The U.S. Lags in High-Quality Transit Investment

While other countries are boosting investment in their light and heavy rail systems, transit projects in U.S. cities have slowed, signaling diminished commitment to transit expansion.

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January 25, 2023, 5:00 AM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Golden sunset view of New York City subway train on elevated track with Empire State Building in background

William Perugini / New York City train

While countries like Canada, Egypt, France, and others are increasing their investment in high-quality public transit, the United States is falling behind, with the kilometers of rail opened declining by roughly 30 percent between the 2000s and 2010s. Yonah Freemark analyzes the data in The Transport Politic.

According to data from the Transit Explorer (which excludes Australia and south and east Asia), the United States currently has the most kilometers of heavy or light metro rail. Freemark points out that about a third of this network is concentrated in the New York region. “But New York actually has fewer active heavy rail lines in service than it did in 1950,” and transit investment in the city and around the country has slowed in recent years. Neither New York or Chicago have plans to expand their systems in the coming years.

Freemark outlines the different efforts taking place around the world to improve transit. Cairo, Istanbul, Paris, and others are actively building new light rail lines, with Paris set to overtake London and New York for most rail kilometers. While U.S. cities like Los Angeles and Seattle have ambitious plans for expanding their transit systems, Freemark writes, “These conditions overall tell a story of declining US commitment to transit expansion in the context of large growth in other countries around the world.”

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