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

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The transit glass half-full

Today, The Field Poll released results of a survey of how Californians are coping with higher gas prices.

"The steady unrelenting rise in gasoline prices is seen as an increasingly serious problem in this state and has caused two in three Californians (68%) to cut back on their spending in other areas," according to the poll. "Many motorists are employing a variety of gas saving measures, such as driving less (78%), buying lower grades of gasoline (67%), and using their more fuel efficient vehicle (59%). Smaller proportions also say they are carpooling more (28%), employees are taking jobs closer to their home or moving closer to their worksite (28%) or adjusting work hours so they are not commuting to the worksite as often (25%). Others report having replaced a car or truck with a more fuel-efficient vehicle (27%)."
And the least popular answer to the pinch of high gas prices: Riding transit.

At least that's how The Bee and pollster Mark DiCamillo, director of the Field Poll, pitched the results.

According to The Bee:
But most Californians say they’ll remain in their own cars. Only 17 percent say they take public transit more often and 28 percent say they are carpooling to work.

"We’re pretty much a society that was built around the automobile," DiCamillo said. "If Californians had their druthers, they would like to change the mix to hybrids or electric cars or something else. But I don’t see any evidence Californians really want to get out of their vehicles. It’s just too impractical."
So the glass is half-empty, maybe more if you are really attached to your Hummer or convinced that driving yourself everywhere is the very definition of independence. But from a tranistarian perspective, the poll results can just as easily be cheered.

The glass is half-full, or more precisely nearly a third full.

The Field Poll compares today's responses to those from 2005.

In 2005, the Field Poll found 13 percent of respondents riding transit. Three years later, 17 percent are riding.

In 2005, the number considering using transit was 9 percent. Today, 14 percent are considering using transit.

Where 22 percent were riding or thinking about using transit in 2005, we now have 31 percent.

Of course, it's the half-empty crowd that is ruining the party this year as record gas prices prompt record transit ridership. This is especially true in California's capital.

Today should be the best of times for Sacramento Regional Transit, a golden opportunity to convert more solo drivers into eco-friendly transit riders. But instead, RT is banging on pots and pans in an effort to wake current riders to the perils of proposals in the state Legislature to reduce state funding.

Earlier this year, RT started a letter writing campaign in opposition to the governor's proposed cuts. RT held a rally at the Capitol with other agencies interested in transit's availability. And this month, RT is finally trying to scare some response out of riders by announcing that every bus line and even light rail could face cuts in January 2009.

On Monday, July 28, at 6 p.m., RT will hold a public hearing at the Regional Transit auditorium at 1400 29th St. The topic of discussion will be proposed service changes to be implemented in January 2009.

"These changes may include possible reduction, discontinuation or realignment of ... routes on various service days," the July Next Stop News reports. "Due to anticipated State budget cuts, RT is forced to consider these cost-saving measures."

Regional Transit has already had to absorb state cutbacks from the previous year and a decline in the sales tax revenue caused by this year's economic downturn. If the Legislature agrees to the governor's suggested reductions in funding, RT will have no choice but to cut.

"This is your opportunity to provide input before recommendations are adopted by the RT Board of Directors on Monday, August 25, 2008," RT warns.

Anyone who ignores this warning won't have a leg to stand on when they find themselves next year waiting at the stop for a bus that never arrives because it was a victim of the cutbacks.

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