Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Sic Transit...

At the risk of starting an ideological war I'd like to pose a serious but hypothetical policy question:

Subsidies are not bad. They've done some great things. Velcro, Teflon, binary nerve agents. Okay, maybe not Velcro. Point being there's subsidies and there's investments. Some investments are surely not going to pay off and there are some that only collectively make sense, water and sewers as examples. The problem is transit has fallen far below sewers in public import and worse still it has entirely divorced itself from any prospect of ever having a payback. $6 gasoline isn't going to send people back to living in 6 story apartments and waiting for hand scheduled department store deliveries just so transit makes sense again.

The question I pose:
Does anyone claim transit is more important than clean universally available water?
Why then do we subsidize the former and tax the later?

[the rest is just discussion about this question]

Transit can't seem to make up its' mind. Is it a public utility? Is it a public service? Is it assisting a right of mobility? Is it ...?

I know what a public utility looks like. How long would you keep the head of the Department of Water and Power if he acted like your transit chief?

I know what a social safety net looks like. How long would you keep the Director of Welfare Services if he operated like a transit agency?

I know what a public service looks like. How long would the fire chief keep his job if he answered alarms the way the buses operate?

I vociferously support, nee advocate for transit solutions. Mine is a difference of opinion as to what constitutes a solution.

I have said that transit is unique among the things that we as a society choose to subsidize in that it is not
means tested and is not a utility and is not a public service. Transit is not like highway travel because there is no massive subsidization. [There is probably a little but it isn't policy as it is in transit.] Highways are indeed means tested. Try
to drive on the freeway without paying the appropriate fees and taxes. If you cannot afford the registration and the gas tax, you cannot use the highway system. You can ride a bike for free because of the kind of piddling subsidy leakage I mentioned earlier as long as you have the means to get a safe bicycle and agree to operate it safely. If you lack the means to do this you are not allowed to use the roads even on a bicycle.

Transit as a transportation choice is not a public service of the same class as clean water, sanitary sewers or safe home heating. If you don't pay your water and sewer bill, the DWP will cut you off. They don't offer monthly passes and they don't do any means testing. Does anyone claim transit is more important than clean water and the public health issues of sewerage? When was transit promoted to greater importance? Was this a Proposition or Legislative law?

In the context of a public agency that loses money on every passenger, attempts to build ridership and foster dependency looks a lot like empire building by bureaucrats and social engineering by transit planners. We arrest peopple for fostering drug dependency on streetcorners and we subsidize people fostering mobility dependency on the very same corners.

Even welfare as a public service is based on demonstrated need. Transit does not require demonstrate need.

When I use the term transit math I am referring to practices such as calling maintenance a capital expense. The deliberate use of the term boarding to make service figures appear larger. The depreciation of capital assets that were acquired for free. Those kinds of things.

In as much as transit is an urban land use tool, it should not be funded by transportation funds. Second I think people try to vote with their feet (butts) and their dollars, I find it immoral to be an advocate for a transportation mode without demonstrating a willingness to "vote" with your seat, feet and your own money.

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