Reason #7 Most Americans Don’t Ride Transit
It Doesn’t Carry Freight

Carrying large packages, suitcases, or shopping bags on transit is awkward at best and impossible at worst. Anyone who expects to travel with such cargo, even if only some of the time, will do best with a car.

In 2007, Ikea opened its first store in Portland. It is 280,000 square feet, has around a thousand parking spaces, and is near a light-rail station. How many people who plan to do more than just window shop do you imagine carry their purchases home on the light rail?

Drag right to see the Cascades light-rail station, which is much further from Ikea than any of the parking spaces.

The land was available for Ikea because the city of Portland had given it to Bechtel in 2001 as partial payment for its no-bid contract for constructing the airport light-rail line. The city zoned the land for small-box retail, because who would want to take a light rail to a big-box store like Wal-Mart? It turned out the real question was: who would build small-box stores in a shopping area with no big-box anchor stores? The answer was no one, so Portland reluctantly rezoned the land to allow for two big-box stores so long as neither of them were Wal-Mart. Apparently, Portlanders were okay with a store selling cheap furniture made in Asia if the store is from Sweden, but not from Arkansas.

Fifteen American airports are served by rail transit lines. Yet few if any of these lines have baggage racks or any other convenient place to put luggage. Just 15 percent of air travelers take the train to Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport, and just 12 percent take the train to Boston’s Logan Airport. As near as I can determine, it is less than 10 percent for every other airport. Most of the riders on airport trains are airport or airline employees.

Unless you go grocery shopping every day, it simply isn’t feasible to carry your purchases on transit. A bicycle with large panniers can carry more groceries than can easily be carried on a bus or train.

Moving to a new home? Buying gardening supplies? Taking a load to the dump recycling station? Transit’s no help. Most people don’t even trust transit to bring their dry cleaning home (at least, I’ve never seen anyone carrying dry-cleaned clothes on the transit lines I’ve been on).

People don’t carry Ikea furniture or ten bags of groceries on every trip they take. But those who sometimes do will probably have a car to do it in. As previously pointed out here, once most people have a car, it becomes their mode of choice for nearly all travel that is beyond walking distances.


9 thoughts on “Reason #7 Most Americans Don’t Ride Transit
It Doesn’t Carry Freight

  1. Sandy Teal

    Not to mention that in most “transit friendly” cities, you would have to carry around 3-5 moldy smelly reuseable grocery bags with you on every trip every day if you want to stop off and buy anything on your transit trip. And don’t you dare take up two seats on the train for your stuff either.

  2. OFP2003

    Correct. At least during rush hour I would put the Reagan Airport percentage much lower than 10%. However, it’s only on special occasions that you have to take stuff to the office like cooked food for Thanksgiving or Christmas office parties. But, of course, that’s not what you are addressing, it’s all my other transportation where I’m hauling small amounts of “cargo” that I would hope and pray that I would never have to do it on transit.
    What’s funny is you can always tell an out-of-towner arriving at Reagan from the locals returning home: they always have one hand on their luggage like someone is going to rush up and snatch it away from them.
    What a mess, making a product that people want is how capitalism works. You don’t make people use the mouse trap you think is best for them….. you give people what they want or something better that they like even more.

  3. LazyReader

    If it were one bag of groceries I can just imagine, a loaf of french bread, some apples, celery the shopper wearing a french beret. Stereotypical urbanite.

    Is it just me or does it seem like the antiplanner is placing the final nail in the coffin that is transit. Spending years debunking most transit and planning myths… he seems to putting out his epilogue.

  4. CapitalistRoader


    Nah. There’s years of fun coming up for AVs alone. Planners will twist themselves into pretzels arguing how a technology that saves tens of thousands of lives a year is in reality evil incarnate.

  5. JOHN1000

    A few years back, we took mass transit from the airport to our hotel in Copenhagen. The rail cars had a large open front area on each car that gave you plenty of room for several people with, luggage, bicycles etc. I know that was really done for the bicycles in a bike-crazy city, but it was great for us with several suitcases.

    And the train was so quiet I thought it was a mag-lev. Fares were pretty steep but well worth it.

  6. Not Sure

    “Apparently, Portlanders were okay with a store selling cheap furniture made in Asia if the store is from Sweden, but not from Arkansas.”

    Along these lines, the same people who hate Walmart seem to love Costco. What do you suppose the odds are, that any of the customers coming out of that store are likely to use light rail to get home?

  7. mbartley

    I just got back from an airline trip, and had to contend with the LAX airport. My experience is that even airport shuttle busses don’t have much luggage space! The bus to the nearest light-rail station (“Green Line”, for those who care) only had enough dedicated luggage rack space for maybe 4-5 passengers, and that’s assuming just the “1 carry-on plus 1 personal item (backpack/purse)” that most airlines are pushing us toward.

    I also agree with the observation that it was largely airport employees on that bus, even though I thought they had their own bus and parking lot.

  8. Billll

    You can go shopping for small amounts of food but if you have a family, there’s 2-4 tall steps to get on to either the bus or the rail, usually with a 90 deg turn at the top. I’ve seen mothers with strollers using the bus. They need to pack and unpack every time they get on and off and frequently leave stuff behind. Others notice and help them with this but still…

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