Public transit in the U.S. trails behind other wealthy countries, with even cities like New York City or Washington, D.C., failing to keep pace with Paris, London and Beijing’s systems of buses, metros and light rails. Rail passenger numbers in the U.S. are far lower than other large countries like China and India.
The American emphasis on cars and the expansion of the national highway system have led to more congestion and a rise in fossil fuel emissions. Commuters spent an average of 54 hours in traffic per year in 2019, compared to 20 hours in 1982. In contrast, China overtook the U.S. in rapid transit capacity in 2020. China’s investment in light rail has also led to its cities having lower per-capita transport emissions than cities in the developed world.
One of the challenges facing the U.S., which sets it apart from countries in Europe and Asia, is the relationship between federal and state laws. To develop better public transit systems, the U.S. needs political support and funding at both the local and federal level.