Public transit is often viewed as a benefit to the people who use it but, because federal transit funding requires local match, as an economic cost to the local community. In absence of objective information about the relative magnitude of costs and benefits, local officials and constituents find it difficult to determine whether, and to what extent, to invest in public transit.
Costs of operating public transit are well documented, but the economic benefits can be more difficult to quantify. Direct economic benefits include employment of a variety of positions including drivers, mechanics, dispatchers, bookkeepers, and program directors. In addition, transit agencies purchase fuel, repairs, insurance, and other items that contribute to the local economy. Providing access to employment, education, commerce, and health care also contribute to the economic vitality of both the riders and the communities served. The availability of public transit allows some riders to obtain services and maintain residency in smaller, more affordable communities and enables communities to operate facilities-such as health care and assisted living-that depend upon transportation services to aid their clientele. This improves access to affordable social care and avoids more expensive public and private care alternatives. In turn, these services contribute substantially to local economies. In many cases, public transit provides connection to intercity bus service or constitutes the only available substitute for retired intercity service.
Other societal benefits are likewise attributed to public transit. Access to education, employment, and health care contributes to the personal welfare of riders and the social fabric of communities. Transit can provide safer travel for riders, especially the young, elderly, and disabled, and reduce fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. These benefits, as well as economic benefits, may be gaining significance in light of economic and demographic changes within the state.
Local and state governments, transit agencies, and local constituencies need credible and objective information on costs as well as economic and societal benefits to support their decisions regarding investment in public transportation.