Public Transportation: The Perfect Answer for 21st Century Problems

By – Manan Gulati

“Sometimes, the best solution is right in front of us, hidden in the familiar. We just need to open our eyes and see it.” According to the UN, the world became more than half urban around 2007, and it is expected to be 66% urban by 2050. Another piece of data suggests that 243 billion public transport journeys were made in 39 countries in 2015, representing an 18% increase since 2000. As a result, it would not be incorrect to assume that the twenty-first century marked a watershed moment in global urbanisation. The people who live in these cities require some form of mobility to get around on a daily basis, highlighting the true role of public transport. Public transportation is essential for both those who use it and those who do not. It is a lifeline for many because it provides mobility, employment, and economic growth while also supporting environmental public policies. There were metros in 178 cities across 56 countries as of December 2017, carrying a total of 168 million passengers per day. Furthermore, because many countries have recently pledged to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, decisions about public transport are more important than ever.

Recently, the pandemic has decimated several major public transport systems around the world, bringing entire cities to a halt, with New York forecasting a $6 billion deficit in 2021 and Paris losing nearly $4 billion in revenue in 2020, among many other cities where not only the people but also the governments took a massive hit on the economic front. When we consider that the majority of people in the world today live in cities, we can only imagine the number of people who have fallen into poverty. Furthermore, cities account for three-quarters of global carbon emissions, which has an impact on every country’s progress towards its climate goals in some way. Given the current situation, now may be the best time to pay attention to public transportation. This is particularly true for the developing world, which has traditionally lagged behind in this regard. If we look closely, it also has its own economic benefits.

Such advantages cannot be overlooked when considering public transportation. Capital investment in public transport (including vehicle and equipment purchases, as well as the development of infrastructure and supporting facilities) is a significant source of employment. Every dollar invested in public transport could generate $5 in economic returns, and every billion dollars invested could generate 50,000 jobs. The economic benefits of public transport are primarily the result of public transport investment. Investment in public transport can result in significant economic growth as a result of both the short-term stimulus provided by public transport expenditures and the longer-term, rather cumulative impact on economic productivity. Not to mention the increased business productivity that comes with access to larger labour markets with more diverse skill sets. This is made possible by increased mass transit service areas and decreased traffic congestion.

In 2018, public transport in the United States transported over 27 million passengers per day, giving workers more time for work and leisure. This has enabled businesses to hire competent individuals from outlying areas, improving job matching and productivity. Furthermore, it offers cost savings by reducing crude oil consumption, which is especially beneficial for countries like India, which is heavily reliant on imported oil. Lowering oil demand saves the government money, lowers consumer prices, helps the environment, and, of course, reduces reliance on oil. This transition encourages the use of electric vehicles, making the transition easier and faster for consumers and the government.

Furthermore, public transportation spending has a broader economic impact. Management and maintenance of public transport vehicles and facilities, for example, are significant sources of employment. A $1 billion annual budget for public transportation operations supports approximately 20,000 jobs. All of the jobs listed above include direct jobs associated with the manufacturing, construction, and maintenance of public transportation equipment and facilities, as well as additional “supplier purchase effect” jobs at suppliers of parts, materials, and services and “employee spending effect” jobs supported by consumer spending on workers’ wages. These overall effects can result in new jobs as long as public transportation spending increases and there are enough unemployed people to fill these positions.

These investments also help businesses and firms save money by reducing traffic congestion for those travelling by car and truck. According to recent onboard surveys conducted by the American Public Transportation Association, 68% of bus riders and 50% of rail riders reported not having a car for their transit. Given that the United States has a relatively high car ownership rate, this figure will be higher in most developing economies. The cost differences between taking a TNC (Transportation Network Companies, such as Uber) or taxi trip versus taking public transportation encourage households to choose public transportation over a TNC or taxi. In the United States, for example, travel and vehicle ownership savings for public transportation passengers who use public transportation instead of other modes amount to $11.7 billion per year. Improved public transport may incentivize a significant number of households to reduce multiple car ownership with increased investment.

The good news is that we are not the only ones who recognise the value of public transportation. Cities, towns, and even entire countries are waking up to the numerous benefits of making public transport free and easily accessible all over the world. Old economic systems, for example, find it difficult to comprehend that over 100 cities have already made public transport free, with more cities joining them every month. Cities in Taiwan, the United States, and Slovenia are all following suit in some way. As a result, local economies and the environment are benefiting.  By 2030, it is anticipated that nearly 1 in 10 people will live in large cities, called “megacities” to account for populations of more than 10 million. We are already able to get a glimpse of this as people in cities all over the world have begun to use public transport for their journeys, particularly those who live or work in megacities.

Thus it is critical that governments pay close attention to the issue and incentivize the general public to use public transport rather than personal vehicles. This would not only help families achieve their own goals, such as financial stability but would also assist governments in meeting their climate obligations. In addition to meeting such objectives, it has economic benefits across multiple dimensions, making it a win-win situation for everyone. Now that we know all this, we ought to ask ourselves the question, Are we and most importantly, the ruling powers ready to embrace a future where efficient, sustainable, and accessible public transport systems are the norm? The choice is ultimately ours, and by envisioning a world where public transportation thrives, we can shape a future that is truly interconnected and sustainable for generations to come.


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