The Economics of Streetcars

Tyler Cowen ponders why people like streetcars so much.  Possibilities offered by him and his commenters:

1.  Nostalgia
2.  Dedicated lane
3.  Less noise
4.  Less swerving/lurching (presumably, also less carsickness)
5.  More predictible (no one suddenly re-routes your streetcar)
6.  Roomier

The streetcars I'm most familiar with are Philadelphia's, which fail many of those tests, so let me offer my take on why people (read:  affluent, especially white people) like streetcars:  they don't have so many poor people on them.

Streetcars are developed in a fixed area and not frequently expanded.  They have a high capital cost.  This means the area along the lines gentrifies.  Thus, when you get on a streetcar, it normally has a lot of other affluent people on it.  By contrast, when you get on a bus, it normally has a lot of poor people who have been sitting on it for an hour, patiently waiting to get to work.  The association builds between streetcars and affluence, busses and poverty, in one's mind.

Problems with this theory:  trains in New York are usually crowded with poor people from outlying areas; wealthier people use them anyway.  On the other hand, it's basically impossible to either park or drive a car to work in New York; it is frequently possible to walk across town faster than you can drive during the day.

Presented by

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.

The Blacksmith: A Short Film About Art Forged From Metal

"I'm exploiting the maximum of what you can ask a piece of metal to do."

Join the Discussion

After you comment, click Post. If you’re not already logged in you will be asked to log in or register.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Video

Riding Unicycles in a Cave

"If you fall down and break your leg, there's no way out."

Video

Carrot: A Pitch-Perfect Satire of Tech

"It's not just a vegetable. It's what a vegetable should be."

Video

An Ingenious 360-Degree Time-Lapse

Watch the world become a cartoonishly small playground

Video

The Benefits of Living Alone on a Mountain

"You really have to love solitary time by yourself."

Video

The Rise of the Cat Tattoo

How a Brooklyn tattoo artist popularized the "cattoo"

More in Business

Just In