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.

Publication Date


Publication Type



Transit and Passenger Rail

MTI Project



Public transportation, Transit, Benefit-cost analysis, Transit benefits, Transit systems