David A. King | CityLab

Today most mass transit systems are publicly provided and subsidized. That wasn’t always the case. Decades ago, transit systems were largely run by private interests. Due to many market and regulatory factors — but not a vast conspiracy by automakers — private transit collapsed in the United States, and by the early 1970s nearly all mass transit was publicly owned and operated.

At that time, public control of transit had broad political and popular support for three main reasons: environmental concerns, traffic relief, and the social benefits of mobility for non-drivers. While environmental and congestion goals remain popular justifications for transit, the social service aspect of transit receives less attention (except when a fare increase is proposed, when suddenly everyone becomes concerned about the poor). After more than four decades of public ownership, it’s worth considering how well public transit fulfills its social obligations. Read more