Mass transit is often considered infrastructure. Mass transit includes the transportation that is shared by the general public: trains, buses, subways, light rail, trolleybuses, trams, and ferries. The U.S. government owns and operates Amtrak, the railway company which provides inter-city train service. The freight industry does not move passengers but shares a lot of the same infrastructure and is economically important (New York Times 2011).
Physical Exposure Risk. Mass transit relies on the transportation infrastructure described in the Construction, Infrastructure, and Real Estate section. Very hot days and heat waves affect pavement integrity and can deform rail-track. More frequent and intense precipitation events threaten to erode road and bridge supports, and cause flooding, and other storm damage. Infrastructure in floodplains and coastal areas, and underground rail are most at risk of flooding (Engineering the Future 2011).
Policy & Regulatory Risk. Mass transit is almost entirely at the mercy of government support and funding. As such, their funding is subject to the state of the budget, competing priorities, and politics. Federal funding is often restricted or requires matching amounts. Funding is sometimes further complicated by the need to coordinate with multiple county or state governments, as is the case with the Metro subway system in the Washington, D.C. area. Mass transit systems without sufficient and dedicated government funding have to rely heavily on revenues from fares, which is often just enough to cover regular operations and basic maintenance. Critical long-term system upgrades and rehabilitation may go neglected and put the safety of passengers at risk (Transportation for America 2009).
Policymakers are increasingly paying attention to the built environment, which encompasses all the manmade surroundings that support human activity—from the small scale (e.g., a home or park) to the neighborhood- and city-scale.“Smart Growth ”and the Department of Transportation’s “Livability” initiative refer to community designs that support more transportation choices beyond the automobile (U.S. DOT 2009; U.S. DOT 2011). Dedicated rapid-transit lanes for buses, light rail, and even trolleys are growing in popularity today. These projects will help expand transportation choices for the 46% of U.S. households that don’t have access to any public transportation. These initiatives are motivated by the need to reduce vehicles miles traveled (VMT) and help reduce the transportation sector’s carbon footprint, which accounts for one-third of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions, the second largest source after the electric power industry (EIA 2011). Public transportation reduces greenhouse gas emissions in two main ways: as a low emissions alternative to driving, and in helping to reduce vehicle miles traveled by facilitating compact land use and development. Public transportation in dense areas reduces emissions by both shortening the length of the average trip and reducing the number of trips that a person needs to take (U.S. DOT 2009).LEED-ND (LEED-Neighborhood Design) is a new certification by the U.S. Green Building Council that recognizes the importance of the neighborhood and is awarded to projects that successfully consider its relationship to the neighborhood, such as its proximity to mass transit or attractiveness of the façade (USGBC 2011).
The Obama Administration is a strong proponent of high-speed rail. The Administration has a goal of providing 80% of Americans with access to high-speed rail within 25 years (Scientific American 2011). The 2009 Recovery Act committed $8 billion to high-speed rail, although some Republican governors have rejected the stimulus funding to great fanfare (Rahim 2011). The Charlotte-Raleigh-Richmond-Washington, D.C. corridor received approximately $68,000,000 in funding, $22 million of which is for the Charlotte-Raleigh stretch(U.S. DOT 2010).
Reputational Risk. Mass transit competes with other forms of transportation, primarily the vehicle. However, given the lack of transportation options in general, transportation choices are determined by necessity and availability, not necessarily reputation. Therefore, brand value for this industry is low. There is some risk that stems from the politicization of mass transit, which could influence the public support for improving and expanding mass transit.
Competitive Risk. There isn’t much competition within this industry since mass transit is a public good/service. However, given the enormous policy risk, it is important that mass transit lobby for support and funding to ensure the existence and growth of this industry.