine if that was the norm, I mean, regarding everyday travel. That would be great!

Now, the method relied on most heavily, of course, is the last – roadway travel. The remaining – rail and waterway – well, compared to road, these get second billing; short shrift if you want the truth.

Welcome to the real world.

So, just how big is the gap? I did some research and I have come to find out that in the United States, of all passenger travel miles, a scant 1.11 percent are public transit-originated.1 Regarding passenger trips taken, meanwhile, what we have effectively is a repeat performance: 1.9 percent of all passenger trips made were public transit-originated.2

So: why so low?

In “Streetcar redux: Trolleys relieving congestion, saving energy and fighting pollution,” noted is the demise of the interurban and streetcar railway network in America. “Even predating Interstate Highway Act passage, in 1950, ‘More than 100 electric transit systems were replaced with buses in 45 US cities including Los Angeles,’ according to the California Environmental Protection Agency Air Resources Board.”

Polluting buses, I would add.

But, it went beyond this. Other factors associated with automobiles, such as seemingly unlimited reach and far improved (easier) access, served to build motor vehicle-use momentum. That, coupled with the promise of reduced travel times, made car ownership even more attractive and preferable.

Over the decades, things have remained very much the same, but, as of late, the driving landscape is undergoing change.

In fact, it was just this morning in The Conversation, that I read an account of what clearly could be the future. That future: A world where vehicles use computers to allow for fully autonomous operating capability. Think cars that operate sans a driver. And with this comes the prospect of cleaner air with greater electric and fuel-cell electric vehicle use. Barring this, the potential for reduced driving exists, and with this, of course, would come the likelihood of less roadway congestion. At the same time, it is important to note that none of this is guaranteed. It’s too early to make any kind of predictions, one way or the other: autonomobility (I prefer the term “autonomobility” over “self-driving” or “driverless”) is still in its infancy.

For now, notions such as traffic congestion (especially pronounced in and around urban centers) are quite real as many have experienced and can attest to and polluted air (smog and soot, primarily), so pronounced in a number of locales and less so in others, continues seemingly unabated, the appearance given that a blind eye has been turned to such.

Which brings to the fore the importance of laudable programs like “National Dump the Pump Day,” where the recommendation from the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), which is organizing the campaign (just as it has since the program’s get-go), is to not drive (if but for one day if not already standard procedure) and ride public transit instead. This year, “Dump the Pump Day” is June 21st.

In its press release: “13th Annual National Dump the Pump Day is Thursday, June 21: Dump the Pump. Ride Public Transit,” the APTA is encouraging “people to ‘Dump the Pump’ by parking their car and riding a bus or train instead. The tag line is: Dump the Pump. Ride Transit.

“First started in June 2006, this national day highlights public transportation as a convenient travel option that also helps people save money. According to the June APTA Transit Savings Report individuals in a two-person household can save an average of more than $10,160 annually by downsizing to one car and using public transit instead.”

Helping the air is another added benefit, obviously.

For more “National Dump the Pump Day” information and related organized events, see: “13th Annual National Dump the Pump Day is Thursday, June 21: Dump the Pump. Ride Public Transithere.


  1. US Department of Transportation, Bureau of Transportation Statistics, National Transportation Statistics 2009, “Table 1-37: U.S. Passenger-Miles (Millions).”(Corresponding link:
  2. Adella Santos, Nancy McGuckin, Hikari Yukiko Nakamoto, Danielle Gray, and Susan Liss, Summary of Travel Trends: 2009 National Household Travel Survey (Washington, DC: Federal Highway Administration 2011), “Table 9. Annual Number (in Millions) and Percent of Person Trips Made by Mode of Transportation and Trip Purpose, 1990 and 1995 NPTS, and 2001 and 2009 NHTS,” p. 19. (Corresponding link:

Image above: W. R. Howell, Jr.

2 thoughts on “Public transit in the bigger mobility context: Yesterday, today and tomorrow”

  1. Great post! Keep up the good reporting. Not very many people know about this important information. One day, will come to our senses!


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