There is a certain happiness sighted when your bus comes along. It is of course a small specialized form of happiness and will never be a great thing.

-Richard Brautigan, The Old Bus

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

An alliance for transit funding

A court ruling Jan. 31 said the state's raid last year on public transportation funds to help balance the state budget was illegal. Well, $409 million of the $1.18 billion taken from the state Public Transportation Account was illegally diverted, the judge ruled.

But since it will likely be an easy task for the state to shift accounts around to make the remaining $409 million theft pass legal muster, representatives of transit agencies are considering taking their cause to the public. According to an editorial:

Transit officials are discussing the possibility of going even further, perhaps forming an alliance with other state transportation interests to back an initiative that would put a gas tax or carbon fee on the ballot, with the funds earmarked for public transit.
This is fine. But an effort that focuses only on public transit isn't going to get the majority support necessary for passage in a statewide election.

Sure, people say transit is important. In heavily urbanized areas such as the Bay Area, transit is recognized as a essential service. But in areas such as suburban Sacramento or any of the outlying communities, transit is viewed as something only the poor and disabled folk use. Deserving folks, yes, but additional freeway lanes and road maintenance are viewed as a higher priority.

So transit needs some allies outside the highway lobby.

The purpose of a carbon tax would be to encourage a reduction in our global warming footprint. Therefore, the benefits of the tax should go to all of those transportation options that meet this goal -- not just transit, but funding for improved bikeways and making communities more walkable.

Transit people need to join forces with bicycle advocates and people who promote walking. Such an alliance could get majority support, even in Roseville. Well, OK, in my dreams. But statewide, a carbon tax, or an increase in the fuel tax -- a global warming tax -- that raised money for transit and bikes and walking would go much further than a transit-only proposal.


Pantograph Trolleypole said...

The other day I posted on Land Taxes for Transit and it got me thinking with your post, what if someone thought of a footprint tax. We have all these resources that need conservation. Water, energy, fuel. I'm just thinking out loud here. But it would be interesting to come up with something like that.

John said...

The footprint tax and the carbon tax in general are great, topical ideas, and well worth exploring. I worry, however, that a general anti-global warming tax will get hijacked to fund new technology or subsidize efforts well beyond just transportation.

My favorite regional tax scheme to fund transit (and, of course, bring along the bikers and the walkers) is a parking place tax. A tax levied against the number of parking spaces would be passed on to the people who used the parking. Ideally people would pay more to park. Not only does this generate money to be used for transit, bikeways and making places more walkable, but it also encourages people to make the choice not to drive.