“Exact change only.” “Carry proof of fare with you at all times.” “No food or beverage.” “No playing music aloud.” “Take off your backpack and put it between your legs so we can cram more people onto your transit vehicle.”
Some of these rules are for the convenience of other passengers, but most of them are for the convenience of the transit agencies themselves. Take, for example, the request–which could easily become a rule–to passengers to not wear backpacks while on board a transit vehicle.
You might think that this was for the convenience of other customers so more people can fit on board. But if the vehicles so crowded, why isn’t the agency running them at greater frequencies so they don’t get so full? In the case of the light-rail car pictured in the story at the above link, the answer may be that the agency picked a high-cost but low-capacity form of transit and now is stuck with that choice.
In general, transit loses money most of the time, but during rush hour many routes make money simply because so many people are jammed on board. “The profits are in the straps,” transit executives used to say when the industry was private, meaning that they lost money when everyone was able to find a seat but made up for it when people had to stand and hold on to the straphangers. “If a day ever comes when transportation during rush hours is done without crowding, the companies doing it will fail financially,” said August Belmont, the owner of New York’s first subway.
One of the reasons why San Francisco, New York, and other big cities municipalized their transit systems before the federal government started funding transit is that transit riders objected to the crowding that was necessary to earn profits for private owners. When Belmont was slow to build new lines to relieve overcrowding, New York first funded more subways, then took over the entire system to relieve crowding.
But the same economic reality facing private owners confronts public owners as well, which is that resources are limited. At least in big cities, transit agencies can’t afford to run enough transit for everyone to find a seat during rush hour.
On the other hand, if you have a car you are pretty much guaranteed a seat. You can play your music as loud as you like, eat and drink to your stomach’s content, and don’t have to worry about exact change or proof of fares. So many people put up with rush-hour roadway traffic simply because it is less demeaning than putting up with rush-hour transit crowding.