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Is it boom or bust of US mass transit in the '80s? Monitor correspondent Paul Van Slambrouck explores the challenges for public transportation, and how they are being met, in a four-part series.

Reaching an ever-growing number of far-flung commuters from the suburbs and beyond may be impractical for conventional bus and rail systems. Creative solutions, like ride-sharing, van-pooling, dial-a-ride, and other "paratransit" services now being tried around the nation, hold more hope than expensive new technology.

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With inflation, especially rising energy costs, pinching paychecks, a growing number of Americans are willing to leave cars at home and give the bus or train a try.

Ironically, in the economics of public transit, more riders means a bigger, not smaller, budget deficit. As the recent transit shutdown in metropolitan Boston showed, many systems already are walking a fiscal tightrope.

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