Monday, August 30, 2010

It's Not Just CARTA...

Contrary to some of the nonsensical opinions posted on the Post and Courier's website in response to articles on CARTA's budget woes, CARTA is not just another local form of welfare, or a conspiracy to bilk the taxpayers out of millions of dollars by tinting their bus windows to hide the low ridership on some routes. Pierce Transit in Washington State is currently holding their own public hearings regarding fare increases and posible cuts in service. This link shows the options they're considering for fare increases, which are comparable to what CARTA has decided. In fact, according to an article written by Tom Downs of Veolia on citiwire , ninety-percent of all transit systems in the US report flat or declining local financial support. Eighty-four percent report they have reduced services or increased fares within the last year. And yet within the last ten years public transportation has shown it's first consistent increase in ridership in over fifty years. So as the need is increasing, funding is on the decline. This is a nationwide trend, not just a local issue.

I don't claim to understand all the ins and outs of how funding works on local, state, and federal levels to support public transportation. It's both a numbers game and a matter of political football, neither of which I'm good at. There's the Highway Trust Fund which gets it's revenue from taxes on gasoline, and the half-cent sales tax locally as well as myriad other funds. Both sources mentioned are seeing a decline due to the current economy, as consumers cut back on spending. Meanwhile the need for public transportation, including both bus and light rail options is increasing. In some areas the need is due to the number of people cutting back on expenses voluntarily or due to unemployment, and turning to alternate means of transportation. In others it's a movement to cut down on traffic congestion and pollution, while making the commute faster and more efficient.

Another article on citiscope by Christopher Tan touts the success of Singapore's public transportation system. This city has a high-density population, five million people in an area just a bit larger than New York City. Yet the city of Singapore very rarely experiences gridlock. Maybe some lessons can be learned from the planning this city has put into making public transportation work efficiently, as well as the measures they take to discourage overuse of cars in congested areas. Here in Charleston,  the local powers that be need to look at investing our transportation dollars differently. Stop putting money into never-ending widening of roads like I-26 to accommodate more traffic, and put it into improving our local transit system to make commuting via CARTA a more efficient, convenient way to commute to work. The carfree movement and the push for improved public transportation, which includes bus and light rail systems,  is growing across the US. Wouldn't it be nice if South Carolina didn't end up in last place in yet another category when it comes to livability? Let's not allow ignorance and an outdated political system keep us out of the loop!

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