Despite the best of intentions, public transportation in the United States remains a pale shadow of what it could be—and what it currently is in many places, including developing countries. Is mass transit in America underfunded because we hate it, or do we hate public transit because it's so underdeveloped here?
There's more than one reason that mass transportation isn't what it should be, and we would argue that one side of the transit coin (it's underfunded) feeds the other side (that's why we don't like it).
01 of 07
It Takes Time
Like most Americans, any trip you take probably begins when you leave your house and head out in a car. Running errands or commuting to work might require a 30-minute drive, but on public transportation, that same trip could take up to twice as long, assuming you even have access to a bus or train. In today's hurry-up environment, each minute counts, and riding a bus becomes a leisure-class luxury that many workers simply can't afford.
One obvious solution is for mass transit operators to run more buses and schedule more express-service trains. But that takes money, and it's unlikely that public transit will get the money it needs to serve more people better.
02 of 07
Public transit means people, lots and lots of people whom you don't know. Given the breakdown in civility, etiquette, and simple consideration that seems epidemic these days, you can hardly fault someone who hesitates to plunge into a busload of people wearing cheap cologne, yammering on cell phones, throwing garbage on the floor, slopping food and drink on your seat.
The flip side, of course, is that not all people are lazy slobs, and countless friendships—and even romances—have started on trains and buses (ask any New Yorker). However, while an overwhelming majority of people are still pleasant and respectful, it only takes one nasty interaction to ruin a commute (again, ask any New Yorker).
03 of 07
There are times when you absolutely, positively have to be on time. Public transportation can help with that since trains and subways don't get caught in rush-hour traffic or delays caused by auto accidents. One flat tire, even on someone else's car, can ruin your whole day.
Buses, of course, travel on the same roads as cars—millions and millions of cars. If you happen to miss a train, you may need to wait an hour or longer for the next one. So it's a toss-up: Show up at the train station early, or risk not showing up on time at all.
04 of 07
Few Late-Night Options
Much of mass transit is designed and scheduled for the needs of the 9-to-5 office worker who leaves home early in the morning and comes home late in the afternoon. As a result, if you do anything after work—go to the gym, socialize with friends, shop for groceries or see a movie—public transportation quickly becomes an unattractive option.
For people who go out on weekends, mass transit is often absurdly inconvenient, since many buses and trains have a light weekend schedule if they run at all. The result? We drive. How many drunk-driving accidents could be avoided if people had the option of taking public transit after drinking?Continue to 5 of 7 below.
05 of 07
Public Transportation Doesn't Go There
Consider a large regional or international airport, an important transportation hub, to be sure. For reasons that defy logic, even the most sophisticated public transit networks in America rarely, if ever, go directly to an airport terminal. In most cases, you can take a bus or train to get near an airport, but then you must transfer to another shuttle or an "airtrain" to get you to your gate. For passengers rushing to make a flight, or carrying lots of luggage, mass transportation quickly becomes a sad joke.
06 of 07
It Isn't Cheap
One of the most compelling arguments in favor of public transit is its affordability. When compared to the costs of car ownership—gas, oil, tires, parking tickets, insurance, tolls, repairs, and maintenance, plus the cost of the car itself—mass transit quickly becomes a great, affordable option, but it still ain't cheap.
Consider, for example, the cost of a monthly pass on New York City's Metro-North train system, a safe, clean and reliable transit network. It costs hundreds of dollars each month, making it an option only for people who draw a substantial salary, and the cost goes up every year or two. Given this fact, plus the other hassles involved in public transportation, it's no wonder so many people continue to choke urban freeways with single-rider cars.
07 of 07
It Rarely Serves Rural Areas
I've saved the kicker for last. If you're wondering why mass transit remains the red-headed stepchild of government funding, here it is: It rarely serves rural areas. Despite their lower populations, rural areas are very well-represented in state and federal legislatures. As a result, when government budgets are under consideration, rural voters see public transit as a luxury that does nothing for them, so it often falls under the budget ax.