In 2007, Ikea opened its first store in Portland. It is 280,000 square feet, has around a thousand parking spaces, and is near a light-rail station. How many people who plan to do more than just window shop do you imagine carry their purchases home on the light rail?
The fact is that carrying large packages, suitcases, or shopping bags on transit is awkward at best and impossible at worst. Anyone who expects to travel with such cargo, even if only some of the time, will do best with a car.
Fifteen American airports are served by rail transit lines. Yet few if any of these lines have baggage racks or any other convenient place to put luggage. Just 15 percent of air travelers take the train to Washington DC’s Reagan National Airport, and just 12 percent take the train to Boston’s Logan Airport. As near as I can determine, it is less than 10 percent for every other airport. Most of the riders on airport trains are airport or airline employees.
Unless you go grocery shopping every day, it simply isn’t feasible to carry your purchases on transit. A bicycle with large panniers can carry more groceries than can easily be carried on a bus or train.
Moving to a new home? Buying gardening supplies? Taking a load to the dump recycling station? Transit’s no help. Most people don’t even trust transit to bring their dry cleaning home (at least, I’ve never seen anyone carrying dry-cleaned clothes on the transit lines I’ve been on).
People don’t carry Ikea furniture or ten bags of groceries on every trip they take. But those who sometimes do will probably have a car to do it in. As previously pointed out here, once most people have a car, it becomes their mode of choice for nearly all travel that is beyond walking distances.
Randal O’Toole directs the Transportation Policy Center at the Independence Institute, a free market think tank in Denver. A version of this was originally published at his blog, Theantiplanner.