Congestion, Pollution, and Benefit-to-Cost Ratios of US Public Transit Systems


Jon D. Harford

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

operations - traffic, policy - congestion, economics - operating costs, economics - capital costs, place - urban, mode - mass transit


Urban areas, United States, Transit, Traffic congestion, Taxes, Public transit, Pollution, Passengers, Operating costs, Mass transit, Local transit, Gridlock (Traffic), Cost of operation, Cost benefit analysis, Capital costs, Benefit cost analysis


This paper presents a broad set of benefit-cost analyses of the public transit systems of 81 urbanized areas. The calculated sources of benefits are to riders and the reduction of congestion costs. Other sources of benefits are shown to be quite small. Costs are calculated based upon operating costs and adjustment factors to account for capital costs and the excess burden of taxes used to support public transit. For the medium estimates the aggregate benefit-cost ratio is 1.34. Only 23 of the urbanized areas have a benefit-cost ratio of one or greater for the medium estimates, but these were mainly the largest in population and transit use. Even for the high estimates, the benefit-cost ratio was less than one for almost half the areas considered.


Transportation Research Part D Home Page: http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/journal/13619209