A desire named streetcar

Over at The Bellows, Ryan Avent links an article showing that, unsurprisingly, when you raise the price of driving, people do a lot less of it. Mass transit ridership rose to its highest level in 2007. You go, mass transit!

But I must make objection to the section Ryan chose to highlight:

The largest area of mass transit growth was in light rail use, which includes street cars and trolleys, with a 6 percent increase during 2007. Commuter rails were second with an increase of 5.5 percent in ridership and subway ridership had an increase of 3.1 percent.

I understand the love for light rail (aka trolleys and streetcars). They feel way cuter and more hip than riding a bus. But I don't think this is exactly heralding the new light rail revolution. If you look at the actual report, you'll see that the reason ridership increased so dramatically is that practically no one rides light rail. Judging from what I saw on my trip there, my single five block journey on Buffalo's light rail increased its annual passenger trips by about 100%. This is not, however, a dramatic surge in the country's collective will to break out the jaunty hats and the Judy Garland albums and climb back aboard the trolleys.

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Megan McArdle is a columnist at Bloomberg View and a former senior editor at The Atlantic. Her new book is The Up Side of Down.

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