Compare U.S. Cities by Transit Usage

I’ve often been curious about transit levels in the United States, especially cycling. Commuting by bicycle has been dropping since 2014 in the U.S. There are lots of theories about why that is.

One question I’ve asked fellow cycling advocates in Carrboro: what is the highest level of cycling ridership we could possibly hope for in the next, say, 10 years? Assume we could implement our entire bike plan overnight. How would you even go about answering this question?

It’s hard for people to even venture a guess. Here’s how I would do it. Find the best currently available data on ridership in the U.S. and look for cities with the highest cycling numbers. Narrow that list to ones that have similar characteristics with an emphasis on qualities that affect ridership: number of workers, cycling infrastructure, climate (average number of rainy days, average temperature), “hilliness,” proximity to local areas of employment, college towns, average income – there are many factors. Use the cities at the top of this list as a guide – how much higher is the ridership there? How much of the difference can we attribute to each factor? Is it too hilly in your town to ever really get much cycling ridership?

I’ve created a site that lets you query on transit ridership on a variety of factors. For example, you can query for top cycling cities in the country or in a particular state (North Carolina, for example). It doesn’t just cover cycling, you can look at transit usage by bus, car, public transit, walking, or working from home. You can also compare all transit in up to 10 specific cities (the 10 largest U.S. cities for example).

I was surprised that there was not a convenient way to do this already, so I created my own. I realize data from the American Community Survey isn’t perfect, but it’s way better than anything else we have and it’s what the League of American Bicyclists uses to determine usage (in fact, it’s the only factor they use to determine actual “usage” on their application for Bike Friendly Community rankings.)

Some things I’d like to add:

  • A hilliness factor – how many hills does each town have?
  • Climate related number – average temp, rainfall, snow, etc.
  • Average commute times
  • Average incomes
  • Average age

If you’d like to contribute to the project in some way or have ideas on adding hilliness or climate numbers, I’d love to hear from you. Contact me on Twitter.

Public Support for Surge Pricing, I Mean, Price Gouging Over Time

“Price Gouging” has a negative connotation.  The public broadly supports the vague laws that prevent it.  Here’s a list of the states that have laws preventing some form of price gouging along with the language used in the statutes.  You’ll notice that fewer than half of the states that have such laws actually specify a percentage increase in the price – most of the statutes use the vague, “weasel wording” of “grossly excessive,” “unconscionably high,” or similar highly subjective language.  In my state of North Carolina, they use the term “unreasonably excessive.”  Putting aside the problem of putting a precise definition on just what price gouging is, the public supports these laws.

It’s hard to find a public poll directly on this topic – the closest I could find was a Gallup poll about what was to blame when gasoline prices were high in 2008 – 58% blamed “price gouging by oil companies.”

There is a poll, however, of people with the most knowledge of the effects of “price gouging” – economists.  They are overwhelmingly against laws preventing price gouging.  If your knee jerk reaction is that “economists are just partisans that love the rich” – keep in mind that the average economist is a moderate Democrat.

In another setting, though, the public apparently is very supportive of price gouging.  Uber and Lyft are extremely popular with their “surge pricing” being very effective during busy events whether that be a sporting event or a disaster.

I am holding out hope that the public will slowly come around to soften their support of laws against price gouging as they more routinely encounter it via Uber and Lyft and even Airbnb.  In fact, as the sharing economy continues to grow more and more of us become the “gougers” – for example, renting out a room in one’s house during a major sporting event.

What other issues have such a large split in support between the public and economists?

I asked that question to economist Mike Munger who quickly answered “rent control” – an issue that is popular politically but where economists are almost universally against.

How do I feel about it?  I like to say I’m pro choice – for everything.  Especially voluntary transactions.