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date08 Jul 2009 16:43 CDT
placeMilwaukee, WI, USA
tagstransit, mobility, wisconsin, places, resources, people
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It is time to fund transit

My Wisconsin State legislative representative, Jon Richards, held a listening session today regarding transit funding. I wanted to share the letter I wrote here, because transit systems throughout the country are scrambling for funding at precisely the time of all-time highs in ridership. In brief, I identify two funding sources that have a proven track record of raising funds in a fair and reasonable manner and which leverage our national resources in a direction of supporting the type of communities that are emerging in the 21st century. I urge you to lobby your own representatives at all levels on this issue. You have my permission to adapt this letter to your needs--certainly don't copy and paste it, but add your own points, and let your elected representatives know that it is time to fully fund transit.

Dear Representative Richards,

Thank you for the listening session regarding transportation funding. I won't be able to attend the session tonight, so please take this email as part of the comments on this issue.

I agree that funding for transportation is crucial toward its success. There are many approaches that may help in this funding. In the long term, a better orientation in all of our public policy toward transit will continue to help.

First, there is no reason why the gas tax can't be raised to pay part of the cost of transit. I know many, many people will react with anger toward this idea. However, the fact is that the gas tax isn't even paying for roads (see, for example http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2009/02/26/road_upkeep/ or http://www.planetizen.com/node/39132). We must raise the gas tax to maintain the roads--I think even drivers who want to stick to their cars should agree with this. An additional amount raised to pay for transit should be taken by drivers not as an insult, but as an aid to them: simply put, transit takes other cars off the road. This reduces congestion, allows more space for the drivers, and reduces the need for still more roads. A simple increase of the gas tax now to fully fund transit, with future raises indexed to inflation and also to additional road construction would insure transit is an option for many people. We simply can't incur additional public debt by continuous road expansion and construction. Will people pay this gas tax? Yes--the answer is that when gas was about $4 per gallon, people still bought it. Gas will go up in price--should that additional money go toward public transit or foreign oil sellers? Now is the time to put a gas tax that fully funds roads and supports transit in place.

Another source of funding, please examine the parking policies state-wide. As you may know, giving away free parking has very high induced costs due to increased cruising for the free spaces, congestion and accidents, traffic enforcement, and the opportunity costs of all that land tied up in surface parking lots. See Professor Donald Shoup's book, The High Cost of Free Parking (American Planning Association, 2005), for scientific research on this matter. Simply put, free parking is like free ice cream: everybody wants some, but everyone cries when there isn't enough. If market-rate pricing were put in place throughout the state, with the funds raised going toward transit and neighborhood improvements related to transit like bus stops and pedestrian crosswalks, this would go a long way to alleviating congestion and problems. Again, the drivers may howl in protest at this--however, it is a help to them: they can have parking when they need it because it is not being given away for free--the market-rate parking policies means that they will very likely find a space when they need it. The funds collected to fund transit can further decrease the over-reliance on the automobile. Will people pay this? Yes, because the concept is that it is market-rate pricing--the pricing is set so that it demand is satisfied with existing supply, not set so high that no one chooses to pay it. Our current give-away policies generate no supportive revenue, waste gas, take up valuable space in our cities, and add up to a massive subsidy for automobile travel.

In the long term, all policies should be oriented toward a future in which the automobile is no longer the center of our lives. The increasing numbers of elderly in our population will no doubt mean that there will be more of us who will rely on public transit. Also, there is little room for families to incur more debt to maintain several private cars for their own use. Still others choose not to have a car and to instead enjoy this great area. The Milwaukee area is a wonderful place, and it has so much to offer. Will you work to help the people enjoy it? A big part will be in strengthening transit. Raising the gas tax and charging market rates for parking state-wide are funding sources that can ensure the people are placed first.


John December
Milwaukee, WI

See also my post on We need a mobility plan, not a transportation plan in which I critique the state of Wisconsin's transportation plan. [End of Post]

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