What would an incremental approach to developing public transportation look like?

Think about how public transportation is developed today: In the age of transit-oriented development (TOD), we build a million dollar light rail in a less populated area, then add large, mixed-use residences and businesses near the stops. 

In theory, this approach makes sense. If people live near public transportation, they will use it. It's a build-it-and-they-will-come approach to public transportation. However, if the people don't come, it's a risky gamble with sketchy results. 

That's why we advocate for an incremental approach to developing public transportation. Here's how: 

Learn more about each step below. 

Find Successful Places

Successful places are places where people live, work, and spend time. When you think about your own city or town, you can likely point to a few of these places, such as your downtown or town center. Because these places have an existing base of people who would potentially use public transportation, spending the money to build it is less risky.

Compare this to TOD: if the people don't move into these manufactured, dense neighborhoods, the local government has spent millions of dollars on a project that will generate little tax revenue. 

Once local governments have identified successful places, they can connect them by introducing the lowest level of viable transit. 

Connect the Places with the Lowest Level of Viable Transit

Incrementally developing public transportation means that we start with the lowest level of viable transit, such as the shuttle bus. Because we've introduced it to a successful place, the shuttle bus will likely reach capacity. Then local governments can go from shuttle to city bus; from city bus to streetcar; from streetcar to light rail; from light rail to to subway.

Developing public transportation incrementally allows local governments to allocate scarce resources to endeavors that are proving their success than to those that may be successful but, thus far, are unproven.

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