Sunday, January 10, 2010

Cuts coming in effect

Today VTA will implement significant cuts to the transit system. Sadly, this has been the trend across the Bay Area, the state, and the country. It is particularly worse in California since Sacramento has eliminated some of the most important transit funding that all transit agencies receive.

In this tough times, we must fight to preserve more of the service, and work hard to restore the funds lost. After that, we have to fight to make sure that our restored service is sensible, functional, cost effective, and better than what we have before the cuts.

Mike Rosenberg at Bay Area News Group decided to portray the loss of service and ridership as a cause and effect for commuters turning to automobile. Of course there's element of truth in that (people start to ride transit all the time and leave when they can afford automobiles, a constant challenge for all agencies to keep ridership). However, much of that ridership loss is also contributed by the high unemployment rate. Compared to last year, unemployment in San Jose nearly doubled (in the double digits). There are fewer cars on the road too as a result of high unemployment. Some turn to driving as they no longer have a transit-preferable work schedule/work site or that their employers no longer provide transit subsidy (like Eco Pass) as companies try to cut costs. Also, some people turn to bicycle instead, which has the flexibility of automobile but with even lower cost and can be brought on transit.

If transit cuts result in more people buying cars, that may not be a bad news for transit. As we all know, sales tax is a major source of transit operating funds in the Bay Area. Part of the reason we are in crisis is the large reduction of local sales tax revenue, and that drop in automobile sales is a significant factor.

The current trend does not indicate increasing auto sales. Last year, there were 4 million more cars scraped nationally that were not replaced by new vehicles. In addition, auto manufacturers have decided to close dealerships and reduce production in the long run to maintain profitability (which explains why Toyota and GM decided to close the NUMMI auto plant in Fremont). This current trend in auto sales could implicate tax revenue projection for transit agencies, which could impact service.


arcady said...

I think unemployment is the biggest factor in the lower ridership, but it does mean lower traffic congestion, which might erode some of the speed advantage of rapid transit. It does, however, also mean that the buses run faster (or would if the VTA cut the padding out of the schedules). I suspect once employment starts to pick up a bit, transit ridership will too, and I suspect that an improving global economy will keep oil prices high, which also gives transit a noticeable advantage.

accountablevta said...

There's also employee furloughs that have reduced the number of trips as people don't get to work on some days.