Leigh Glover

Document Type

Conference Paper

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - mass transit, place - australasia, economics - appraisal/evaluation


public transport definitions. social welfare, private transport


Few public transport debates come to terms with the questions of what constitutes public transport, of what is it for, and exactly how it differs from private transport, individual transport, and collective transport. For some engaged in these debates, public transport is supported because of its contribution to net social welfare or to welfare of segments of society; public transport is therefore held as being in the public interest. Although this proposition is most certainly true as a generalisation, it reduces the understanding of public transport to essentially an expression of social values and suffers from being considered as purely subjective when tackling questions such as when and where public transport is to be preferred over its alternatives. Classical economics has traditionally explained the role of public transport as being necessary because free markets cannot be efficient and effective in providing a transport system. Public transport is necessarily provided by states because of the market failures arising from transport being a collective good, having costs and benefits that can’t be captured by markets (i.e., externalities), and because of the problems of monopoly and associated potential abuse of market power. This view can be broadened by considering whether public transport is a common pool resource. This paper discusses these issues and identifies criteria which define public transport. A number of policy implications are discussed and it addresses the issues of why collective modes do not necessarily constitute public transport and why private transport cannot fully substitute for public transport.