More Evidence: Buses and Trains not Fungible
The most basic fact about public transportation the libertarian critics and many conservative ones ignore is that trains and buses are not fungible. Many rail transit riders have a car available and can drive. If you give them a bus instead of a train, that is what they will do. The libertarians’ argument that all should be bus, not rail, is really an argument for more cars, highways and driving. It would be nice if they were honest about it.
The most recent evidence that train and bus riders are different comes from a Los Angeles Metro survey. LA Metro released the results of their annual survey of riders. The survey shows that:
- 45% of train riders, but only 25% of bus riders, had a car available to make their trip ((ten year averages).
- The average income of train riders is $26,250; for bus riders, the figure is $14,423.
- 16% of bus riders are white or Asian, compared to 28% of train riders.
LA is not demographically a city favorable to making the case that train and bus riders are different. It is heavily Hispanic and poor. Similar surveys taken by other transit systems around the country show significantly higher percentages of train riders are white or Asian, upper-income and riders from choice, i.e., have a car available for the trip but choose to take transit instead. Nonetheless, the pattern still holds: LA’s bus riders are poorer, more often black or Hispanic and more transit dependent than train riders.
The scam of substituting buses for trains as a way to force people to drive is an old one. It goes back to a meeting called by General Motors in 1923, which eventually led to National City Lines (NCL). But it was a scam then and it remains a scam now. Trains and buses carry different people and serve different purposes. They also have different operating costs, with rail making more efficient use of labor. When a group of people keeps running a scam that was exposed long ago, what should we think of them?
William S. Lind is Director of The American Conservative Center for Public Transportation based in Arlington, VA