Letter to the Editor

Letter to the Editor

I want to challenge the conventional wisdom concerning the post-WWII decline in urban transit ridership. It has long been held that the fall in transit ridership from 1946 forward could be explained by residential suburbanization, increased automobile commutation, low gasoline prices, as well as the decline of the central business district, among other factors. Suppose, however, that if account were taken of school bus "commutation," the decline turned out to be significantly less than reported.

Consider the case of Boston. There was a school car network operating all across the city up to the late 1940s. These school cars would pick up students headed to the seven central high schools from neighborhoods all over the city, using routes developed for that purpose. My memory of how we Latin School boys fought our way into the overcrowded cars is still quite vivid.

This special streetcar network operated by the Boston Elevated Railway was gradually replaced by school buses operated by the School Committee. I suspect that in Boston and elsewhere this change figures in the decline of public transit ridership.

Just as much to the point, by how much would U.S. urban transit ridership numbers increase if school bus ridership were added into the equation?

In any case, would a transit ridership statistical time series for Boston show such a steep postwar decline if it were adjusted for the changing character of the school-boy and school-girl commute?

Charles Anderson Dana Professor of Economics, Emeritus,
University of Bridgeport,
quondam Senior Fellow, The Brookings Institution, and
Director of Case Studies in Transportation