The Components Of American Public Transportation Systems

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The Components Of American Public Transportation Systems

According to the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), Americans are increasingly using public transport such as subways, buses, and trains to travel to various destinations, both interstate and intrastate. More specifically, in 2013 and 2014, Americans made more than 10 billion passenger trips using these systems. Most workers prefer this mode of commute because nearly 75% of workplaces in the US are near public transport systems, according to the Brookings Institution. Here is more about public transport systems in the US:

Train arriving at a station

Popular Transport Systems

The most widely used public transport systems in the US are buses, trains, and light rail transit (LRT) cars. Buses operate in almost every major American city with some setting aside exclusive bus lanes. Trains are by far the most efficient in terms of speed, passenger carrying capacity, and reliability. However, setting up a rail system is often a challenge because it involves huge capital and labor outlays. Light rail transport systems involve articulated electric vehicles that run on separated tracks. According to Vukan R. Vuchic, a professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Department of Systems Engineering, the passenger carrying capacity of LRT vehicles is 50% greater than a regular bus.

The five largest public transport systems in the US are in New York, Chicago, Boston, Washington, and San Francisco. This is according to the University of North Carolina’s School of Government. New York City’s Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) is by far the largest public transport system in the US. It consists of railroads, subways, and buses. Every day, 11 million people use this system to get to work or run errands across the city. The train track covers 790 miles and it has 468 stations. New York buses cover 15,000 bus stops, 235 local routes, 64 express routes, and five select routes.

As a result, 700,000 cars are kept out of the city every day, which translates to 400 million pounds of soot, carbon monoxide and other hydrocarbons not released into the atmosphere. The Chicago Transit Authority (CTA) public transport system consists of 224 miles of rail tracks, 145 train stations, 11,493 bus stops, and 129 bus routes. This system serves an average of 1.64 million people daily. Benefits include 400,000 cars left at home every day and 4,800 pounds of carbon emission savings per person per year.

Boston’s Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority (MBTA) public transport system consists of commuter rail, buses, subways, and ferries. This includes 664 miles of train tracks, 133 train stations, 14 train lines, and two rapid transit lines for buses, 183 bus routes, 13 commuter rail lines, four trackless trolley lines, and five light rail lines. Every day, this system serves 1.3 million passengers. It is also credited with saving each commuter $13,650 annually and preventing the release of 36,000 tons of greenhouse gases due to MBTA’s purchase of renewable energy.

The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) primarily operates a Metrorail and Metrobus system. The Metrorail consists of 106.3 miles of tracks, 86 metro stations and five train lines. In addition, the Metrobus system consists of 11,490 bus stops, 325 routes, and 169 lines. This has translated into $705 million worth of savings for all Washington residents (riders and non-riders), $342 million auto expenditure savings for households that use this system, as well as 40.5 million in vehicle fuel savings per year.

Finally, the San Francisco’s Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) mainly operates a public train transport system that consists of 104 miles of tracks, 44 stations, and five lines. Approximately 366,565 people use it every day. This translates to 400,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide not released into the air every year, 202,000 gallons of gas saved by train riders daily, and 44 pounds of pollutant savings per rider.

Public Transport Challenges

Public transport systems have their own unique challenges that civil engineers have to tackle and solve. To start with, an article published by Hofstra University’s Department of Global Studies & Geography states that anywhere from 30 to 60% of urban areas are devoted to transportation. This is where civil engineers come in handy to strike the right balance between space for transport systems, buildings, and support infrastructure such as drainage systems.

The second challenge civil engineers must address is safety since population and traffic growth is linked to an increase in number of transport related accidents and fatalities, according to the aforementioned Hofstra University article. Experts in civil engineering must come up with ways of improving safety via passive or active measures such as speed bumps or barriers between lanes. A third challenge is public transport inadequacy. Many public transport systems in the US either are over or underutilized. For example, in New York City, public transport systems are usually crowded during peak hours and relatively empty during off-peak hours. In addition, a study carried out by the Brookings Institution found that less than 25% of Americans who use public transport get to work in less than 90 minutes. This means civil engineers have to find ways of tweaking public transport systems so that Americans can get to work as quickly as possible.


The public transport in the US is primarily hinged on buses, trains, light rail transit, subways, and railroads. These systems help millions of Americans complete more than 10 billion trips every year. In some urban centers such as New York, public transport usage has increased (by 3.6% in 2013), according to the MTA. Nevertheless, challenges that civil engineers must address include safety, public transport inadequacy, and constraints related to finding space for public transport infrastructure.

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