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What Factors Affect the Cost of Public Transportation?

Lainie Petersen
Updated May 23, 2024
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For many travelers, public transit is the cheapest way of getting around. Still, the cost of public transportation can vary significantly between destinations and even within a city or town. The factors that affect the cost of mass transit include the availability of tax funds to support it, the level of service provided and the method of public transit used. Another factor that affects the cost of public transportation is the ability of a public transportation system to establish relationships with other businesses from which the system can gain revenue to offset its operating costs.

Public transportation is generally supported by a combination of tax revenues, fares from people that use the system, advertising and sometimes licenses from concessions. The amount of tax revenue received will greatly affect the budget for an area's public transportation system and have a great impact on the types and amount of services available. With sufficient tax funding, an area's mass transit system might be able to provide comprehensive services to the community for relatively low fares. Without sufficient tax funding, commuters might be expected to pay higher fares for using public transportation and services, and amenities might be limited. For example, with minimal tax funding, public transportation might operate only during daytime hours, and there might be large sections of the community that are not served by public transportation.

Some public transit systems actively seek out partnerships with private businesses. These private businesses might be permitted to rent space in public transportation stations to sell food, magazines or other goods and services. The funds paid by these vendors can contribute significantly to the operating budget of the mass transit system. In other cases, a public transportation company might pair up with an advertising company that sells advertising space in or on public transportation vehicles and stations. Again, the proceeds from this advertising might help a transit system reduce the cost of public transportation for its users.

Additional factors that affect the cost of public transportation include the type of vehicles used in mass transit, the cost of staffing the vehicles and fuel charges. In some areas, for example, fares for trains might be higher than the fares for buses because of the expense of maintaining the trains, the tracks and paying the staff that is necessary to effectively and safely operate the train system. In addition, variances in the cost of fuel also can affect the cost of public transportation; in periods when the cost of fuel is high, passenger fares might have to be raised to prevent cutbacks in service.

WiseTour is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Lainie Petersen
By Lainie Petersen , Former Writer
Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an editor. With a unique educational background, she crafts engaging content and hosts podcasts and radio shows, showcasing her versatility as a media and communication professional. Her ability to understand and connect with audiences makes her a valuable asset to any media organization.

Discussion Comments

By umbra21 — On Jun 29, 2012

@indigomoth - I would also add that public transport isn't the only priority that you might put forward. People should also be encouraged to use walking and cycling to get to where they need to go. It's even better than public transport in a way, because you're also helping the general health of people to improve and not adding any pollution at all to the mix.

Public transport in my area is so expensive I simply can't afford to take it every day. I use my bike whenever I can, and save my money for the rainy days when I don't fancy being out on the road.

By indigomoth — On Jun 29, 2012

@bythewell - I guess the problem is that people just really like their cars. It's difficult to put lots of money into public transport when you know that people aren't going to use it and when that money could be better used fixing up the roads that will be used.

Maybe the solution is to make it more difficult to own a car, but then you have to deal with the fact that no matter how good the public transport is, you won't be able to put it everywhere. So, anyone who doesn't live near it will be at a serious disadvantage.

There's no perfect solution. I agree that in an ideal world we'd all use public transport, but it's not so black and white as that right now.

By bythewell — On Jun 28, 2012

I really think that more places need to start putting money into public transportation. Making it fast and clean and convenient should be the top priority for many cities.

I recently went traveling in Eastern Europe and I was really impressed by the public transport there. It was fast, it was ubiquitous and it was easy to use. Most importantly, it was cheap. I was usually able to get a three day pass, for unlimited travel for about $20 or less.

In fact my partner and I joked about the fact that the wealthier the country, the worse the public transport seemed to get. Which is a real shame, because it means that people have to deal with the affects of mass car ownership and use, which aren't fun. Forgetting the stress of being in gridlock half the day, you've also got to deal with smog and accidents and so forth.

Public transport is just better all the way around.

Lainie Petersen

Lainie Petersen

Former Writer

Lainie Petersen, a talented writer, copywriter, and content creator, brings her diverse skill set to her role as an...
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