It may be a component, but it’s not the panacea many proclaim it to be.
Every means of transit I am aware of has good applications. They all get you from point A to point B – though some regulate where A & B must be.
Biking, for example, is a very cheap means of transportation: have a sandwich and some water, and you can go for miles. But it’s slow. For short distances, or where there is not much parking, biking is an ideal way to get around – as long as the weather’s ok.
One step up from the bicyle in terms of maneuverability and parkability (and speed) is the motorbike. Fast, light, and nimble, the motorcycle is another good choice for parking-limited areas and decent weather.
Unfortunately, the weather isn’t only bad when we don’t need to get some place. So we get an automobile. A roof, multiple seats, and cargo space make the auto a great transportation option. Add onto that a lack of a need to have a decent sense of balance. But, when parking is at a premium, cars, trucks, and vans can be a royal pain.
Buses start to alleviate parking issues, have somewhat more per-person space than a fully-passengered car, & travel at about car speed. But, they also follow specific road routes and times, meaning you have to want to go near where the bus does, or plan on a lot of walking.
Subways, trolleys, and other trains get a huge boost in efficiency for moving large numbers of people relatively quickly along very rigidly predefined paths. With about the same space per person as a bus, but not having to worry about traffic congestion due to separate, dedicated, train-only routes, trains are another efficient way to move a bunch of people between preselected A’s and B’s quite quickly. But rigid starts and stops don’t carry flexibility for the passengers.
Next on my list are boats. Personal boats are perhaps the most flexible in the ability to pick your route, but only work for getting around very wet areas.
Ferries and cruise ships are fundmentally no different from buses and trains in their capacity and flexibility, but do tend to be a bit slower. However, they also offer one of the few ways to get from one point of land to another separated by water.
Lastly, of course, are airplanes. Surpassing even a boat’s infinite 2-dimensional meanderings, aircraft get to meander in 3 dimensions. Small, personal planes carry the same flexibility of boats – but can traverse more-or-less over any terrain, with the caveat that there be some straight and flat stretch for them to return to ground safely.
Commercial flights, though, take the transportation benefits of buses and trains to new heights – literally. Traveling at hundreds of miles per hour in relatively straight lines, such craft can traverse the continent or the ocean in hours, not days or weeks. However, like boats and buses, they are subject to weather and traffic conditions not always stopping personal automobiles and bikes. In short, mass transit, of any type, is worth while when a large number of people need to get to roughly the same destination, and start in pre-congregated clusters. But what they gain in efficiency for the group, they lose (often badly) in flexibility for the individual. Commuter rail and bus services are a Good Thing ™ – but not when they preclude the individual’s desire or need for flexibility.
New York City is an example of a municipality that penalizes individuals. They charge for parking. They charge for bridges and tunnels. They act like they don’t want visitors – at least not if they won’t conform to their “ideal” of total reliance on the buses and subways in place.
It’s that herd mentality that frightens me. Mass transit does have an important place in modern society – as long as it’s a supplement & alternative to individual flexibility in travel and not its replacement.