Excerpt: How Individualism Harms Public Transit

Jarrett Walker calls for a more social approach to transit planning.

1 minute read

February 14, 2024, 12:00 PM PST

By Diana Ionescu @aworkoffiction


Central hall at Grand Central Station, New York City.

Grand Central Station, New York City. | surpasspro / Adobe Stock

In an excerpt from his book, Human Transit, Revised Edition: How Clearer Thinking about Public Transit Can Enrich Our Communities and Our Lives, published in Next City, Jarrett Walker argues that American individualism is harming the nation’s public transit systems.

Using a quote from Elon Musk as an example, Walker notes that “With adequate funding and in the context of good city planning, public transit can do all of these things for vast numbers of people, though not for everyone and possibly not for Elon Musk.”

In fact, the way transit forces you to interact in some small way with strangers is one of its strengths. “At its most successful, a transit system’s ridership is as diverse as the city or community it serves. It’s full of all kinds of people making all kinds of trips, all being a bunch of random strangers to each other.”

When transit agencies struggle to create specialized services for various groups of people, the system as a whole can suffer from inefficiency.  Walker recommends that, instead of considering user groups separately, “we must think of patterns that many different people will find useful, so that all those people end up on the same vehicle, sharing the expensive time of a single driver.” The diversity of a transit system’s ridership, for Walker, is indicative of its success.

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