In the latest made-up panic of the year, ride sharing is supposedly “deepening social and economic inequity.” According to Tracey Lindemen, writing in Vice magazine, it’s doing that by stealing riders from public transit, which forces transit systems to cut their services, reducing the mobility of transit-dependent people.
In fact, Linderman has it backwards: public transit is the source of income inequality, while ride sharing can reduce it.
Linderman claims that “Public transit used to be the great equalizer,” but that was never true. Before cars, transit was used by the middle class, but the working class couldn’t afford it. The Model T Ford was the great equalizer, bringing mobility to those who couldn’t afford transit. In 1910, no more than a quarter of Americans regularly used transit. By 1926, over half of American families owned a car.
By 1960 or so, at least outside of New York City, transit was mainly used by a minority who couldn’t drive (and didn’t have someone like a parent to drive them) and an even smaller minority who still couldn’t afford a car. Those with short memories then argued that transit was needed to provide equal mobility to those who couldn’t drive, but in fact mass-produced automobiles brought mobility to far more people than public transit ever did.
Even after 1960, transit was far from an equalizer. The service it provided was so inferior to cars that it created a two-class society: those who had access to cars and those who didn’t. To make matters worse, the public takeover of the nation’s transit industry, which mostly took place between 1965 and 1975, steeply increased the costs of transit. Take away the subsidies to both transit and highways and driving is far less expensive.
Instead of increasing inequality, ride sharing promises to reduce it. A recent study concluded that commuting by ride sharing costs less than driving to work in many urban areas. If ride sharing is cheaper than driving, and driving is cheaper than transit, then why do we need transit?
Instead of spending $50 billion a year subsidizing transit, we should take a small fraction of that and give low-income people vouchers to use Uber, Chariot, or other private transportation options. That would save taxpayers’ money and provide better mobility for people who don’t drive. And thus ride sharing becomes an equalizer while making people dependent on transit generated inequity.