Public transport was never a concern of mine when I was growing up. As bad as Dallas traffic is, my family and I have been able to manage. In the time we’ve lived in Dallas, we managed to do much without having to rely on public transportation, but that’s only because we’ve been fortunate enough to have a car and know how to use one.
I can easily imagine that there are families out there for whom transportation is a serious concern. It could be that the only car in the family is out of use and had to be taken to a mechanic for repairs. It could also be that the only person in the family who can drive is occupied during the day, making it difficult to stop by their child’s school to take them home.
There’s also the need to consider that expenses in maintaining a vehicle add up. Gas isn’t cheap, especially if one wants to have a full tank. Car expenses soon begin to accumulate, from changing one’s oil to buying new tires to having to cover for any sudden disrepairs.
Car upkeep is expensive, and families at the lower end of the socioeconomic ladder tend to feel the burden of those expenses in the most intense of manners.
There are other things that are crucial to a person’s well-being, after all. Putting food on the table and maintaining a roof over one’s head tend to make up most of a person’s concerns. Without transportation, though, a person isn’t able to go to work in a safe and efficient manner. Collecting groceries becomes difficult when all a person can buy is what they can carry in their hands.
The issue public transportation is meant to address is the hardships people may face with regards to having a reliable means of transport.
Looking at some of the statistics in a study the U.S. Census Bureau conducted back in 2019, within the seven most transit-heavy metro regions of the U.S., 25% of commuters made somewhere in between $0 to $24,999. This percentage is already higher than that of those who made $100,000 or more in a year. But when one considers that the average member of the middle-class earns slightly less than $46,000 dollars, the numbers begin to grow.
If we take into account individuals who made between $25,000 and $49,999, that original percentage of 25% increases by 23.8%. This leaves us with a grand total of 48.8% of commuters who use public transport within the seven transit-heavy metro areas of New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Boston, Los Angeles and Philadelphia.
These are individuals who, at the very low end, are probably barely making enough money to afford the fares on the transit system while having to balance other expenses. On the higher end of income, close to the $50,000 mark, these are individuals who are able to live a decent middle class experience while also being greatly susceptible to that which is out of their control.
All it takes is a car’s engine breaking down to seriously impact a person’s notion of whether it’s worth having a car in the first place. Replacing an engine can cost somewhere close to $10,000, already taking close to a fifth of a person within the middle class’s yearly earnings. As time goes on and cars become more complicated due to technological advancements, repairing and maintaining one’s car is going to become a greater expense.
As enamored as we may be with the idea of the automobile, we need to consider the simple reality that it may not be the best form of transportation out there, especially in densely populated urban environments.
Public transport services, such as buses and streetcars, allow a significant number of passengers to hop aboard and not have to worry about driving themselves to their destination. Trains are more capable of moving significant numbers over the course of great distances, often running into the neighboring suburbs where many workers reside.
Expanding public transport isn’t only a dream. It is a genuine possibility, especially when we take into consideration the recent infrastructure bill that cleared Congress and the President. $90 billion is being allocated for public transit, with $39 billion meant to replace deteriorating buses and railcars, as well as expanding accessibility for elderly folk and individuals with disabilities. Meanwhile, $66 billion of our tax dollars are being put to use in order to fund intercity railways, resulting in improvements and expansions for Amtrak and other rail services to new cities.
This is just the tip of the spending bill, but these are the points that make me hopeful that someday I’ll be able to take a train from my hometown of Dallas to anywhere within the continental United States at an affordable rate. After all, every American should have the ability to move around the country comfortably and in a way that suits them and their economic standing.
Correction: The original author at the time of publication was incorrect and has since been corrected.