Public transportation fares are making a comeback in Los Angeles after being eliminated in March of 2020. Now, two years into the pandemic, residents are still struggling, especially with rising prices, goods shortages and wage fights across the nation. Free or fare-reduced public transportation is necessary now more than ever. The United States needs to shift from a car-dependent society towards public transportation, both to help those in our communities and aid against climate change affecting our planet.
Public transportation benefits everyone — not just working class, low-income communities who often make up the majority of riders. Compared to automobiles, public transportation reduces air pollution and traffic congestion. According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), just a single commuter switching from a private vehicle to public transportation can reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 20 pounds a day, or 4,800 pounds a year. Public transportation is also a relatively cheaper option for both individuals and communities. In a report published by The Future Is Public Transport, investing in public transportation could create 4.6 million new jobs by 2030, creating an influx in jobs for communities that need it.
But fewer and fewer Americans use public transportation consistently. Since 1990, bus ridership has decreased by 17%. More and more people are choosing to purchase multiple vehicles rather than using the public transit systems that are readily available.
Public transportation is integral to thousands of LA residents. However, ridership has been on the decline for years, despite the city’s increase in funding to improve the system.
Why is public transportation decreasing in popularity? As America at large tends to favor cars, public transportation systems often inherit a stigma that categorizes them as “unsafe,” “slow” and “inconvenient.” But the real issues lie in American infrastructure and local governance. In many cities like LA, the landscape favors a car-centric model rather than one that relies on public transportation, resulting in insufficient public transit systems, regardless of how necessary they are for working class communities. Riders frequently deal with concerns about safety, a lack of reliable information such as arrival times, how extensive routes reach within the city, and simply how to use public transit.
LA as well as other cities that prioritize cars over public transportation need to take these issues into consideration if they want public transportation to flourish. Concerns over crime are especially rampant in New York City, with 90% of subway riders in a survey citing safety as important in their decision of returning to riding. As a result, the mayor of NYC announced an increase in patrolling. While this is a viable solution, over-policing, especially in communities predominantly made up of people of color, may pose additional safety issues. For an increase in patrolling to work, a fine line must be drawn between protecting public safety and over-policing.
The lack of reliable transit information can be solved if cities make public transformation information easily accessible, whether by providing information in a multitude of languages or improving technology to adequately reflect accurate, up-to-date travel information.
LA has been making initiatives such as their LIFE and DASH programs, which incentivize low-income residents and students to utilize public transportation. Reducing fares could significantly encourage residents to make use of their local public transportation systems. For public transportation to work efficiently nationwide, more cities need to follow suit.
While it’s ultimately up to local governments to put in the work on public transit systems, residents themselves can also make small changes to support public transportation. Simply choosing buses, subway systems or trains over cars during more suitable commutes is one way we can contribute.
If governments and citizens can take the initiative to prioritize public transportation in American society, it can gradually replace means of car transportation, promoting an environmentally cleaner and more efficient way of traveling.
Camelia Heins is an Opinion Staff Writer. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.