Chart of the Day: Transit vs. Highway Spending (Different Gov’t Levels)

Here’s another one from the Pew Report that I’ve been battering you over the head with all week long. This one compares highway v. transit spending ratios at different levels of government.


This doesn’t really capture how geographically distributed transit spending might be. I’d venture to guess that the majority of it is concentrated in a few large cities, but I might be wrong. This asymmetrical ratio is one big reason why our transit mode share in the US remains so small. is a non-profit and is volunteer run. We rely on your support to keep the servers running. If you value what you read, please consider becoming a member.

6 Responses to Chart of the Day: Transit vs. Highway Spending (Different Gov’t Levels)

  1. Mike Sonn
    mikesonn October 2, 2014 at 8:31 am #

    I wish the 5 suburban counties complaining actually led to a revaluation of our spending habits and a conclusion that they will actually get less funding in the future, not more.

  2. David Levinson
    David Levinson October 2, 2014 at 9:49 am #

    The more important point is that transit spending >> transit mode share. Sure there is mutual causality, but spending is about 4 times commute mode share (and more than that for non-commute), which is a big, huge, enormous ol’ subsidy.

    There is little evidence increasing spending in the way that it has been increased (i.e. keeping with the same decision making processes we have used for 40 years) will do much to move mode share to anywhere near the share of spending.

    Of course more service will increase mode share, but compare the level of spending on walking and biking with their mode shares. If you want to take mode share from the car, pouring into big transit capital projects (serving suburban markets) is one of the least effective things you can do.

    Another way to think about, most transit spending thus far has been greenwashing for the construction industries and labor unions.

    • Alex Cecchini
      Alex Cecchini October 2, 2014 at 10:10 am #

      This was my thought. If you instead showed this chart as the difference between costs and revenues (subsidy) for roads vs transit, then divided it by user I would guess the chart would change dramatically.

      Of course, this stems mostly from investments made from 1950 (even earlier) through the 1990s that complemented changes in how new land was developed (while regulations simultaneously limited how existing land was re-developed). So we have a system with sunk costs and sunk population centers. If we stop building $250million freeways to cornfields for low-intensity development and instead focus on re-thinking zoning within suburbs and especially the core cities (with targeted walk/bike improvements and low-cost systemwide transit improvements), we’d be much better off than swinging for the fences trying to compete for mode share.

      • Alex Cecchini
        Alex Cecchini October 2, 2014 at 10:15 am #

        (I also think the chart would change again if you included all negative externalities per user for both modes)

        • Bill Lindeke
          Bill Lindeke October 2, 2014 at 3:28 pm #

          This is my thought too, and that is a BIG can of worms. Still, David’s point is a good one.


  1. Sunday Summary – October 5, 2014 | - October 5, 2014

    […] and maps: We got more charts with Federal Highway Trust Fund Projections, Transit vs. Highway Spending (Different Gov’t Levels), Intergovernmental Transportation Funding Flows and Road Funding Sources at Different Governmental […]

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