Public Transit vs The Car

Public transit is a more efficient and economical way of moving people than the car.

Car vs The Bus

The average costs per lane mile of freeway is $10 million. The most number of cars that can travel on one lane of freeway per hour is 1800, or one car every two seconds. The average cost of a new car in 2017 was $33,000. The average number of people traveling in a car is 1.5.

Assuming that we have peak traffic, there will be 2700 people moving by car in a lane of traffic. In a city such as Seattle, on I-5, on average there are eight lanes of traffic, four lanes going each direction. Going one direction, there would be 7200 cars per hour, with 10800 people. The costs of buying all those cars would be $237 million. The four lanes per mile would cost $40 million.

If we have ten miles of freeway, eight lanes total, the costs of the lanes is $800 million. If an overpass/underpass + entrance/exit is roughly $30 million each, and one per mile means there are 11, then that costs $330 million. This doesn’t even include purchasing the right of way for an eight lane wide freeway. 14400 cars comes out to roughly $474 million. However, let’s say half the cars get off within the first five miles, and new cars get on to replace them. So the costs to buy the cars becomes almost $700 million. The total costs to move 10800 people each direction each hour by car comes out to over $1.8 billion.

A bi-articulated bus, such as those in Latin America, can carry 300 people. In a dedicated right of way bus lane, a bus every minute, or 60 buses an hour, would carry 18,000 people. The costs of two right of way bus lanes per mile would be $20 million, or $200 million for ten miles. At most, a bi-articulated bus is $1 million. So 120 buses, at the high end, would be $120 million. A center of the road BRT station would be $10 million, so 11 stations would be $110 million. Since the overpasses/underpasses don’t need entrances and exits, they go from $30 million to $15 million. So, $165 million instead of $330 million. At the end of the day, using BRT to move 21600 people per hour in a ten mile span would cost $595 million, compared to the $1.8 billion costs of infrastructure required to move the same number of people by car.

So, not only does BRT take up less public space than the car, not only does it bring the community together compared to the individualistic and sociopathic car, not only is it less environmentally harmful, but it is also cheaper economically.

Car vs Light Rail

I’ve already done the numbers for the car, so I’ll just focus on light rail here. The average costs per mile for a pair of light rail tracks is $80 million. So $800 million for ten miles. A station, on average, is around $50 million. So, 11 stations is $550 million. So, $1.35 billion for a ten mile light rail line. A four car light rail train can carry 800 people. A high capacity light rail route can have one train every 72 seconds, which would move 40,000 people per hour. However, even just to low ball it, one train every 90 seconds would move 32,000 people each direction per hour.
To move the same number of people by car would require over 20,000 cars to be bought each direction, so 40,000 cars both directions, and it’d require 12 lanes of traffic going each direction. You’d need a 24 lane wide freeway. The freeway cost itself would be $2.4 billion for ten miles. The costs of buying all the cars would be near $1.5 billion. So now we’re up to $3.9 billion. The overpasses/underpasses would be $90 million each at minimum, so $990 million for 11. Now up to almost $5 billion just for ten miles. You get the idea.

Car vs High Speed Rail

High speed rail, while it hasn’t been built yet in the U.S, rough estimates are about $85 million per mile. If you have trains like the TGV in France, which for now are the fastest trains in the world, you’d have trains running at 220mph. Let’s say though, for the sake of easy math here, your HSR trains go 180mph. Cars go 60mph. So, 180 miles of track would be $15.3 billion. Two stations, at $100 million each, equals $200 million. I don’t know the costs of the trains, but I’m not doing the train vs car costs here. Anyways, so about $15.5 billion for 180 miles of high speed rail, or a one hour train ride.

At the narrowest, a freeway is four lanes. So four lanes for 180 miles is $7.2 billion. 1800 cars per lane, 1.5 people per car, so in any mile of freeway, 5400 people are moving by car each hour. A car goes 60mph, so it takes three hours to drive the 180 miles. A double train set of a TGV two deck train carries 1,000 people. At most, 15 trains per hour, or one every four minutes. So 15,000 people move each direction every hour by high speed rail, while it takes the first 5400 people by car three hours. By the time the first 5400 people by car arrive at the other city, the high speed rail trains would’ve already carried 45,000 people to that city. To move 15,000 people by car on two lanes of traffic, it’d take 5 hours, at which point 75,000 people would’ve travelled by train. Or, if you expand the freeway to meet the demand of 15,000 travelling by car, it’d require six lanes of traffic each direction, so 12 lanes total instead of four. At which point, the costs of the freeway for 180 miles becomes $21.6 billion.

In other words, to move the same number of people, high speed rail is cheaper than roads/freeways for cars. At a minimum, compared to a four lane freeway, while high speed rail is more expensive by slightly more than double the price, it can move nearly three times more people in 1/3 the time. Meaning that, per person, high speed rail is cheaper.

So yea, long story short, just in terms of economics, building public transit is actually cheaper and more efficient than building infrastructure for cars. Public transit moves more people using up less public space at a cheaper price than cars do. That’s not even taking into account the psychological benefits of public transit vs the car, how cars are anti-feminist, the environmental benefits of public transit compared to the car and many other factors. So yea, any time you hear people complain about the costs of public transit and they argue for expanded freeways or roads, call them out on their bullshit. Public transit is actually cheaper than cars.

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