What's Hindering Regional Transportation in the U.S.?

Public transportation that serves regional areas makes sense, but the United States has been slow to pursue strategies and policies that foster these types of systems.

September 29, 2019, 1:00 PM PDT

By Camille Fink


Chicago Commuter Rail

Rudy Balasko / Shutterstock

Yonah Freemark writes that regional transit systems are an important way to create effective and robust mobility networks. In places like Germany and France, commuter rail has been integrated into larger systems offering fast and frequent service that connects suburbs and downtowns.

"These regional rail services have transformed metropolitan travel in the places where they’ve been implemented because they make show-up-and-go, fast service available to whole regional populations, not just those who live in center cities, where frequent local rail and bus options are available," says Freemark.

But regional transportation is not characteristic of transit networks in the United States, and Freemark uses Chicago as a case study, where the Chicago Transit Authority operates buses and light rail and Metra runs commuter rail service. While the two agencies receive funding from the same sources, they have been set up as competitors.

And political control of the agencies is also part of the issue, notes Freemark. As a result, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who controls the CTA, opposed a proposal to lower fares on Metra to make it more accessible to riders because of the potential decrease in CTA ridership that would result.

Freemark urges a rethinking of the goal of public transit. If it is about providing accessible, affordable mobility options, then developing regional transportation needs to be the focus. "Finding the political will to surmount these institutional constraints and develop regional rail should be a priority in virtually every metropolitan area," he adds.

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