Transit agencies have a simple answer to every problem: you should give them more money. Back when transit ridership was increasing, the transit lobby said the increase was “a clear message to Congress that the citizens of this country want expanded public transit services” and that Congress should pass a “well-funded bill” that “invests in our country’s public transit infrastructure.”
Now that transit ridership is declining, the same transit lobbyists say the solution is more money to entice people back onto the buses and trains. The Toledo Area Regional Transit Authority, whose ridership has been “steadily declining,” wants to trade in the property tax that now earns it $13 million a year for a regional sales tax that will provide $30 million a year. Such a deal!
Santa Cruz Metro, whose buses lost 2 percent of their riders last year, has relied on the city to provide millions of dollars from a reserve fund to keep its system going. Yet officials bristle when people complain that they are not doing a good job of making the agency self sufficient. “We had an incredible year last year of receiving grants,” brags Metro’s CEO. If that is the criterion by which he wants to be judged, the Antiplanner thinks his priorities are misplaced.
Nashville, whose ridiculous Music City Star still carries fewer than 600 round trips per weekday and whose overall transit ridership declined by more than 3 percent last year, laments that its transit isn’t supported by a dedicated fund that would produce revenue whether or not anyone actually rode its buses and trains.
Cascades East Transit is thrilled that the Oregon legislature gave it the authority to ask voters for a dedicated fund. The agency claims to be “the largest transit provider in Oregon,” which is real stretch. What it means is that it has the largest service area, but it only has 66 buses and other vehicles that carried fewer than 2,100 riders a day in 2015. Many transit agencies carry more riders in a day than Cascades carries in a year. Obviously, it needs more money.
However, dedicated funds are not panaceas. New York’s MTA has numerous dedicated funds and Massachusetts dedicates 20 percent of state sales tax revenues to Boston’s MBTA, and both of their systems are in serious trouble. The mantra about dedicated funds is just from agency officials who want more money without being accountable for doing anything useful with that money.