"Why Would Anyone Invest in Public Transportation?" William Millar spoke on this subject during the 2011 Thomas D. Larson Distinguished Transportation Lecture. Millar pointed out that public transportation represents a profitable and essential investment.
Millar spoke to a full room on Dec. 6 at the Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel. The lecture was held in conjunction with the 17th annual Transportation Engineering and Safety Conference, Dec. 7-9.
Millar is no stranger to public transportation, having served as president of the American Public Transportation Association from 1996 to 2011. He also has no trouble holding a room's attention with straight talk and impressive statistics.
As a colleague of Tom Larson, Millar recalled Larson's dogged dedication to progress and follow through. He also commended the leadership role played by the local transit system, Centre Area Transportation Authority, from implementing CNG technology early on to posting an exemplary record of cost recovery.
Millar built a compelling case for public transportation as one of the soundest investments the nation or a local community can make, combining fundamental economics, necessity, convenience and quality of life issues.
At $57 billon, public transportation rivals the nation's freight industry. It sustains 400,000 employment positions and supports 1.7 million jobs. There were 10.2 billion boardings in 2010, and the figure is higher for 2011. Median income for users is $41,000, indicative of broad ridership demographics.
Millar also pointed out some details most people would not know: Get rid of your second car, and you're likely to save about $9,000. What's the average family's annual outlay for food? $9,000. Additionally, the industry's return on investment is an impressive four to one.
Millar believes the nation's highway plan could use a public transportation component. Besides significantly reducing traffic for other major users like urban motorists and truck drivers, public transportation saves 4.2 billion gallons of gas each year — three times what we import from Kuwait — and saves 37 million tons of pollution from the nation's air. That represents health, quality of life and energy independence benefits as well.
Finally, Millar pointed out that the United States will have at least 100 million more Americans in the next 30 years, 80 percent of whom will live in metropolitan areas. The need for public transportation — and the stature of its contribution to our way of life — will continue to grow.
Tom Larson was a Penn State student, professor, and co-founder and director of the Larson Institute at Penn State before rising to statewide and national prominence and helping to shape the direction and management of the nation's transportation system and policy in the Interstate era. The Larson Lecture recognizes his singular contributions to the University and to the field of transportation.