Mallon: How public transit benefits everyone
A VTA light rail train on Second Street in downtown San Jose on Aug. 23, 2023. Photo by Joseph Geha.

As a transit advocate, writer and daily rider, I often encounter people who question the importance of supporting transit and assert it doesn’t benefit them as non-users.

While some transit advocates take a divisive stance and view people who drive vehicles as enemies of the cause, I don’t. The truth is transit benefits everyone, even people who may never ride a bus or train.

Transit doesn’t work for everyone right now and while improvements in service will attract more riders, it’s unrealistic to assume 100% of the population will abandon their cars someday. However, it’s important to acknowledge the ways that transit benefits everyone including non-users.

One of the most significant benefits of transit is traffic relief, since transit provides an alternative to commuters who are tired of sitting in traffic. San Jose residents spend an average of three days a year sitting in rush hour traffic. By providing an option for others to choose public transit, there will be less traffic, less frustration and easier commutes for everyone.

Skeptics often question the economic viability of public transit since it requires subsidies. However, transit stimulates economic growth and makes it easier for people to access opportunities. Even if you don’t plan on taking public transportation, others will as transit lines are expanded and service is increased—which will help businesses thrive, increase opportunities and create a more prosperous environment for everyone regardless of their preferred mode of travel.

Another key benefit of transit is environmental sustainability. While electric cars can be a solution for some, they aren’t an affordable option for all residents and don’t address traffic issues. Transit helps with both issues. Even if you don’t take the train or bus yourself, a reduction in the number of cars on the road will lead to lower emissions and cleaner air for everyone.

While many transit advocates and supporters spend their time vilifying drivers, I think it’s important to take a more thoughtful and pragmatic approach. Supporting transit isn’t about getting everyone to give up their cars tomorrow. It’s about understanding the tremendous benefits it brings to everyone regardless of how they choose to get around.

San José Spotlight columnist Monica Mallon is a transit advocate and rider in Santa Clara County. Her columns appear on the first Thursday of every other month. Contact Monica at [email protected] or follow @MonicaMallon on X, formerly known as Twitter.

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