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You Can’t Fix Mass Transit By Destroying It

A suggestion that the New York City subway could be replaced by tunnels for autonomous cars would only exclude the riders who need it most.
New Yorkers crowds the subway in 1956.
New Yorkers crowds the subway in 1956. AP Photo

In conversations about transit, does the word inefficiency sound boring to you? If so, whenever you hear it, just replace it with inequality or exclusion. With one exception, noted below, that’s what inefficiency is.

For example, consider this shocking piece by Peter Wayner in The Atlantic. In it, the author proposes destroying the New York City subway system: “Instead of fixing the old trains,” he writes, “let’s rip out the tracks and fill the tunnels with fleets of autonomous vehicles running on pavement.” People who understand transit are reacting with horror to this idea, which contradicts the basic math of how transit succeeds.