Our countryâ€™s mass transit systems are in serious trouble. New York, Chicago, St. Louis, Washington DC, Charlotte, Boston, Atlanta, San Francisco.. the list goes on. Bus and rail lines everywhere are being forced to raise fares, lay off hundreds of employees and eliminate stops (sometimes even full lines).
But the truly worst part of it all is that more people than ever before are using public transit. That means that more people are relying on those buses and trains to get to work, and are now stranded. The demand is there â€“ so why canâ€™t public transit meet that demand?
The answer is that public transit fares only pay for a fraction (anywhere between 52% on the high end and 16% on the low end) of the serviceâ€™s actual cost. The rest comes from state and local subsidies, which in turn come from things such as sales taxes â€“ and since people arenâ€™t buying much these days, sales tax revenue is slowing down to a trickle.
In short, what was once a fight to improve, refurbish and modernize public transit systems seems to have become a fundamental struggle to keep it alive, period. What are we to do?
For one thing, politicians are fighting hard to get as much stimulus money as possible to be dedicated to mass transit. According to Bloomberg, the current bill portions out $8.4 billion for mass transit across the nation, and New York Senator Chuck Schumer is trying to get another $6.5 billion added to that (given the size of its transit system, New York gets a fair amount of that money).
Hereâ€™s the thing, though â€“ the money that transit authorities would receive from the stimulus bill would have to be used for infrastructure. This is important and necessary, but it means that fares will still go up, and it means that the authorities will still have to lay off many employees. Yes, we need new buses and trains, and we need to fix crumbling tracks and tunnels, but if fewer people can get to work, are we any better off?
I donâ€™t think the stimulus money will solve the fundamental issues. Two things need to happen. First of all, transit systems need to figure out ways to reduce their costs in the long term. Maybe they should look into energy storage devices that can be charged with regenerative braking to reduce fuel consumption, or construction materials that are cheaper and last longer.
Secondly - and I know itâ€™s unpopular â€“ fares need to go up. Obviously, the reason that mass transit is subsidized so much is because a lot of its riders might not be able to afford riding if the fare reflected the true cost. But there are plenty of new mass transit passengers who can afford to pay more, especially in cities like New York where owning a car is a hassle, and riding the subway is the preferred option for many who could afford a car if they wanted one.
I donâ€™t really know how transit authorities could raise fares for those who can afford it and lower fares for those who canâ€™t. That might take some creative thinking. But what I do know what I would say to those who would protest a fare increase â€“ would you rather pay more for transit or lose it entirely? Because that seems to be the choice we are facing.
Via NY Times, Bloomberg, WIRED
written by Amy, February 04, 2009
written by Josh Clauss, February 05, 2009
written by Chris, February 05, 2009
written by JK, February 07, 2009
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