Public Transit Proves Costly to Taxpayers and the Environment

June 3, 2010 2:07PM

NASHVILLE – The Tennessee Center for Policy Research today released a policy report in conjunction with transportation expert Randal O’Toole. The report, titled Tackling Public Transit in Tennessee, affirms that Tennessee’s public transit system has provided little in the way of cost or environmental efficiency. Seventeen years of expense data from the Federal Transit Administration show that not only are automobiles a more cost-effective transportation option, but they also release far fewer greenhouse gases into the environment. “Public transit is often portrayed as a low-cost, energy-efficient alternative to auto driving. In reality, transit is much more costly than driving and requires huge subsidies to attract any riders at all,” said O’Toole in the report. The average transit cost per passenger mile is $1.21, while driving costs just $0.23. Similarly, the average transit subsidy per passenger mile is $1.04, where driving is subsidized merely $0.01 per passenger mile. O’Toole explained, “Tennessee transit riders pay an average of less than 70 cents every time they board a bus, while taxpayers pay an average of more than $4 to support that trip.” The current transportation system also has few benefits for the environment. Transit options release approximately 0.4 more pounds of CO2 into the environment than the average car. The insufficient amount of filled seats in transport vehicles such as buses, the Memphis trolley and the Music City Star contribute to each one’s failures to be energy-efficient. By ending highway subsidies, Congress would eliminate the excuse to subsidize inefficient rail transit. Contracting out and privatizing the transit industry would save tax dollars as well as encourage private operators to invest in the most efficient forms of transportation. Also, providing vouchers to the small percentage of Tennesseans who do not have access or the ability to drive would present a significantly smaller burden on taxpayers than the current system. “In the end,” O’Toole said, “only free market reforms will save Tennessee taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars while truly improving transit services for most people.” The policy report can be read in its entirety here:


The Tennessee Center for Policy Research is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization committed to achieving a freer, more prosperous Tennessee through the ideas of liberty.