Everybody Ride The Bus, Just Ride It (Ding…Ding?)

By Jesse Taylor
Friday, June 6, 2008 19:29 EDT
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Ezra is talking transit:

Reich suggests making transit funding a major part of the next economic stimulus package, which is a terrific idea. When you’re dealing with an economic downturn heavily related to skyrocketing energy costs, countercyclical spending on transportation alternatives is about the world’s most perfectly tailored policy response. It addresses both the short-term pain and the long-term cause.

One of the things that both Reich and Ezra overlook in the larger scheme of spending more money on public transportation is that lots of cities have such bad and underfunded public transportation not just because of the macro amount of money spent on transportation itself, but because of the decisions made at the municipal level of where and how to structure the transportation they have.

Let’s use Columbus, OH as an example. It’s a growing, sprawling city that’s both trying to revitalize its core areas and keep the new suburban ring development prosperous. White flight doesn’t help, nor does the inability to attract new staple businesses to match the new housing in the downtown urban areas. (We won’t even get into the streetcar.)

It also has a citywide bus line – a line that’s failing because it fails to serve those who need it, which in turn means that those who don’t need it per se but could still benefit from it have little to no incentive to use it. One of the main reasons?

The bus line, which is funded largely by a sales tax, rarely if ever goes near new commercial development. It’s epidemic in much of Ohio. New and revitalized commercial development is often openly hostile to the idea of public transportation coming near it, to the point where some (like Graceland in the city’s northern Clintonville area) are difficult to navigate even if public transportation stops somewhere nearby.

This has a dual effect – the first is that these developments are often lured by the prospect of tax abatements, meaning that the city won’t see property tax revenue for years to come, provided the development’s even successful. The second is that the bus line, which needs sales taxes, doesn’t actually get passengers anywhere near the revenue-generating centers that would sustain the bus line in the first place.

More money for public transportation is desperately needed. But there also needs to be pressure on developers to incorporate support for public transportation into their design plans.

As much as I’d love to see COTA with shiny new buses and their current routes become more efficient and regular, I only have so much need to go to the place where the grocery store used to be and the spot a mile and a half away from where it moved.

Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor
Jesse Taylor is an attorney and blogger from the great state of Ohio. He founded Pandagon in July, 2002, and has also served on the campaign and in the administration of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland. He focuses on politics, race, law and pop culture, as well as the odd personal digression when the mood strikes.
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