Most cities find that transit cannot achieve its goals of social change, according to MTI.

Most cities find that transit cannot achieve its goals of social change, according to MTI.

Photo: MTI

The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) perspective, "What is Transit: It’s Time to Decide," examined that transit cannot be tasked with solving multiple social issues and should instead follow a narrower, financially sustainable path forward that can also lead to viable social change. 

Transit frequently fails to work as a public service or as an adequate alternative to driving and continues to struggle financially because communities do not want to burden vulnerable transit users with the full cost of transportation, according to MTI's news release. This means most cities find that transit cannot achieve its goals of social change.

MTI said there are several paths forward to improve how the system operates, with two different objectives:

  • Transit as a business. Ideally, a transit agency should have an objective very similar to other purveyors of private goods and services: to provide a product that satisfies its customers. If the agency achieves this objective, it will likely also find that demand for its product will increase, thus satisfying many other aims. But the first step is to put out a good product — first by prioritizing customer service.
  • Transit as a public service. If transit is going to act as a public service, then it should be funded explicitly for that purpose, just as we fund other public services, without fares. When provided with libraries, parks, schools, and fire departments, people are not asked to pay per use. Instead, taxes are used to ensure that these services exist, that (hopefully) they are delivered effectively, and that anyone can use them as needed.

“One method to find the right path forward for transit is to deal directly with funding first. The method by which revenue for public services is raised has a substantial impact on how it is spent. For example, the federal government has used a gas tax to fund much of its transportation investments over the last 60-plus years. This could be a way to financial stability for transit in the United States,” explained the authors.

MTI concluded that this is an ideal time to have a conversation about transit’s purpose and to focus the mission and funding of transit agencies on achievable goals to ensure transit is serving everyone in our communities and becoming even more accessible, efficient, and sustainable in the future.

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