During his presidential campaign, president-elect Joe Biden prioritized transportation investment, particularly in the form of projects to mitigate US carbon emissions and increase access to opportunity for people of color. In his transition plan, Biden aims to “provide every American city with 100,000 or more residents with high-quality, zero-emissions public transportation options.” The US House of Representatives-passed Moving Forward Act promotes a similar ambition to significantly improve transit service across the country.

American transit options are notoriously poor, less frequent, and less reliable than comparable systems abroad. That’s one reason only about 5 percent of US commuters use buses or trains. But the quality of transit varies in different parts of the country. Buses and trains travel a modest 145 feet per resident per day in the typical American urban area, but they run almost five times as much per resident in the New York City region, where transit is frequent and convenient.

In the New York City region, the average urban resident takes 224 transit trips annually. In the Cincinnati region, where buses are infrequent and don’t serve many neighborhoods, the average resident takes fewer than 11 transit trips a year.

A major transit improvement would require a major federal intervention, but it could make public transportation convenient and reliable for people throughout the country, thus reducing emissions, improving access, and increasing social equity. Increasing the quality of transit service in all large urban areas to New York City levels would cost less annually ($45.6 billion) than the $48 billion the federal government distributed to highway programs in 2019.

Read the full article about expanding American transit  by Yonah Freemark at Urban Institute.