Sunday, April 25, 2010

Welfare Transit

As Record columnist Jeff Outhit recently observed, the overwhelming evidence that transit use is dominated by low-income and student riders suggests that Grand River Transit “functions as a social service.” Its main purpose is to provide transportation for local residents who can’t afford cars.
I have serious objections to the idea of transit as a 'social service'. Why does New York have an excellent subway system? Because it was built to shuttle white-collar workers in and out of downtown. If you want voter support, build transit voters will ride. Build transit for 'choice' riders. Not because they are the only riders that matter, but because doing so puts a 'floor' on the acceptable quality of transit, so that transit service can only get so bad before people protest, and that protest is carried about by people with the ability to mobilize, organize, and deputize. And people with the gumption to be both obstreperous and persistent in their protest.

Transit funding should be prioritized toward this type of funding, in preference to riders without choice. This seems brutal.  Being transit dependent is no picnic. I spent several years of my adult life without a car to call my own, reliant on TRAX, bus, biking and walking, and endless rides from friends.  There is a lot of unpleasant walking, and a lot of trips that were too far to be worth making the trip. And a lot of other trips that took hours longer than by car.

But it is a matter of short term pain for long-term gain. Building a better transit network betters transit ridership for everyone. UTA is in the almost accidental process of making this shift, as its budget crisis forces it to cut service while popular support exempts TRAX from most cuts.

Providing transportation access to the transit dependent cannot be solved by ensuring every household in the County is within a quarter mile buffer of a bus route. The urban area is too large and too automobile dependent.

Like homelessness, transit dependency is a housing issue. Building plenty of affordable housing near transit will go a long way toward solving the transit dependency issue. The rest of the issue can be solved by a collection of para-transit, ride-sharing, and other specialized taxi services.

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