Tarring Transit

There’s an inaccurate thought going around and it’s repeated by politicians, civil servants, consultants, and citizens alike. It goes something like, “Transit isn’t a money maker.” What makes it inaccurate, are the assumptions that transit should make a profit (whatever that means for a public service), and that other forms of vehicle transportation make a city a profit. Can you tell me how much money someone makes a city’s general revenue fund when they get to work on public streets via their private car? If someone gets on a bus, they make the City $2.00 prepaid or $2.50 cash. Buses make money every day by acting as “rolling billboards” for Rawlco Radio, who pays for the public space to advertise.

Buses are far more versatile vehicles for transportation needs in a city. Because our road network has been created at great expense to make it easiest for cars to get around, it gives the unverifiable impression to people that public transportation is more expensive. Read on, to see why…

We need services like dial-a-ride mainly because our car-oriented transportation system often leaves disabled Americans — not to mention the poor, the elderly and those too young to drive — waiting by the side of the road.

Over and over again, we call on transit to compensate for the failures of cars. Need to get New Year’s Eve revelers home without killing each other on the roadways? Extend transit service hours, put more buses on the road, and make them free. How about getting large crowds of people to a festival or a big game without triggering gridlock? Provide shuttle buses or run extra trains.

These are smart choices. But there is a cost to correcting these failures, and in the crude accounting done by folks such as the Post op-ed writers, all of them wind up on the “transit” side of the ledger.

It’s a nifty trick, really. Design a transportation system that leaves a wide swath of the population unserved and tends to fail when you need it most (including pretty much every weekday morning and evening in most American cities). Call on transit to fill the gap, sometimes at great expense. Then tar transit as being the inefficient user of public funds.

— Tony Dutzik, Senior Analyst, Frontier Group, in Streetsblog USA

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About John Klein

My full time blog is at AbandonedStuff.com My personal site devoted to my Regina politics work is at JohnKlein.ca