Thursday, January 14, 2010

Transit is about independence

It is nice to see transit riders having their voices heard about the transit cut backs and fare increases on San Jose Mercury News. Obviously, service reductions and fare hikes have impacted quality of life for many transit riders, especially for the seniors and disabled. They now face more difficult choices between spending money on transit and other essential expenses like rent and food. Many also have less choices on where they can work, shop, get education, and even receive medical services.

Politically, transit riders get left behind. People who drive automobiles (which most politicians are) typically do not appreciate the importance of public transportation, especially local bus service, because they find most transit unattractive to use. As such, politicians are more interested in pushing expensive and wasteful projects (like light rail and BART) while transit riders suffer from service reductions.

As unattractive as it may appear to people who have cars, local transit provides independence for the low income, seniors, the disabled, and teenagers. Although they cannot travel as fast as those with cars, transit service allows them independently to access jobs, shopping centers, schools, and hospitals/clinics on their own. Public transportation is generally safer, less expensive, more dependable, and environmentally superior than any other alternatives, including owning unsafe and uninsured clunkers to get around. Although transit services may appear optional and less important than other societal priorities, transit serves as a critical link for many to these other priorities, a means to an end.

The current transit funding crisis is threatening the future success of transit service. Like most businesses, transit services need time to grow its ridership base. It is generally unrealistic to expect full trains and buses on the first day of the new service. With periodic service reductions (and especially service eliminations), riders who come to depend on the service have to make important adjustments, and which may cause them to abandon transit altogether. Even if the service could be restored in a few years, that same rider may not come back.

The situation in the Bay Area is actually a scratch on the surface. As funding cuts affect agencies across the state, many transit providers outside the Bay Area have made even deeper cuts. Some rural transit agencies have discontinued their limited service that made intercity connections. In those areas, taxi service is much more limited, and Greyhound service is unavailable.

Of course transit also provides independence for those who drive cars. With high quality transit, car owners can choose not drive to certain places and free themselves from high parking fees, and families who might need two or more cars can cut down to just one. Parents would not have to always drive their kids around, and adult children would not have to always drive their elderly parents around.

1 comment:

Most Senior Fellow said...

Yes, it's a sad commentary. I remember a politican awhile ago say that he considered his voting block to be the "middle class." When asked to define that, he said those who make about $250,000/year, scarcely any of whom use transit, which thus loses in this zero sum world we are living in today.