The Next American City warns that the people who need mass transit the most are increasingly living in areas where mass transit is not feasible:
Over the last ten years, more than two-thirds of poverty growth in the nation’s metro areas occurred in the suburbs, and there are now 1.6 million more poor people living in the suburbs than in center cities. Since 2000, there has been a general increase in the nation’s poverty rate, but it has been far worse in the suburbs than in the cities—a 37.4% increase versus 16.7%....
[T]he fact is that the suburbs are not ready for the spread of the poor to the suburbs. That’s because areas of lower density are difficult to serve by buses and trains without expenses going through the roof and low ridership. Many new construction projects are for big expansions of the rail network downtown, where efficiencies of scale ensure actual use of these lines.
Just about everyone agrees that the subways in New York and Boston are safer than they were, say, 25 years ago. Is it because their riders, like many of the neighborhoods they run through, have gone upscale?
I think we're about to see increased emphasis on upgrading and maintaining the cores of mass transit systems rather than expanding them farther out into suburbs. This "fix it first" strategy is entirely logical, but it's another irony for low-income families that transit may be improved in central cities just as they move out.
UPDATE: Here's another good Next American City column on high-speed rail, which I enthusiastically endorse, but I have to admit:
Not everyone will be using this service, and the beneficiaries will mostly be business travelers and mobile young urbanites—the type of people you see waiting for the BoltBus outside Madison Square Garden every weekend.
Image of general manager Rich Davey from MBTA website.