City Transit More Popular, Expensive, Than Ever
posted by September 15 at 17:59 PMon
This morning, Metro announced it will be adding new bus routes and more frequent service to keep up with rising transit demand, and “revising” bus service for 22 other routes. That’s great news if you ride any of the 19 routes that are being upgraded, not so great if you live in certain parts of the city and like to take the bus late at night (several late-night trips are being cut), or use one of the bus stops that is being eliminated. Overall, however, the changes appear to add up to a pretty substantial improvement.
That’s a good thing, right? Yes and no. More Metro service should, in theory, improve the bus-riding experience, because buses will be less crowded and, again in theory, more reliable. The more frequently your bus arrives, the less likely you are to be seriously inconvenienced when a bus shows up late or doesn’t come at all. And the less crowded the buses are, the easier it is for them to stay on schedule.
On the other hand, all those service upgrades don’t come free. With gas prices soaring, Metro has already had to raise fares 25 cents, and another 50-cent increase is in the works. Higher fares mean lower ridership, which means fewer revenues for things like new bus routes. Which leads to crowded buses, unreliable schedules, and a less pleasant bus experience… which leads all those new bus riders to start thinking, maybe it’s worth it to take the car after all.
All around the country, the story is similar: Transit agencies forced to choose between raising fares or laying off workers and reducing service. In Miami, the choice is between raising fares 50 cents and firing 700 workers and reducing transit service by more than 4 million miles a year. In Chicago, the Chicago Transit Authority is removing all the seats from some of its trains, just to squeeze more passengers in. And in 85 percent of US transit agencies, capacity—just having enough room to hold all the riders—is a problem, with four out of ten agencies saying they now have to turn passengers away.
One possible solution, suggested here, is for transit agencies to ask Congress for transit funding from the federal Highway Trust Fund, which primarily pays for roads and bridges. (The US secretary of transportation has already asked Congress to put another $8 billion into the fund, but that would only pay for roads, not transit.) An infusion of cash could allow transit agencies to expand service (and maintain their current bus and train fleets) without raising fares or firing workers. As the writer notes:
Transit provides an energy-efficient and affordable option for a lot of Americans right now. If we respond to their need by cutting bus lines, packing transit cars to the gills and ordering steep fare increases, we will risk losing critical public support and ridership at a time when our transit systems have their best opportunity in 60 or more years to position themselves for long-term growth.