Why American public transit is so bad | 2020 Election

Published on November 9, 2022

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Most Americans have no choice but to drive. How do we change that?

Watch more 2020 US election explainers at http://vox.com/ElectionVideos

In the middle of the 20th century, the US government made a decision that would transform American cities: It built a huge system of interstate highways, many of which went right through the downtowns of its biggest cities.

This sealed the country’s fate as a car culture, and today we’re seeing the results. In most cities, it’s extremely difficult to get around without a car, in part due to public transit systems built to serve an outdated commute. And when our politics turn to infrastructure, the government often favors building new roads and highways instead of improving and expanding public transportation.

The result is a system that forces more Americans to drive, at the expense of those who rely on public transit. It’s also the biggest contributor to our country’s carbon footprint. Fixing that over the long term will require a reimagining of American cities and towns. But there’s also a way that, if we wanted to, we could improve American transit systems, and get more people riding them, in a matter of weeks.

This was the seventh in our series of 2020 election explainers, all based on viewer suggestions. Watch the others, which cover the stakes of the election on:
1) Climate change: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfAXbGInwno
2) Voting rights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=al3qY8ZMHEc
3) Reproductive health: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Bzuk13Ftxgo
4) Public schools: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lFJ37ri-Saw
5) Police reform: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SHePglP28CM
6) America’s role in the world: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S5LrQv496Iw
7) Transportation: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-ZDZtBRTyeI
8) LGBTQ rights: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xRnpUptf7E0
9) The eviction crisis: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F07yTI0J3Qk

For Jonathan English’s research comparing Canadian and US public transit: https://www.bloomberg.com/news/features/2018-08-31/why-is-american-mass-transit-so-bad-it-s-a-long-story

For research on suburban commutes from the Brookings Institution’s Adie Tomer, Joseph Kane, and Jennifer S. Vey: https://www.brookings.edu/interactives/connecting-people-and-places-exploring-new-measures-of-travel-behavior/

For more of Vox’s coverage on public transportation: https://www.vox.com/2015/8/10/9118199/public-transportation-subway-buses

For more historical maps on how the federal highway system transformed cities: http://iqc.ou.edu/2014/12/12/60yrsmidwest/

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