Public transportation should be done right, otherwise it might actually worsen the city's lifestyle. This applies particularly to buses.
Currently living in Miami without a car (which probably makes me certifiably insane by some local law) means I have to deal with an inadequate bus system every day.
The metrorail system, ambitious as it is, also seems to be crippled by design.
I don't think the "My Car is Faster" argument is that important. Rather, I think it's indicative of a bigger, more important and valid argument: "I already have a car for X reason, so I don't need the system anyway".
Using the public transportation system should be a choice, so of course you have to make it an attractive choice. The reason for that is that if you don't get enough people to use it, not enough people will feel it's worth the taxes and you'll see reductions in budget which will make the service worse and reduce the attraction... a vicious circle.
Some problems I have seen first-hand that detract people from using a public transportation system:
- The biggest problem with buses is, of course, buses not sticking to schedules.
Depending on the route (any but the most important ones), they can be quite unpredictable, sometimes due to traffic and sometimes, it would seem, due to drivers not following the routes or taking unescheduled breaks.
I have had to wait up, on two opportunities, up to 2 hours for a bus that appeared on time accross the street in the opposite direction... only to give up and take that OTHER bus and go all around the city and back.
The stops were active, because that's how I got there in the first place.
I also had the amusing opportunity once of riding on a bus that got lost for 10 minutes, but this was an exceptional (I hope unique) case.
A bus system MUST BE DEPENDABLE.
- Residential areas cannot be ignored. In many modern US cities this means most suburb-like residential zones should not be assumed to be transportation independent.
If you assume that the middle class will provide for their own transportation, they will because they'll have to.
They will also be strongly opposed to the taxation cost of public transportation because they don't see the benefits once they have been forced to buy a car.
- Buses should work in realistic schedules. This means covering all periods of mainstream human activity in the city.
It may sound expensive to provide transportation 5am-1am (at least). But if you don't you're forcing most people to buy a car.
People do have to move at those hours, unless the city has effectively no city life. That's why the main routes typically cover those hours... but if the main routes need it, so does almost every other route. It's little use getting out of downtown if you're still left half-a-city away from home at 1am.
If people are forced to buy a car to carry on their lives "normally", they will oppose your public transportation system and be unwilling to pay for it.
- Bus Stops should be Bus Stops. By that I mean, they should be structures designed for that purpose, which implies sheltering people waiting there from the elements.
A bench is not a bus stop, unless you want to force people to buy a car so as to avoid waiting 20 minutes in the rain/snow/sun/whatever and run the risk of getting sick every time the weather gets really bad.
If people are forced to buy a car to avoid getting soaked in the rain for half an hour every morning every summer, they will not be happy to pay for your transportation system.
- A mass transit system (subway/metrorail/etc) should be centric. It should be a network that connects the city. It should connect the people FROM the places the leave TO the places they want to go.
As far as I have seen this means many lines accross the city. Sometimes this means one or two centric lines that go accross the city and connect with the rest through a heavy, dependable network of buses.
A single line that goes AROUND the city's territory does not seem to be the best way to achieve that goal, because it will rarely cover the typical transit in the city.
This is the case with Miami, where a few centric stations are actually used by significant numbers, but most stations are around the city's territory, not through it. The bulk of the public transportation seems to rest then on the intrinsically more inefficient bus system.
The stations see relatively little traffic, therefore they are seen as a waste. People don't use them and are reluctant to finance expansion of the system.
I'm being reiterative, of course. It's all about getting people to accept the system as an investment, and not an imposition of something they don't use because they cannot, practically, use to their advantage.
If people depend on cars because of the absence of a public transportation system, they will be more likely to support an ambitious, high-tech system that aims to provide a superior service.
But most cities that really need a public transportation system already have one, it's just not working.
A dysfunctional transportation system makes the massive upgrade, as likely to solve the problems as it could be, a very hard sell.
Freedom is the freedom to say 2+2=4, everything else follows...