(Editor’s note: This is eighth in a series on why most Americans don’t ride transit. The first is here, second is here, third is here, fourth is here, fifth is here, sixth is here, and the seventh is here.)
Transit works best going from point A to point B if you happen to be near point A and want to get to point B. Transit doesn’t work well for going from point A to point B via points C, D, and E.
On your way to work, you might want to drop off your kids at school or daycare, drop off your suit at the laundry, and get a cup of coffee (Yes, there’s probably a Starbucks next to your transit stop, but your transit agency probably doesn’t allow you take beverages on board). On your way home, in addition to picking up the kids and laundry, you may want to go grocery shopping. This is called trip chaining, and because life is complicated and people don’t want to spend all their time traveling, trip chaining works best in an independent vehicle such as a car.
Some analysts wonder whether people choose to drive because they want to trip chain or if they trip chain because they have cars. But this is the wrong question. The reality is, life is complicated, and cars do a better job of helping people deal with that complexity.
Other studies find that people who live in walkable, mixed-use neighborhoods can accomplish more of their tasks on foot and don’t need to drive as much. But this ignores the self-selection issue: people are more likely to live in a walkable, mixed-use neighborhood if their lives aren’t as complicated–for example, if they don’t have kids–but even then, a bicycle can handle trip chaining better than transit. But that doesn’t mean such neighborhoods can significantly simplify other people’s lives.
For most Americans, transit doesn’t serve the complexity of most of their adult lives.