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  • This is Indiana, and this is Scotland.

  • Both have a similar number of inhabitants, a similar size, and a similar population density.

  • But here's Indiana's public transportation system, and here's Scotland's.

  • You want to get to Cupar, a town of 9,000 30 miles from the capital?

  • That'll take you 55 minutes on a train that leaves every 30 minutes or an hour and 40

  • minutes on a bus that leaves every 40.

  • You want to get to Anderson, a town of 50,000 30 miles from Indiana's capital?

  • Well, you're out of luck.

  • The only option is the car.

  • Antiquated technology, safety concerns, crumbling infrastructure, and nonexistenceit's

  • not hard to argue that the US public transportation network is just not good.

  • Vast swaths of the US have no option but to drive because the alternative just is not

  • there.

  • This has consequences on the environment, on economic mobility, on where people live,

  • the consequences of America's lack of solid public transportation almost defines American

  • culture.

  • But it wasn't always like this.

  • The United States once had the best public transportation system in the world.

  • It was a the admiration of countries worldwide and an essential factor allowing for the successful

  • western expansion of the country.

  • It all started with thisthe horsecar.

  • Now, there were urban transportation systems before these horse drawn trams came along,

  • but they weren't cheap and they weren't fast.

  • Roads generally weren't paved and there just wasn't the economic demand for high

  • frequency service because these carriages were rarely faster than walking.

  • But on rails, these horsecars were fast and one horse could pull a full load of passengers

  • thanks to the rails.

  • In its heyday, there were over 6,000 miles of horsecar lines in the US.

  • In comparison, the combined mileage of every tram, subway, light rail, and commuter rail

  • system in the US nowadays is 5,416.

  • In 1880, 50 million people lived in the US.

  • Today, over 320 million.

  • Around the turn of the century, many of those horsecar systems were electrified.

  • There were then 11,000 miles of streetcar track nationwide.

  • The systems were absolutely everywhere.

  • Even tiny towns like Bangor, Maine and Berlin, New Hampshire had streetcars.

  • So what happened?

  • How did the US go from having 11,000 miles of streetcar to 200?

  • How did the US go from having solid public transportation in towns big and small across

  • the country to how it is today?

  • The decline of the streetcar began just after the turn of the century.

  • That was when the automobile came around.

  • By 1920, the car was starting to get to an attainable price-point for the everyday individual.

  • That was the real threat for the streetcarnot cars, but economical cars.

  • The streetcar received another blow in 1929—the great depression.

  • There were fewer people with jobs which meant fewer people who needed to commute and fewer

  • people who had the money to pay for transport so many lines were just not profitable anymore

  • and closed.

  • But then the streetcar received a stay of executionWorld War Two.

  • You see, during World War Two, the US had the lowest unemployment rate in historyas

  • low as 1.2%.

  • There were tons of factory jobs to support the war so practically everyone who wanted

  • a job had a job.

  • That meant there were tons more people now going to and from work, and, even better for

  • the streetcar, there were rations going on on rubber and gas which diminished the popularity

  • of the car.

  • But something else was going on through all of that.

  • Something more sinister.

  • Sometime in the 1920s, automobile technology became advanced enough that the bus became

  • cheaper to operate than the streetcar.

  • Streetcars cost very little to power, but they do require a lot of infrastructure from

  • overhead lines to track.

  • Buses were more flexible and required almost no infrastructure.

  • And the bus had some powerful friends, the automobile companies, or more specifically,

  • General Motors.

  • General Motors went and bought dozens of small streetcar companies across the nation and

  • turned them into bus companies.

  • They removed hundreds of miles of track across the US and supported other companies doing

  • the same, but its not like they didn't have a good reason to do this.

  • These streetcars were not economically advantageous.

  • Buses were faster, cheaper, and at the time, they were the modern and fresh transportation

  • method that the public wanted.

  • Nearly every streetcar system nationwide was replaced with a bus system.

  • In addition, the streetcar companies were almost all commercial so if and when they

  • failed, many local governments set up public, subsidized bus companies.

  • So that's how transportation got bad, but why did it stay bad?

  • Well, mostly because of the car.

  • America is the country of the car.

  • It grew up as the car grew up and so its cities were built for cars.

  • Think Dallas, Phoenix, Los Angelesyou can't survive in these cities without a car.

  • Remember, the United States is centered around the idea of personal freedom.

  • With a car, you can go anywhere at anytime, so politically, cars have historically been

  • associated with the idea of personal freedom.

  • Just like the Republican party votes to have strong national defense, allow gun ownership,

  • and preserve small government in order to promote personal freedom, they have always

  • worked to promote the usage and ownership of cars.

  • This means they often voted in favor of subsidies helping the auto industry, most often in the

  • form of indirect subsidies lowering the cost of gas.

  • Now, that was fine when cities were small, highways were new, gas was cheap, and climate

  • change wasn't even a concept, but that's not the case anymore.

  • Cities are just of a size where they literally cannot support their entire population driving.

  • You can't fit more road infrastructure in many cites, but you can fit more public transportation.

  • Cars were available to the common American much earlier than the common European, so

  • the US set road policies early that allowed for large, smooth, well-functioning roads.

  • While the US was building its magnificent roads, Europe was building their public transportation

  • systems.

  • The high car usage in the US even has to do with zoning.

  • You see, European cities tend to have less strict zoning laws which allow for businesses

  • and housing to intermingle.

  • The US zones its cities much more strictly.

  • Houses are next to houses and businesses are next to businesses which means that the distances

  • between houses and shops in the US is much greater.

  • Therefore, Americans have to go further more often.

  • The most demonstrative fact is how the two places approach parking.

  • In the US, zoning laws specify a minimum number of parking spaces per building.

  • In Europe, the laws specify a maximum number of parking spaces.

  • The three cities with the three lowest car-ownership rates in the US all have something in common.

  • Boston, New York, and DC, are all old, rather compact cities with decent public transportation

  • systems.

  • Since they were cities before the car, they're built much more like the European cities that

  • have such good public transportation systems today.

  • Simplified, public transportation gets worse as you go further west since western cities

  • are newer.

  • But here's the most important sentence of this entire video: access to transportation

  • is the single most important factor in an individual's ability to escape poverty.

  • That is not a subjective claim, that is a fact that emerged from a Harvard study.

  • Someone who lives right by a subway stop is astronomically more likely to find a high-paying

  • job than someone who doesn't have a way to get around.

  • Individuals in poverty generally live in poor neighborhoods with few job opportunities,

  • but with reliable, accessible, and inexpensive public transportation these individuals can

  • get all across their city to where the jobs are.

  • So, a good way to evaluate the effectiveness of a public transportation system is by how

  • well it serves the poor.

  • DC, for example, does a good job of this.

  • The poorest neighborhoods have the greatest proportion of their residents within a 10-minute

  • walk of a metro station while the richest neighborhoods have the smallest proportion.

  • Hand-in-hand with their move back into the cities, millennials are shunning cars.

  • Car ownership among young people is at historic lows and the urban youth is relying more and

  • more on public transport.

  • Some cities like, Portland, Kansas City, Detroit, and DC are turning back to streetcars.

  • Done right, streetcars can drive huge increases in economic development.

  • They're more of a symbol of modernization that entices residents, developers, and businesses

  • to areas.

  • Portland, for example, has had an estimated $5 billion in extra economic development thanks

  • to its streetcar.

  • New streetcar systems are being built all across the US in cities like Milwaukee and

  • Oklahoma city since they're finally making money againnot from their fares, but from

  • the jobs brought by their existence.

  • People didn't want them a century ago, but streetcars finally make sense again.

  • Public transportation is instrumentally important to the success of cities.

  • You can almost be sure that a good city will have good public transportation and a bad

  • city will have bad public transportation.

  • Public transportation increases economic mobility, decreases carbon footprints, and increases

  • economic development so the only question is, why not build more of it?

  • One of the most common requests I receive is for a behind-the-scenes video and I've

  • finally made one.

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Why Public Transportation Sucks in the US

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    joey joey posted on 2021/06/11
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