City and Regional Planning Department
BS in City and Regional Planning
Public transportation is an important part of the U.S. transportation system. After losing popularity in the U.S. during the mid-20th century, public transportation has been making a strong comeback in major metropolitan areas since the 1990s. In an effort to reduce inner-city traffic congestion, promote environmentally sustainable development patterns, rejuvenate decaying central business districts, and take advantage of all the other externalities of public transportation (i.e., reduced air pollution, a smaller urban footprint reducing sprawl, etc.), urban areas have been actively expanding their existing systems or building completely new systems. Despite the strong interest in reinvesting in public transportation and a growth in ridership in real terms, transit agencies in the U.S. have traditionally been plagued with low ridership relative to other travel modes, and limited budgets, and often have operating deficits on an annual basis. Governments at all levels, while supportive of expanding transit systems and willing to bear the operating deficits, become fiscally strained during times of economic slowdown and have had to shuffle transit investments with other public priorities. This can delay and indefinitely stop transit investments for years, costing the public the benefits of public transportation. A look into East Asian cities, namely Tokyo, Japan, and Hong Kong reveals a different approach in funding public transportation. The model used in the two cities has been in use for decades and has resulted in public transportation systems that are extensive and well-utilized. The model, called R + P, involves transit operators acting as both the infrastructure operator and station area designer, developer, and manager. The R + P model is institutionally different from that of the U.S., and may hold lessons for U.S. policymakers when determining future financing arrangements for public transportation. R + P may aid in the eventual goal of establishing extensive and heavily used transit systems in major U.S. metropolitan areas, and improve the quality of life for the general public.