The Benefits of Transit in the United States: A Review and Analysis of Benefit-Cost Studies

You are here

The Benefits of Transit in the United States: A Review and Analysis of Benefit-Cost Studies


This white paper presents the findings from a review and analysis of the available literature on benefit-cost (b-c) estimates of existing U.S. transit systems. Following an inventory of the literature, the b-c estimates from each study were organized according to the type of study area (e.g., rural, small urban, urban, etc.). Through this process, categories of monetary transit benefits were identified. The estimated dollar value for each benefit category was divided by the total estimated costs of providing the transit services, thus creating a benefit-specific b-c ratio for each category and allowing benefits from each study to be compared on an equal basis. Some of these differences are attributable to the population size and densities of the service areas (context) with rural and small urban areas generally yielding lower b-c values than urbanized areas. However, differences remained even after the context was accounted for; suggesting appropriate transit investments in rural and small urban areas can yield benefits substantially greater than costs. The benefits of transit were measurable and strong in a variety of operating environments; not just in large cities. Key findings from this review and analysis were:

  • Transit benefits often substantially exceed costs in rural and small urban areas—not just big cities;
  • Transit typically pays for itself in congestion relief benefits for mid- to large-sized urban areas;
  • Jobs and economic stimulus are among the largest benefit categories of transit;
  • Transit improves health care access and outcomes while reducing costs;
  • Transit saves people money, with transit in larger urban areas benefiting more people;
  • Low b-c ratios aside, transit saves lives, with evidence presented that b-c analysis methods are likely undervaluing the role transit plays in reducing accidents and their costs to society; and
  • Greenhouse gas emissions, air quality, and other important but undervalued transit benefits categories should be considered in future studies.


Dr. Ferrell began his planning career in 1995 working for the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC) on intelligent transportation system (ITS) applications for traffic management. Since 2000, he has worked as a transportation consultant, and in 2010 he co-founded CFA Consultants, a transportation planning and research firm. Dr. Ferrell completed his doctoral studies in city and regional planning at the University of California, Berkeley in 2005. His studies focus on the relationships between transportation and land use. His research experience includes the evaluation of transit facilities, transportation policy analysis, transportation and land use interactions, travel behavior, and the analysis of institutional structures. As a practitioner, he has developed traffic impact studies for mixed-use, infill, and transit-oriented projects; analyzed the impacts of specific and general plans; planned and implemented intelligent transportation systems; and developed bicycle and pedestrian plans. He recently completed TCRP Report 145, Reinventing the Urban Interstate: A New Paradigm for Multimodal Corridors. He has also taught several graduate planning classes in the San José State University Urban Planning Department and the University of California, Berkeley City and Regional Planning Department.

July 2015
Public transportation
Benefit-cost analysis
Transit benefits
Transit systems



Contact Us

SJSU Research Foundation   210 N. 4th Street, 4th Floor, San Jose, CA 95112    Phone: 408-924-7560   Email: