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That's not a semantic disctinction: there are policy choices that flow from it. Subsidizing people to use transit is a horribly inefficient way to induce less car driving. Some of the people who benefit would have ridden the bus anyway. Many more will go on driving their cars, no matter how big the subsidy. And bus riding does not come without its own costs, in terms of road space occupied, fuel consumed, sprawl etc. Whereas charging car drivers to use the roads gives people a very direct incentive: drive less.
How they drive less is up to them, and should be: riding the bus is just one of many ways. Which is another point: subsidizing transit only encourages one particular way of reducing congestion.
The same might also be said of your other class of putative externality, the "helping people get around town" variety. In the main I'd argue that's a private benefit to the traveller, which it is possible to exclude him from if he does not pay. So the classic public good criteria do not hold. But in any event, even if there were an external benefit to mobility, that's not an argument for privileging transit over bikes, taxis, etc.. Indeed, by that logic, we should be subsidizing cars as well!
I stand by the point: the social benefit from transit ridership is only an indirect one - ie, fewer people driving cars. But transit ridership *itself* has no social benefit, beyond that directly accruing to the rider (for which he pays, or should pay). And subsidizing transit ridership, to the extent it has any impact, only encourages people to overuse it.
Far better simply to address the problem directly. If people are driving more than is socially optimal, because the costs of driving are hidden from them, then make those costs known to them, through prices.
I'd still have a carbon tax, but for the specific task of capturing the cost of carbon emissions — which a road toll would be just as ill-suited for as gas taxes are for congestion. First rule of pricing externalities is to target them as precisely as possible.
So even if there were much evidence that subsidizing transit encourages people to abandon their cars, which there isn't, the more direct and effective remedy for too much car use is to price the unpriced costs that are encouraging that specific overuse — not to suppress the costs of other activities.
And of course, as I say in the piece, transit — and the poor, as disproportionate users of transit — are among the big winners from pricing roads, since buses are stuck in traffic along with the cars. Far from subsidizing transit to get people out of their cars, pricing car/road use is the best way to get people to use transit. It isn't more transit that reduces congestion, but reduced congestion that leads to more transit.