In a country of cars, college campuses nationwide are primarily dominated by public transportation. At UNC Charlotte, students can wait at the bus stops, borrow one of the many scooters or even make the walk across campus. Either way, you'll find students out and about in their daily travel. The Light Rail extends straight into campus; easily accessible by foot for students or via bus for farther away students. Even students who opt to bring their cars use them for long-distance travel to visit home or off-campus. Otherwise, students depend on the reliability and accessibility of shared transportation and are often one of the major perks of living on campus.
Yet, cars fuel a majority of suburban America. Major metropolitan areas often stand out as exceptions, not as a rule. Transportation isn't normalized like the way it is in New York, while 48% of Americans don't even have access to public transportation. In cities with billions of dollars packed into revamping transportation, they often fail to meet functioning standards—both at odds with infrastructure and the driving culture so dominant in American cities. A great example of this would be LA's Metro line which was closed for nearly ten months only to open up to a series of technical difficulties.
Even with Charlotte, political conflict and budgetary strains mired the uphill battle to expand the Light Rail. The Lynx Blue Line was a product of uncertainty, being behind schedule, over budget and even faced an attempt to repeal the expansion just three weeks before opening. It seemed to hang amid a much larger debate about the profitability of public transportation. After all, if it was such a pain to implement- why bother at all?
However, the beneficial yields of public transportation far outweigh the formidable effort to get it passed. Most notably are the environmental benefits gained from public transport. The American Public Transportation Association (APTA) reports that "communities that invest in public transit reduce the nation's carbon emissions down by 37 million metric tons," and that's alongside the 4.2 billion gallons of gas saved in a year.
Additionally, the financial gains from public transportation more than makeup for the required public investments. Economies that pour a dollar into public transit see a return for three dollars more (i.e., for every dollar, the economy gains 4). In the grand scheme, public transportation employs about 420,000 people in the United States. For each new subway line expanded or bus to operate, that creates an opportunity for new jobs and openings.
Having public transit even facilitates the job circulation of non-transit-related jobs. Since public transportation is public, it's accessible and easier for tourists and normal citizens who want to explore. It also encourages people to invest money into the local economy by giving them more accessible mobility to travel around and about. APTA even found that hotels with access to rails connected to airports have an extra 11% more revenue than those without rail access.
Transit User Benefits:
Not only do individuals save money on gas, base costs of buying a car, car insurance and any other necessary materials (such as parking spaces or protection), but commuters save invaluable time. Public transit reduces traffic congestion and adds the extra barrier of safety due to the lesser number of cars on the road that decreases the probability of car accidents.
Besides public safety, public transportation even promotes general public health. Why drive when you can walk to the bus stop five minutes away? Why drive when you can take your bike onto the light rail or subway and bike to your destination? Two-thirds of riders walk to their stations (APTA), which only encourages citizens to actively be outside, not just in outdoor spaces but also in their communities.
With the multiple benefits, public transportation seems like an easy choice.
As a midsize city, Charlotte is a prime example of what happens when we implement reliable public transportation. The Charlotte Observer reported on the highly anticipated opening in 2007, noting the contentious obstacles Charlotte Area Transit System had to push through to expand. Ultimately, the expensive project's public fears were disputed when the opening ceremony opened up to a flooded pack of commuters. Since then, the two transit lines that run straight through Charlotte have brought upon much development within major neighborhoods such as South End, which has bloomed with thousands of new apartments and restaurants, grocery stores, and retail.
Other cities in the United States have sorely been lacking in this department for a while. Public transportation should not exist as a rarity in cities but become more accessible everywhere, especially the disconnected suburbs. It's environmentally friendlier, financially viable, encourages the local economy as well as the community health. And if it is time for Charlotte, it is time for the rest of suburban America to get on board.