Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Totally Free Public Transportation: You’d Have to Be Stupid to Think It Wouldn’t Work

Author: Nick
Category: Money
Topics: ,

would you ride it more if it transformed into optimus prime?

Until a few years ago, I didn’t really use public transportation. That’s because there was only one bus line near where I lived, and it only went to Downtown Murderville Baltimore. Now that I live in a suburb of Washington, DC, public transportation is plentiful, practical, and fairly cheap. I can get to pretty much anywhere I need to go in the DC Metro area meeting all of the following criteria:

  • Walking less than 15 minutes.
  • In a total transit time of under 2 hours.
  • For under $5.

But you know what? That’s not freaking good enough. Using public transportation, I should be able to get to anywhere in the DC Metro area meeting these criteria:

  • Walking less than 5 minutes (for all those people for whom walking is an issue).
  • In a total transit time of under 1 hour (because I could drive there in that time).
  • For free.

The solution to those first two points is pretty straightforward: increase the number and/or frequency of bus routes. But what gives me the right to ride a bus or subway for less than it costs to operate it? Before you insist that I’m trying to bankrupt my local public transit authorities, consider the chain of benefits free public transportation would bring:

  • Free transportation means more riders. Obviously one of the primary goals of any public transit system should be increasing its ridership. Some cities have tried free public transportation days before, typically on hot days as a way to combat pollution, and each such day showed a marked increase in people taking advantage of buses, trolleys, ferries, shuttles, and subways.
  • More riders means fewer drivers. Hopefully you passed second-grade math so you can understand the following sentence: if more people are riding buses, then fewer people will be driving cars.
  • Fewer drivers means a lot of good things. Consider the following sublist of benefits to having fewer drivers on the road:

    • Less pollution → less you dying
    • Fewer traffic accidents → less you dying
    • Less traffic → less you ripping your hair out
    • Less aggressive driving → less you dying and killing people
    • Less reliance on foreign oil → fewer wars
    • Lower gas prices → less your wallet dying
    • Lower road maintenance costs
    • Lower transportation-related taxes → more money for you to buy my book (ETA: 2017)
    • No more stupid car chase TV shows

To summarize, free universal public transportation could bring about economic harmony, better health, and world peace.

Just one problem: how are we gonna pay for it? Buses and trains and the fuel to run them still cost money. And if that money isn’t coming from paid fares, we’ll need to dream up some new ideas to fund our free public transportation systems:

  • Commercial sponsorship. There are a few ways to get businesses to foot the bill for a free public transportation system. The first involves letting retailers “pay” for the privilege of having bus lines placed closer to them. The second, perhaps more obvious way, is simply expanding advertising options on public transit vehicles and routes so that the revenue would completely fund the operating costs. The third consists of creating a “Transportation Mafia” to go around and “accept donations” from businesses that enjoy “buses not driving through their storefronts.”
  • New tolls on private automobiles. So you want to enter our city in your own car instead of by bus, subway, or conga line? That’ll be $20. Or you could park outside the city for free and use our free public transit system to get wherever you need to go.
  • New taxes. Tax car sales, tax parking, tax gasoline–just tax everything that makes cars a better option than public transportation until it’s no longer the cheaper option.
  • No funding! Here’s a not-so-obvious solution that might work: don’t fund the free public transportation programs with new money. Instead, take money from programs that won’t need it as much when people shift from driving to riding. Road maintenance, traffic regulation, motor vehicle department operations, oil company subsidies–this is all money that could go toward paying for a totally free public transit system for you and me.

Free public transportation would, almost overnight, solve many of our financial, social, environmental, and political issues. And it’s not a new idea either; just look at Chapel Hill, North Carolina, Commerce, California, and parts of Calgary, Canada, just to name a few.

And for those of you still on the fence about this, just ask yourself a simple question: What Would Jesus Ride? I think you’ll find that the answer to that is free public transportation, Amen.

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