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Making the Public Work: Geography, Externalities, and Preferences for Mass Transit

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  23 January 2023

Alisha C. Holland*
Harvard University, Cambridge, MA, USA
*Corresponding author. Email:


In much of the world, public transportation infrastructure is sorely needed. Political economy models suggest that provision lags because uneven access and use of public transit fragments political coalitions. Yet, traditional survey techniques tell us little about who supports valence issues, such as mass transit. I instead adopt a novel survey approach from economics designed to elicit preference intensity. I then sample households at different distances from a subway project in Bogotá, Colombia. Contra conventional expectations, I find little evidence that local geography shapes preferences. Those who use public transit the least and pay the most for its construction—the upper class—are its strongest supporters. An experiment and focus groups suggest that middle- and upper-class groups want others to take public transportation to reduce congestion and shorten their commutes. One implication is that a growing middle class might help to strengthen urban public goods provision.

Copyright © The Author(s), 2023. Published by Cambridge University Press

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