Note to the Reader
This study of mass transit by the Free Congress Foundation was underwritten by the
private sector Associate Members of the American Public Transit Association. The views
expressed are those of the authors.
The American Public Transit Association
1201 New York Avenue, N.W., Suite 400
Washington, DC 20005
Traditionally, mass transit has not been of much interest to conservatives. Their disinterest
stems from three perceptions: mass transit is a government creation that would quickly cease to
exist in a free market; no conservative constituencies use mass transit; and mass transit does not
serve any important conservative goals.
Each of these perceptions has some reasons behind it, and each is true in some situations.
But all are also open to question, on conservative grounds. The dominance of the automobile is
not a free-market outcome, but the result of massive government intervention on behalf of the
automobile. That intervention came at the expense of privately owned, privately funded, tax
paying public transit systems. Without government intervention, public transit might have a
substantially higher market share than it now enjoys.
A growing conservative constituency does use mass transit, when transit is high quality.
That usually means rail transit or bus on high speed busways. As high quality commuter rail,
light rail and busway systems reach out into suburbia, they carry a growing number of people
whose demographics indicate they vote conservative. Conservative policy-makers who ignore
these constituents are neglecting part of their base.
Mass transit can serve some important
conservative goals, including economic development, moving people off welfare and into
productive employment, and strengthening feelings of community. Again, the quality of transit
strongly affects its ability to serve conservative goals.
All these factors suggest there are reasons for conservatives to take an interest in transit
policy. At the same time, there are equally valid reasons