The Future of Transit


Dan Boyle

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

mode - bus, mode - rail, planning - travel demand management, place - north america


Future transit


Predicting the future is fun to do. Dreaming of possibilities while not being tethered to the chain of reality seems to be wired into our DNA. It doesn't matter that we are nearly always going to be wrong, nor that almost anything we come up with is some version of The Jetsons. The combination of human ingenuity and bold new technologies (helped along by artists' renderings) virtually promise a future of fun and ease.

Thee key word is virtually. Although, if the next major technological breakthrough were to be a time machine that could transport us back to the middle of the 19th century, we could see clearly the progress we have made. Buses that run on something magical called electricity? Sleek rail cars that take us on a smooth ride over shiny rails to far corners of the city faster than we could imagine? No horse dung in the streets?

Still, the classic dystopian futures have already been written. So let's imagine what the future has in store for transit. e guiding principles here are in the form of a paradox:

  • Transit will look nothing like it does today
  • Transit will look just like it does today

What could this possibly mean? I asked attendees of the American Public Transportation Association's (APTA's) recent Sustainability and Multimodal Operations Planning Workshop for their thoughts on this topic. Mostly it was younger participants who replied, and I have incorporated their thoughts in this paper. Let's explore a few themes.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by the Journal of Public Transportation, copyright remains with them.