Inflation and Transportation

Globally, people rarely use public transportation because of morality; they use it because it is cheap. The reason it’s cheaper to take the bus than to drive in Russia, for example, is not because the government there cares about reducing emissions. It’s because transit utilizes resources more efficiently, and frees up resources to be used on other projects, like war.

The data demonstrates that this rule applies to Americans. When factoring in maintenance, car payments, fuel and insurance, owning and operating a car costs roughly $10,000 per year in the United States on average. Let’s compare a daily commute from the suburb of Kent to Seattle, with driving vs transit. A regional monthly transit pass costs $144 and covers every form of transit: all busses, light rail, commuter rail, water taxis, monorail, everything, plus or minus a dollar here or there for the occasional trip off the beaten path. The result is roughly $1,500 a year versus $10,000 a year. By switching to transit, the average American would give themselves an $8,500 raise.

Motorists may protest and claim their expenses are lower based on careful driving habits and short trips. They are wrong. A commuter from Kent who used their car exclusively to drive 20 miles to work in central Seattle, never paid for parking, made absolutely no other trips, performed absolutely no maintenance, got their car for free, didn’t register their vehicle, never paid for insurance, and avoided all accidents while driving a vehicle with the average mpg of 27.5 would still come out $200 ahead by switching to transit and avoiding the price of fuel alone.

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Reasonable Transit Expectations

In the 1980s, Domino’s declared 30 minutes too long to wait for a pizza delivery. Is it reasonable to expect a person to wait for a bus longer than it would take for them to order and receive a pizza to said bus stop? No.

Originally, I was born and raised in a car-dependent Chicago suburb before living outside the United States for six years teaching English as a Second Language, where I learned that life based around rail and bus timetables is both financially and psychologically more liberating than car dependency. I first arrived in Washington State in 2022 to obtain my Master’s in Education from Pacific Lutheran University in Parkland, as both the state and university have a good reputation for education, especially compared to my home state of Illinois.

Throughout the entirety of my year-long program I lived in Parkland without a car. This decision forced me to quickly familiarize myself with Washington’s current transit network and left me to rely on a bicycle more than I had anticipated (to the benefit of my physique). Pierce Transit’s route 1 along Pacific Avenue became my lifeline, both as a connection to central Tacoma and for transfers to Sound Transit’s 594 to Seattle. Speaking with bus drivers and transit users, I learned not only that Pacific Avenue’s route 1 is straining to meet demand, but Parkland was originally designed around a transit corridor along that very route—it had initially hosted regular tram service. In short, I was living in a streetcar suburb with no streetcar, which explains why demand for the 1 is naturally so high and why two to four cars piled up in front of every house left me with a sense of claustrophobia despite the quiet streets and quaint little homes.

Route 1 plugs multiple communities into the system, providing them with easy access to central Tacoma and Sound Transit’s regional network. It has the potential to facilitate substantially more development with adequate upgrades. North (central Tacoma) is left and south (Spanaway) is right in this image. Source: Pierce Transit
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