In my recent travels across Portugal, I made good use of that country's investment in public transit, getting around with ease on buses, light rail and trolleys, undergrounds, and intercity and interegional rail lines. In one city, we even took a spin on free public bicycles.
Here in Minnesota, my trip to and from the airport was on the Hiawatha light rail. While that portion of the trip was also smooth and inexpensive, connections to the train took a bit more planning by this inner ring suburban dweller.
The differences between population density, lifestyle and systems coverage in the two countries point up some of the issues as we here in Minnesota debate the merits of various investments in our transportation infrastructure. Unfortunately, some of that debate is driven by assumptions rather than facts.
Growth & Justice will soon be adding a transportation analyst, so I'll leave the heavy data interpretation for later. But as we hear arguments proceeding along the lines of "transit is a boondoggle that highjacks needed spending for roads" versus "cars are an evil that must be restrained at all costs," it helps to bear a few facts in mind.
The Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) publishes an annual urban mobility study. Its most recent report [download pdf] on the Twin Cities, based on 2005 data, spells out the contribution of transit in reducing the costs of congestion. The TTI report says:
A critical reader will note that's less than a 1% increase and might argue that scrapping more transit spending therefore makes sense. But transit has more dimensions than simply how it effects travel time and congestion. It provides greater mobility and access to jobs for more of the population, and it stimulates different types of development and enables a wider choice of lifestyles.
Whether we expand transit or build more roads, it won