“Hard Truths About Transit”

“Hard Truths About Transit”


Eric Jaffe, writer for The Atlantic Cities, in his article 4 Hard Truths About Transit examined a panel report created by The Transit Investment Strategy Advisory Panel of the Government of Ontario. The panel report provides six hard truths about transit that are designed to spur informed debate on the subject.  As Jaffe mentions, two of the hard truths are focused on issues local to Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA) of Ontario, while the other four describe common traits of transit systems globally, which apply to White Flint’s discussion on transit, especially the Bus Rapid Transit system (BRT).

The first hard truth Jaffe discusses is that “subways are not the only good form of transit.” Fixed-rail systems, like Metro, are able to transport thousands of people a day, allowing them to get to various locations throughout the Washington-area. Fixed-rail systems, however, are expensive to build and can be subject to reliability problems. Jaffe notes that in order to have a successful transit system, the system must match its services and programming with “circumstances” and the area’s environment e.g. residential and employment densities, ridership level, and the road systems. Taking the advice of the Ontario panel and Jaffe, it seems that BRT’s cost and flexibility make it an effective tool to address the transportation needs of the White Flint area. BRT would allow residents to move around Montgomery County for work, errands, and any other activity they want to pursue.

On the other hand, the next hard truth is that “the cost of transit is more than construction.” There are costs beyond the construction of the transit line, such as operating costs, that must be considered.

One more hard truth is that “transit does not automatically drive development.” Transit is often seen as a way to increase local economy by attracting development to areas accessible by the transit systems. One cannot build a transit system anywhere and assume that development will follow suit. That is why decisions surrounding transit must include “land use planning, local job growth potential and other business plans” states Jaffe.  That’s what we’re building in White Flint. The BRT can be successful in bringing economic growth to the region when elements such as the BRT station locations (land use planning) and businesses (job growth potential), elements the panel report focuses, are considered.  He also says, “Perhaps even more cost-efficient is bus rapid-transit, which can rival light rail when done right and has proven equally (if not more) attractive in terms of economic development.”

The final hard truth Jaffe discusses is that “transit users aren’t the only ones who benefit from transit.” Some believe that only those actually using transit benefit from the systems, so why should they have to pay for something they do not use?  But, transit systems like BRT or fixed-rail encourage local economic growth that will benefit everyone. Jaffe states “transit brings workers closer to jobs…and attract[s] retail and business revenue that can be reinvested into the city,” while calming traffic problems. These mirror the benefits the White Flint region hopes to have in the future.

Read Jaffe’s full piece here.

Rebecca Hertz


Rebecca Hertz is the Assistant Executive Director of Friends of White Flint. She received her Bachelor’s Degree in International Development and Social Change from Clark University, Worcester Massachusetts in 2012. She completed her Master’s Degree from Clark University, as well, in Community Development and Planning in 2013. She is interested in how built environments impact the health and growth of communities. Prior to this role, she worked as a youth worker and mentor for several non-profit organizations in Maryland and Massachusetts. She grew up in Rockville, MD and has recently moved back to the region.

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