Discussion Paper

Transit in Washington, DC: Current Benefits and Optimal Level of Provision

Apr 10, 2006 | Per-Kristian C Nelson, Andrew D. Baglino, Winston Harrington, Elena A. Safirova, D. Abram Lipman


The discrepancy between transit’s large share of local transportation resources and its generally low share of local trips has raised questions about the use of scarce transportation funds for this purpose. We use a regional transport model consistent with utility theory and calibrated for the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area to estimate the travel benefits of the local transit system to transit users and the congestion-reduction benefits to motorists. We find that (i) rail transit generates congestion-reduction benefits that exceed rail subsidies; (ii) the combined benefits of rail and bus transit easily exceed local transit subsidies generally; (iii) the lowest-income group receives a disproportionately low share of the transit benefits, both in absolute terms and as a share of total income; and (iv) for practical purposes, the scale of the current transit system is about optimal.