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Public Transit's Sinking Ship

Fellow blogger Matt left a comment last week about some potentially burdensome transit cuts in DC and Maryland.
...if Metro gets its way, come September 30, my bus ride is going to increase by 15 minutes. Not because I'm moving, but because Metro is making my bus route longer to compensate for a different one, which they are cutting. Well, actually to be more precise, they are eliminating the direct route and forcing me to change to the indirect route, which they are making even more indirect... The practical outcome will be for me to switch to bike on any day when it does not rain or snow.
The scenario he explains is essentially the same as the one I described back in April, and it's the reason why I quit riding public transit in Cleveland and switched almost all of my trips to bicycle.

(from Flickr user el swifterino)

Here's the reality: all public transit agencies are facing some sort of financial crisis. You need to look no further than T4America's crisis map to see that the problem is not isolated to a few struggling cities. It's easy for people to think this is an isolated problem because most people only ride public transit in a single city; but the problem is undoubtedly widespread.

Some ships have already sunk while others are quickly approaching the tipping point. Whether or not a system becomes devastated or survives these tough times will have a lot to do with its constituents. In cities where a large proportion of professionals and other well-connected and outspoken people use transit, or at least understand its value, the fight will push on for longer. In cities where the "transit is for poor people" attitude reigns, the well-connected people with enough clout to do anything meaningful will just throw up their arms, say "get a car" and move on with their lives.

In cities with both bus and rail service, bus service will be hardest hit - again, because of the constituents that use buses vs. rail. Is it fair? Is it equitable? That's a debate for another time. But it's politics. And ultimately, that's what matters.

Comments

catfood said…
The additionally tough thing about Cleveland is that's it's kind of spread out to begin with. Even pre-sprawl. It's quasi-Midwestern here.

So even at best, our public transportation isn't going to be as awesome as New York's.

I think at some point we have to decide whether RTA is worth our serious financial support. More than, say, the colossally stupid Medical Mart deal.
John Morris said…
Sorry, but ultimately it's not politics but reality that matters most.

The idea that one could use political considerations over rational economic logic is the exact reason transit and transportation policy in America has become such a black hole and why the country is bankrupt.

Believe it or not, in places like Hong Kong--systems make money (or act as real estate developers) and the original transit systems here followed the same logic. The key thing is that in those places, cars are not given special treatment in parking, zoning or tolling policies.

Sooner or later after who knows how many problems, we are going to have to return to this.

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