Chart of the Day: Operating Subsidies for Boston Area Transit

OK, so Boston isn’t in Minnesota. But I found this chart on a fascinating discussion of “social stratification in transit” a while ago on the Itinerant Urbanist blog, and thought I’d share it.

Heres’ the chart showing the per-passenger trip subsidies for the different subsets of Metro Boston transit system:

fy15-operating-subsidy philly

Note: If you look at the ridership numbers at the bottom of the chart, you see that the main transit system components are the subway (old-school light rail and heavy rail), bus, and commuter rail. For comparison’s sake, the entire Twin Cities transit system has about 85 million rides, less than a third of the size of Boston’s.

Anyway, the discussion on the Itinerant Urbanist blog revolves around the different rates of subsidy for commuter and “high speed” rail lines in suburban Philadelphia.  Here’s what the author, Sandy Johnston, has to say about the connection between transit modes and social stratification:

Indeed, what Americans call commuter rail is, arguably, a fundamentally inequitable mode reliant on social exclusion.  It’s a high-cost service whose fares are frequently unintegrated with other forms of transit and that runs only frequently enough to be useful to those who have significant flexibility in their schedule, or the privilege to define their own time management. But it has a powerful constituency that keeps it going–and just functional enough to suit their needs.

The fundamental inequity of American transportation policy is the privileging of automobile use and abuse over everything else, but too much of the inegalitarian stratification that defined transit before World War II still persists. Indeed, in some ways it may have gotten worse. And that’s something planners and transit advocates need to address.

Locally, while transit is still a largely marginal activity, this kind of stratification plays out in a few ways. Most obviously there are the “opt-out” buses going to the Southwestern suburbs. These buses are more expensive and segregated both geographically and symbolically from the rest of the system. You also have the “express vs. local” transit infrastructure landscape that, at least until some key stops were finally improved, made it clear in downtown Minneapolis who which kind of rider was a more valued customer.

And though they haven’t been built yet, there are a kind of stratification in the area’s light rail and BRT design and route priorities for the planned Blue, Green, and Gold lines.

PS: Blue, Green and Gold are the colors of the flag of Gabon.

Bill Lindeke

About Bill Lindeke

Pronouns: he/him

Bill Lindeke has writing blogging about sidewalks and cities since 2005, ever since he read Jane Jacobs. He is a lecturer in Urban Studies at the University of Minnesota Geography Department, the Cityscape columnist at Minnpost, and has written multiple books on local urban history. He was born in Minneapolis, but has spent most of his time in St Paul. Check out Twitter @BillLindeke or on Facebook.