The Future of Public Transportation

As Americans purchase fewer personal vehicles and environmental concerns continue to increase, what will public transportation in the United States look like in the future?

To learn more, check out the infographic below created by Ohio University’s online master of science in civil engineering degree program.

The Future of Public Transportation

Public Transportation Today

Between 1995 and 2013, ridership in the United States increased by 37.2 percent, while the total population only increased 20 percent. In 2013, riders took 10.7 billion trips on U.S. public transportation.

However, there are still more licensed drivers in America than there were decades ago. In 1970, there were 112 million licensed drivers. This number grew to 214 million licensed drivers as of 2014.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 76.4 percent of workers drove alone, 9.4 percent carpooled and 5.2 percent took public transportation in 2013. Approximately 50.3 percent of public transportation passengers used buses, 35.3 percent used heavy rail transit, 4.5 percent used commuter rail systems and 4.2 percent used light rail transit.

In 2015, annual heavy rail ridership in New York grew by 9 million, with subway ridership growing by 14 million.

The Growth of Public Transportation Use

Demographics are shifting, which is having an effect on the prevalence of public transportation. Approximately 13 percent of millennials live close to downtown neighborhoods in cities, whereas only 7 percent of baby boomers show this same living preference.
Parking is prohibitively expensive in many of America’s largest cities. Monthly parking in Midtown Manhattan costs approximately $562, with parking in Boston, San Francisco and Philadelphia costing an average of $310 to $410 dollars monthly.

High gas prices also make public transit a less-expensive and more convenient option. It is estimated that 450 million gallons of gas are saved each year due to people using public transportation instead of driving.

Benefits and Challenges

Even though increased public transportation usage offers a myriad of benefits, its use also comes with plenty of challenges.


Using public transportation is beneficial for environmental, financial and health-related reasons, including the following:

Public transportation usage decreases harmful CO2 emissions by 37 million metric tons per year.

Public transit reduces traffic by easing congestion on heavily used roads.

Public transportation is also cost effective for riders, saving them up to $6,000 annually.

Public transit even increases activity levels. On average, riders who use public transportation are several times more active than those who don’t travel on public transit.


Despite the many advantages of using public transit, there are still plenty of disadvantages that can come with this method of transportation.

People who use public transportation may need to deal with long waits at stops, missed departures and backup problems related to the transit route.

Limited accessibility also impacts how often Americans travel via public transit, with 45 percent of households lacking access to public transportation.

Since federal standards for public transit vehicles are stricter than they are for private or company ones, regulatory roadblocks can prevent the creation and expansion of public transportation networks.

According to a report from the White House, 65 percent of major U.S. roads are classified as being in “less than good” condition, causing a need for billions of dollars in repair costs.

The Next Phase of Public Transportation

Making transportation networks more efficient can allow cities to boost ridership while addressing current challenges.

Driverless Buses and Trains

Automated buses can be integrated into a city’s public transportation system and set to follow coordinated routes.

In August 2015, a Chinese company named Yutong developed a self-driving bus that completed a 20-mile trip through the city of Zhengzhou.

A detailed roadmap system has also been developed for the purpose of implementing driverless buses and shuttles in San Francisco.

‘Smarter’ Ticketing

In Japan, travelers can use the PASMO Card to take buses, trains and taxis, and even to go shopping, with the ability to recharge the card when their balance runs low.

In Hong Kong, riders can use the Octopus Card to pay for buses, ferries, trains and trains. It’s possible to use the card to pay for parking meters, access to swimming pools and items in shops as well.

In the United States, the Portland, Oregon-based GlobeSherpa app gives travelers the ability to pay for an entire trip across different types of transit. GlobeSherpa is currently available in 11 U.S. cities.

According to predictions by Deloitte, only 10 percent of all transport transactions will require the use of a paper ticket by 2020.

The Future of Public Transportation

Public transportation may soon be able to travel near the speed of sound. The Hyperloop will allow passenger-carrying pods to travel up to 750 mph and is expected to be functional by 2020.

An influx of new moving walkways also has the potential to streamline transit. According to a proposal by the architectural firm NBBJ, replacing London’s Underground Circle Line with moving walkways could allow a three-fold increase in passenger carrying capacity.

Implementing innovative technologies may even conserve energy. By harnessing the energy that is lost when a train stops and sending it back into the power grid, London may be able to save approximately $9.2 million annually.

Self-driving shuttles are also expected to be more common in the near future. Local Motors and IBM’s Watson Internet of Things Autolab are working on Olli, a self-driving shuttle that will be able to transport small groups of people.

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