Saturday, April 7, 2007

Editorial: "Public transit issue just getting rolling"

The editor is right to focus on the weak public input to the CYMPO survey. People should get up on their hind legs once in a while and weigh in, that's how our system is supposed to work. It's a little unfair to imply that the Interfaith Council is bombing the system, though. As far as I know this is a pretty sober group committed to smart governance, and reminding your members to get involved doesn't make you a one-issue, me-first pressure group. Calling 11 buses a "blue-chip proposal" is also a little over the top, don't you think? But the real disservice here -- and I don't think the editor is being evil about this, this logic flows from weak premises that an awful lot of people in this country have bought into -- is wagging the finger over cost, implying that public transit can't work because it can't pay for itself.

I've lived in places where public transit works, and it's not a simple matter. To get people to depend on it daily, you have to be where they are and where they want to go in large numbers at all the right times. This requires a commitment to extensive infrastructure probably well beyond what Arizona or Prescott is willing to do, at least until the cost of fuel really starts to ramp up (you ain't seen nothing yet). Prescott's advantage is that it's still relatively compact, so starting now makes a useful system far more feasible than putting it off.

My complaint, though, is the it-must-pay-for-itself meme, limited in scope to money from riders supporting the entire operation. This is bogus economics designed to kill the issue. The benefits to the community as a whole would extend far beyond getting a ride to the mall -- reduced congestion and parking needs, better air and life quality, more sales because businesses are more convenient to more people, safer kids, on and on. Quantifying all that is hard, but at least consider it in the balance. That's why we spend public money -- to benefit the entire community, including people who don't take advantage of the system -- and it'd be worth it.


leftturnclyde said...

another editorial that pokes holes in an offered solution and makes no attempt to come up with an alternative
come on courier be part of the solution !

anyway , having said that, here's a couple of swings of the mallet
on mass transit.

must pay for itself...
this is a tired old saw from folks would rather see tax dollars used for ..I dont know a special lunch budget for the city council ?
infrasructure has to be maintained,
and it will cost money, this is why we pay taxes.
public transportation , paticularly in this time of nearly 3 dollar a gallon gas is going to become a thing we have to have instead of gee "wouldn't that be nice" kind of thing.
and while Im ranting ..busses as a form of mass transit ..suck! Light rail people , light rail. I lived in Hawaii when I was stationed at Pearl Harbour and the Bus system there worked about as well as any Ive seen but the system's effciency broke down as soon as you got away from Honolulu.
SO some times you waited up to an hour for a bus and during the commute sometimes busses would pass you by because they were full.
the other thing about the buss is they dont really stop folks that own vehicles from driving .so they actually add to whatever traffic and pollution problems you already have .they breakdown ,they spew exhaust, they dont really serve the folks in the outlying areas , and they add to not relieve the traffic problem .Think Trains ,think Auto free zones in the downtown area ,encourage foot traffic, Imagine the square with all the new space opened up since you did not need parking spaces. or come up with something better ! Think!

Steven Ayres said...

Good points, Lefty. Like I said, infrastructure that works is expensive. Half measures, in the long run, are more expensive.

Oh, I forgot to mention that the attempted pun in the headline is deeply lame.

I used to work for a Scot who thought it endlessly amusing to pun and alliterate his headlines, and if he could find an alliterated pun we'd have to hogtie him to keep him from using it. It was hardly fair, our clients were Japanese and couldn't understand the jokes.