One of the most underrated forms of government sponsored programs in the United States is public transportation. The US government, at the local, state, and federal levels, has jurisdiction over some part of all major types of transportation in the country. This includes road travel, air travel, train travel, and travel by boat with the respect to the movement of both passengers and cargo. From regulation through laws to actual funding and maintaining of infrastructure projects its clear that we wouldn’t be able to travel anywhere nor have access to the many goods that our economy allows us to chose from without the government’s participation in our transportation systems.
The initial development of transportation systems in the United States were not centered on government funding or management. Road systems, funded by turnpikes, were widely privately owned along with steam ship companies, and eventually rail systems. Up until the mid 1800s, travel by water was definitely the most efficient way of travel in the US with every major city in the country being located on natural harbors or navigable waterways. The rapidly growing rail systems helped tie each side of the country together in the 1860s and allowed the quick industrialization of the country. The first major involvement that the US government had in transportation was the implementation of the Federal Aid Road Act of 1916 which simply helped support states in improvement of roadways.
The most important legislation passed by the government in terms of transportation was the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 which proposed the construction of 41,000 miles of interstate within ten years. With the use of automobiles already on the steep rise, this was the nail in the coffin for railroad travel, both passenger and cargo, in the US. An increase in air travel efficiency also opened up that market to the middle class.
Today, the overwhelming majority of roadways in the United States are owned and maintained by state and local governments. This includes the interstate system where states are given federal funds to maintain these highways with their own agendas and resources. As far as train services go, the Nation Railroad Passenger Corporation (Amtrak) was created in 1971 by the federal government to maintain intercity passenger services. The cargo aspect of train service is still completely contained in the private sector with Amtrak paying these companies to use their tracks. Metro systems within dense metropolitan area are generally composed of bus, subway, and light rail systems all managed and funded by state and local governments. Water transportation and passenger air travel also remain exclusively in the private sector with state and local governments maintaining airports and harbors.
Every day, 300 million Americans use government funded means of transportation, from roads, to buses, trains, and plains. Specifically, transit ridership is up more than twenty percent in the last decade, resulting in more and more funding by the federal government to allow for residents of the US to not be restricted by distance or financial standing to move about the country and their local communities. It’s clear that our public transportation systems play a vital role in our way of living and are a great example of how the federal government, the states, local governments, and private companies can work together to support the people of this country.