What's the Best Way for the Masses to Get Around?
Originally published on September 13, 2017
For centuries, cities have provided transportation for their citizens to be able to get around. Most cities are just too big for walking to always be a viable option, so a mass transportation system is a must. Yet today, many of cities have become so congested with traffic that trying to drive yourself around the city blocks has become more of a hassle than it’s worth. New York City offers many different options, but the majority of people use regional train systems to get into the city, then get around either on buses or the subway. Each city does it differently: west coast cities like San Francisco and Seattle use street cars or a monorail system to provide transportation around the city. But all these options can add up in the city budget, begging the question: what is the most economical means of transportation for a city to provide its citizens?
In New York alone, over 2 million people will ride a bus on a given weekday. Each bus carries around 50-60 people at its maximum load - people getting to and from work, school, or wherever else they need. Consider a typical bus in New York: it will run 81 miles a day and a grand total over 140,000 miles for the total fleet. That’s a lot of wear and tear on the buses that have to be maintained often to make sure they are a safe way to travel. A new bus that runs on diesel will cost the city anywhere from $300,000 to $600,000. If an all-electric bus were to become available, however, it could save a city a huge amount of money. Many cities are hoping for electric buses to become a viable option to reduce operating costs, but that technology may still be some ways off. considering that a typical bus in New York will run 81 miles a day and a grand total over 140,000 miles for the total fleet. That’s a lot of wear and tear on the buses that have to be maintained often to make sure they are a safe way to travel. If an all-electric bus were to become available it could save a city a huge amount of money There are plenty of options in the works, with one bus’s range estimated at up to 700 miles on a single charge, but the cost per bus is still too high to make it viable for the city to convert its fleet.
The Subway system in New York is very similar but has a much higher upfront cost. To put in a subway system can be very costly. Around 60% of New York’s subway runs underground, requiring a large amount of time spent boring out new tunnels under the massive city. Each car for a subway train can cost up to $1.3 million, with a capacity of around 50-60 people per car. Since a subway system runs on electricity, it saves the city some money, with an average cost of around $100 per hour. With around 5.7 million people riding the subway every day in New York, the subway is the most popular method of transportation in the city. Yet each subway car can travel just over 100,000 miles before it will need to come out of service and undergo a large overhaul to bring it back to proper standards. As the subway system in New York ages, the upkeep is getting very expensive. In July, the head of the MTA announced that there would have to be a $836 million short term repair plan, with another $8 billion needed for long term repairs. Without plans to increase ticket prices all of that money will need to come from the city, and thus the tax payers.
Many West Coast cities take advantage of surface transportation via street car or monorail. These systems are very similar to subway systems, but don’t require any of the tunnels under the city and therefore require significantly less maintenance to keep them running. However, since there aren’t extra streets or railways for street cars, they fall under the same problems that face drivers with congestions and traffic - in some cases, it may not save its passengers time when commuting versus driving themselves. Street cars can carry the same number of passengers as a bus or subway car but are only as fast as a bus. Street cars and monorails are also restricted in their paths, as they still have to follow a rail. Buses have more freedom if traffic hits or in the case of a road closure. Monorails give the advantage of above street transportation and generally are much quicker than street cars. However, there is a much higher cost to constructing a monorail.
Overall it seems that the best option would be to invest in the future of electric buses, but every form of public transportation has its pros and cons. In a world of constantly developing and changing cityscapes, it is hard to see the future needs of the city for its public transportation. Public transportation routes have the tendency to bring more business and higher-end housing along their routes. Each city has to decide what is the best option for their citizens. As systems age and needs change, we will most likely see a combination of different methods of transportation spanning cities and giving consumers the option to choose… hopefully not at the expense of an arm and a leg to the taxpayers.
Brassard, Peter. “Why a Monorail Is Better than a Streetcar.” Greater City Providence, 5 Sept. 2012, www.gcpvd.org/2010/09/17/why-a-monorail-is-better-than-a-streetcar/.
Reinwald, Christian, and Greg Mocker. “Fixing the Subway Will Cost Billions, but MTA Head Says No New Fare Increases Now.” New York's PIX11 / WPIX-TV, 25 July 2017, pix11.com/2017/07/25/fixing-the-subway-could-cost-9-billion-but-mta-head-says-no-new-fare-increases/.
MacKechnie, Christopher. “How Much Does It Cost to Purchase and Operate a Bus?” ThoughtCo, 10 July 2017, www.thoughtco.com/bus-cost-to-purchase-and-operate-2798845.
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