Sunday, November 25, 2012


 My interest in public transport goes back some time, probably inspired like many by Jane Jacobs in "Life and Death of Great American Cities" as part of a master's program slanted to the degree possible toward urban policy, housing, transportation and planning.  For about a decade or so, carried around an economic study by a Bowdoin economist William Shipman who I respected which laid public transport in the foreign land of "public subsidy", that is,  something not worthy of serious consideration because it could ever stand on its own two feet economically.   Only after getting involved in State transportation policy in the 1980s did the epiphany occur that the biggest "subsidy", that foreign idea, was actually going to the family car and the solo driver.  

One example, FHWA's Highway Statistics series published each year shows an astounding amount of capital investment in highways each year--about 40% and growing--comes from non-highway user revenues, mostly in the form of local property taxes and general funds (particularly tax exempt bonding which carries a stiff tax expenditure price).

Remember, starting with the Reagan Administration, no highway bill proposing tax increases in the gas tax passes the Congress without the support of those who support public transportation, and in spite of decades of effort by one party to abolish Amtrak it just finished its 42nd year with two consecutive years of record setting passenger numbers.   While the walker/bicycle interests spearhead the conversion of urban streets to users other than solely for the automobile, and local transit agencies in Vermont through perseverance and careful exploration of new areas (like the Link commuter buses into Burlington), two major laggards remain, mostly because of the contortions of both states and Congressional constraints: intercity and commuter rail, and urban light rail. 

For Vermont this means moving quickly to install commuter rail services along three corridors into Burlington which can now be justified from a number of viewpoints, and reviving the carefully planned light rail service from the Burlington waterfront and Union Station to the Church Street Marketplace and then onto UVM and Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Have always viewed public transport is a form of social justice, but as important it can now be viewed as a necessary cement to the economic viability of urban areas and absolutely essential force for a sustainable society.  This view coincides with our current view of walking and bicycling in urban America as also symbolizing these same values related to a viable economy and a sustainable society.

Consider that with a limited "subsidy" Link commuter buses to Burlington provide a dependable service for about 10 cents a mile versus 51 cents a mile (federal reimbursement rate for a government worker using a personal car) for a solo driver.  So a Montpelier commute each day, 80 miles round trip costs $8 a day by Link and $40 by solo drive.  Anyone who does a monthly household budget can quickly calculate what this does to the monthly and annual family budget.  And employers are quickly picking up on how important shifting employees from expensive solo commuting to public transport means a more stable workforce, a happier more efficient workforce, all of which contributes in a measurable way the bottom line.  

So, suddenly public transport now appears to be gaining a new connotation--transportation for the middle class!


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