Mass transit refers to municipal or regional public shared transportation, such as buses, streetcars, and ferries, open to all on a nonreserved basis. An important form of mass transit is rapid transit, such as subways and surface light rail systems, designed for commuting between urban and suburban (or exurban) centers. Mass transit can be divided into fixed route systems (often involving rails), such as streetcars and subway trains, and nonfixed route transit (along surface streets or water), such as buses and ferries, but does not usually include airplanes, taxis, or long-distance rail with more formal ticketing procedures. Mass transit systems offer considerable savings in labor, materials, and energy over private transit systems. Since far fewer operators are required per passenger transported, they can be better trained and more strictly licensed and supervised.
When utilized to any reasonable fraction of their capacity, mass transit vehicles carry a far higher passenger load per unit of weight and volume than do private vehicles. They also offer fuel savings, not only because of the relative reduction in weight transported, but also because they are large enough to carry more efficient engines. Further, if emphasis is given to mass transit in the planning of future ground transportation systems, smaller rights of way will be possible, lessening the amount of landscape that must be paved over for highways and roads. Although mass transit offers many savings, it does require some sacrifices in personal convenience. These are the necessity to travel on a fixed rather than an individually selected schedule and to enter and disembark from the system only at certain designated locations. The obvious goal for a mass transit system is to have as few unused passenger accommodations as possible.
See also rapid transit.
The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.