Urban transport: Off the rails
Public transport is ailing in the rich world. It should co-opt the competition
To those who have to squeeze onto the number 25 bus in London, or the A train in New York,
the change might not be noticeable.
But public transport is becoming less busy in those cities, and in others besides.
Passenger numbers are flat or falling in almost every American metropolis, and in some Canadian and European ones, too. That is despite healthy growth in urban populations and employment.
Nose-to-armpit travellers may be even more surprised to hear that the emptying of public transport is a problem.
Although transport agencies blame their unpopularity on things like roadworks and broken signals,
it seems more likely that they are being outcompeted.
App-based taxi services like Uber and Lyft are more comfortable and convenient than trains or buses.
Cycling is nicer than it was, and rental bikes are more widely available.
Cars are cheap to buy, thanks to cut-rate loans, and ever cheaper to run.
Online shopping, home working and office-sharing mean more people can avoid travelling altogether.
The competition is only likely to grow.
More than one laboratory is churning out new transport technologies and applications.
Silicon Valley invented Uber and, more recently, apps that let people rent electric scooters and then abandon them on the pavement.
China created dockless bicycles and battery-powered "e-bikes", both of which are spreading.
Some inventions will fail, or will be regulated out of existence
(at one point, Segways were the future).
But new ideas, including driverless taxis, are coming around the corner.
Mass transport is much less nimble.
As New York's Second Avenue subway, London's Crossrail and Amsterdam's North-South metro line have shown,
building new train lines is now incredibly complicated and expensive.